Panorama Gold

Angel Harps Steel Orchestra

Panorama Championships: 1970, 1973, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1998, 1999, 2005, 2008, 2011, 2015 -  See more
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2023 Tune of choice: Bouncing Low  |  arranger:  Jevon Andrews

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The Angel Harps Steel Orchestra is perhaps Grenada's most well-known steelband. "The Harps" or "The Wharf Band" as they are affectionately called by their fans and supporters, seem to have been around for as long as most people could remember steelband in Grenada. As the name 'The Wharf Band' suggests, the Harps has always been based in the Carenage (The Wharf) community but its membership has always been extended to persons living outside the community. Despite this though, the band has had deep ties with the community.

The "Harps" has over the last 43 years endured a life mixed with successes and failures, trials and tribulations and a number of changes in the sponsorship of the steel orchestra. Despite these mixed fortunes, the name and the band "Angel Harps" has always survived and today has graduated from being just another steelband and is now regarded as the "Institution of Pan" in Grenada. At Panorama each year, the objective of each steelband is to 'beat the Harps' whether the band is defending champion or not. Such is the satisfaction people enjoy when they beat the Harps.

Much has changed from the early days to now. For one, the membership of the orchestra is more dynamic ranging in ages from age 9 to over age 55. In the early 1970's the first female player and, for a long time, the only female player to have played in the band was Antonia Bernard. Today the membership is almost split 50/50 among males and females most of whom have come through the band's Junior Programme and are still attending school. In the early days, mothers did not want their young sons to be anywhere near the pan house, much less their young daughters!!! The very wide cross section of persons involved with the Harps and other steelbands today illustrate the long strides that the pan movement has made and the acceptance, recognition and respect it is now given. Most of the pans are chromed and are on wheeled stands with canopies and the band consistently performs at Panorama with between 80-100 players each year.

During its existence, the band, through its many different sponsorships has been known firstly as Johnnie Walker Angel Harps, Shell Angel Harps, Dewars White Label Angel Harps, Phoenix Angel Harps, and since 1982 as (National Commercial Bank of Grenada Limited) NCB Angel Harps. In 2006, NCB was rebranded to Republic Bank Grenada Limited and now the band is known as Republic Bank Angel harps. Through the association with NCB and now Republic Bank, the band had grown from an orchestra of 30-40 persons in 1985 to well over 100 members in 1991. But despite its numbers' the Harps has always been referred to as a 'Big Band'.

The "Harps" has always been in the forefront of developing & promoting the artform in Grenada and has a number of firsts to its credit in Grenada's steelband history. In 1972, under the baton of James Clarkson, the "Harps" became the first Grenadian steelband to appear in Concert with the Royal Grenada Police Force Band. Indeed, this was the first local mixture of steel & brass. That same year, there was another first by becoming the first Grenadian Steelband to produce a record album, Brighter out of Darkness recorded in Barbados, under the musical direction of James Clarkson and managerial assistance from Mr. Evelyn Ross. The Harps also has the distinction of being the first Grenada steelband to appear in the National Panorama finals with the entire band under canopies and on wheels. This set the lead for all the other bands to follow. In 1992, Harps was the first band to field two separate steelbands in the Senior and Junior Competitions using two different musical arrangers.

The "Harps" were also first in 'adopting' schools for the purpose of forming school-steel orchestras. Beginning in the early 1970's the St. Joseph's Convent were the first to take up 'residence' in the pan tent. A few of the names associated with this group were Michelle Hercules, Hazel Hurley, Jennifer Preudhomme and Annette Phillip. They were followed nearly two decades later by the Anglican High School and recently the TA Marryshow Community College. "Harps" have also assisted the GBSS, The Grenada School of Nursing and the St. George's University. Today, the "Harps" are actively responsible for the pan programmes at the Anglican High School, the St. Louis RC Girls School and the TA Marryshow Community College.

Indeed, the Angel Harps Steel Orchestra; the Wharf Band; the Harps; the Sweetest Band in the Land; whatever name you choose to use, has a long and interesting history. But where do we begin the story that is the legend of the Harps?

The history of Angel Harps Steel Orchestra dates way back to 1965 when the members of the "Teensville Steel Orchestra" led by Charles Moses, Arthur Coard, and Walter 'Dictator' Thomas, joined together with the "Troubadours Steel Orchestra" which was led by George Croney and included the Boyke brothers Lester & Cosley and Anthony 'Tony Poo' Mitchell. Thus the Harps that we know today was born and George Croney is credited with naming the newborn orchestra as the Angel Harps. George Croney, who had spent some time in Trinidad was the new band's leader and arranger. Another Steelband from the community, the Harp Tones under Maudsley Parkes later joined forces with the Harps.

At first, the group practiced in the area known as the "Cocoa" adjacent to Mr. Hico's residence before moving into the "Coals Market" on the Carenage in the late sixties. The Carenage Fish Market now sits on the spot that was used as the pan tent. It is also around that time that the steelband slowly started gaining acceptance in society; certainly there was much less harrassment from the Police and a lot of young faces began showing up at the pan tent to listen to the band.

But just like any infant, and like most other fledgling steelbands, the group soon ran into its own dose of troubles. George Croney migrated to the USA and Lester Boyke became the new leader. With George Croney's departure the band had not lost only it's leader, but also its arranger and tuner. George Croney was all of that and more, an extremely talented pan player. What happened then has happened again and again through the history of the Harps; someone stepped up and filled the void resulting from Croney's departure, well almost. Lester Boyke now became both the leader and arranger for the Harps. For a tuner though, the band turned to Wilfred "Harro" Harris, a young tuner from Mt. Moritz who would later go on to make a name for himself in the pan tuning business. Just around that time too, some of the tuning or 'touching up' of the pans was done by Eric "Brother Broff" Antoine.

Within a couple years, the Harps gained prominence as a very talented Steel Orchestra. This prominence was further enhanced by another first by Angel Harps; when in 1968, the Harps became the first Grenadian steelband to have pans prepared by a tuner from Trinidad. It was more luck than anything, but such are the opportunities that when taken, create history. One Sunday, in the summer of 68, while some of the band members were playing around in the pan house, a quiet unassuming young man appeared in the pan tent.

He introduced himself to Lester as 'Gay' and asked whether he could be allowed to tune one of the drums that was sitting in the pan yard. Lester Boyke was very reluctant since this guy was a just passing stranger but nonetheless told him to go ahead. As it turned out, Lloyd Gay was a top tuner from Trinidad vacationing in Grenada and had done work for some of the top bands in Trinidad including Guinness Cavaliers from San Fernando. Gay's work earned him the job as Angel Harps new tuner thus beginning a revolution in sound of Grenada pan.

With a new, quality sound in place, the band now began a search for an arranger with a 'formal' knowledge of music. Up to that time, neither George Croney nor Lester Boyke, the band's former and present arrangers, had any formal musical training. They were just two naturally gifted and talented panists and musicians simply stepping up to become musical arrangers. This transformation from pannist to arranger continues even today and is at the root of the development of the art form in Grenada. The vast majority of pan arrangers in Grenada today have come through the same process without having had the benefit of a formal musical education.

The search for an accomplished arranger led Lester Boyke, in 1969, to approach a young musician from the community by the name of Ronald 'Mitchie' Bain and seek his assistance. Mitchie promptly accepted the offer and started working with the Harps in September of 1969 in preparation for the Pan Festival held in December that year. The test piece was 'The Holy City' and the selected pieces were the 'Gold and Silver Waltz' and a popular calypso.

With some of the top players at the time like Cosley Boyke, Walter 'Dictator' Thomas, Clevoy 'Depo' Depradine on tenors, Winston 'Magga' Cummings and 'Jet' Flavigny on cellos, David 'Nesta Boy' Alexander on double seconds, and Willard "Kalarki" Boyke on double tenor, the Harps captured first place in both the Band and Solo categories of the competition. Cosley Boyke and 'Dictator' placed first and second respectively in the ping-pong Solo competition. Needless to say, the Harps swept all before them.

In January 1970, as preparations for Panorama began (Grenada's carnival was at that time held on the two days before the Lenten Season), the Harps decided to thread where no other band had gone before. Inspired by the Police Band playing a classical march, Lester decided that the band would attempt the march, but in calypso tempo. After approaching Mitchie with his decision, the young arranger brought "Sons of the Brave" fused with "Picadilly".

With all the players of the triumphant 1969 team in place, the Harps added 'Ming' on Rhythm, (basically a set of cymbals with a crash - drum-sets were unheard of in those days) and 'Pinky' Chase on Steel, the Harps crashed Queens Park and swept away all before them.

1970 saw the departure of Mitchie. He migrated to the United States to further his musical career with the US Army leaving the way open for James Clarkson, a member of the Royal Grenada Police Force Band, to become the band's formal arranger.

This was indeed a new era. With the musical talents of James "Wakax" Clarkson, the new sound of the instruments and the outstanding talent of the pannists the Harps went about setting the standard for pan as the decade of the seventies began. The Harps were indeed, the band. Not one sports event took place without the Harps at Queens Park. The boys were in high demand. To play in the Harps you had to be able to play, you had to be good. Clarkson recalls that one of the things that stand out vividly in his mind from that era was the skill and discipline of the players.

He recalls this story; the band was practicing a number of classical pieces in December 1972 for some concert performances with the Royal Grenada Police Force Band. A few days before the first of the scheduled concerts was to take place, Clarkson discovered a major problem. The Harps instruments were not tuned in Concert C but instead tuned in C#. This meant that the Police Band, were practicing in Concert C, and the Harps were playing in a different key, a half tone above. After relating the problem to the players, Clarkson still expresses wonder at the shock he got the next day when he went to the panyard and the guys told him 'don't worry, we fixed it up'. They had spent the entire previous night working out the music in the new keys.

Entry into the Harps was a difficult thing for any young boy at this time. With the Harps being the only functioning steelband from the community the conditions were ripe for the formation of another steelband. It was in this period that the Panasonic Steel Orchestra came into being. Given birth by people like Gordon "Monarchy" Bain, Trevor "Father" Emmanuel, the band rose to prominence in George Street, next to the lime factory and within a stone’s throw of the Coals Market, where the Harps were located.

In 1972, the impossible happened. The upstart Panasonic, appearing in their first and only Panorama competition beat all and sundry, Harps included, to run away with the Championship. The Harps that year blamed their inconsistent rhythm section for the loss. The very next year, with the migration of a number of the original members of the Harps, the members of Panasonic merged with the Harps.

In 1973, under the musical directorship of Clarkson, the band produced its first recording "Brighter out of Darkness" recorded in Barbados, won the National Panorama competiton, and then lost Clarkson when he left to study music abroad.

With Clarkson’s departure, a young prodigy by the name of Michael "Boose" Cyrus took over the arranging responsibilities for the band. Michael had started playing pan at a very tender age and was the first to start the CokeBox Brigade (small players who have to stand on a Coca Cola crate to reach the pan). For a brief period prior to this people like Arthur Coard and Jeffrey Japal did a bit of arranging for the band.

The band also moved into Tanteen, to the location it occupies to this day vacating the Coals Market for construction of the Carenage Fish Market which stands on the spot today.

The captaincy of the band also changed around in the decade of the seventies mainly due to migration of band members. Lester gave way to Speck Mecks who gave way to Cosley Boyke; to Arthur Coard, Clevoy 'Depo' Depradine, Colville "Kamau" Mc Barnette, and Wilbur "Williby" Thomas.

In 1978, under the captaincy of "Kamau" McBarnette, the band produced its second recording "As Prescribed" at the KH Studios in Port of Spain. The musical arrangers on this album were Michael Cyrus, Trevor Emmanuel and Keith Rougier.

1978 also saw the Band's return to the Panorama Championships after a four-year absence, having last appeared in the competition in 1973 when they were winners. The Harps placed second to Guinness City Symphony led by Kenneth ‘Teloti’ Hood but it was an impressive debut for young arranger Michael "Boose" Cyrus whose two arrangements of Kitchener's Pan in the 21st Century and Sparrow's Doo Doo Yay Me (Natasha), signalled the emergence of a very talented young man with a far way to go. However, with the Revolution taking the Island by storm in March 1979 and the subsequent lean years that followed for the band, prevented the Harps from competing in Panorama until 1983.

The Peoples Revolution of 1979 saw the band begin another struggle in its existence when quite a number of players left to become members of the new Revolutionary Government and Armed Forces. The band also toured Cuba as part of the Grenada contingent for Carifesta Cuba 1979. And the migration of leading players to North America continued. It was in that period that the captaincy of the band went to Wilbur "Williby" Thomas, a younger brother of Walter "Dictator" Thomas.

The beginning of the 1980's saw the Harps struggling to remain in existence, as its membership depleted to a mere nucleus. The band now depended solely on the ‘Tourist Boat’ engagements to survive financially. The sponsorship secured from Phoenix Cigarettes in 1977 lasted only until 1979 and the band was once again unsponsored as the decade of the 80's beckoned.

To provide some form of motivation to the remaining members and to establish some sort of purpose the band produced their third record album, "We Kinda Zess". The musical arrangements were done by Michael "Boose" Cyrus and was recorded at the Grenville Studios of Don Charles.

In 1984, the band changed leadership. Michael Cyrus became the new Captain with Leroy "Malu" Stephen as the Vice Captain. The fact that Angel Harps existed in 1984 was due mainly to the untiring and unceasing efforts of the previous Captain, Wilbur Thomas who sought and succeeded in maintaining continuity during the period 1979-1984. With this change in captaincy, came a complete change in the leadership structure of the band. Up until now the leadership of the band had consisted of a Captain and Vice Captain.

1984 saw the introduction of Manager, Carlyle Roberts, and Secretary/Treasurer Roger Depradine with Zavid Seales as his Assistant. Together with the Captain and Vice Captain as well as Team members representing the various sections of the orchestra, the Management Team was now made up of 8 persons instead of two. This marked one of and probably the most successful periods (decade) for the steelband. Between 1984-1993, the Harps simply returned to where they belonged, right at the top.

Two things that contributed significantly in the Harps return to prime time happened that year; James Clarkson, who had been out of the State for a long period, returned to Grenada. Orlando Thomas and Ulric Fraser, soon to depart for North America, re-introduced the Junior/Learners Programme.

In Clarkson, the Harps regained their musically qualified composer, arranger and musician who would take the Harps' Music to new heights, establishing a sound of harmony with a heavy jazz influence, that is today unique to the Harps in Grenada. By 1990, the orchestra could produce a band of 80 plus members to play at Panorama, many of them having come through the Junior and Learners programme.

The Harps returned to competition in 1983, placing second in the 1983 Panorama Championships with "Rebecca" arranged by Michael Cyrus. It was the first time that the band had entered Panorama with the requirement of playing one tune. The practice of having to play two tunes for Panorama had ended a few years before.

The next year, 1984, the Harps were back in Champions row playing "Tourist Elsie" arranged by Michael Cyrus and James Clarkson. Later that year, in conjunction with Regan Nedd and the choir "A Group of Us", the band produced the highly successful "An Evening with Handel". This was a classical concert mixing steel and voices, which was staged over two nights at the St. Joseph's Convent in St. George's. The response was so tremendous that the band repeated the show in 1986 and this led to the recording of the band's fourth musical album, Serenade, in early 1987.

In 1985, the Harps notched their second Championship in as many years when they won the Panorama competition playing "Pan in Danger" arranged by James Clarkson. This was to be the last time that the Harps appeared in Panorama playing a "foreign" (in this case, a Trinidad) calypso. In 1986, "Cant stop the Angels" a James Clarkson composition and arrangement with lyrics by Carlyle Roberts saw the Harps begin what is now their normal panorama presentation, their own tune.

If ever there was a 'thing' about a name, then there was something with "Cant Stop the Angels". Looking to register their third consecutive panorama championship, the 'unstoppable' Harps ran into a brick wall. They finished last (6th), the judges and most of the audience at Queens Park claiming not to have heard the band but instead a "lot of noise". The microphone for the PA system had been left on at the back of the band, highlighting the rythym section and drowning out the sound of the band until someone turned it off in the last two minutes of the presentation. Sabotage, the fans cried... but this only served to strengthen the resolve of the Harps for 1987. Certainly for those members performing that night, the sound from within the band was as good as the best practice session and the general feeling was the band had performed well enough to win. This is also the year that the Harps' music took on a distinctly jazzy flavour.

After the debacle of 1986, the band engaged a new tuner, "Herman Guppy "Brown". The Harps returned to Panorama with a bang winning in style with "Who Mad" composed and arranged by James Clarkson, with lyrics by Carlyle Roberts and sung by Llewellyn "Baila" Archibald, all members of the Harps. 1987 also saw the beginning of another change in the Harps, their instruments having been in tuned in C# was now changed to Concert C resulting in a 'softer sweeter' tone for the band. 1988 and 1989 saw the Harps finishing 2nd and 3rd respectively in Panorama before once again grabbing the Championship in 1990 with ‘Soca Jump’.

The decade of the 90's began with the Harps returning to Championship form with a winning performance of Soca Jump, composed by James Clarkson and lyrics and vocals by Ajamu. This was followed up in 1991 with "Pan in Tokyo" again composed and arranged by Clarkson with lyrics and vocals by the Ajamu. Looking for the elusive three consecutive wins in 1992, the band placed second with "Indian Bell Ringer" before bouncing back in 1993 with "Tenor Madness" again composed by Clarkson and with lyrics by Ajamu.

Something significant to the future success of the Harps happened in 1991. It was the formation of the Junior Band. The Learners Programme which was introduced in 1984 usually had good responses with several players graduating to the senior band every year. Usually though, the age group would be mainly teenagers and youths. Then behold in 1991, so many kids responded to the Learners Programme that they were enough to form a complete band on their own. What was more, the majority of them were between the ages of 7 and 12 years old. What was also encouraging about this was the amount of support that parents were giving their children to come out and play pan. It was the beginning of a change both in Angel Harps and in steelband in general where the majority of players would soon be the youths.

The junior band was initially developed by Roger "Jarzie" Depradine but he soon left for the USA early in 1992. The responsibility of teaching and developing the young players now fell to Carlyle Roberts. In 1992, playing in the first ever Junior Panorama competition, NCB performed creditably to place second behind the experienced Clarks Court Pan Lovers. The tune played that year was a Carlyle Roberts composition and arrangement of "We Panorama". In 1993, they won the semi-finals, the first time that a semi-finals had been held, by a big margin but had to settle for second place in the finals again to Pan Lovers. Angel Harps Juniors played an Edwin "Eggies" Thompson composition "Shake It" arranged by Carlyle Roberts, while Pan Lovers played "Indian Bell Ringer" a tune composed by James Clarkson which he arranged for the senior band that year. The Junior Band though, was developing all the while, getting better and better - they were playing together during the year, getting tunes and making appearances with the senior band at open air concert engagements. By 1993, the first of those junior players would start graduating into the senior band.

In 1994, Roberts had to leave the country because of work commitments and the responsibility for the Junior Band now went to Andy Chichester, a young arranger who had been previously arranging for the Anglican High School band. That year, playing an Andy Chichester composition and arrangement, they again placed second, this time to Grentel Commancheros.

In all, the period between 1984-1993 saw the Harps chalk up 6 Championships, place second on two occasions, third once and last one. Quite a run! The band also staged two successful classical concerts during this time and recorded Serenade. The band moved from a membership of approximately 30 persons in 1984 to over 100 in 1993, mainly as a result of the influx of the young players who had been nurtured in the Junior Programme.

In 1994 and in 1995 the Harps placed second, in both instances losing by one point. They also placed second again in 1996. The Junior band though, were successful in 1995 and 1996, winning the Junior Panorama competition with "We Coming Back" and "Back to Back" respectively, tunes composed by Carlyle Roberts and arranged by Andy Chichester. This was indeed sweet revenge for the young pannists as they had come second the preceeding three successive years. There was no panorama in 1997 and the band completed a very successful tour of Barbados in 1998 for that island’s Congaline Festival.

The three year period between 1994 and 1996 saw the Harps establish another first. It was the first time in the band’s history that they had competed in three successive panorama competitions without a win. Panorama 1998 was therefore one of the bigger challenges facing the band. The Junior Band, having won the last two junior panorama competitions in 1995 and 1996 were looking to repeat and become the first Junior band to win a hattrick of panorama championships and the Senior band were just looking to be back in Champions row. And as if the pressure was not enough, Panorama was scheduled for the Tanteen Netball complex, in other words, right in the Harps back yard, just about two hundred yards from the Pan Tent. And the Harps had the added weight on their shoulders of not being beaten in their own back yard.

Playing a Carlyle Roberts composition "Heart and Soul of Pan" arranged by Andy Chichester, the Junior Band created history by winning the Junior Panorama Competition for the third consecutive year, becoming the first Junior Band to achieve this distinction thus putting pressure on the Senior band to match their achievement.

And did the senior band respond! NCB Angel Harps entered the Netball Complex for Panorama 1998 with a reputation to defend, a mission to achieve and a card up their sleeves. Playing on the Complex would not be the same as playing at Queens Park. For one, the surface at the venue was pitched and was completely surrounded by concrete walls. This would no doubt impact on the sound of the band as the sound would rfeflect off the ground and the walls resulting in a rather noisy sound. The Harps knew this, and this was the advantage they had going into Panorama 1998

Playing "Pan is Beautiful", a James Clarkson composition, with lyrics by Ajamu, the Harps returned to winners row edging out Coca Cola Pan Wizards to win the senior panorama championship thus becoming only the second band (after Commancheros in 1994) to win both the Junior and Senior Panorama Championships in the same year.

Panorama 1999 was held in Tanteen and saw the Harps entering Panorama for the last time in the 20th century. And what a way to end the century! The previous December (1998), the band learned of the death of George Croney in the USA. For Junior Panorama 99, the band played a Carlyle Roberts composition entitled "George", a tribute to George Croney. With arrangements again by Andy Chichester, the Harps were runaway winners, setting another record in the process, four consecutive Junior panorama victories.

The new millenium arrived with Angel Harps sitting in a familiar position, on a Panorama hattrick. Having won the previous two competitions in 1998 and 1999 they were now looking to do the treble for the first time. They had failed to win three straight on two previous occasions - in 1986 after winning in 1984 and 1985 and in 1992 after winning in 1990 and 1991. But before Panorama 2000 there was Easter 2000 and there was the Angel Harps Reunion 2000 - probably one of the biggest events organised by the band.

Conceived by Clevoy Depradine, Reunion 2000 was planned jointly by the Angel Harps family members from Grenada and at home in Grenada and was held over the Easter weekend and the week following in April of 2000. The event opened with a Church service and breakfast on the Sunday and was followed by a boat cruise to Calivigny Island on Easter Monday. This was followed by a Pan Symposium and Photo Exhibition at the GBSS on Wednesday evening. On Friday, the GBSS auditorium was again the scene of a moving Tribute to the Stalwarts when a number of past members of the band who had passed on to the great beyond were paid tribute by members of the band. The Tribute included a number of songs played by the Angel Harps Steel Orchestra.

The curtain came down on Saturday night when the Grand Beach Hotel was the scene of cocktails and a gala awards night. Some 129 persons, corporate entities and other groups were recognized and awarded on the night for their contribution and support to the Angel Harps over their 35 years of existence.

Reunion 2000 was a tremendous success, with a large contingent of past members coming in from Grenada and other parts of the USA to celebrate with the Grenada based-present and past members, supporters and other friends associated with the Harps family. To be continued.....   Grenada Angel Harps

More on Angel Harps Steel Orchestra

  Angel Harps Steel Orchestra Arrangers
Angel Harps - Grenada Panorama 2018


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