REMEMBERING LORD WOODBINE
[This Trinidadian –born concert promoter played a key role in
the making of the Beatles. He was born in 1928 to a Grenadian mother
and a Venezuelan-born father]
By Caldwell Taylor
Lord Woodbine, the Trinidad-born panman and concert promoter who played
a crucial role in the making of the international pop phenomenon called
the Beatles, died one year ago this month, in a house fire in England.
He was 72.
Lord Woodbine was not inscribed in the British peerage. Truth be told,
this native of Trinidad and Tobago “lorded” himself after
the Woodbine cigarettes that he chained smoked.
Harold Phillips, the man who would become Lord Woodbine, was one of
four hundred and ninety West Indians who arrived in England aboard the
Empire Windrush on Tuesday, June 22, 1948; West Indians celebrate this
date as the “birthday of the West Indian community in Britain.”
Young Harold Phillips stepped out of the Windrush with a plan in his
pocket and soon thereafter, he took up residence in the city of Liverpool
believing that that city held out the best prospects for his success
in “the cold”. Liverpool has a Black community going all
the way back to the eighteenth century when the city was “king
of the British slave trade”.
In his book titled From Columbus to Castro Eric Williams (1911-1981)
tells us: “In 1774 half of Liverpool’s sailors were engaged
in the slave trade, which by 1783 was estimated to bring the town a
clear annual profit of three hundred thousand pounds”. Williams
also reminds us that Liverpool’s Customs House was “blazoned
with Negro heads… eloquent testimony to the origins of Liverpool’s
rise by 1783 to the position of one of the most famous- or infamous,
depending on the point of view- towns in the world of commerce”.
In 1981,Toxteth, Liverpool’s Black community, was the scene of
one of the fiercest race riots in British history.
Harold Phillips had scarcely established roots in Liverpool when he
opened his own nightclub, the Colony Club. As a club owner Woodbine
became widely known for his use of a well set cutlass to tame rowdy
patrons; it is said that the flash of Woodbine’s “gilpin”
was always enough to restore peace to the dancehall.
In Liverpool, too, Woodbine founded the Royal Caribbean Steel Orchestra,
following pan pioneer Winston Spree Simon’s 1957 visit to England.
The Royal Caribbean was the first steel orchestra formed in England.
Phillips’ pan side played all over Liverpool and wherever he
played Phillips was shadowed by a posse of loyal fans, including John
Lennon and Paul McCartney. John and Paul loved to listen to steelband
music. In fact, John often took his guitar to the pan concerts so that
he could jam along with the man they called “Woody.”
But the Lennon and McCartney association with Harold Phillips went
beyond the steelband concerts. The two future pop greats and their band
played Woody’s club on a regular basis. Woody liked the youngsters’
music and so when German cabaret owner Bruno Koshminder called to ask
for a “good British band” Woody picked the Beatles and went
on to drive the then five-man group (John Lennon, Paul Mc Cartney, Pete
Best, Stuart Sutcliffe and George Harrison) from the Netherlands to
Germany in a “mash up” Volkswagen van.
This is how the Beatles historic Hamburg concert happened and Lord
Woodbine (Harold Phillips) was at the centre of it all.
Paul McCartney paid tribute to Woodbine in a 1995 Anthology television
Harold Phillips (Lord Woodbine) was born at Lavantille, Trinidad, in
1928 to a Grenadian mother and a father who was born in Venezuela.