Some Panmen of the 1950s

by Ian Lambie

Provided with the expressed permission of: the Author

Ian Lambie in his own words...  ORIGINAL date of data:  2016.   This info is to be factored in when/where ages are cited in the following piece.

Global Panmen of the 1950s:

Veteran pan player Ian Lambie
Ian Lambie

“I was there,” says Ian Lambie, who is 87 years of age (2020) and since 1998 has lived in Tobago.  His band was Casablanca [Steel Orchestra] and he lived close to the panyard and was friendly with many of the players, particularly Ormond “Patsy” Haynes who became a member of TASPO.

“College Boys” who were beating pan

I am fully aware of the excellent contributions made by Ellie Mannette and Andrew “Pan” de la Bastide to the advancement of “pan” in the USA and by Anthony “Tony” Williams at home. I decided to write about lesser known pioneers and to include some “College Boys” who were beating pan in the 1950s.

Ken “Cheeta” Jones will be 84 years old on 20th February, 2016.  In 1944 at age 12 he started beating pan with Casablanca, the same year that he entered QRC (Queen’s Royal College). In 1952 he become a “first pan” player with “Dem Boys” Steelband of Belmont. Dem Boys had started as a stage side, headed by Hugh Ewing, with Nello Mitchell, Irwin Clement, Valmon Jones and Ken Jones.

In 1956 Ken migrated to Canada, where he joined “Steltones,” Canada’s first Steelband at the University of Toronto. When the band played the University circuit across Canada, Ken was touted as “the first Steel band drummer in Canada.”

Patrick Arnold
Patrick Arnold

In 1967 and the first Caribana, Steltones was the first steelband on the road, playing at the opening of Caribana at City Hall in Toronto. on boat rides, and at the Eaton Centre. For many years the band was captained by Patrick Arnold, who later became President of Pan Trinbago. Lawford Dupres was also a member of Steltones.

Steltones finally called it quits when ten to fifteen years later younger panists appeared on the scene in Toronto.

Pat “Patsy” Jagdeo is now 78 years of age and in 1955, he joined the Melotones Steelband. In 1958 he joined Silvertones which was contracted to play at Hotel Normandie.

In 1958 Patsy, together with some members of Silvertones and of Dixieland sponsored by the Simplex Time Recorder Company, travelled to Canada to perform at the company’s convention. From 1960-1964 he played with Silver Stars and later with Dixieland. He became a member of Harvard Harps in 1998 and continued with the Harps until 2008. Since 2013 he has been a member of “Ovaltines” the resident steelband of the Queen’s Park Cricket Club.

Sterling Betancourt will be 86 years of age on 30th March 2016. He was a member of the Tripoli Steelband and later the captain of Crossfire Steelband both from St. James. In 1951 Sterling travelled to London as a member of TASPO (Trinidad All-Steel Percussion Orchestra) and was the only one to remain in London when the others returned to Trinidad in December 1951.

Together with Russ Henderson, Mervyn Constantine and Max Cherrie they founded the first steelband in the UK. In 1953 he learned to play the traps and drums.

Sterling Betancourt has been a major figure in pioneering pan in Europe and introduced the steelpan to numerous countries in Europe, Asia, and in North Africa. In 1964 he was involved in the creation of the Notting Hill Carnival.

In 1985 Sterling established the “Nostalgia” Steelband in England and he continued to be its leader for the next 20 years.

In 2002 Sterling was presented with an MBE by the Queen, and was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts.  In 2011, he received the Pan Trinbago Lifetime Achievement Award and in 2012 at a gala dinner hosted by the T&T High Commissioner in London, the T&T 50th Anniversary Arts Award.

The biography of Sterling Betancourt is named “London is the place for me.”

Irwin Clement began as a panist with “Dem Boys” of Belmont in 1952. He migrated to the UK in the early 1960s where in addition to being a panist he became a percussionist. He played for many years with the Russ Henderson Steel ensemble and he travelled extensively as an accompanist to many prominent artistes. While his base remained in London, his profession took him to many countries in Europe, Asia, Southern Africa and to as far away as Australia. In recent times he has been a frequent visitor to Tobago where he has a home. At eighty years of age “Clem” continues to be an active panist/percussionist.

Some panmen of the 1950s Part II: The Dupres brothers

The “College Boys” who were beating pan in the early 1950s included Lawford and Steve Dupres.

Lawford Dupres, now 78 years of age, was born at Belmont in October 1937.

In 1952 he became a member of the Dixie Stars Steelband of Woodbrook.

Dixie Stars members - Piarco Airport, Trinidad
Dixie Stars members - picture taken at Piarco Airport, Trinidad, on return from Jamaica and Puerto Rico -  photo © Lawford Dupres

In 1953 the Dixie Stars as the Esso Steelband was the first steel band to perform in Jamaica. From Jamaica the band was flown by US Military aircraft to perform at several venues in Puerto Rico. The Esso Steelband was the first steelband to perform in Puerto Rico. The band returned to Trinidad by US Military aircraft.

In 1954, Esso (Canada) sponsored Dixie Stars to the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto as the Esso Steelband and the first steel band to perform in Canada. Being a student at St. Mary’s College at the time, Lawford was unable to participate but his elder brother Steve, also a member of Dixie Stars, did travel.

In 1955, Esso again took Dixie Stars to Canada for a series of cross country performances starting in Montreal and ending in Vancouver.

Tropitones at the Canadian National Exhibition in 1955
Tropitones at the Canadian National Exhibition in 1955 - photo ©  Lawford Dupres

Also in 1955, Mr. Robert Shepard of Esso (Trinidad) requested Lawford to assemble a group to perform at the Canadian National Exhibition. Lawford was unable to accede to his request and Mr. Shepard approached Tropitones which accepted his offer. Alfonso “Fonzo” Mosca, Tropitones’ leading tenor player, was unable to make the trip and Lawford filled the breach.

After 1955, Lawford played at Carnival time with Silver Stars.

In 1957, on the suggestion of Lawford and Georgie Ng Wai, Curtis Pierre, the former leader, who had recently returned from the UK, resuscitated Dixieland.

a combined group of members from Dixieland and Silvertones preparing for the Simplex tour to the US and Canada in 1957
A combined group of members from Dixieland and Silvertones preparing for the Simplex tour to the US and Canada in 1957 - photo ©  Lawford Dupres

In June 1958, Dixieland together with some members of Silvertones made a trip to the USA and Canada as the Simplex Steelband, the first steelband to visit Quebec. They performed in Chicoutimi and Tadoussac, two aluminum smelter towns along the Saguenay river.

TV Irpinia
The Turbine vessel - T/v Irpinia is seen in 1956 during a cruise.  She had been modernised, but in 1962 she received a massive transformation and became a Motor vessel - M/v in 1962

In December of 1958, Dixieland worked for a month as the ship’s band on a round–the–Caribbean cruise aboard the S.S. Irpinia.

Lawford left Trinidad in Sept. 1959, to study Chemical Engineering at the University of British Colombia in Vancouver and soon became involved with a group of fellow West Indian students who had some pans, and became the tenor player for the Moonlighters, the first steelband to operate in Vancouver. Wilson Wong Moon from Carenage was the captain of the band. Lawford played with the Moonlighters until 1968, when he was transferred by his employers to Toronto. There he joined the Steltones, captained by Patrick Arnold, the former President of Pan Trinbago. This band was the successor to a group named “Panics” in which the late Nicky Inniss was involved. Lawford played with Steltones until 1973 when he was transferred from Toronto to Sarnia, 160 miles away.

Lawford Dupres
Lawford  Dupres

In 1975, Lawford returned to Trinidad and to Trintoc, and had to give up the pan for a while, but resumed with the Harvard Harps in about 1995/1996. Lawford, now 78 years of age continues to be playing with “Harvard Harps” after 20 years of “sweet pan.”

Steve Dupres, now deceased, was an accomplished second-pan player and the elder brother of Lawford. Steve was born in Belmont in April 1936, and began his career as a panist with Dixie Stars in 1952. He was a member of the 1955 Esso Steelband which performed in Canada.

During the return boat trip to Trinidad, on arrival at Aruba from where the panmen were scheduled to fly to Trinidad, some of them requested to stay on the ship heading for England. Steve spent two years in England, returning to Trinidad in 1957. He joined Dixieland and in 1960 travelled to Bermuda to join the Bermuda Esso Steelband with Rudy “Pupa” Commissiong and Kelvin Dove, formerly of Invaders. He later worked as a solo artiste and with conventional musicians in Bermuda.

He visited Trinidad at Carnival time and arranged several Bomb tunes for Harvard Harps. Steve Dupres died suddenly in January 2005 at home in Bermuda.

Steve Dupres is at centre. He was the arranger and player of the “Echophones” made by Rock Johnston. Rudy Commissiong, captain of Esso Dixie Stars is on left, and Rock Johnston on right   -   photo © Lawford Dupres
Steve Dupres is at centre. He was the arranger and player of the “Echophones” made by [Herman] “Rock” Johnston. Rudy Commissiong, captain of Esso Dixie Stars is on left, and “Rock” Johnston on right   -   photo © Lawford Dupres

A career in pan worthy of emulation: Part III

In 1956 that popular Woodbrook Steelband, Starlift was formed by a group of young panmen from Saigon, Nightingales and Invaders and was led by Eugene “Gene” Peters. The band’s first home was at 8 Brabant Street in Woodbrook.

Over the years the name Starlift has become synonymous with Ray Holman. The Holman family lived at nearby Hunter Street and Ray was born on the 22nd April 1944. It was the legendary Beryl Mc Bernie of the Little Carib Theatre who started Ray’s musical career. She provided the Ellie Mannette-tuned pans, a place to practice and encouragement to the young panist.

His mother having given her consent, by age of twelve Ray was performing at concerts and at Little Carib productions.

Emmanuel “Jack” Riley (in cap) with Ellie Mannette
Emmanuel “Jack” Riley (in cap) with Ellie Mannette

In 1957, Ray was invited by Ellie Mannette to become a member of Invaders where Ellie, Emmanuel “Jack” Riley, Gerald Forsythe and other Invaders stalwarts took Ray under their respective “wings.” It was fortuitous that at that time the late Scofield Pilgrim, a teacher at Queen’s Royal College, where Ray was a student, had formed a jazz band which included the pan, possibly the first pan-jazz group ever.

In 1961 Ray composed and arranged his first piece of music for the steelpan, “Ray’s saga,” played by Invaders in the first-ever Panorama competition.

In 1963 he joined Starlift, and at age 20, became the youngest winner in the Steelpan solo class at the 1964 Trinidad and Tobago Music Festival.

From 1963 to 1974 Ray was the arranger for Starlift and during those eleven years the band was consistently successful at Panorama and in the “Bomb” competitions on Carnival Mondays. Two of his memorable “Bomb” arrangements were Starlift’s renditions of “I Feel Pretty” and “Penny Lane.” In Panorama competition, Starlift placed in the first three on six successive occasions, emerging winners in 1969 playing Kitchener’s “The Bull,” and in 1971 playing Sparrow’s “Queen of the Bands.” In 1968 and in 1970 the band placed second and in 1968 Starlift was in third place. Ray’s composition “If We Really Want” earned Starlift third place in the 2006 Panorama Competition.

“Penny Lane” - Starlift - Ray Holman arranger

In 1972 and in 1973 when Starlift played compositions written for the pan by Ray, these resulted in complaints from some calypsonians who regarded the music played at Panorama as being their exclusive preserve.

Ray Holman
Ray Holman - photo:  © WST

In 1974 Ray left Starlift to become a free-lance arranger applying his skills in ensuing years to arranging for Invaders, Pandemonium, Exodus, Tokyo, Phase II and Hummingbirds Pan Groove.

He entered the University of the West Indies and after his graduation he taught at Fatima College until his retirement in 1998.

Ray has been enjoying a very successful international career, composing calypso and soca music, operatic scores and jazz rhythms. He has performed as a soloist, arranger and music director at venues worldwide. Over the past thirty years he has recorded several of his compositions. In 1994 Delta Recording Company released a CD “Steelbands of Trinidad and Tobago: A tribute to Ray Holman,” with tunes composed and arranged by Ray and played by various steelbands.

Since 1998, Ray has been a distinguished visiting artist in music at the University of Washington in Seattle, and has conducted workshops in playing and in arranging music for the instrument at West Virginia University, at the Humboldt State University in California and at several other colleges in the USA. He has been instrumental in the organization of the Pan Jamboree Finale in Sanka Falls, California which attracts up to 275 panists. In recent years he has formed the Ray Holman Quintet ,a pan-jazz group. The many awards received by him in recognition of his work include the Hummingbird Medal of Merit (Silver) from the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and the Pan Legend Award from the New York Folk Art Institute.

The achievements of Ray Holman are worthy of emulation.

Selwyn Joseph Gomes introduced pan to Canadian schools: Part IV

Few persons in Trinidad and Tobago are aware of Selwyn  “Sello” Gomes and his many accomplishments as a pan pioneer.

It was Sello who from 1951 to 1955 was the first arranger and band leader of Silver Stars. He brought Silver Stars on the road for their first serious Carnival experiences in which Nicky Inniss played a key role in the band’s Mas preparations.

Sello taught band members distinctive musical arrangements and set a standard of musicianship which he passed on to young Junior Pouchet.

In May 1953 while the band was practicing at its panyard at the Halfhides residence on Warner Street the police raided the premises and arrested six of the boys. In dismissing the charges Magistrate George Cabral ruled that steelband practice may be a public nuisance after 10:00 p.m. but not at 7:30 p.m. The boys sued for wrongful arrest and were awarded $250 each.

For Carnival 1955, Sello presented his arrangement of “Happy Wanderer” on the road that gained widespread acclaim and was awarded the Road March Title. This is the only foreign song which has ever won the Road March. In 1955 he accompanied Tropitones Steelband to Toronto to perform at the Canadian National Exhibition. He left Silver Stars in November of 1955 to focus his energies on Tropitones, a small band founded in 1949/1950 by brothers Jose and Fonso Mosca.

Tropitones at Queens Park Hotel in 1957. In the middle is on tenor is Lawford Dupres photo:  © Lawford Dupres
Tropitones at Queen’s Park Hotel in 1957.  In the middle is on tenor is Lawford Dupres - photo:  ©  Lawford Dupres

Sello was born in Port-of-Spain in March, 1934 and raised on Oxford Street and later in Cascade. He migrated to Canada in 1957, first to Montreal and then to Toronto. For several years he performed as a pan soloist and later as a keyboard and xylophone player in bars and at various clubs in downtown Toronto. He was also the leader of the “Toronto Tropitones” steelband.

Sello decided he needed something beyond music to support his family and with some encouragement from his friends like Lennox Borel, Nicky Inniss, Ronald Delmas, Cecil Louis and the Mahon Brothers, part of the pan fraternity who were students at the University of Toronto, in 1964 he enrolled at the University of Toronto. In 1967 he received a BA in Economics, and in 1969 a teaching degree. Lennox Borel always marvelled at the fact that Sello played music every night at the Bermuda Tavern on Yonge Street until 1:00 a.m. and at 9:00 a.m. the following day was attending his university’s classes.

After graduation, Sello taught Accountancy, Marketing, and Data Processing at the Sir Wilfrid Laurier Collegiate Institute in Scarborough. In 1970 he became the first person to introduce pan into the Canadian school system when he began an extra-curricular programme at Wilfrid Laurier and was instrumental in introducing the programme to schools throughout the Toronto area up to his retirement in 1989.

He bought a farm in Stouffville, Ontario, just north of Toronto and continued to perform regularly. He had a set up with a synthesizer pan and a PA system providing backup as he played his tenor pan and double seconds live at private parties.

Sello has served on the Board of the Ontario Steel Band Association and has tried to get his family members to carry on the tradition but without success.

Selwyn Gomes has devoted his life to pan and celebrated over half a century of playing and teaching pan in Canada. He is recognized as the quintessential pan pioneer in Toronto, and for his contribution to the advancement of pan in Canada was the recipient of the Pioneer Award at the first Pan Alive show in 1997. (Pan Alive is Toronto’s equivalent of Panorama.)

Sello and his wife are now both retired and live comfortably on their farm in Stouffville. He occasionally enjoys the company of his friends who have a social group called the ROMEOs (Retired old men eating out). These were the guys with whom he went to university in the sixties, and with whom he has maintained a lifelong friendship.

His only involvement with music now is playing at home for his own amusement or jamming with his friends when they visit.

2020 Updates via Ian Lambie:

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