Soon after the People’s United Party (PUP) were swept back into office in late August of 1998, they made a decision to divest or privatize Radio Belize. As a result of how that PUP administration carried out that divestment/privatization, a former public officer became a multimillionaire. All the “good stuff” from 40 years of the British Honduras Broadcasting Corporation (BHBS) and Radio Belize were given to LOVE FM, which had begun broadcasting in February of 1993, while the scraps went to KREM Radio, which had begun broadcasting in November of 1989.
For history’s and journalism’s sake, there are many questions which should have been asked and which should still be asked about the birth of LOVE FM and the divestment/privatization of Radio Belize. But it is not for me to ask those questions, because, as an interested party, I would have a conflict of interest during the course of any such an investigation.
Whatever the case, as a former performer in various capacities on BHBS and Radio Belize from the mid-1950s until the late 1970s, I have the right to ask what happened to all the BHBS and Radio Belize tapes. What happened to the library? What happened to all the records and archives? The taping technology was old school, of course, but the taping technology and the technicians at the monopoly radio station were world class.
About the only thing I have ever heard broadcast from the BHBS/Radio Belize archives has been a couple George McKesey episodes. In fact, I have never heard any episode which featured his frequent partner, Gwen Murillo Gillett. I heard the McKesey episodes on LOVE FM.
The question of the BHBS/Radio Belize tapes arose for me a couple weeks ago when Stretch Lightburn, on his latest visit from Canada, told me that the bass guitarist, Godfrey McGregor, had played in a Francis Codd trio which performed on BHBS and/or Radio Belize. Francis Codd played keyboards (organ).
I don’t remember if I ever asked Stretch about the third member of the Codd trio, because the history was so exciting for me because of Mr. McGregor. At least two of Mr. McGregor’s daughters, Janice and Joan, were well-known singers, while at least one, and perhaps two, of his sons played with him during the prime years of Bert Nicholas’ Harmonettes. After Mr. Bert died and the Harmonettes folded, three of Mr. McGregor’s sons played with Dickie Straughan’s great Bamiki Bandula.
The McGregors, then, have been a famous music family in Belize, and, to the best of my knowledge, Mr. Godfrey was the outstanding patriarch. He was a strong, smiling, quiet, pleasant man whose wife was usually with him at public functions. I can’t say exactly when UBAD first held a dance with a band as such, which would probably have been the first time we made a link with the Harmonettes, who were not well known at the time. Throughout the early months of UBAD in 1969, all our fund-raising dances had been with sound systems, what we used to call “boxes.”
When I first went to see Mr. Nicholas where the Harmonettes used to practice at his home on Turton Lane off Vernon Street and Regent Street West, this would likely have been the latter part of 1969. Their lead singer was Anthony “Cheapy” Richards, who had previous fame amongst my generation because of his singing at St. Michael’s College and with a group called the Crystals, which also included Elihue Flowers and perhaps Dennis Lennon. Anthony “Soupa” Jones was not with the early Harmonettes. The man “Steeno” was on drums, the outstanding Bucko Cadle on rhythm guitar, a tall man called Daniel on trumpet, and Mr. Bert on sax. I don’t think Melvan was playing sax with the early Harmonettes. (Melvan afterwards became a superstar, both in Belize and Los Angeles.)
Around the time UBAD began to pick up crowds again in early 1970 after we separated from PAC, mostly because of the sedition arrest and trial, our relationship with the Harmonettes had become symbiotic. It is for sure that by the time of our sedition acquittal in July of 1970, UBAD was running a club on Racecourse Street where the Harmonettes were the featured attraction most weekends. Soon enough, the Harmonettes were “killing” crowds on Bird’s Isle and other dance venues for ladies softball promotions.
The intriguing part about Mr. McGregor’s having been a member of a Francis Codd trio in the late 1950s/early 1960s was the fact of their class and background differences. Mr. McGregor was a black, roots Belizean, whereas Francis, whose mother owned a store at the corner of Albert Street and Church Street, was a light-skinned member of Belize’s comfortable classes. (Francis’ mother was a distant relative of ours on our mom’s side.) For sure Francis Codd was a very gifted organist, and Mr. Mac was plain bad on the bass. It would have been interesting to hear them play together.
In closing, I would say that when I was growing up in colonial British Honduras, there were obvious attempts to impose cultural tastes upon us from Europe. Our musicians were probably our first artists, mid-fifties, I would say, to break out of the box, with the help of recorded music from Trinidad and Jamaica. A few years after that, music combos from the Yucatan in Mexico began to interact with Belizean dance lovers and musicians, and the stories of Los Aragon, Los Platinos, and Los Dinners surely must be told. Alfonso C, I am depending on you.