Lord Pretender

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The Independent Online

Alric Farrell (Lord Pretender), calypso singer: born 8 September 1917; died Port-of-Spain, Trinidad 22 January 2002.

Lord Pretender was the last survivor from calypso's first golden age in the 1930s. Alongside figures like Roaring Lion, Atilla (sic) the Hun and Lord Beginner, he helped to define Trinidad's traditional song style and became one of its most beloved stars.

He was the master of "extempo", an improvised form of calypso. "The trick," he once noted, "is always to have your first and last verse." His friend, and fellow calypso legend, the Mighty Sparrow commented: "When you think you have him, he rest a hot piece of extempo on you. He could think fast." In 1973 Pretender was crowned the first Extempo Monarch, setting the standard for all who followed.

Lord Pretender was born Alric Farrell on the island of Tobago in 1917. Raised by his grandmother on neighbouring Trinidad, he gained the sobriquet by which he was known as a child: "There was a boy who was real good at pitching marbles. One day we were playing and I said, 'I'm coming for your throne. I'm a pretender to your throne.' "

At the age of 12 he made his performing début in the Redhead Sailor calypso tent in Corbeaux Town. He had a talent for rhyme and an ability spontaneously to develop an intricate lyric reflecting upon the social issues of the day which would lead some musicologists to cite him as an unlikely pioneer in the field of rap.

In 1939 he came third in the first national Calypso Monarch competition with his "Virtue of Women". He repeated this placing in 1946 and over the following decade became a fixture on the famous Dimanche Gras stage. In 1957, Pretender took the title for the first and only time with an adaptation of the pop hit "Que Sera Sera". He made his last appearance in the Calypso Monarch contest in 1969.

In 1961 he recorded perhaps his best-known number, "Never Ever Worry". It was widely regarded as one of the greatest of calypsos, and he frequently revisited the tune including, most recently, in partnership with the rapso star Brother Resistance.

Paul Wadey