Circa 1934 in Trinidad, when only rhythms were being beaten on the "tamboo bamboo," bottle and spoon, etc. - (the British having banned outright the beating of African drums in 1931), and the Steelpan had not yet come into being, Neville Jules was just seven years old living in the 'hills of Laventille,' but already captivated by the hypnotic percussions of these home-made instruments. These experiences would set the scene for his later involvement with the steelpan when he moved to the Piccadilly Street area in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, where Hell Yard was located in the hollow of "East Dry River." This area would later become the home of Trinidad All Stars, the steel orchestra Jules founded in later years.
Neville Jules emphasizing a point at while at When Steel Talks/Basement Studios
On his May 13, 2003 visit to the studios of When Steel Talks, Jules, one of the most important and influential figures in the Pan world - a pioneer, innovator, arranger, noted leader and founder of the legendary Trinidad All Stars, shared for the world-wide pan fraternity - memorable accounts of his beginnings as a young boy in Trinidad, and his first unforgettable rendezvous with the "Pan" which would become his rhythmic life's call. With his story, Jules wove a tapestry in time stretching from those days to now.
He paid tribute to his fellow Pan icons giving each his due, and detailed his experimentation and delight in manufacturing different types of pans, which began with him making his own four-note 'Tenor Kittle' one day after another legend "Zigilee" refused to allow Jules to play his own. Jules was well on his way to "manufacturing" steelpans. He went on to create the Tune Boom which was the forerunner of the Bass Pan, and a year after he invented it, one of the other 'rival' steelbands had twice as many Tune Booms as Jules' own band!
Sharing a joke after the interview
He then went on to invent the actual Bass Pan itself, as is known today, and is the 'Father' of the Bass Pan. He fondly remembers that All Stars' approach could be heard (and felt!) from a great distance, because the band was known for the deep grumbling of its Basses. While he created several other pans, like the Grundig (another type of Bass) and the Trombone, which he utilized only for a couple of years - it was hearing 'Parang' music around Christmas time in Trinidad, (which highlighted the stringed Cuatro instrument), that inspired Jules to invent the Cuatro pan, known today as the Guitar pan.
As a man who could manufacture and tune pans, along with having arranging skills, Jules became leader of Trinidad All Stars, (the eventual 'successor' of Second Fiddle, the original band whose home was Hell Yard). Most of Second Fiddle's members disbanded during the war years, after the Police banned steelbands. Second Fiddle's youngest member known as 'Big Head Hamel', remained and was joined by Neville Jules and Fisheye. Hamel was eventually the oldest member of the later-formed Trinidad All Stars. Jules both played and had a leading role in Second Fiddle and the interim steelband known as The Cross of Lorraine. The next incarnation of the band was known as Trinidad All Stars.
Neville Jules and All Stars resident arranger Leon "Smooth" Edwards relax at the All Stars Pan yard, during the 2003 Panorama season
The full name of the band was Trinidad All Stars Philharmonic Orchestra, so named since in the 1940s, circa 1946. The acronym was T.A.S.P.O., but the band never called itself TASPO, but Trinidad All Stars. Apparently by coincidence, the much-traveled Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra formed in 1951 had the same acronym, and that band is known historically as TASPO, which became the formal steelband representation which toured several countries.
Not only was Trinidad All Stars a band of great discipline under Neville Jules, but also "special"; so much so that the nation's first Prime Minister - Dr. Eric Williams, favoured the band, and selected All Stars for his three children to enjoy a carefully monitored "taste of steelband" on a Carnival Tuesday night in 1968/69. During the Panorama preliminaries on a Sunday evening at the Queen's Park Savannah, Jules had a visit from the Trinidad equivalent of the 'Secret Service' who asked where his band would be passing en route to its customary Carnival Tuesday night performance for police stationed at headquarters.
He remembers then on that Carnival Tuesday night, suddenly he "saw the Prime Minister's older son and daughter from his first marriage- (Erica the youngest had eventually not come) just appear in the band, with guards". They asked him where the children should stay, and he directed them to the front of the 'rhythm stand'. So for a short part of the route, and for about twenty-five to thirty minutes - from the corner of Henry and Duke Streets, the Prime Minister's children remained in Trinidad All Stars, surrounded by security detail. The band got to St. Vincent Street. After that Jules never knew when they actually left; all he knew is when he looked they were gone, guards and all!
A rear view of the Trinidad All Stars Pan yard, with the East Dry River in the foreground
Always a 'man of the people', Neville Jules ensured that even the Police experienced steelband during carnival, and always brought Trinidad All Stars to Police Headquarters so that the officers who had to remain on duty, enjoyed steelband music. A lot of the general public would be awaiting the arrival of All Stars, saying that they were there for the 'concert', where the band closed off the Carnival in much the same way it had started it - with its legendary 'Bomb' tunes. Other bands followed suit in later times.
Years after establishing his own reputation and that of All Stars, Neville Jules came to New York in 1971. He did attempt to start a band here, but found that attendance became poor after Labor Day, and as the weather got colder. With his life-long experiences in Trinidad's steelband movement, and the generations of traveling the hard road to 'respectability', Jules was adamant that he would not come to America and deal with unnecessary obstacles in steelpan, including those of discipline of would-be members. Subsequently - a second involvement with another New York steelband fell by the wayside.
The name of the steel orchestra is proudly emblazoned on the walls of the Pan yard in this rearview shot, with some of the Pans visible
Jules after his candid interview with When Steel Talks
Today - Neville Jules usually travels back to Trinidad for Panorama, arranging the Bomb tune for Trinidad All Stars, which he began doing again around 1995. He is also a key member in the New York chapter of the Trinidad All Stars Old Boys and Girls Association (TASOBGA). The organization assisted in raising thousands of dollars toward the purchase of the property next to the panyard, expanding the official home of... Trinidad All Stars Steel Orchestra.
Experience the entire exclusive interview with Neville Jules on When Steel Talks.
Listen to Pan pioneer extraordinaire Neville Jules in his own words, UpClose!
More on Neville Jules
Leave a comment in the WST forum