The Nostalgic panyard
Written by Simeon L. Sandiford
Thursday, 21 July 2011 22:28


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 (Cashmere 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