Pan pioneer Sterling Betancourt had his audience paying rapt attention when he spoke about the early years of the steelband, which started with the tamboo bamboo bands. The 82-year-old panman went into his early childhood in Laventille, which saw him running away from home to join his family Bowen tamboo bamboo band with only a merino (vest) and no pants. He said when the tamboo bamboo band clashed it was war and rebellion, with bamboo flying all over the place.
Giving demonstrations with a paint pan of the rhythms of the tamboo bamboo bands, as clear as a bell, he sang the war cry: "Doh break up meh band, is war and rebellion. If yuh break up meh band, yuh go live in the station (police)." He later went on to form Hell's Kitchen with Hugh Borde and others in St James. That's where a distinguished career in pan started, which saw him awarded a Member of the British Empire (MBE). Betancourt lamented that the early years of the steelband was filled with violence, with some of the most feared band Bar 20, Tokyo, Casablanca, Hell Yard and Rising Sun fighting among themselves, with the cutlass as the weapon of choice. Couple iron bolts, bottles and stones were thrown in with amazing accuracy. The formation of the Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra (TASPO) was an escape route for the pan pioneer who stayed on in Britain. He was fed up with the violence back home, and determined to take his chances in chilly London.
He has no regrets. Betancourt said he was even advised by the late great Kitch that there were no badjohns in London, "the cold is the badjohn." Among his fond memories with TASPO, was the time in Paris when their rusty pans were thrown out by the cleaners and they had to rush to save them; and when they were accused of black magic through the sound of the pans. The TASPO group was also called "dustbin boys," but it was a title they were happy with.