The barn dance has ancient origins worldwide relating to celebrations of farm harvests and successful hunts. The dances take various forms; they may be organized country or folk dancing, religious worship, or marriage rituals. In the mid-1800s in Scotland, these dances were held by laborers where they imitated the behaviors of wealthy landowners. In the days of slavery in the Caribbean, dances had resistance themes where oppressed people would mock the plantation owner through dance. Dating back to the start of the ninetieth century in Jamaica, live orchestras would furnish music for barn dances. As a novelty, the informal dance might be held in a barn or an open barnyard-type area with animals, costumes, and music. Wally B Bryan is Jamaican-born, bred, and schooled. He was born in 1937 and lived on Pouyatt Street, just a few streets away from where Tom the Great Sebastian lived on Jamaica Street and by Barrel O’ Lawn. The Walker family operated an area bakery, and their property was rented for dances under the title of Pioneer Lawn. In 1955, Wally B promoted a dance at Barrel O Lawn in Jones Town with King Edwards The Giant Sound System. Wally B describes the dance that night: “That dance turn me into a man. The place was cork till it couldn’t hold. It was jam-packed! The street was block that night, and me sell-off nearly a van load of drink.” Dance promotion became a passion for Wally B that night and would continue throughout his life. Wally B emigrated to the UK in 1964 and continued to follow his native music by attending sound system events and promoting dances. The next step was to build his sound system in 1969, adopting the title of one of his favorite sound systems from home: Supertone Sound System. He went on to open his longstanding Supertone Record shop in 1983, which has been in operation ever since–featuring Jamaican and Caribbean music from the 1950s onward. Wally plays roots, rockers, lovers rock, and everything in between.
A Barn Dance, As told by Wally B of Supertone Records In a recent conversation, Wally B mentioned the theme of a barn dance. He went on to explain how he promoted his own “barn dance” back in Jamaica:
My friend used to work on a ship, and he show me how to cook the curry goat and make it nice. I keep a barn dance in the middle 1950s. Ya know what a barn dance is? A barn dance is a dance that you don’t use no electric light. You use lantern. It was a low-key kind of a dance where you keep the music down low and play all the calypso songs. That era kind of music-a tourist style of music. At the time, the barn dance had seen its better days, but we recuperate that kind of system for people who remember and could enjoy that type of dance. We make it on that level and are glad to know that somebody create that dance again. It was a revival night. The music that used to play was still hangin’ about ‘round the place, so you have to get a sound or DJ that knows that kind of music. I keep that dance at Victoria Pier at the bottom of King Street with Myrtle Bank Hotel just over at the other side on Harbour Street. Right at the water. They just refurbish that place and make the market for the tourists, and we keep the dance on top. Dickie’s Dynamic play for me there. Dickie’s was owned by a Chinese man that owned a store on Brynes Street in Jones town next to the post office. He sold all kind of fabric like tyrlene. All the people who come to a barn dance dress in more Jamaica national style of dress because it was old fashioned. We had people come from all ‘bout, and that was cork! We try it out, and we never know because we were pretty young to keep a barn dance, and the place was big. That was the first dance that ever keep at Victoria Pier at the club upstairs [of the] market. This was at the club where all the calypso bands play to attract the tourists (Wally B, interview by author, 21 November 2022).
Wally B – Supertone “An all-arounder in the business” Supertone Record Shop, Sound System, and dance promotion. 110 Acre Lane, London SW2 5RA www.supertonerecords.co.uk
Victoria Pier two-story club. Now owned by Andrew Azan. (2019, Rich Lowe)