Halcyon Steel Orchestra
2016 Tune of choice: “Home for the 60th (aka 60 Years)” | arranger Devon Bachelor
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The Halcyon Steel Orchestra which has left its navel string somewhere between the Greenbay and Gray’s Farm communities, is the offspring of Red Army and Starlift steel bands which hail from the area. Certain names are linked with its early days, in particular Selvyn A. Walter, the Kirby brothers Sam and Perod, Melvin Simon and Y De Lima (Antigua) Ltd.
When in the late 1970, early 1971 it was decided to form a new Orchestra, Selvyn Walter approached Melvin Simon and the Kirby Brothers for assistance which was readily given. They immediately set about starting with 12 persons, (9 of whom had never played pan before) and new pans financed by Y De Lima.
In carnival 1972 they entered the steel band competition with the strong support of the communities of Gray’s Farm and Greenbay. Playing Sparrow’s ‘Winer Gal’, they placed 5th.
By 1973 the band was entering and impressing in Hotels and Nightclubs, and it had improved in both quality and quantity to such an extent that it placed 4th in the Panorama Competition that year.
1974 saw a radical transformation as the band failed to qualify for the finals. The renditions of Sparrow’s ‘Priest’ and Short Shirt’s ‘Lucinda’ ended too abruptly said the judge.
This rejection produced unexpected benefits in Carnival 1975 when, after acquiring a professional arranger, Gerald (Belly) Charles of Carib Tokyo, Trinidad, they won Panorama with a devastating display. Their tunes were Short Shirt’s ‘Pan Rhapsody’ and [Singing] Francine’s ‘St. Peter Say’.
“Pan In Harmony”
Following this victory, Halcyon produced its first LP ‘Pan in Harmony’, a best-seller which advanced the band’s image and prestige at home and abroad. A tour to St. Thomas followed in 1976. Here it was that they won the coveted trophy for “best visiting steelband.”
Carnival 1976 produced a controversial result in Panorama, resulting in post-carnival “festivities of protest” in Grays Farm/Greenbay.
In December 1976 the band visited Montserrat and was instrumental in promoting Antigua’s Carnival there. More action for them in 1977 with a visit to St. Thomas in April, an attempt to pioneer the re-establishment of a steel band union in Antigua, and a boycott of Panorama in the same year. Returning to normal conditions, Halcyon won Panorama in 1978 and 1979 under the tutelage of the renowned panist . There was no competition in 1980 but they were beaten into second place in 1981 by Gemonites Steel Orchestra.
Around this time, due to the departure of most of the 1970’s players, the band embarked on a rebuilding programme, with Victor “Babu” Samuel as musical arranger. On re-entering Panorama in 1985 the band placed 4th. Though disappointed, they rallied and came out beating strongly on J’ouvert morning to win the “Sweetest Band on the Road” title. Two convincing wins in 1986 and 1987 did establish the band’s supremacy in this field. In 1990 and 1991, Halcyon Steel lost to a rejuvenated Hells Gate Steel Orchestra but came back in 1992 to convincingly recapture the title of Panorama champs and has not relinquished it since. [*2016 note: Halcyon kept the title through 1995]. It was during the 1980’s which saw the emergence of a new crop of players. Noticeable recognition must be given to Fitzroy “Blakey” Philip, Conrod “Boast” Whyte, Curtis “CC” Cochrane, Curtis ‘Likkle Mussington, Rohan Jacobs, Roderick “Biggs” Cochrane and Daulton ‘Abumba’ Francis; these players formed the nucleus of the reconstituted Halcyon.
In 1993 the band found itself in a rather familiar position, that is, winning the Panorama for two (2) consecutive years. This they did with a scintillating performance of Victor “Babu” Samuel’s, “Woman Run Things”. With this rendition the band created the widest margin of victory in Panorama competition in Antigua, beating the second place band by thirty-odd points.
More success was to follow in 1994 when the band won for a third consecutive year, a feat only equaled by the Hells Gate Steel Orchestra, a band twenty-five (25) years Halcyon’s senior.
With this major hurdle scaled, all eyes were set on a fourth straight and unprecedented title. Achieving this would only confirm the band as the undisputed steel band champs of Antigua/Barbuda.
On the night of August 1st, 1995 this became a reality. As the master-of-ceremony, Kenny Nibbs announced, “and the winner is, the A.M.P. Halcyon” hundreds of jubilant supporters present at the A.R.G. (Antigua Recreation Grounds) that evening swarmed the stage punching their fists to the skies, and hugging each other. Some even shed tears. In short, it was an unforgettable and breath-taking moment for all. Oh, how sweet it was! Halcyon was the first steel band to 4-peat (91-95) in a Panorama competition not only in the Caribbean, but in the entire world.
Such outstanding performance but recognition regionally and internationally. The band was invited to tour Guadeloupe, Germany, U.S.A., England and represented Antigua/Barbuda at Carifesta VII in 2000 in St. Kitts. Some of these tours were made possible by business owners and tycoons who were delighted by seeing and hearing the band perform on a Sunday afternoon at the Famous Shirley Heights Lookout.
As one reflects on the achievements of the band over the past twenty-five years, the words of calypsonian David Michael Rudder come to mind:- “Out of a muddy pond ten thousand flowers bloom...”
History has proven wrong the doubting Thomas’s who said in no uncertain terms: “The band has indeed risen from the pond of such pessimistic perceptions to blossom in the beautiful flower with the title, undisputed steel band champs of Antigua/Barbuda.”
Antigua Masonry Products
A word regarding Halcyon’s sponsorship. Over the past 15 years, Halcyon Steel has been sponsored by Antigua Masonry Produces, Ltd. in what has been a satisfactory arrangement. The band wishes to state publicly its overwhelming appreciation to AMP for its demonstration of corporate citizenship through its sponsorship and involvement. It is certainly the longest association of any one company with a steel band in Antigua. Words therefore cannot adequately express the band’s eternal gratitude to the management of AMP.
Halcyon Steel not only participates fully in our National Carnival Festivities, entertaining in hotels and making other public appearances, it has provided voluntary service to schools, churches and other organizations. The band has also been sponsoring contestants in the Grays Green Teen Pageant competition and has provided tangible financial assistance to some members of the band in pursuing their educational studies abroad. In short, Halcyon Steel is much more than playing pan. It has also provided leadership and purpose to the steel band movement in Antigua Stee band association in the persons of Messrs Eugene Davis and the Hon. Baldwin Spencer.
Although success has been a part of the band, this is not what Halcyon takes pride in most. The band takes pride first and foremost in the people who have been behind the scenes burning the midnight oil to sustain the band’s life over the past twenty-five years. To these individuals or groups, the band pays its greatest tribute. These people include the hundreds of pan players who have been with the band: founders Selvyn Walter, Melvin Simon and the Kirby Brothers; the indomitable Baldwin Spencer, manager, coordinator, advisor, public relations officer and father-figure; arrangers Gerald Charles, Len ‘Boogsie’ Sharpe, Victor ‘Babu’ Samuel, Jerome ‘Dit’ Lake and others; sponsors - Y De Lima, LIAT, Brysons, AAICPS and the Antigua Masonry Products; for guest accommodation -Tyrone ‘Devil’ Rose & family, Lydia Henry and family, Gary Richards, Daulton Francis and Veronica Yearwood; Pan Tuners - Bob, Norman, Gatokes Harris, Lloyd Gay and Patrick Worrell.
Thanks to the management of the Shirley Heights Lookout whose association with Halcyon has lasted twenty-three years (1981-2004). To the many fans around the island and abroad, the band would like say that ‘you were indeed our source of fuel.
Source: In Tune With Pan magazine, publication of the Cultural Development Division - Ministry of Education, Human Development & Culture, Antigua & Barbuda, W.I. 2008
- 2016 - Devon Bachelor
- 2015 - Victor “Babu” Samuel
- 2014 - Victor “Babu” Samuel
- 1995 - Victor “Babu” Samuel
- 1994 - Victor “Babu” Samuel
- 1993 - Victor “Babu” Samuel
- 1992 - Victor “Babu” Samuel
- 1991 - Victor “Babu” Samuel
- 1990 - Victor “Babu” Samuel
- 1987 - Victor “Babu” Samuel
- 1986 - Victor “Babu” Samuel
- 1985 - Victor “Babu” Samuel
- 1979 - Len “Boogsie” Sharpe
- 1978 - Len “Boogsie” Sharpe
- 1975 - Gerald (Belly) Charles