Tommy Cowan and the Claudie Massop link

Sunday Observer writer

Sunday, April 22, 2018

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ENTERTAINMENT types have always had ties to the underworld. Pianist Fats Waller played for Al Capone, Frank Sinatra had strong Mafia links, and Bob Marley hung with heavyweights from both sides of Jamaican politics.

In the 1970s when Jamaica was going through a bloody civil war, Tommy Cowan knew several 'top rankings' with ties to the People's National Party (PNP) which formed the Government for much of that decade, and the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).

His close friend was Claudius “Claudie/Jack” Massop, the JLP kingpin and West Kingston enforcer.

Cowan told the Jamaica Observer that the first time he saw Massop was in the summer of 1967 when he (Cowan) was a member of The Jamaicans, a harmony trio that won the Festival Song Competition that year.

“I was walking along Orange Street to see (music producer) Prince Tony and a set of youths started running towards me like they were going to give me a beating. While I'm running, a youth on a bicycle come at them and they ran away,” Cowan recalled.

Prince Tony witnessed the incident and enlightened a frightened Cowan about his 'saviour' when he entered his record shop.

“Him sey to mi, 'Yuh know who dat is?' Dat is Jack Massop,'” said Cowan.

Their paths crossed again in December when Cowan was at the Bond Street studio of Duke Reid, who produced most of The Jamaicans' songs. Massop stopped by to collect items from Reid for a children's treat in West Kingston and struck up what would be a lasting friendship with Cowan.

Their backgrounds were like night and day. St Elizabeth-born Cowan was from a middle-class family; Massop grew up in the ghettos of West Kingston, where his father Jack was an influential figure.

While Cowan flourished as a producer, music distributor and show promoter during the 1970s, Massop had a number of run-ins with the law and was jailed several times. Cowan remembers him as a “strong personality, but quiet. Didn't stand for foolishness.”

Weary of conflict between PNP and JLP gangs, Massop planned a peace concert for April 1978 with Marley as the main act. He approached Cowan to produce the event which would be held at the National Stadium in Kingston.

Aston “Bucky” Marshall and Milton “Tony” Welsh, Massop's PNP rivals, were also part of the planning committee.

The show, in terms of optics, was a success, with Marley calling Prime Minister Michael Manley and JLP Leader Edward Seaga onstage, holding their hands aloft in a rare show of unity.

But just over one year later Claudie Massop was dead, shot as many as 40 times by an 11-member police squad at Industrial Terrace in West Kingston. he died February 4, 1979. He was returning to Kingston in a taxi from a football match in Spanish Town.

It was Cowan who took him to Tivoli Gardens that Sunday afternoon.

“When we reached there, everybody was gone and he had second thoughts about going [to the match] but then said, don't bother and found his way there,” Cowan remembered.

They were expected to meet that evening at the Sheraton (later Hilton Hotel) in New Kingston for a weekly poolside dance.

“That's where we heard that he had died. It was just about after 6:00 when we got the news,” said Cowan.

Twenty-one-year-old Lloyd Fraser and 25-year-old Trevor Tinson were also killed with Massop. Two other men who were travelling in the taxi escaped.

The policemen were charged with three counts of murder, but cleared after a three-week trial in the St Thomas Circuit Court in December 1982. They testified that Massop and his accomplices were armed and fired at them.

Samuel Evans, the taxi driver, disputed this. He said the men were unarmed and that the police had blocked his vehicle, searched the occupants, then killed them in cold blood.

Cowan, now a Christian, was in England at the time of Massop's funeral, which reportedly drew 15,000 mourners to West Kingston.




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