Fri | Jan 18, 2019

An 'Ambassador' of music - Christmas cheer, honour to musical legacy for Trench Town

Published:Tuesday | December 19, 2017 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
File Dean Fraser
Kevin Downswell
Carlene Davis (left) and Tommy Cowan.
Naomi Cowan

It has been a long time since credits rolled at the end of a film at the Ambassador on Collie Smith Drive in Trench Town, St Andrew. Instead, there is the hum of classes in session, run by the Joy Town Community Development Foundation. Once in a while, though, the 'theatre' - as movie houses tend to be called instead of 'cinema' - comes alive for a night with the sound of music, rhythm, and melody echoing from the walls of a structure where dreams were lived out on screen.

That 'once in a while' happens again on Thursday, December 21, at Christmas Joy in the Bass 2017, and credits of another kind will roll off the tongues of Ernie Smith, Alaine, Kevin Downswell, Rondell Positive, Naomi Cowan, Dean Fraser, Ziggy Soul, and many others. For they will be performing not only for the audience, but also to the memories of Jamaican popular music that the walls would tell, if they could speak.

One of the persons who has performed within the walls of the Ambassador is Tommy Cowan. It was a one-off occasion, but more than enough for him to appreciate the significance of the structure, not least of all because living on Delacree Road, Cowan knew of the outstanding artistes who sang there.

"I sang there in about 1961 or 1962 with The Mericoles. That was the name of the group before we became The Jamaicans," Cowan said. The famed Vere Johns Opportunity Hour talent contest was held there and Cowan remembers an all-conquering Jimmy Tucker, and Hugh Francis, whose mother was determined he would beat Tucker, teaching Francis to sing in Italian in an attempt to tip the balance of the battle in her son's favour.

There are other names - Bunny and Scully; Wilfred 'Jackie' Edwards; and Lascelles Perkins, whom Cowan remembers from the heyday of the Ambassador, one of the places where films were shown and singers also put on stage.

There are no plans to revive those days at that venue on Collie Smith Drive from Thursday's Christmas Joy in the Bass, which is free and open to all who would come. "We just want the people of Trench Town to have some of the Christmas joy," Cowan said.