The Birmingham School of Pan
Teaching the true art of playing the Pan
The Birmingham School of Pan was founded by JAMMA - May 2003.
The inspiration came from my son Jamani; as a soloist, his performances
would attract many young children to the pan instrument. In the area where
we live, there are a lot of youngsters who would be playing football, and
playing in general around the neighbourhood, but whenever Jamani and
Rochella (my daughter), would be practicing - all the children would
gravitate to our back garden and want to play. I had a drum kit and a few
tenor pans, single seconds, and bongos (percussion instruments), so when
we finished our own practice sessions, I would let the youngsters have
their own session.
It was not long before I had about seventeen kids in the garden - all
practising. They were so keen that as soon as they came from school they
would come around to practice. Weekends and school holidays meant they
would be knocking on the backdoor window from as early as 8.30 AM, asking
if they could take the pans out.
went on for some time; they would practice until 9 AM or even later if I
would allow them to. Many of the parents were very keen on what was taking
place, but it was not long before I got a letter from the council
complaining about the noise. After that I stopped for a while. The
youngsters were devastated. I approached a few community centres to see if
they would accommodate the band, but there were too many restrictions and
red tape with issues such as opening times, etc.
Then my wife Angela told me “you cannot give up and leave all the children
with nothing to do, because of one complaint.” She said I needed to rent a
small studio and carry on teaching them; I agreed because it was obvious
it had outgrown the garden. So I started looking around for a studio to
rent. There were two main points: I wanted to ensure the
of Pan would be set up properly, so the youngsters could develop into
excellent players, therefore I had to have 24-hour access to ensure they
could practice every day until whatever time they desired. The second
point was the studio had to be very near to where all the youngsters
lived, to ensure it was within short walking distance. I knew with this
vibe, it would create a real “panyard” situation.
My wife prayed about the situation, and we were blessed with finding the
ideal place, that was less than a three-minute walk from where we all
lived. The place is called the Multicultural Music Village, and many bands
rent rooms there, and recording studios are also based there. The funny
thing is that this place had been there all the time, but we never noticed
it, until the right time. After I approached the landlord he said he had a
small room I could rent and I took it.
After we sent out letters to inform the parents of the new venue for
rehearsals, we had our first practice session - then I realised I needed a
bigger room and a full set of pans. I called up two close friends
(Toothsome Clark & Yohan Popwell) and told them what I needed but if
possible, that the pans be originally from Trinidad. Luck was on our side
because Toothsome had some beautiful pans made by Lincoln Noel; he also
had outstanding bass & tenor bass pans that he had made himself, which
sounded so good that I took them too. Then Yohan called and said he could
get some pans made by
Kelman, Mappo, and Lloyd Gay. I could not resist this offer so had the
extra instruments shipped over.
When I heard the instruments played together for the first time I new we
had a unique sound. Some of the older guys were between 16 and 22 years,
and were so dedicated, that I told them I would like them to start
learning to manage the rehearsal, and the running of the studio.
Rhion Weeks was selected to be the captain of the band. I made it clear to
Rhion and his other managerial band mates, that this was “their thing” so
they have to make it work. With their new responsibilities, came more
dedication; it was not long before they would be in the yard in the early
hours of the morning, practicing scales, chords, songs and the like. They
would practically live at the panyard. I decided to rent a bigger room,
and started to pass gigs on to the band.
Another close friend Dudley Nesbitt, who is a great Pan Man, comes down
from time to time and arranges tunes with the band. This gives the players
a good chance to feel what it is like to work with different arrangers.
I feel a lot of the band’s success is due to the fact that 98% of the band
and have only been in the UK for a short period of time. There are also
many brother-sister units playing in the band, and the parents are very
keen to help out in the rhythm section on gigs. The door has now opened to
teach a younger group who are starting to play the pan from as young as
six years old; and even younger children come to rehearsal and watch their
older brothers and sisters practice.
Teaching methods at the school are based in the roots of the pan
instrument. Band members learn music and/or information from, the
steelband-related “greats” - like Lord Kitchener, Ellie Mannette, etc.
They learn about the instrument’s history, so the music has more meaning.
The pan players also study pan jazz, classical music, and play modern
songs as such as Black-eyed peas, Where Is The Love, music from Busta
Rhymes and lots more.
It is not just music that is taught, but also showmanship and “JAMMING.”
encouraged many more people to get involved. At present we have about
thirty-five full time members with the two groups. We are in need of
bigger premises and more instruments; this will come in time.
The Birmingham School of Pan has enjoyed Radio and TV coverage - recent
performances include venues Symphony Hall and International Convention
Centre. The Pan School also performed for BBC radio, West Midlands Easter
music concert, The NEC, the Daily Telegraph Holiday Show, Birmingham
Carnival, and also played for Sir Vivian Richards (cricketing great), and
The pan school continues to maintain a vigorous training schedule, and
looks forward to even achieving greater heights, eventually culminating in
making our first appearance at the famed Panorama competition.