A Decade of Panyard Recordings
Written by Simeon L. Sandiford
Thursday, 21 July 2011 22:10



1997 marks my tenth year of recording Panorama compositions in the panyards. It has been my practice to record the major steel orchestras during their final rehearsal before competing for the coveted title of ‘Panorama Champions’. Although there are many reasons why I choose to work in the panyards and not at live performances, the most important ones are as follows:

· There is no tension of competition and several ‘takes’ can be made, especially at slower speeds where the beauty and intricacy of the arrangements can be appreciated and analysed for their content;
· it is generally possible to re-arrange players and instruments in the panyards to obtain the type of tonal balance necessary for recordings of reasonable quality;
· the stomping of feet, roaring of patrons as well as uncontrollable factors such as wind, make the production of quality recordings virtually impossible at the finals of the Panorama competition; and
· mistakes made at the competition, cannot be corrected.

I do admit that there is no substitute for the ‘electricity’ of live performances at the Savannah, however the panyard ambience obtained by leaving the microphones and recorder switched ‘on’ during several hours of rehearsals sometimes makes it possible to capture and release two and three minute reprisals of longer compositions. Some examples are Curry Tabanca and Panama, the endings of which have been put separately onto compact disc and which are truly outstanding.

First among equals

Over the years I have worked consistently with some of the world’s top steelband arrangers, Leon ‘Smooth’ Edwards (who, unfortunately, quit in 1988), Clive Bradley, Len ‘Boogsie’ Sharpe, Ray Holman, Pelham Goddard and Jit Samaroo. I met Jit Samaroo in 1987 when Patrick Hamilton, without whose foresight and support this project may never have passed its embryonic stage, introduced me to The Renegades. Jit and I have worked well together since then. It is therefore not surprising that The Renegades is the only band whose Panorama compositions have all been carefully preserved in Sanch’s archives for the period 1987 to 1997.

Someone once asked me to summarise my relationship with the major steelband arrangers. “I will seat them all at a round table, but Jit will be in King Arthur’s chair” was my reply. In 1997, congratulations are in order for Jit who has attained the enviable position of being the only arranger in the history of the Panorama competition to achieve a hat trick (while simultaneously being on a hat trick of hat tricks). I dedicate this album to him and hope that I am around when he makes an attempt at the ‘beaver of beavers’.

The decade in retrospect

1987 - I walked into Amoco Renegades’ Panyard with my portable recording system. “Where is your mixing board and your multi-track recorder?” was the question. When I could provide no satisfactory answer, a significant number of bass players promptly abandoned their instruments during the midst of the recording of Pan In ‘A’ Minor. “What am I doing here?” I cried in anguish. “Getting your feet wet!” said a friend, Peter Beckles. In spite of that trauma, Sanch released its first compact disc on the Delos label later that year.

1988 - To this day I cannot understand how I managed to record 16 Panorama compositions during that season. Twelve of them were released commercially and the others are still in our library. The highlight of the year was Clive Bradley’s arrangement of Panama, which never got past the preliminary stage of the competition. Fortunately I have eight uninterrupted hours of composition and rehearsal of this masterpiece performed by Solo Harmonites.

1989 - Keith Matthews of Trinidad All Stars quipped, “Somebody will win this Panorama!” It was the year that as many as twelve steelbands played this famous calypso written by Winsford de Vine and sung by Baron. It was also the year that Jit introduced his now familiar Zouk rhythm change into Amoco Renegades’ rendition of the piece and narrowly beat Fire Down Below, which I still believe to be Len ‘Boogsie’ Sharpe’s best composition to date.

1990 - A torrential downpour saturated us immediately upon completion of our recording of Iron Man in The Renegades Panyard. A supporter remarked “Boy, Sanch, you really lucky!” “I am doing God’s work!” was my reply. It was a fitting climax to a disappointing year. Against all my instincts, Ray Holman insisted that I record his arrangement of Plenty Lovin done for Carib Tokyo on the night before the finals of the competition. I told him that I preferred to do the recordings before the semi-finals because I had a very tight schedule. “I am producing a masterpiece” he persisted. Needless to say, Tokyo did not qualify for the finals! To this day I can still feel a terrific sense of loss for I recognise that our archives are without what was truly a fantastic arrangement.

1991 - This was the first and only year that I recorded Witco Desperadoes in their panyard. Their rendition of Musical Volcano earned them first place in the Panorama…Talk about God’s work!! This was also the year in which Amoco Renegades removed their canopies to perform Rant and Rave, a composition of Christopher ‘Tambu’ Herbert. Their quality of sound had to be heard to be to be believed, but alas at a great sacrifice of loudness and power.

1992 - “If you win this Panorama I will kill a pig” I said to Amin Mohammed. I was made to eat my words and my pig at Exodus’ Panyard a few weeks later. They had won the competition with a blistering performance of Pelham Goddard’s Savannah Party When members of The Desperadoes fraternity turned up at our celebration, I knew that the time had come when panmen were at war only in the musical sense.

1993 - Jit Samaroo returned with a vengeance to record his sixth victory in the Panorama competition with a formidable performance of Mystery Band composed by Kitchener. I have always marvelled at the chemistry that exists between Kitch and Jit. In summary, Jit says “Kitchener’s unique chord progressions and rhythmic patterns are best suited to my style of arranging.”

1994 - This year was highlighted by Ray Holman’s arrangement of Panic for Phase II Pan Groove in the absence of Len ‘Boogsie’ Sharpe. I have never seen a steelband in so much turmoil. In my attempt to soothe nerves, I released the slow version of this song on compact disc and appropriately renamed it Don’t Panic!

1995 - With my new recording system I was able to capture Four Lara Four by The Renegades, which earned them top berth. Ray Holman’s Jam It With You became the first of my recordings to be accepted for publication by an international music library. It is interesting to note that this song was recorded at 5:45 am on Carnival Saturday morning just hours before the finals of the competition.

1996 - I asked Jit to play his Panorama submission, de Fosto’s Pan In A Rage at ‘coasting’ speed, something I had never done before with The Renegades. “You sure, boy?” was his question. “Trust me” was my reply. The result was that this version of the arrangement along with the analysis of its structure was accepted for publication by a major European music library.

1997 - The highlight of this year was the return of Ray Holman to Starlift Steel Orchestra. I am very happy for this, because Ray is the only person who can help me to resurrect and record Starlift’s unforgettable repertoire of the early ’70’s. Jit Samaroo’s Samba solo on the rhythm section during his arrangement of The Renegades’ rendition of Guitar Pan may have made a significant contribution to their overall performance, in the judges’ estimation.

©1997 Simeon L. Sandiford