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Story of the Song | Chalice yearns for 'Heroes'

Published:Friday | October 12, 2018 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke

Heroes by the band Chalice is a song of longing for iconic figures of resistance and protest from three societies, tied together by the commonality of a negative black experience. It starts in the city that Chalice's Wayne Armond arrived in by air at night when he wrote the first verse on a vomit bag and works its way to South Africa. Along the way, Heroes takes a caustic look at the United States, and England gets a line or two.

Armond recorded Heroes in 1989 after he had stopped over in New York after Chalice had done a European tour. Coming into Kingston without his band mates and looking down at the lights, Armond said, "I had not seen Jamaica for three months. I thought it was so beautiful."

However, the lights did not blind him to the realities to which he was returning he thought about the rampant crime and acts of cruelty that lay beyond those lights and "it just came to me. I wrote it down on a vomit bag". That was not unusual as Armond said he has written five or six songs on the same item. What Armond wrote this time around was:

"Kingston's streets are so dear to me

But a cancer grows in our society

For they are poisoning the young ones' minds

With chemicals and guns

Is this the way to raise your daughters

Or to raise your sons?"

Then, Armond asks:

"If Marcus Garvey was in town

When all these things are going down

I am sure he would write a page or two

And tell the children what to do

And the songwriter advises:

Fret not thyself of things to come

The pestilence and the nuclear bomb

The evil that men do will soon come to an end

And the pure in heart will rise again."

While the first verse was complete by the time he was actually in the country, the rest was "developed over weeks until it became what it became".

Playing on the recording were Keith Francis (bass), Desi Jones (drums), Allah Lloyd (keyboards), Mikey Wallace (keyboards), Trevor Roper (guitar), Wayne Armond (guitar), and Dean Fraser (saxophone).

Armond sang lead on Heroes as "I wrote the song, I felt I could express it the best way. Part of that expression was being fed up with the United States' military activities around the globe". Armond, who had relatives in the US armed forces and would not like to have them hurt on duty in some far-flung place in the world, said, "It did not sit well with me." So he wrote:

"It's good to live in the land of the free

Just don't be poor or part of the minority

Hey, Lady Liberty, have you ever heard the sound

Of your native sons when they spill their own blood

On foreign ground?"

And then he refers to an American icon, asking, "Oh where is Martin Luther King/To make those bells of freedom ring?"

England gets glancing mention ("London Bridge keeps on falling down"), before Armond turns to South Africa with "and another black soul dies over in Cape Town".

The hero in this verse died over a decade before Heroes was written as Armond's lyrics go:

"Steve Biko died a captive man

Trying to bring freedom to his land

Although it remains the same

I know he never died in vain"

No matter the country or the hero, there is a common thread through Heroes, the comforting:

"Fret not thyself of things to come

The pestilence or the nuclear bomb

The evil that men do will soon come to an end

And the pure in heart shall rise again"

Heroes did not fit into the party-hearty mode that often drives popular music, but Armond said that Chalice was enthusiastic about recording it. "The band had always been open to doing alternate things," he said. And the arrangement was, as always with the band, Armond said, "a democratic process". The result was a "musical accompaniment just the way I wanted it (to complement the lyrics)."

Heroes came out on the Catch It album, with Armond saying, "although the album did not do so well, the song still stood the test of time. Everywhere I go, people tell me it is one of their favourite Chalice songs, and it is one of mine, too."