"Typically Tropical" are generally remembered today only for their 1975 number one hit single "Barbados", and are usually described as being "one-hit wonders". However, Jeff Calvert and Max West continued to record together for another six years, although not always under the name Typically Tropical. Interviewed in October 1975 by Sally O'Sullivan for the teenage girls' magazine "Hi!", they commented: "Typically Tropical was a great name to go with Barbados but we knew when we chose it that it would be pretty limiting. After all, we couldn't really release a record in mid-Winter and call ourselves "Typically Tropical" could we?"
Max continues: "Jeff and I met up about five years ago. I was rehearsing with a group across the road from his house and he used to pop over and listen to us. We've been great friends ever since and as we were both interested in writing music we decided to do some work together. We wrote a lot of songs in the course of about three years but no one really took any notice of us. Then Jeff went on a cruise to Barbados and came back full of tales of the sun and the sea and bouncing away to the reggae rhythm. One day I just sat down at the piano and started strumming out a few chords and Jeff came in with the chorus. And that was it. We wrote Barbados within half an hour and the nice thing about it was that it was completely spontaneous."
Jeff takes up the story: "I was a recording engineer in Morgan Studios so I've had a lot of experience with the technical side of music. Then, when I met Max and we started to write songs we were able to use the studios to make tapes. We've written over thirty songs in all but Barbados was the first one we were sure had hit potential."
After hearing the demo version of Barbados, recorded in the spring of 1974, David Howell of Gull Records wanted to hear more, but instead Jeff and Max asked for £1500 to finish both Barbados and another track they'd written, "The Ghost Song" and to record Barbados' B-side "Sandy". Having agreed, Gull then signed them up for three singles. Barbados was finished at the end of 1974, but Gull decided to wait until May 1975 to release it. In August that year it reached number one, and the rather surprised duo, having performed it on Top Of The Pops, decided to write another nine songs for the album "Barbados Sky", which was released at the same time as the follow-up single "Rocket Now" (backed with "Hole In The Sky"), and sold around 8000 copies.
Opening with the hit single Barbados, the version on the album was slightly different. It began with an additional pre-take-off conversation between Captain Tobias Willcock and Air Traffic Control, whereas the single version begins with the Captain's welcome to his passengers. At the beginning of the single, but not on the album, is the unusual sound of grasshoppers chirruping (which also features at the end of Rocket Now), and a dog barking. The album version of the track curtails the single's original ending, fading out earlier.
Jeff and Max decided to release The Ghost Song as their next single in November under their own names ("Calvert & West") with "Eternity Isle" as the B-side, but as with all their subsequent singles, it didn't do terribly well.
In May 1976 the third single from the album, "Everybody Plays The Fool" was released, Gull hoping to recreate the summer atmosphere and success of Barbados. This was the first of four singles not to be written by Max and Jeff, and had originally been a hit for the group "The Main Ingredient" in 1972. This single version is slightly longer than the album version (which fades out early). An intriguing alternative early version exists, but its origins are rather mysterious. At first glance, it appears to have been released on the Pama Supreme label (catalogue PS 338(2)), and backed with Lovers Concerto, a track by The Marvels, who also recorded on Gull Records. However, the Pama Supreme label is just a reuse of old label stock, and nothing is known of the origin of this pressing, except that it is likely to be Jamaican. The track length is shorter than the UK single, and the two spoken sections are quite different, the accent being stronger, and with different lyrics. The backing track is almost identical to the UK version, but with slight instrumental differences.
Following their lack of success with Everybody Plays The Fool (with the short but infectious "Sylvan's A Barbadian" as the B-side) Jeff and Max decided to release another single in July, this time under the name "Rollercoaster". The single "Bridlington" was backed with a second outing for Eternity Isle; being very much a novelty song (as was The Ghost Song), further chart success still eluded them.
Their contract with Gull for three singles having expired (presumbably singles released under other names didn't count), Typically Tropical signed up with Pye Records for their next single "Jubilee" backed with "Pretty Baby", in 1977. Released in May, in time for the Queen's Silver Jubilee celebrations the following month, it failed to chart. Max later recalled that he thought it a "dreadful record" and Pye decided not to exercise their option for a further single. Meanwhile, the duo's former label, Gull, decided to have one more stab at success, and in May 1978 re-released Barbados, this time backed with "In The Stew".
The following year Typically Tropical signed up with Hobo, which was owned by the former head of Morgan Studios, where Barbados Sky had been recorded (and where Max had worked for a brief time before being sacked for working through the night on the demo version of Barbados). The suitably bouncy song chosen as the next single was George Wright's "My Rubber Ball" which had been passed to them as a typical Typically Tropical-type song. It was released in May 1979, and was backed with "The Joker", a song which continued the story of Barbados' former bus driver from Brixton, who had decided to return to London despite the rain.
The final original single was "Lady D"", a song by L.G. Lovindeer, and was backed with "Cool Cool Music". This was released in June 1981 on Jeff and Max's own label, Whisper, which they'd originally set up to release songs by Sarah Brightman, having written the hit "I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper" in 1978. Riding on the back of a wave of national rejoicing over the forthcoming wedding of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer, this catchy number, complete with wedding bells and steel drums, ought to have been a hit. But it was not to be.
Following this, Old Gold re-released Barbados for its third and final outing, now backed with its follow-up single Rocket Now, in November 1981. This was the tenth and final single, marking the end of Jeff and Max's seven years recording together as Typically Tropical. In an interview with Jason Humphries, Max comments that "there are some unreleased Typically Tropical tracks from the original days somewhere" and that he "never discounts another chance they may do another single together if it came along at the right time."
- "Barbados" / "Sandy" (GULS 14) released 23 May 1975
- "Rocket Now" / "Hole In The Sky" (GULS 19) released 3 October 1975
- "The Ghost Song" / "Eternity Isle" (GULS 24) released 14 November 1975 under the artist name "Calvert & West"
- "Everybody Plays The Fool" / "Sylvan's A Barbadian" (GULS 38) released 7 May 1976
- "Bridlington" / "Eternity Isle" (GULS 41) released July 1976 under the artist name "Rollercoaster"
- "Jubilee" / "Pretty Baby" (PYE 7N40061) released June 1977
- "Barbados" / "In The Stew" (GULS 59) released May 1978
- "My Rubber Ball" / "The Joker" (HOS 001) released May 1979
- "Lady "D"" / "Cool Cool Music" (WSP 103) released June 1981
- "Barbados" / "Rocket Now" (OG 9158) released November 1981
- "Everybody Plays The Fool" / "Lovers Concerto" (PS 338) date unknown, and presumed to be a Jamaican pressing. Note that "Lovers Concerto" is not Typically Tropical, but a track by The Marvels.
- Barbados Sky (1975)
- List of one-hit wonders on the UK Singles Chart
- List of artists who reached number one on the UK Singles Chart
- "Biography by Amy Hanson". Allmusic.com. Retrieved 19 June 2009.