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.

This 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 School 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
Birch 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 is Caribbean- born, 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.” This has 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 many more.

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.



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©2004 Basement Recordings, Inc. All rights reserved.


Date: 04.27.04


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