Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Jamaican Halloween Spooktacular 2008 Track 10 - Font Hill Duppy

"Have you got the latest bill about the duppy 'pon Font Hill?"

I remember when I first heard a snippet of Count Lasher's "Font Hill Duppy" a few years ago and thought to myself, "Damn I wish I could find out more about this song!" For one, I couldn't figure out if the song was recounting a real life ghost story or just spinning a fictitious yarn and two, the website that featured the clip had claimed that the song served as an artistic metaphor for the Jamaican dollar's poor exchange rate and wasn't directly related to duppies at all.

Needless to say my interest was piqued and the record was thrown into my massive yet thoroughly unorganized wants list in my head and eventually slipped from memory. A couple years later the title surfaced again when I started getting stuff together for the first Halloween Spooktacular and I immediately went online, found the record and bought it. I was gratified to finally hold the long illusive single in my hands and I assumed that because I now had the ability to listen to the song in its entirety, I would be able to answer the lingering questions about its potentially spooky subject matter... but it didn't. I got the gist of what Count Lasher was getting at but without some tangible clarification or substantiation on the background I just felt like I was missing something. I tried searching online hoping to find further information but eventually I resigned myself to never fully understanding what "Font Hill Duppy" was really about.

So fast forward to early this September... I'm cruising around on Ebay and I came across thee most informative record auction listing, I've ever had the pleasure to read. The auction listing was written by long-time reggae aficionado, historian and musician Luke Ehrlich and lo and behold my questions were immediately answered!

Ehrlich wrote rather succinctly...

"Font Hill Duppy" is a humorous look at a sinister haunting that occurred in eastern Jamaica, in mid-summer of 1974. At Font Hill, a rural village in the parish of St. Thomas, elderly Mr. Isaac Brown and his wife Adina began experiencing alarming supernatural events in their house including unpleasant poltergeist activity. The ghost, known in Jamaica as a "duppy" or "jumbie", called himself Copie and spoke to the Browns, Font Hill townspeople and curiosity-seekers, never sparing use of the foulest language."

After I had absorbed the new found knowledge about the tune I immediately set out and e-mailed the seller and thanked him for the effort he put into his listing and asked for his approval to use the article written by Manfred Hampton-Nelson from the June 23rd, 1974 edition of the Jamaica Daily News you see above.

So you want to know more about the Font Hill duppy? Instead of paraphrasing and leaving you squinting trying to read the JPG of the newspaper article I'll give it to you verbatim...
"A filthy-mouthed duppy who says he wears a baggy has been drawing crowds to the remote St. Thomas village of Font Hill. Lacing his utterances with a choice array of Jamaican bad words, whom people say has given his name as "Copie," has manifested himself at the home of farmer Isaac Brown, 71, and his wife Adina, 68, over the last six or seven weeks.

Copie has so far defied the efforts of thousands of people who have traveled from far and near to get him to make an appearance. But hundreds say they have heard him speak. And all of those remark at his capabilities with badwords. "You think any of you can curse like him?" Mrs. Brown asked a crowd of 50 people who had gathered outside her fence as usual Wednesday afternoon.

Of course, Copie has been quite active apart from spouting obscenities. He has been burning fences, untying the donkey, silencing the dogs and drinking aerated waters. The first time Mrs. Brown says she knew something was amiss was one night when she heard a knocking at the door. Neither she nor her husband answered the knocking but she did not say why. Instead they started singing a hymn. At this, a voice which has since become familiar said, "me know that one." But the voice did not join with the singing, Mrs. Brown said. They then raised another hymn, and the voice said, "me don't know that one."

The activity then moved to the side of the house with Copie making
some furious noises. At this the Browns did get up and go to their veranda to get a look at what if anything was happening. Seeing nothing they began reciting the Lord's Prayer. At this a stream of profanity rent the night air in the voice they have now come to associate with Copie. At the top of his voice he reeled off every badword he knew.

From that time on he seemed to have taken up residence under the cellar at the rear of the house. And the people who gather there daily focus their attention at this spot.

Shortly after he first made his presence felt, Copie silenced the dogs. Apparently, they barked at him. Offended, he told them to bark no more. People who frequent the place say they have heard no sound from any one of the three dogs since then.

When the Daily News visited on Wednesday afternoon there was the usual weekday afternoon crowd of 50 people or so. Mr. Brown who was just about to leave to attend a JAS meeting stopped for a while to talk with the News. Mr.Brown said he travelled to Cuba in 1921, returned home in 1929, went to England with his wife in 1961 and came back here with her in 1964. On their return they bought the house in which they now live, a house which they had occupied as tenants some ten years before. They then bought some of the land surrounding the home. Mr. Brown expressed the view that the present situation was the result of envy on the part of other people in the district who want to get him to leave his house and land.

Mrs. Brown's grandchildren, Yvette, 11, Barbara, 9, and Joe, 7, live with the couple in the house. Mrs. Brown said quite definitely that she had no intention of leaving the house and those who wanted to get her out would have to kill her. "Him can do me anything, " she said, "I am not leaving my house." "Then Mrs. Brown, are you not frightened?" the Daily News asked. She said she was not at all frightened and turned again to the crowd to explain her faith in God.

While some stalwart men in the crowd confessed that they would experience fear under similar circumstances, others asked her about a story that Copie, like Mary's lamb, had followed her to Church on Saturday. (She is a member of the Seventh Day church)

Was it true that Copie carried on so badly in the church that congregation members chased her out, they asked. Mrs. Brown said that nobody had chased her from church on Saturday. She had gone to church and left early. She was not very clear as to whether in fact there was any duppy-type behavior in the precincts of the church that day.

She turned again without disrelish to Copie's carryings-on. That very day she said he had told her that he had taken away her condensed milk. The milk was in fact missing but later reappeared and he advised that

he had brought it back because he couldn't get through the tin.

She was not so lucky with other things. Her change-purse was taken and not returned. A soft drink bottle was emptied and the bottle thrown away. Fires have been lit at her fence and then have been put out. She, however, got back a traveling bag which contained her sister's clothing. When the bag came back, it contained her Bible and four stones. But things are even worse than
that. If Mrs. Brown attempts to scold or chastise the children, Copie objects and stones are thrown by unseen hands.

She sent the children to fetch water and Copie, objecting, told them "don't go a blast!" Once she was throwing water away and the voice said, "mind you wet up me baggy!" Copie also took Mr. Brown's wrist watch during an operation in which he "spread the table with sugar, flour and rice and baked a meal," apparently making sure the timing was correct. The voice told the Daily News Wednesday it was intruding. "What you come here for? You too fast!" it said.

Copie has told his own story of his coming. He said he had come from England on a boat that docked at Bowden. He had come to stay for six months to get his Ten Pounds and he was not interested in dollars and cents.

Mrs. Brown said the voice told her he would kill her grandchildren then her husband and herself. She is not afraid, she said, only embarrassed. Some nights the bust that passes the Brown's home, has to terminate its journey at that point, because of scores of vehicles which park blocking the road.

The Trinityville police, hearing about the matter, have gone to investigate on several occasions. And they told the Daily News that some members of the force had heard the voice. The police believe the whole thing is a hoax arranged to "deceive somebody." They are convinced something is fishy. But they have no evidence of criminal activity. They have found no implements of obeah, neither has there been any report of any breach of any law. The police say, however that they were old some six week ago, that a couple was seen at midnight in long black gowns "casting spells" in the presence of the Brown's home.

And the people in the area believe that whoever is responsible is a follower of DeLaurence, infamous writers and publishers of literature that is still on the banned list in Jamaica. The question now being asked are whether Copie will get his Ten Pounds, whether this will appease him sufficiently to cease his haunting, whether he will stay his six months anyway, whether any hard will befall the Browns or anybody else, or whether anybody will take the advise of a man in the crowd Wednesday who suggested they call Father. For, he said, Roman Catholic was the "highest science" that exists.

Meanwhile, the crowds still gather around the Brown's cottage at Font Hill."

Count Lasher, born Terence Parkins, is considered by many to be one if not thee greatest mento talents from the music's heyday of the 1950's. He was an accomplished singer and songwriter and his charisma and presence elevated him to a level of popularity that rivaled only that of King Flea. Interestingly enough, Lasher didn't hang it up when mento morphed into ska and as the years passed even recorded reggae tunes in the 1970's, like the one you'll hear today.

"Font Hill Duppy" was recorded in 1974, right in the midst of the duppy stir that had people all over Jamaica talking, by the legendary Clement "Coxsone" Dodd and released on his Bongo Man label. I hope by providing this additional background you'll have a better appreciation for this tune and thanks again to Luke Ehrlich for providing the historical information!

Track 10 - NEW LINK


danjo said...

Neat stuff you have here! I'd never seen these articles, so that's a real nice treat! Originally, Lasher had four verses into this tune (verses one, three and four are represented in the recording). Verse two (left out here) is about Copie's release and, in part, written from the Duppy's perspective (he's thankful that he's been let loose). What's really most interesting to me is the melody Lasher chose was (to me, at least) a lot like one used in a lot of "duppy" tunes floating around.

Great stuff!

Dan Neely

Reggaexx said...

Dr. Neely,

First of all, I'm honored that you have taken the time to check out my blog - I respect the work you have done and are doing now in documenting the history of mento music!

Secondly, what happened to the 3rd verse? Is there another recording of "Font Hill Duppy" or did you make that finding through word of mouth? I'd definitely be interested in knowing more!

Smith said...

Interesting..! I am waiting everyday for your Halloween selection...

danjo said...


Thanks for the kind words! To answer your question, no, I don't know of another version of the recording (Lasher did record an as-yet unreleased LP at Studio One; I've only heard part of it, but Font Hill wasn't part of what I heard -- anything's possible, I suppose, but I sort of doubt they did more than one version). I found out about the extra verse when I was living in Jamaica and Count Lasher's daughter let me see her dad's manuscript collection of songs. Font Hill Duppy was in the collection, and it contained the third verse to which I refer.



Anonymous said...

Thank you for the new links - they work great :)

trying to save listening to the tracks until I have collected them all, but it's hard... such killer cuts..

thanks again for all the great stuff that you share with us :)

Kenroy Forte said...

I really enjoy this piece. I have heard about it my self from my parents, i am from this very district in St thomas. I have done numerous research on this and i'm really happy to get a piece of my history, thank you. Email me at Bessfred@gmail.com