WST Global News Division


Sweet Pan - J’Ouvert Morning, and:
Phase II vs All Stars

Independent Viewpoint                               -                                by D. Anthony Blackman

In the mid to late 1950’s, steelband and panmen were very closely associated with and defined as badjohnism and hooliganism.  A steelband clash resulted in stabbing, cutting, lick down, buss head and chopping up with the odd killing.  These badjohns armed themselves with iron bolts, bull pistles, razors, cutlasses, ice picks, bottles and big stones, which were just some of the weaponry found in any steelband’s arsenal.  Our parents played pan and/or mas while our grandparents took us to “See Mas” including Ole Mas/J’Ouvert, on the streets of uptown Port of Spain.  However, we only saw the streets J’Ouvert morning, because, before we knew it we were moved to another level of seeing Mas, which was from the ever popular middle class vantage point, the blazing hot Bleachers in the Queen’s Park Savannah.


All this protective custody and guidance was based on class, and the stigma attached to “beating pan.” Parents or guardians did everything possible to keep their siblings from emulating these ‘quote’ people with no ambition, hooligans, ‘unquote’, fighting against each other, during their steelband clashes for strange but simplistic reasons such as, more innovative or sweeter pan, or a boss tune especially a bomb tune.  Matter of fact this was nothing less than 'gang warfare', as the riots were usually regional, e.g. Invaders [West POS] and Tokyo [East POS], or Despers and Invaders, that kind of steelband cum musical turf war.  It also epitomizes the late Lord Blakie’s calypso hit “Steelband Clash”

…Invaders songin sweet comin dong Charlotte St…

…Nevah me again jumpin ‘n ah stellband ‘n Port ah Spain…

Nevertheless, our connection with the steelbands continued to be a J'Ouvert morning thing only because, I would imagine now, there was nothing in the savannah at that time of the day.  Eventually we were allowed to go closer to town, wid we band Invaders, but only for a heavily monitored and chaperoned chip, under the watchful eyes of our elder relatives and/or neighbours. We later moved on to Starlift, but, the chippin visa expired anywhere between Strand cinema and Green Corner.  Those days you had to turn back when de band reach dey boy and [fine yuh tail] head back down Tragarete Rd. or Ariapita Ave. otherwise is 'de fines' cut arse.'


The steelband rivalry and riots continued even after Carnival, very close to where we grew up, in the lower east side of Woodbrook, closer to Wrightson Rd.  Across de border we called the area, right behind the infamous 'Gaza Strip' of nightclubs.  As a consequence, we remained on total lock down as far as steelband, beating pan and goin een tong J’ouvert morning or Carnival time was concerned, until the early 1960’s at about age 11/12.  Fortunately the riots ended by this time and there were now organized competitions e.g. J’Ouvert morning bomb, steelband music festivals, Panorama, and an association for the steelband.  The implementation of these ideas, corporate sponsorship of steelbands, government funding and intervention etc. truly assisted in replacing the violent approach to musical rivalry.


But, while Invaders, the sweetest, slowest chip to town or Starlift was stuck by or approaching Green Corner on the way to the competition, I always headed uptown for Park and Fredrick, that was the place to be on J’Ouvert morning, because the bomb competition was judged two blocks down Fredrick St. by the Town Hall, [now City Hall].  Additionally, Panorama finals was part of the Carnival Sunday night Dimache Gras show, which finished close to J’Ouvert, so many of the finalists came straight from the savannah down Fredrick St.  On that corner you had bands converging and clashing from three [3] directions, south on Fredrick, and east and west on Park.  That was the spot where I listened to many a band play their Panorama tunes on the move, and many of them waited for that area to drop their 'bomb' [tunes], lord that was 'Sweet Pan in Yuh Ruckungkatungkung.'


PHASE II Goes Chippin' with
Blessed Assurance 'Behind de Bridge'


This J’Ouvert morning some 44 years later, Phase II Pan Groove took pan lovers down memory lane as they ventured ‘behind de bridge’ for a musical rivalry just like it occurred in the past. After mesmerizing the audience and judges at Victoria Square in front of the offices of Pan Trinbago, with the superb rendition of the hymn “Blessed Assurance” also known locally as “This is my story, this is my song,” the rack then rolled forward, with the crowd applauding and with no hesitation, missing a beat or change of tune, the Phase headed for Green Corner and east into Park Street.

Imagine the nostalgia and the buzz as the sweet pan in honey sounds of the west filled the empty Park Street air, with no bands or DJ’s in sight. Everyone aware by then……..we goin by hell yard fuh All Stars, de mudder of bomb tunes, is de reel musical cut arse dey gettin dis mornin……. . Then the goose bumps began to set in as I saw a longtime crack shot from “Blanca,” meh boy Horace a.k.a Breds [who played, I believe, up to and during the musical glory days of Angostura Old Oak Casablanca], following the band on the pavement with glee from Park & Fredrick Streets to Rosary Church, reminiscing and cherishing the moment, as this sweet sounding West band headed into East Port of Spain, on J’Ouvert morning.

Crossing Charlotte Street corner into Piccadilly Street ‘round de bridge,’ another notorious rioting zone, now happily transformed into a musical zone. Visualize this setting………flag flying, iron ringing, some of the All Stars faithful gaping from the back of their yard, on the other side of the dry river wondering… buh wey Phase II goin dis hour? hear wey dey playin…. Before the dust could settle, a scintillating performance was being admirably accepted by a large group of All Stars supporters and players, mostly elders, in their hell yard gateway. They danced and sang along, [This is my story this is my song], waved and applauded the pore-raising brilliance of “Boogsie” Sharpe‘s arrangement of Blessed Assurance. In return, Phase fanatics hoisted flags and Tee shirts, beating their chests, claiming victory, vengeance, hear it man, hear it, this year was the beaver trick, its more than one [1] point, Boogsie rules. And notably, all this went down with pure peace and love, no fights, no riot, just a friendly battle in that musical war zone.

Blessèd assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long.

Perfect submission, perfect delight,
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
Angels descending bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

Perfect submission, all is at rest
I in my Savior am happy and blest,
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

Playing of the hymn/song Blessed Assurance, has to be awarded a Steelband Grammy, and placed in the annals or category of winning bomb tunes. In fact, this 17th century hymn was the featured song in two [2] Academy Award winning movies in the 1980’s. I believe this tune of choice was inspired by the passing late last year [2007], of  Ras Eli Bang, a revered Phase tenor panist, who also inspired the scissors tail outfit for the Musical Vengeance of the grand [South] Panorama finals. Pan connoisseurs from the Grand Stand side of the savannah should remember him in a scissors tail suit, complete with rose/carnation in the lapel, specifically at the prelims. Back in those days the bands rolled on stage facing west, played and exited in similar format, until the revolutionary man wid de hammer, Rudolph Charles and Desperadoes pioneered the trend of facing the grand stand and by extension the judges.

All Stars did acknowledge this J’Ouvert morning feat, and later publicly thanked Phase II for this gesture, but it would have been a heavy musical showdown, [if there were no DJ’s/big trucks on Ariapita Avenue] had the Phase made it to East Dry River earlier, to catch them before they parked up to rest for their Monday mas. Well my younger pan players and friends, you can now appreciate how some of the pan, panmen and steelband traditions have changed. Imagine, steelbands running home early J’Ouvert morning to come back out Monday evening, huh!! Pan folks my age know about little or no sleep from Sunday night until you drop Monday night. What a pity these bands did not clash musically on de road by de corner of Charlotte and Park or Park and St. Vincent [Green Corner]; what a memorable steelband musical clash that would have been.

In any case, in these modern times bands hardly ever pass each other on the same street, they usually go one behind the other. Remember when two bands clash, band meet band, each attempting to out play each other, with the highly skilled flagmen dancing, women wining low, and the panmen and ironmen playing their hearts out. Dem days yuh band sure tuh get drong out if yuh engine room or yuh tune soft, or, yuh cud get yuh pan mash up and some chop……….not in these times thanks to God Almighty, and all those stalwarts who fought to end the violence and elevate the art form. Nonetheless, right here in Trinidad the mecca of the steelband, DJ’s and the big music trucks do all the damage and destruction to steelband now.

Up next…….Some thoughts RE: Pan on de Road and the DJ/Big Truck takeover


Author: D. Anthony Blackman
Copyright February 14, 2008


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