Trinidad & Tobago, W.I. - On the eve of the celebration of the life of, and farewell tribute to - pan tuner great Lincoln Noel, one of the men who knew him for many years spoke with When Steel Talks (WST) about Noel - the man who was great in deeds, but as a rule shunned the limelight. It was an apt epitaph - and explains why it seems difficult, to near impossible, to source a photograph of Noel. Assistant manager for Desperadoes Steel Orchestra, Anthony McQuilkin, shared his remembrances and described Noel as “a man who you could find in a corner, shunning the spotlight, just taking care of things, because he believed there was always a lot of work to be done.” And it is this aspect - taking care of things - that immediately came to the forefront as McQuilkin began chronicling the character and deeds of one of Desperadoes’ greatest, and world-renowned, pan tuners.
“Lincoln Noel was one of the best pan tuners that we had in Trinidad and Tobago. What people don’t know is Lincoln spoke many different languages. When we [Desperadoes] went to Martinique or Guadeloupe, for instance, he would communicate with the people in patois or broken French. And when we went to Cuba he spoke Spanish, and acted as our interpreter. Desperadoes took him on many of their trips abroad as tuner and interpreter. He also spoke his mind. Lincoln called a spade a spade.”
“Lincoln was one of the few pan tuners who could look at a pan, and tell you exactly who made it” McQuilkin continued. In years gone by ‘Lincoln toured extensively with Southern Symphony from San Fernando, and came back and was part of the Bonaparte Brothers, who played ‘conventional’ instruments.’ McQuilkin mentioned that according to Noel’s family, Clifford Alfred—a tuner who Noel took under his wing—said that ‘Lincoln also arranged for a band by the name of Gay Caballeros.’ “He could read music. At that time, in 1967, the band [Gay Caballeros] was going to a music festival, and he [Noel] arranged the test piece ‘The Mary Wives of Windsor’ for them. He also played a tenor, because they were short of players. I understand, so the story goes - that while they were on stage, the bass player froze and couldn’t play the part, and Lincoln played it [bass lines] on a tenor, even though it was a bass [line]!!”
“We’ll miss him a lot. Desperadoes had a sound - I mean we had Bertie Marshall who did the front line pans; we had Lincoln doing the tenor basses and guitars, and we had the basses done by Rudolph when he was alive, and after he died it was Clifford Alfred. But there were two people in the band - Ursula Tudor who has been playing tenor for a long, long time, and Eugene McClean. Ursula wanted only Lincoln to blend her tenor pan, and Eugene wanted only Lincoln to blend his basses. He wouldn’t allow, not even Rudolph [Charles], to blend his bass for him, because he wanted Lincoln.”
Asked how many years Lincoln Noel had been with Desperadoes, Anthony McQuilkin said he could not remember, but that it was “a long, long time ago.” McQuilkin added that Rudolph Charles brought him into the band, because according to Rudolph—who was himself a tuner—“Lincoln Noel was the best.” According to McQuilkin, two of the tuners who work with Trinidad and Tobago Instruments Limited (TTIL) have had the privilege of Noel passing some of his knowledge onto them.
Lincoln fell ill a few months ago, and was in and out of hospital. He eventually entered a private hospital in St. Augustine, Trinidad. There they were forced to remove one of his toes. McQuilkin said Pan Trinbago bore the expenses of that procedure. A short time later Noel had to return to the hospital, and unfortunately an amputation became necessary. Pan Trinbago was once again there to assist him in this time of need. Now in a wheelchair, McQuilkin noted that you could not keep Lincoln down, as he was still constantly on the move as much as possible, and still being involved in his craft in a hands-on manner. In closing, the Desperadoes assistant manager said of Lincoln Noel: “We’ll really, really, really miss him. We’ll miss him a lot.”
McQuilkin added that Desperadoes would be performing at the wake for Lincoln Noel at Harmonites’ Barataria pan yard that same evening [Friday September 29]. In addition, Pan Trinbago’s Northern Region and its chairman Keith Diaz had been intimately involved in planning and preparing the program for the funeral services for the late pan tuner, scheduled for 10:00 AM Saturday September 30, at the Anglican Church, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, W.I.
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