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The Nostalgic Panyard
From Tabanca to Rain
A BRIEF HISTORY OF AN "INSTITUTION"
(1935 - 1999)
Sixty-four years of Discipline, Dedication and Magnificence
The history of Trinidad All Stars by and large is as old as the Steelband Movement itself.
In 1935, the band was known as Hell Yard Boys. Hell Yard itself was a poor area on the banks of the East Dry River in Port of Spain. This name changed several times to Second Fiddle, Cross of Lorraine and finally All Stars, chosen because of the perceived superior ability of its players. By 1946, the word Trinidad was added to the name.
The band is credited with a number of steelband innovations through its first captain, Prince Batson, and pan innovator, Neville Jules. These include the introduction of classical music on pan – played to Calypso rhythm and known as the Bomb, the quarto or alto pan, now called the double second, the bass pans and the use of two sticks.
The band’s watchwords of Discipline, Dedication and Magnificence have played a major role in the band’s successes over the years. Trinidad All Stars has taken part in most of the major steelband competitions. To date, it has won the Panorama (Calypso) Competition four (4) times, Bomb Competition (Classical piece to calypso rhythm) five (5) times and Steelband Music Festival (Classical music played as per score) six (6) times – a feat that is envied by many.
The band also staged the first classical music concert by a steelband in 1974 and every two years thereafter. The last was Classical Jewels VIII held in 1991.
Trinidad All Stars has been the recipient of the following National Awards:
The band has made a number of international tours playing to large audiences wherever it performed. Countries toured include Barbados, Bermuda, Canada, China, Puerto Rico, Scotland, St. Maarten, the United Kingdom and the U.S.A.
Some prominent persons who have contributed to the success of the band over the years are:
Tuning of Instruments: Neville Jules, Allan Jervais, Leo Coker
Arrangers: (Panorama) Neville Jules, Rudolph Wells, Leon (Smooth) Edwards, Eddie Quarles.
Musical Directors / Conductors: (Classical Performances) Jerry Jemmot, Gillian Nathaniel Balinthulo, Nelson Villafana.
The band has been fortunate in having very supportive corporate sponsors starting in 1968 with Hand Arnold – Catelli Primo continuing to 1988 and then the conglomerate, Neal and Massy Holdings, from 1988 to the present time.
© 2000 Trinidad All Stars Management Committee
1999 marks the thirteenth anniversary of my association with Trinidad All Stars. Our initial recording was done at the auditorium of the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago on December 21st 1986. It was entitled Nostalgia and released on cassette. Delos International of California reissued some of the music on our first compact disc, Steelbands of Trinidad and Tobago.
Subsequent experiences have convinced me that the best place for recording large steelband ensembles is outdoors, live to two track. This album was compiled from four such sessions, the first being on February 21st 1998 (Me and Mih Lady) with 120 players, the second on May 20th 1999 (96 Medley) with 60 players and the third and fourth on November 24th and 25th 1999, respectively with 23 players. I recorded these performances late at night at the panyard. Any extraneous noises, which you may detect while listening, are not unpleasant and would have originated from sources located at least 150 yards away from the microphone arrays.
Over the years, I have often tried to analyse why the music of All Stars is so distinct. I have finally concluded that one significant factor is the bounce in their rhythm. This must be attributed to Neville Jules, their first arranger who has succeeded in "handing down" his style to every other arranger, from Rudy Wells to Leon "Smooth" Edwards. When you listen to Jules’ arrangement of the ‘96 medley performed at coasting speed on track 10, this fact is clearly evident. His clever integration of four melodies into a seamless whole creates the instantaneous effect of triggering your memory into a nostalgic past…
You remember 3000 All Stars masqueraders playing sailor on Carnival Monday and Tuesday in the late fifties. You close your eyes and see them swaying synchronously from side to side on the streets, throwing powder (Cashmère Bouquet made by Cussons) into the crowd while simultaneously sucking sweet Coca Cola laced with sugar cane distillate from nipples attached to family size bottles. Incredibly, the band was so large that about 90 percent of the members could not hear the accompanying steelband music. Yet the sound of the chip… chip... chip... chip… of their feet was so metronomic that it created a rhythm that kept them going all day long.
Much of the All Stars nostalgia is rooted in their discipline, of which the best example that I have witnessed relates to a bell. This instrument was given to the band by former captain Prince Batson circa 1971. The bell in All Stars panyard may be compared with the mace in a court of law. It is used by the band’s arrangers to attract the attention of players during rehearsal and to count their Panorama renditions. No one dares to hit a note or to coast after they hear ting…ting…ting…ting. The bell can be heard on tracks 10 (coasting speed) and 11 (Panorama tempo) of this album.
Traditional community spirit and camaraderie have kept All Stars alive for over six decades. On any given evening their panyard is filled with elders and youngsters alike, playing draughts or cards, rehearsing music or just liming. I can think of no other steelband that has an annual old boys’ Christmas dinner and children’s Christmas party that has gradually escalated from being organized for children of band members only (about 60 odd) to children of the entire neighbourhood (over 600).
Finally, during all my thirteen years of recording steelband music I have never left my equipment overnight in any panyard. Yet, when the invitation came from All Stars during the final phase of this project, I deemed it an honour to do so. There was a feeling of mutual trust.
© 1999 Simeon L. Sandiford
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