Little Drummer Boy: The talented and turbulent life of Montserrat music star Alfred ‘Lord Alfredo’ Archibald

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Photo courtesy Randy Greenaway
Alfred Archibald, better known as Saltfish or Lord Alfredo, won the Road March title four times in Montserrat.

On an overcast Tuesday in October of 2015, Alfred Archibald was laid to rest at Northern Cemetery in Nottingham, England. It was a sparse gathering, the mourners mostly locals who befriended Archibald after he relocated from Montserrat in 1998. Resting atop his coffin were a snare drum, four drumsticks and a black cowboy hat. The coffin was inexplicably draped with the national flags of Uruguay and Argentina two countries Archibald had never visited.

Archibald the Montserrat music star better known as “Lord Alfredo” or “Saltfish” died of respiratory failure on August 31, 2015. He was a resident at the Framework Housing Association, which provides shelter – plus clinical and health services – to people battling addiction or mental illness. The Nottingham City Council spent weeks trying to locate Archibald’s next of kin and even published his name in the local newspaper. When no one stepped forward, the Council paid for his funeral, which took place 36 days after his death.

Only about a dozen of Alfredo’s countrymen attended the service. Alfredo had become somewhat forgotten in a city that not many Montserratians reside. The man whose Road March songs once lured hundreds to the streets was sent off with a modest procession. It was hardly a turnout befitting his contribution to Montserrat and to music but it followed a theme in what was a life equally rife with talent and turmoil.

Alfredo spent his final years wandering the streets of Nottingham and beating on a drum. Since he was a boy, he yearned to visit England, where his mother migrated during the Windrush era. But he never envisioned the manner in which he would finally get there, whisked from Montserrat along with other mental health patients during the height of the volcanic crisis.

Alfredo’s time in Montserrat was partly defined by odd behavior, but there was a method to his madness. He was a musical mystic who marched to the beat of his own drum, a master of melody, improvisation and profound simplicity. He was obsessed with music, the military, and, at one time, bodybuilding. But sadly, physical and mental fitness are not mutually inclusive.

Photo credit: Facebook / My Montserrat
Lord Alfredo was once an avid body-builder, starting in the late 1960s.

HAILING FROM KINSALE

Alfred John Henry Archibald was born on September 22, 1949 and grew up in Kinsale, about a mile south of Plymouth, the capital. He was raised by his grandfather, John Mills, after his mother, Mary Mills-Archibald, migrated. Mr. Mills, who had emigrated from St. Kitts, was a tall, slender man with a bushy handlebar moustache. He operated a shop on Parliament Street in Plymouth and sold the popular “menthol” – a hard, sugar-coated candy that delivered the cooling sensation of a lozenge.

Former neighbors say Mr. Mills loved Alfred, and even sent him to private school Piper’s Prep in Plymouth. Alfred also attended nearby Wesley School. Rupert Pond, a musician who would later collaborate with Alfred, was his classmate at Wesley, a Methodist school.

“He would come to school with his pockets full of menthol and share with his friends,” Pond says. “I would say he was an average student, but even back then you could tell there was something a little off with him.”

During the 1960s, movies were shown at the Roman Catholic compound on George Street. Many of these films were Westerns, and boys would play “Cowboys and Indians”. Pond recalls some of Alfredo’s daring and dangerous tactics.

“Saltfish would go on top of the building, and someone would pretend to shoot him, and he would just fall off the roof to the ground,” says Pond, still marveling at how Alfredo never sustained a serious injury . . . or worse.

The nickname “Lord Alfredo” was obviously a takeoff of his given name, Alfred. A former classmate explained that the “Saltfish” moniker came about because Alfredo would beg shopkeepers for the bones and tails that were left over after the saltfish was cut. He would take the scraps home, boil them and add the water to rice.

Alfredo showed interest in music early, and he especially fancied percussion instruments. Neighbors say there was always some sound emanating from the residence, even the simple “shack-shack” – a long, slender seed pod from the Flamboyant tree that makes a rattling sound when shaken.

MELODY MAKER

As a teenager, Alfredo joined the Melody Makers, a band owned by fellow Kinsale resident Charles Mulcare. On December 28, 1967, the Melody Makers were the backing band for the Festival calypso show at the Montserrat Secondary School. It was the calypso finals debut of Alphonsus “Arrow” Cassell, who arrived with his own band, ostensibly because he didn’t feel the Melody Makers could play up to his standard. Arrow finished first runner-up and refused his consolation prize. Alfred “Mighty Warrior” Christopher won the crown.

“The Melody Makers played their hearts out for me that night,” says Christopher, now 84 and living in Florida. “It was almost as if they wanted to send a message to Arrow. When I walked on stage to sing, Saltfish said to me, ‘Christo, ley awi go!’ I can remember seeing him sweating away on the drums.”

During this period in the late 1960s, Alfredo joined a trend that many young men in Kinsale adopted: bodybuilding. Wilford “Moose” Meade, who later became a gym owner, restaurateur and political contender, was among them. In the early days, without access to proper weights, the men pumped iron using vehicle engine parts, such as a flywheel.

In an interview from the early 1990s, Alfredo said his body “dropped” in 1969 when he took a hiatus from bodybuilding. So in the early 1970s he decided to focus on music.

Photo credit: The Montserrat Reporter
Lord Alfredo belts out a tune in this undated photo.

A WAKE-UP CALL

Alfredo made his big splash as a solo artist in 1973 with the song Jump Up Girl, also called Wake Up Girl. The only recording of the song is a live version, captured at Sturge Park during the ’73 calypso eliminations. The backing band was Aquarius, which featured Pond – Alfredo’s former Wesley classmate – and the versatile Michael “Dasha” Underwood. Christopher, who by this time had retired from the calypso arena, was the show’s MC.

“Saltfish never used to go to the bandhouse for practice,” Christopher says. “On the night of the show, Dasha told [the Festival Committee] they wouldn’t play for Saltfish because they didn’t know his song. Saltfish asked them to let him play the guitar, and he told the band, ‘Just follow me.’ “

The band members were reluctant at first but finally agreed. Alfredo strummed the rhythm, and with Pond playing a classic bass line, the song was an instant hit and earned the Road March title. Jump Up Girl is considered by many to be Montserrat’s first official, consensus Road March.

LISTEN TO ‘JUMP UP GIRL’ (1973)

The following year, Alfredo won the Road March again, this time with It’s Morning Light, which had a similar theme to Jump Up Girl, with the lyrics, It’s morning light, wake up honey pie. In 1975, he made it a trifecta with The Sound of Music. A year later, Arrow – now an international recording star – used Alfredo’s song A Time For Everything on his album Positively Jumpy.

MILITARY MAN

During his musical journey, Alfredo also fulfilled one of his childhood dreams by joining the Montserrat Defense Force. It was the best of both worlds for him because the Defense Force featured a band . . . and in a marching band, the drummer plays an integral role.

Ozie Carty, a former trumpeter with the band Hammah International, served with Alfredo in the Defense Force.

“I remember he carved a big gun from wood and he would walk around town with it,” Carty says. “He would always dress in some kind of military color, usually brown or khaki.”

Alfredo took his role in the Defense Force seriously. He was once placed on guard duty during camp. The soldiers were issued a strict curfew. Major Fred Barzey was commanding officer at the time. Barzey apparently believing the rule didn’t apply to him returned to camp after curfew, and Alfredo refused to allow him entry. Barzey would later expel Alfredo from the Defense Force for being unkempt, and friends say that dismissal broke Alfredo’s heart.

Carty says Alfredo had an uncanny knack for creating songs.

“He always had his drumsticks with him. He wasn’t like most drummers. His drumming would make a rattling sound, like in the military. When [Hammah International] used to play for him, he was very easy to work with. He knew the melody and chord structure. He would take the guitar and strum it and tell our guitarist [Silas Carty], ‘This is the kind of strumming I want.’ ”

Alfredo also displayed a wealth of knowledge that belied his lack of a secondary education. During a 1992 interview, he spoke about being inspired by the movie The Sound of Music – notably actor Christopher Plummer’s rendition of Edelweiss – and classic instrumentals such as Peanut Vendor.

Photo courtesy Randy Greenaway
Lord Alfredo in December of 1993.

TOUGH TIMES

In December of 1979, Alfredo’s beloved grandfather John Mills passed away in Glendon Hospital at age 82. Sadly, the recipe for the classic “menthol” also died with him. Mr. Mills’ son continued the business, but many say the menthol never tasted the same.

As for Alfredo, he eventually ended up living alone in the family home in Kinsale. By all accounts he never held a steady job.

“I remember he used to make boats out of coconut shell and sell them,” says Meade, the former bodybuilder. “Other than that, I don’t remember him working.”

Instead, Alfredo sometimes panhandled, usually for a quarter or 50 cents at a time. He once accumulated about $500 in coins. When he went to Barclays Bank to exchange the coins for paper currency, the bank contacted the police, believing the coins were stolen. Thankfully, a police officer who also resided in Kinsale vouched for Alfredo.

Alfredo’s peculiar behavior, reclusiveness and appearance caused many to wonder about his mental state. Others wrote it off as him simply being eccentric.

In recent years, studies about mental health have evolved, and so have the diagnoses and treatment. In the 1970s and ’80s, Montserrat was still entrenched in an era in which people who behaved oddly were simply branded as crazy. Alfredo became a patient of the mental health unit. Although never known to be violent, he would sometimes receive sedative injections that would turn him into a virtual “zombie” – according to several witnesses.

In 1980, Alfredo made a brief return to local musical stardom when he captured his fourth Road March. But this time, the song – while jumpy and catchy – was rooted in trauma. Socialism Jam featured the lyrics, Jam to the left, Wail to the right, Wine in the center. In Jonathan Skinner’s publication When Calypso Goes Too Far (2001), Alfredo stated that the song described a sexual assault he suffered. Another line in the song possibly alluded to his mental struggles: I couldn’t come ’79 because my head was too high.

LISTEN TO ‘SOCIALISM JAM’ (1980)

FINALLY, ENGLAND

In the 1980s and ’90s, Alfredo released songs sporadically, such as Global Jam, J’ouvert ’89 and People’s Tune. Like most residents in Montserrat, he was displaced when the volcanic crisis began in 1995. During the tumultuous years of massive migration to England, he finally made it to the UK and was placed in Nottingham, first at Alexandra Court, then later at the Framework Housing Association. He was not in touch with many Montserratians, including family members. He made new friends who addressed him as “John” – his middle name – and he sang karaoke on Friday nights at a pub on Mansfield Road. There were even rumors that he became a dentist.

Sharon Hoey, an Occupational Therapist, was Alfredo’s support worker at Framework. Speaking in October of 2022, she detailed her memories of “John”.

“During the last year of his life, John went with me to a drumming club where he met with local people from the Nottingham Community and joined a drumming circle. Sometimes this was outside in community gardens and sometimes in a community center. The drummers were all sorry to hear of his passing.  

“When John was hospitalized at the end of his life I visited him as much as I could and he made me smile with his demands. He wanted me to bring him Caribbean food, mango and ‘good ginger beer’. He made me write a list. We once arranged a Caribbean night where he played the drums and guitar and sang. I remember him singing Edelweiss, Que Sera Sera and he also did some yodeling. I got him a Montserrat flag and put it on the wall. 

“John talked to me occasionally about being a musician in Montserrat and he told me someone had stolen his music. I wasn’t sure how much of it was true with his mental health. He was generally very quiet with people at Framework but it was lovely to hear him open up at times.”  

Asked about the South American flags on Alfredo’s coffin, Hoey could not explain the mystery. “I wondered if they came from his room or if the Council got wrong flags,” she says. “I know he had kept the Montserrat flag I gave him.”  

Photo courtesy Sharon Hoey
Lord Alfredo plays the drums during his time in Nottingham.

Beatrice Fenton, a fellow Montserratian who lived in Nottingham, bumped into Alfredo every now and then.

“Whenever I would see him we would chat about Montserrat, and in his quiet way he would smile,” Fenton says. “In 2012, I asked him if he was going to join the many people celebrating 50 years of Festival in Montserrat. He told me he needed documentation and financial aid.”

That trip home never transpired. Three years later, Alfredo was gone, just three weeks shy of his 66th birthday. He made specific requests for his sendoff. Among them, he wanted a traditional Methodist service, he asked to be buried in Nottingham, and he requested two hymns: O God, Our Help in Ages Past and Onward Christian Soldiers. He also asked to be buried in military attire.

His death certificate listed several respiratory and cardiac ailments that led to his demise. It also finally revealed his diagnosed mental affliction: Schizophrenia.

The Nottingham City Council teamed with the Co-op Funeral Home to arrange Alfredo’s service. They chose the “Simple Plan” – the cheapest non-cremation package – but it was hardly a pauper’s burial. Alfredo’s coffin arrived in a Mercedes-Benz mini-van, and several members of the funeral home bowed in reverence before its removal for interment. The drum, drumsticks, cowboy hat and flags also provided an aura of dignity.

In a cold, six-foot grave, 4,100 miles from home, dressed in a uniform of war, Alfred Archibald was finally at peace.

Photo credit: Michael Sweeney / Facebook
Lord Alfredo’s coffin is draped with the flags of Uruguay and Argentina on October 6, 2015.
Photo credit: Beatrice Fenton / Facebook

LORD ALFREDO SINGS ‘MUSIC SENSATION’

Video courtesy Sharon Hoey
Lord Alfredo performs at the Framework Housing Association on May 1, 2015. He died August 31, 2015.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for this, Edwin. What an amazing amount of research you must have put into this, including finding the songs. I have several memories of “Saltfish” from Montserrat – charging across the cinema carpark in his military gear with backpack and fixed (wooden) bayonet (but gladly saying “Good Afternoon” in mid-charge), waking me up with his “hup, two, three, four” loud marching along the main road in Salem at about three in the morning, among others.

  2. I truly wish a memorial for him will be done in Montserrat.
    A moving story, very well written. Thank you. May He Rest In Peace.

  3. That was a very good account of Alfredo or ‘Saltfish Tail’ RIP, as we called him growing up.
    I have known him from childhood and actually mentioned him in one of my short stories, ‘J’ouvert marnin jump up’.
    So sorry to hear of his experiences in the UK. It is heartening to hear he had a decent burial even though his final flags were incorrect.
    I recall when I was a child he used to burst out in song about Uganda. That was never deceloped into a full song as far as I am aware.

  4. We’d greet Saltfish when we’d see him, he’d reply, or give us a nod. I didn’t know about his talents. We would hear him marching by Old Towne in the early morning. Thank you for this article.

  5. Well well Edwin Martin , so proud to know that my childhood friend has such remarkable life achievements. I remember the first day you came to Dunbar Elementary. I was glad to meet someone from my father’s birthplace, Montserrat. I’m always eager to learn as much as I can about that island and it’s people. Thanks for writing such a colorful account of a person whose mental condition didn’t overshadow his musical talents.

  6. Thanks for this , he would always give me a nod, when ever i see him, i started out playing the drums and took lessons in Plymouth, he would come by or be there already. we did not speak much but he would always acknowledge me. RIP my friend.one of the best talents of Montserrat.

  7. I had tears in my eyes as I read this story and learned a lot I didn’t know before about Alfred. He may have been a ‘little off’, but he was one of the best musicians hailing from this little island. Thank you, Edwin, for this well-researched and informative documentary. May Lord Alfredo rest in eternal peace.

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