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Remember Rebecca?

A look at one of the most intriguing moments in steelband history - Panorama 1983

by Dalton Narine

A Panorama and Carnival commentator for TTT (Trinidad and Tobago Television) Dalton Narine wrote the following story for The Trinidad Guardian in 1983. When Steel Talks presents, with his permission, what has become that memorable year’s backstory.


The 1983 monster winning arrangement of Clive Bradley’s Rebecca (sung by Super Blue) - performed by Desperadoes Steel Orchestra

It could be a story about a mauve towel, army greens, eight ducks and a briefcase. But it really rocks as one of the most fiercely contested Panorama zone finals this side of the trenches.

To a pan freak, or casual observer even, it might have been difficult to resist the urge to empathize with WITCO Desperadoes, as the band stormed the stage at 12:45 a.m., Saturday, at the Queen’s Park Savannah.

For, what was unraveling center stage brought a new word to the 1983 pan festival: dramarama.

A cast of mega-thousands crammed into the “illegal” space between the rims of the cow sheds that Carnival authorities prefer to refer as the Grand Stand and the North Stand. At the locus of the “war” set, the pan mass provided the festival with the usual extras. Yep, those same folks in drag who had elbowed their way from the Drag toward the hollow, wooden stage -- the co-stars gathering ahead as a veritable symphony of panists, another new word coined by yours truly, in the lexicon of the maturing culture. Who would doubt that in this readymix crucible ... that in the end, as a coda, the crowd might come to embrace the players like a lovers’ rock? No matter what!

That’s right. The big stars of the big-band era.

At the center of this mélange of tissue and steel, and directing the drum assembly, real-life characters in Clive Bradley and Bertie Marshall, inarguably in the top drawer of their respective fields of arranging and tuning, remained poised even in their capacity to drop De Bomb just so; nobody being around, it would appear, to put a hand. Not the Good Lord, fer chrissakes. No no no.

Rudolph Charles

Though, what seemed like a melee materializing actually metaphored as an army of bachacs set to mash up the stage. Indeed, not a soul could have missed leader/tuner Rudolph Charles, the statuesque, larger-than-life general, gripping two hammers in the left hand as he took control of the proceedings. Dirty war? Or, tools of his trade?

On a night like this, either would have sufficed. For every breath was baited -- Who to ketch tonight??

The intensity of the moment in full throat, an insatiable appetite for “Rebecca” distended the holding power of the Panorama belly. Yes, the belly of the beast itself. Evolutionary and revolutionary in its new shape as saviour of a culture not far removed from four decades of teething and nurturing in the maw of violence. Violence of its own volition, mind you. 

No wonder when Despers struck up a prelude to Blue Boy’s “Rebecca,” his wild and wanton goddess, Queen of His Carnival, it sounded, in a way, as a bugle call. The charge! A battle cry! For Panorama music last night attained a fresh standard when the heavy band lifted spirits with a sunrise crescendo. Rebecca was smoking. The biting scent of tampi wafting her above the fray.

Alas, the music was rendered unlistenable to those far from the madding crowd, who pushed a dopey head by indirectly muddling reception the way they carried on and on.

Grand Stand - Queen's Park Sahvannah
Grand Stand - Queen’s Park Savannah Savannah

From that moment on, only snatches of brilliancy in tone and musicianship peeked through the dusty air like the effervescence of an antacid. And the more bubbly Bradley worked the piece the more plentiful the acid that the band’s supporters had sent up. It was that kind of I-was-there relationship one would be prone to boast about years, many years, hence. Obviously, one gathered that what got lost in transition gave off a more sparkled effect than had reached the ear.

The throng, thick as beach sand, the grains congealed like molasses in the music, conspired against Catelli Trinidad All Stars, too. But, whereas Despers, with those rocket pans, occupied the stage from Belmont to Newtown, that stretch of beachhead under the band’s command and control since Melda, All Stars dallied with “Rebecca” in a compact area, as in a dancehall, say. So the romance was set to take the breath away under those nosy lights.

As a whole, under the circumstances, they could have been flares or salvos in the dark of combat.

So it was that the makings of a pan war erupted when the band took Rebecca’s hand. The line of demarcation clearly delineated by Despers, leader Errol Collins tripped a bold aural assault, employing in the process musical strategy by arranger Leon “Smooth” Edwards. Winner of two Panorama skirmishes in the past three attempts at glory, Edwards introduced a thing or two he picked up as a university student of music in Gainesville, Florida.

Moreover, a zeppo had lingered across town that the Stars’ musical director Gerry Jemmot had sharpened discipline to a point, prodding players to execute drills more efficiently than went on all week. If Jemmot’s bayonet proved to be the winning edge yesterday morning, the incision was clean. And a fresh wound has thus been bared.

Desperadoes Pan Theatre in the hills of LaventilleAs surely as All Stars beat back Despers by eight points in the zone finals as a result, and, notwithstanding the Laventille band’s cut-tail over the field by 10 points in the prelims, fresh blood has been spilled.

That both sides gained territory doesn’t mean the war’s over. The front lines seem a long ways off, the National Semi-finals showdown on schedule for next Thursday.

And so, with much time on their hands, it’s Despers to ketch. The Duke Street band can’t dare to be caught in an uncompromising position. Even though the flirting season is over. They want Rebecca so bad Bradley must find a way to charm her anew with his intro, that lover’s sonnet he crafted as some kind of mating call. We go see. We go hear.

 And now, for the rest of the story. The frivolity of a “M*A*S*H” scene isn’t uncommon in war flicks. Likewise, on the Savannah stage, where playing has always been the thing in Panorama. Consider that Despers’ Charles, as has been his custom, wore army fatigues, his trademark bad-boy logo. A mauve towel draped over the left shoulder, not unlike an ace fighter pilot flaunting his battle scarf around the neck. Eschewing the green towel, Charles was in vogue, all right.

Now, flash back to All Stars’ rolling entry into Steel City, stage right. An eccentric man, 50-ish, appears to be leading the band to the set-up area. He’s chipping to disco music on the PA. Unfashionable in a bandanna and a dark short pants suit, he leaves one to wonder what head is  pushing him to the brink, the edge where he teeters with a briefcase in the left hand and a box held together with baggage tape in the other.

Peering over the sides, eight ducks sway along in the contraption as he dances from end to end, mindful, or unmindful, of the moment. He must think it’s J’Ouvert and All Stars is about to drop its Bomb.

What a prescient soul!

Clive Bradley
Clive Bradley @ WST Studios

Writer’s note: Desperadoes recovered ground to win the 1983 Panorama in Bradley’s inimitable, unlabored style; in the magisterial euphony of a Beethoven symphony. Many years later, the arranger would let on that, with Panorama at hand, he was whiling away time at the Holiday Inn in Port of Spain, when he received a hurried call from the band to fashion an introduction to the incomplete masterpiece. Bradley grabbed his guitar and quickly came up with the vaunted crescendo that would define Rebecca, and Panorama, per se. Only to be disappointed that the passage was composed in a different key from  the melody. Bradley let it go, and the band ran with it. “A musician would notice [the gaffe], but it worked,” he said. And how!

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More Dalton Narine interviews - on You Tube




Dalton Narine
Dalton Narine

Dalton Narine interviews Rudolph Charles

Dalton Narine joined Trinidad All Stars when the band played in the Garret, the attic of the building housing Maple Leaf Club on Charlotte Street. While serving as a Carnival and Panorama commentator and interviewer on Trinidad & Tobago Television for more than 20 years, he continued to play the Bomb every J’Ouvert until he switched to filmmaking.

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