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The Grand Dame of Pan

Monday, March 14, 2016
Ursula Tudor being recognised for her contribution to Desperadoes at the band’s 50th anniversary function. PHOTOS: GREGORY PEROTTE Inset: A flashback to Ursula Tudor playing for Desperadoes.

Ursula Tudor is referred to as “a veteran diva of pan” having played the national instrument for the past six decades. She began her romance with pan with Serenaders, led by Sylvan Grant, at Mapp Lands, Laventille. She subsequently joined Fairyland from 2nd Caledonia, Morvant before joining Desperadoes in 1970.

“Serenaders was based close to where I lived,” said Tudor, “and I used to enjoy listening to its music. I was about five years old so pan music was the music you could say was what I heard most. I had a bigger brother, Kenrick, who played with Serenaders, but I actually learned to play the instrument through Lloyd Lucas, my common law husband, who was the leader of Serenaders at the time. I was a teenager of 17 years when I began playing. 

“I got a lot of resistance from my parents to play pan as they used to say ‘that is badjohn thing’ and not something for a young lady. I was the second girl of 18 children and my father didn’t make joke. 

“He forbade his daughters from having anything to do with pan, not even to go by the steelband. He would beat us if we ventured into a panyard or looked to jump up in a steelband. But I used to run away and go take my jump for Christmas and Carnival.” 

Tudor unearthed her creativity early on in her playing days as, having played bass with Serenaders, she mastered the double tenor with Fairyland subsequently. 

She remembered: “Back in those days women didn’t play pan. That was unheard of, but I followed Lloyd. People used to be amazed to see me playing with the guys. Although I had left home and was living with Lloyd, my parents would still raise hell about me playing pan.”

Tudor is one of the stalwart players of Desperadoes and is widely admired by pan women nationwide and audiences internationally. 

“I joined Desperadoes because after Fairyland, Lloyd returned to playing with Desperadoes. I became interested in the band’s music and Lloyd used to teach me the repertoire at home. By then, I used to be in the panyard every night at practice so when I actually joined, it didn’t surprise the other members. 

“They all welcomed me as a sister. The first pan I played in Desperadoes was owned by either Robert Greenidge or Winston Theobald.”

Tudor’s first Panorama competition with Desperadoes was in 1971 and she reminisced: “The arranger was Beverly Griffith and I handled the music well. I got my first of nine Panorama wins in 1976 when the band played Pan in Harmony. 

“That was a big thing for me, one of my happiest moments in Desperadoes. It was also the first time I toured with Desperadoes, going to Jamaica.” 

After the Jamaica tour, Tudor accompanied the band to Cuba, Texas, New York, England, Africa, Switzerland, China, India and several Caribbean countries. 

“I really enjoyed my Jamaican tour, maybe because it was my first trip. England was also nice as we spent two months there. 

“Foreigners seem to enjoy our music more than we do ourselves. When we perform abroad, the foreigners sell out the venue and give us standing ovations, encores and raves. In Trinidad the hardest thing to do is to sell out a steelband concert, yet we are supposed to be ‘the Land of the Steelband’ and pan is our national instrument.”

Now a great-grandmother of nine, Tudor has 19 grands and is the mother of six (two deceased). She said: “Unfortunately, two of my children who played pan with Desperadoes have passed. 

“I have two grands and one great grand who play pan.

“I think learning to play pan can solve many of the social ills in this country and will definitely reduce the crime rate. Learning the instrument requires discipline and time. 

“Right now Desperadoes has a youth band and the young people seem to be more hungry for the music that anything else. 

“I find that the Government should create a university of pan for young people when they leave secondary school; not teaching them simply how to play the music, but the science behind making the instrument, tuning the instrument, arranging and management of a steelband. T&T is the mecca of pan and we should promote pan on an educational level.

“When I was younger we played pan for fun, not for money. But today pan is a big business and can generate a lot more revenue that it has been generating for the country.”

Tudor is hard pressed to pick her favourite Panorama selection by Desperadoes. 

“I can’t pick one as I love them all. I love Pan in Harmony, Rebecca, In My House and this year’s Different Me was really something else.” 

She has worked with six different arrangers for Panorama as well as with Dr Pat Bishop, Raymond Artie Shaw and Edouard Wade in Steel band Festival competitions and also cannot name her favourite, but did say that the late Clive Bradley was unique. 

Said Tudor: “Clive was special. Some times in the yard, Clive would walk away from the band and would return dancing and you would know that it a new part of the arrangement he was coming with. He was genius when it came to music.”

Tudor also cannot chose another steelband she would like to play with, or whose music she likes to hear. 

She said: “For me it’s been 46 years of Desperadoes and as far as I am concerned it is very difficult to like any other’s band’s music or want to play for any other steelband. 

“Desperadoes is just original and different to all of them.”

Tudor believes that this year’s National Panorama victory was one of the best for Desperadoes. 

She said: “From the beginning of practicing this tune (Different Me) everybody was dancing, from beginning to end, in the yard. When you see that kind of thing in Desperadoes, expect trouble. 

“The band was well rehearsed and drilled, and every musician thoroughly enjoyed playing the music Zanda gave us.”