Calypso for calamity island

Sting and the former Beatles producer Sir George Martin are just two of the stars helping Music for Montserrat. The Royal Albert Hall concert will link up with musicians on the island
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"On the map you can hardly find it, but it's always my paradise and everyone who have seen it has always been hypnotised. But beneath the green and the mountain, a volcano has been sleepin', and now he is awakenin', I don't know what to do."

On some maps, Montserrat is not even marked. But an angry volcano has thrust it on to the world stage, turning it from a hypnotic Caribbean paradise into an island of stuggling but plucky refugees.

The lyrics above, sung by the local Montserratian soca-calypso star known only as Arrow, will electrify the Royal Albert Hall on Monday. Following moving video images of the devastated island, Arrow will launch into his second best-known song, Ah Just Can't Run Away.

It tells why he and thousands of other islanders are refusing to leave despite two years of an erupting volcano which last month wiped out the island's capital, Plymouth.

In case anybody gets too morbid, he will also sing his biggest worldwide hit, (Feelin') Hot, Hot, Hot, a soca-calpso number he partly recorded in Sir George Martin's Air Studio on the volcano island. The studio is now ash-covered and abandoned in the volcanic flow danger zone.

At the same time that people are watching the Music for Montserrat concert in London, Montserratian and other Caribbean singers and groups, topped by former members of the Climax Blues Band, will hold a parallel concert here, right alongside a tent camp for refugees from volcano- affected zones.

The free concert, aimed at lifting the spirits of the islanders, has the blessing of Sir George Martin - the Beatles' producer and organiser of the London concert because of his love for Montserrat - and the British Foreign Office.

The Climax Blues Band were the first artists to record at the Air Studio, graced later by the Police, Dire Straits, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and countless others. Climax's keyboard player, Peter Filleul, is helping organise the bash in the village of Gerald's Bottom. It is the butt of many jokes - "live from Gerald's Bottom" - but the village is so named because it is on a piece of land that bottoms out at the foot of the island's Centre Hills.

The local concert will be small compared with London. There are probably little more than 4,000 islanders still left.

The organisers are being careful not to upset anyone by bringing in too much equipment on already-overloaded ferries. They have told the performers to expect no luxuries. "No limousines or luxury hotels on this trip. More of an expedition," said Filleul.

But it is being seen as a highly- symbolic event, aimed at cheering up the weary islanders, who have been breathing in volcanic ash even between eruptions, and signalling that normal life can still go on in Montserrat.

The concert is being called Many Happy Returns, not a reference to anyone's birthday but to all islanders' hopes - 7,000 have left over the past two years - that they will one day return.

Alongside Caribbean bands such as the Burning Flames from Antigua and Bankie Banx from Anguilla, local calypso singer the Mighty Ash will sing his popular tune Run to the North, referring to the fact that the islanders have had to flee to the safer northern zone as the volcano, in the south, erupted. "When the mountain crash, and you see the ash, just jam, jam, jam to the North," it goes.

"Listen to the scientist, listen to the latest, and hear what they have to say, and when they say to run, and you havin' fun, just prance, prance, prance to the North."

Gerald's Bottom is in the heart of the northern "safe zone", about six miles from the volcano as the crow flies, and thought to be out of reach of its deadly pyroclastic flow of red hot ash, gas and rock.

Those attending the Albert Hall may be focused more on Eric Clapton, Sting or McCartney but Arrow's lilting song, Ah Just Can't Run Away, written after his island's Soufriere Hills volcano first erupted in 1995, is likely to be the touching highlight of the concert.

The celebrated singer - real name Alphonsus Cassell and a shopkeeper in Montserrat in between his concerts - will launch into the number after an emotional video film showing the Montserrat capital, Plymouth, before and after it was devastated a month ago.

Arrow has spearheaded the sentiment that Montserratians should not take up British suggestions that they leave.

Backing it up with deeds, he is constructing a new shop in the north to replace his supermarket in Plymouth, now covered in ash, and one still operating in the possible danger zone at Salem.

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