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When Steel Talks - Special - Post-Panorama 2005

           Date: 2.07.05


"IN PHASE" at last...
How Phase II got its Groove back...

They sat and listened to the words of pan guru and leader of Phase II Pan Groove, Len "Boogsie" Sharpe.  It was after two in the early hours of a February 5 Saturday morning, with the crucial Steelband Music Panorama finals at the Queen's Park Savannah in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad just hours away.  The event is one of the major attractions of the country's annual carnival festivities.

As Boogsie spoke, the mood of some was sombre as their leader reminded them that the championship title was theirs for the taking, but also for the losing. 

Len Boogsie Sharpe, left, and Ray Holman, right, after talking to the band members after the final Pan yard rehearsal

   They had come so close, as many of them remembered, in 2003, when victory had seemed to be theirs, but instead they had to settle for third place.  "Music In We Blood" penned by the illustrious Boogsie that year in tribute to his mother who had recently passed away, was the musical choice of many bands that year for the panorama selection.  In fact it turned out to be the "most played" piece of music when the panorama selections of bands in Trinidad and Tobago, New York and London competitions were tallied.


Various reasons circulated as to why, after a lead in the semi-final leg, followed up by what was in the eyes and opinion of many, a truly awesome performance on stage on Panorama finals night, Phase II had not come away with the trophy and first place money prize.  Some said they were penalized for having taken too long to be set up and ready to play because of the difficulty in getting supporters to leave the stage.  Others claimed that the band paid for having gone over the ten-minute competition playing time by a few seconds.  And then there were others who whispered about the saucy "Flag woman" who displayed much of her obvious attributes on stage.  They believed that the judges were "traditional" and the Flag woman's flaunting might have been too much for some of them to stomach.  Regardless of the reasons, 2003 was not their year, even though few disputed the pure musical genius and perhaps "perfect" execution of what had was widely accepted to be a "winning" performance."

Undoubtedly with this in mind, Boogsie brought home the reality to his faithful musicians.  He pleaded with the supporters present to please leave the stage immediately after assisting them on, and to wait in the wings to help them off after their performance.  After hours of practice, he reminded players of the need to be focused and not to indulge in too much merrymaking before the 120-member steel orchestra's performance that night.  Ray Holman, his colleague and friend of many years, was still damp from his work of drilling the band to perfection during the just-concluded rehearsals.  He had worked alongside Boogsie this year, and he too, briefly counseled the gathering.

Hours later as the lights went up and illuminated the steel orchestra,

Phase 2 Pan Groove on stage during their winning performance

there was silence as they waited on the count to begin.  Playing in last position, number eight, behind their seven co-competitors was a position of strength, but which Boogsie had only a few hours before, reminded them not to take for granted.

Phase 2 Pan Groove on stage during their winning performance

The Steelpan players were dressed in red, black and white matching outfits, the colors of the Trinidad and Tobago flag, for their presentation and performance of "Trini Gone Wild" also written by Boogsie, with vocals by Colin Lucas.  The rumble of their seven and nine-basses, the piercing but complimenting set of all their mid-range pan instruments, and blaring front line pans responded perfectly to Boogie's orchestration in front of the band, with Ray Holman in the mix. 

 Phase 2 supporters overflow in front of the North Stand

The bands' supporters were dancing jubilantly on the eastern and western ends of the stage, along with those who overflowed onto the area immediately in front of the North Stand.  Pure "pan ecstasy" was reflected in every move, in a musical oblivion and with an abandonment that was mirrored in a more controlled manner by the pan players on stage.


When it was over,

Phase 2 Pan Groove on stage during their winning performance

many in the general audience in both the North and Grand stands joined in the screams of joy as the supporters "whooped" their way back on stage both to congratulate the band, and to get the instruments and stands off stage.  The feelings were intense as players openly displayed a gamut of emotions as they moved off with their pans.  Some were defiant in their jubilation, others simply said "they had done their best."  Others said that there was no way the judges could find fault with them this time and snatch their championship win away from them.  Still others noted (obviously with memories of the 2003 loss uppermost on their minds - after they had experienced the same musical high both from their stage performance, and the expectancy that they had won then) that they were prepared for whatever the result would be.  What was common though, were the extremely tight, almost desperate but defiant hugs that the musicians gave each other, a bonding that was also a bracing for whatever the outcome would be.

And then it was time for the results. People were pleasantly astonished as to how quickly the judges were ready.  The house announcer first gave the results for the medium-category steel orchestras, which fielded between 75 and 90 players.  Taking first place and the challenge trophy was Sforzata Steel Orchestra, with arrangements by Yohan Popwell.  After the medium bands, it was time for the results of the large steel orchestras, in which Phase II had its maximum allowable compliment of 120 musicians.  As the results were read out, the audience and respective bands' supporters sounded "oohs and ahs" and also shock at some of the placings.  The house announcer decided to tease the obviously keyed-up gathering by briefly discussing the difference in the points spread among the bands in the top three positions.  She made it known that the band in third place had received 454.5 points, but that there was twenty-point difference between the steel orchestras in positions one and two, 478 and 458 respectively.  When the first runner-up - last year's champions, Exodus Steel Orchestra - was announced, pure "pandemonium" broke out as Len "Boogsie" Sharpe, and his legendary Phase II knew that at last the orchestra had gotten its "Groove" back.

People had crowded the stage almost to the point that there was nothing to be seen if you were not actually part of the pack.  They now surged forward, as the house announcer pleaded for control so that Exodus could receive their second place presentation, and then Phase II would receive the challenge trophy and accompanying financial purse of TT$400,000.00.


 A crush of well-wishers and determined photographers surge forward while Boogsie is on stage

Boogsie eventually made his appearance, he was both  surrounded by his close members of his management team, and also supported by them, as he appeared overcome.  Those on stage alternately begged and screamed at photographers and supporters to "give Boogsie some air to breathe, otherwise he would collapse."  These were real fears as the veteran arranger had collapsed on stage at the semi-finals immediately after the band completed its performance.  Needless to say, scant attention was paid to those pleas as people had to be forcibly held back.  The presentation was eventually completed, with throngs of people surrounding the victors.

A couple of hours later, back in Phase II's Woodbrook Pan yard, players and supporters were milling around, some quietly celebrating, others a bit more boisterous.  Trucks with pan instruments and racks began arriving back in the yard.  A couple of people close by quietly made the comment that this would be the final year in that location, Phase II's home for many years.  A new pan yard was designated for the band as the area was needed for construction, but Phase II had not moved as yet.


 Back in Phase 2's Pan Yard, Boogsie with the band's hard-won trophy (top), and  pictured with Ray Holman (middle), and with Ray and others (above)

And then a car turned into the Pan yard, to the sound of growing cheers.   The maestro, Boogise, had arrived.  A few minutes later, he made his way to where the challenge trophy had already been displayed on a table, and delivered a few words to the Phase II faithful.  He congratulated them, and thanked everyone for their commitment, professionalism and everything else.  He then pragmatically turned his attention to their other musical commitments - performances on the road in a few hours, and also for the BOMB competition, etc.  He urged the players to continue their commitment to excellence.  Ray Holman joined in with his congratulations and recognition of all the hard work put in.

Then it was time for the individual "Phase II heads" as they surged forward to touch their master, and to take photos to commemorate this historic, but momentous and emotional time in the band's history.  At last, the huge steel orchestra was justifiably "IN PHASE."  Phase II had "gotten its Groove back."

C. Phillips, Basement Press Corp.
2005 When Steel Talks - All Rights Reserved

Pictures at Panorama Finals

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