Friends of the Youths of T&T hosted a celebration for Leroy “Black Stalin” Calliste’s 75th birthday, at the South National Academy for Performing Arts on Saturday.
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Pan enthusiasts served up plenty in finale
Interviewed at the front of the stage, calypsonian David Rudder looked as fresh faced as a teenager as he beamed, soaking in the afterglow of a stunning, hilarious National Panorama final performance by the NLCB Buccooneers in the medium band competition.
To the live radio broadcasters, he revealed that he had been “in the engine room” onstage with the band from Tobago. He didn’t say whether he was beating a pan or some kind of percussion instrument, but he declared himself honoured that one of his old songs, Madness from 1986, had been chosen to be performed all these years later.
It’s a perfect song for a pan rendition, but the beauty of the performance came from the delicious comedy the Tobagonians served up.
Wheeling their instruments up the ramp they were dressed as mental patients from a lunatic asylum or madhouse.
After being announced they stood with their backs to the audience for nearly a minute. The silence created drama as people waited to see whether this was intentional or a glitch.
Then a ‘doctor’ came and administered the band their “meds” in little cups which they duly drank down, shrieking with glee. Then they launched into a rousing performance that rocked the stands and pleased the crowds no end.
In the end they narrowly lost out to Pan Elders by just three points. But they did Tobago proud and could easily have won, which would have been a rare victory for the smaller island.
Last week, this T&T Guardian reporter, staying in Buccoo for the weekend, heard Madness rehearsed over and over. A glorious sound. But nobody could have anticipated those onstage hysterics.
There was a buoyant atmosphere amongst the pan aficionados, but none of the debauchery that accompanied the semifinals in the north stand and on the greens.
Elder patrons, ministers and specially invited international guests mingled. The competition, which began at 7 pm, ran late into the next morning. The large orchestras did not begin until 11.45 pm and the final performance was around 4 am.
Some people took the occasional forty winks as the draw for the final had saved the best for last. All Stars, Phase II and Renegades were bands 9, 10 and 11 to perform and all ended up in the top three, while Desperadoes, who performed fourth, finished fourth.
An army of Despers fans had walked onstage with them. But their chosen song, Spankin by Superblue, had perhaps become a little tired given it’s constant airplay.
The eventual winners by just one point, Phase II, was the only orchestra to play an original composition, a tradition Len “Boogsie” Sharpe has maintained throughout the 42-year lifespan of his Woodbrook band.
Perhaps the originality of the music earned them that winning extra point. It was, after all, too close to call for many in the crowd.
Trinidad All Stars, who had been victorious in the semis, seemed favourites to win and, after their final performance, the crowd justifiably assumed they had just witnessed the new champions.
All Stars delivers unique sound
As they had demonstrated in the semis, All Stars delivered a sound on a different level to the other bands. Whether it was the tuning, the way their instruments are made, or the way they strike the steel, the sonic sensation rang clear and harmonic, like a 100 sweet cowbells, 200 kettle drums and a dozen deep resounding timpani.
They bounded about non-stop, grinning with deranged glee. As they struck off the final notes the roars from the grand stand went on and on.
But the very next performance robbed them of victory by a solitary judge’s mark.
Phase II should not feel guilty at having “tiefed” the win, as some pan fans commented on Facebook thereafter. They have themselves lost out by a point on more than one occasion.
Midweek, the T&T Guardian had visited the Phase II panyard on Hamilton Street, Woodbrook and watched as Boogsie drilled his players over and over again on his composition, Jump High, until some of the players’ faces took on dead-eyed, disbelieving expressions that seemed to say “Why are you doing this to us, Boogsie, we wanna go home!”
The two Japanese girls who play with Phase II looked drained at the late-night rehearsals. The youngest member, Ruth, aged just 11, remained cheery enough, bright eyed and smiling despite it being way past her bedtime.
It paid off. After their triumph in the early hours of yesterday morning, they can all now sleep contentedly for a week, starting Ash Wednesday.
Onstage at the Savannah, with Destra Garcia vigorously waving a green flag wearing a t-shirt and dungaree shorts, the drained visages of Phase II had disappeared, replaced by lit-up smiles.
They were focused and determined despite having to wait until nearly 4 am to play and despite somebody being stabbed in front of the band as they practised on the drag.
Their crescendo finish, building up from an almost inaudible pianoforte to a crashing forte, left their supporters squealing excitedly and the audience knew then that the judges’ decision would be tight.
Phase II goes for hat-trick next year
Phase II won, retaining their crown, and now get another chance to go for the elusive hat-trick next year.
The following day, the T&T Guardian spoke to Junior Telfer, a foundation member of PanTrinbago and a Phase II supporter since the band’s inception. He waved a flag onstage on Saturday night with a lion on it, a tribute to his friend Boogsie.
“In the 1950s I had a great friend called Eamon Thorpe, the leader and arranger of a band called Crossfire, from St James,” Telfer said.
“He said to me, ‘Junior there’s a young pan player I want you to hear.’ He was about seven years old and they used to put him to stand on a box so the crowd could see him. That boy was Boogsie.”
Later, in 1972, Boogsie would form Phase II with some of his friends.
“He is from the heart and has been since the beginning. We who have been fans since day one love him and his music.”
Telfer went on to sound an important cautionary message about the future of the national instrument and its proponents.
“Phase II, like so many of the steelbands, have had a struggle to maintain the space for their panyards and it’s time Government stepped in. Usually they occupy a piece of land they don’t own.”
He said those in power in T&T would make a lot of political capital by getting the land valued and then buying it for the bands to keep as their own.
“With the huge amount of money coming from the petroleum industry and with the steelband being the definitive creative work of art to come out of that industry, since all the original instruments were made from oil drums, they should put enough money aside to purchase the pieces of land and sign them over to a committee determined by the bands themselves.”
Petrotrin Phase II would certainly drink to that as they toast their well earned success.