Invaders Steel Orchestra
click for bio/history
The year was 1937. The breadfruit tree at the Mannette family home on Tragarete Road, opposite the Queen’s Park Oval sporting grounds, was the meeting place for an unusual group of musicians. Stanley Hunte and Ellie Mannette were the leaders of the youngsters who talked about their own band of steel drums.
They could have been described as a “gang.” But - the neighborhood boys were going to focus on music and steelpan, an instrument that was still being shaped. They decided to call themselves “Oval Boys,” after their first panyard located under the stands of the Queen’s Park Oval. They collected discarded paint cans, biscuit tins and other empty metal containers to be used as instruments. The Oval Boys changed their name to “Invaders” after seeing the US war movie, “Night Invaders.” Soon their permanent home was under the breadfruit tree at 147 Tragarete Road, where the band resides to this day.
Through experimentation with materials available on the street, they started to bridge the gap between the earlier, rhythmic beat of the tamboo-bamboo and the harmonies that would soon emanate from the steelpan.
Those were days of rivalry, innovation and excitement. The rivalry between bands of Laventille and John John in East Port of Spain and those in Woodbrook and the West, often led to violent clashes. During the 1940’s, Invaders was one of the most feared steelbands on the road. The sight of their battle flag was enough to frighten the faint-hearted. Lord Blakie’s (Carlton Joseph) calypso, “Steelband Clash”, documented a confrontation between Invaders and Tokyo, a band from the East Dry River.
In those days Ellie Mannette was the creative force, designing and tuning the pans for which he earned the title “Father of the Modem Steel Drum.” His job in an iron foundry gave him a special feel and skill for steel and other metals. Mannette experimented with the 50-gallon oil drums in place of biscuit tins. He sank the playing surface downward into a concave shape instead of the convex shape used at the time, then went on to create six of the nine instruments in the steel drum family. He also discovered, through trial and error, the uniqueness of the note blend on each pan; and that the sweetness of the music could be brought out with sticks wrapped with rubber.
For the past 25 years Mannette has been at the forefront of the steelband movement in the United States. He left Trinidad and Tobago for New York City in 1967. In the USA, he has travelled extensively, making and promoting pan. As a result of his efforts, successful steelband programmes can be found from New York to Washington State and from the Dakotas to Texas.
Mannette works with over 200 public school, university, community and private bands. He gives lectures and conducts seminars on the construction, tuning and history of the instrument. His work has been on display in museums all across the United States. Currently he resides in Morgantown, West Virginia, where he became artist-in-residence at the West Virginia University.
Invaders’ growth and change were due, in part, to its Woodbrook location where a local theatre was established in 1949 with Invaders as the resident steelband. It may have been a factor in the 1960’s when Shell Oil Company became one of the first steelband sponsors. Shell later changed its name to Trintoc and then Petrotrin, retaining sponsorship until 1998.
Invaders produced many fine panists and tuners who add to the musical legacy created by the founders. The youngest Mannette brother, Vernon “Birdie”, was Tuner and Captain for 25 years, maintaining the Invaders’ reputation for “sweet” pan. Ray Holman, the prolific composer and arranger started with Invaders when he was only 13 years of age. His work with Pan jazz arrangements gives him a unique position in pan history.
Spawned from Alexander Ragtime Band and Oval Boys, Invaders produced many
other bands. Among them were: Saigon, Green Eyes, Gale Stars, Tropitones,
Metronomes, Troubadors, Dixie Stars, Sombreros, Starlift, Girls Pat, Phase
II Pan Groove and Third World.
History by Elizabeth Mannette
|Invaders began as the
Oval Boys in Woodbrook, Port-of-Spain, in the late-1930s when the
steelband was in its infant stage. Early band members included
Elliott "Ellie" Mannette, Francis Wickham, and Stanley Hunte,
its first leader. The Oval Boys held practice at the Queen's Park
Oval before moving to 147 Tragarete Road, opposite the Oval and in
Mannette's backyard, where it changed its name to Invaders on VJ Day
in 1945. The band's name was taken from the 1943 American movie "The
Night Invader." Mannette led Invaders from the late-1940s until 1967
when he migrated to the USA and his younger brother Vernon "Birdie"
Mannette took over the leadership of the band.
During the 1950s, the music and unique sound of Invaders attracted fans from all over the island. Among its panmen during this period were Emmanuel "Jack" Riley and Ray Holman. It gained the sponsorship of the Shell Oil Company in 1960 and became known as the Shell Invaders. However, in 1963, the band suffered a setback when several of its leading panmen left for the neighboring Starlift Steelband. Since 1960, Invaders was sponsored in succession by Shell, Trintoc, Petrotrin, BWIA, and then Caribbean Airlines.
In 1996, Invaders received the Trinidad & Tobago Chaconia Medal Gold for its cultural contributions. In 2003, it remained the only steelband in Trinidad that continued to function at its original site for more than 50 years. In October 2007, original member and noted ironman Francis Wickham was inducted into the Sunshine Awards Hall of Fame. After many years of struggling to hold on to its original home, the band gained ownership of its property at 147 Tragarete Road on November 1, 2007. Invaders finished among the top three steelbands in the following significant competitions:
|Compiled by Ronald C. Emrit|