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David Maunday, veteran North Stars Steelpan Musician Speaks

In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks, David Maunday shares an insider’s view of what and who made Trinidad & Tobago’s Pan Am North Stars Steel Orchestra so legendary, and a business bastion of musical professionalism. He talks about the band’s iconic leader Anthony Williams, and Maunday also delves into what led probably to the eventual demise of this formerly stalwart steelband music business organization.

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Pan Am North Stars Steel Orchestra

WST - When did you join North Stars?

Maunday - “I joined North Stars in January 1967 as a Tenor pan player.”


Panorama 2011WST - What made North Stars so special?

Maunday - “North Stars was special because of the level of professionalism they demonstrated at all times which was forged by the scientific and musical talents of the leader, tuner and arranger Mr. Anthony Williams, who ensured there was always total commitment by all members towards achieving and maintaining excellence. “Skip,” as he was fondly called, would not allow the band to perform a selection in public if it was not ready, or to use a Pan if he was not satisfied with its quality.  As an arranger he was uncompromisingly meticulous. Practice sessions were conducted at a doleful pace that allowed him to scrutinize every minute detail. There was no primacy among players so no one was exempted from practice which we all did with love, discipline and devotion until it became second nature to us.”


WST - Why is it that even to this day North Stars continues to be the band that was well ahead of its time?

Maunday - “North Stars could arguably be considered as being ahead of its time because of the standards achieved. I list some of their achievements:

Scientific

  • Anthony Williams involved in putting pan on wheels in the late 1950s.

  • The placement of notes on the tenor pan in the 4th and 5th formation.

  • The grooving of notes on pans in a spider web pattern (more notes achieved).

  • Placement of notes on the six bass in fourths (a virtual lower extension of the tenor pan).

  • Placement of notes on their double second and 3 pan cello carries similar patterns making it easy for players to migrate from one section to the other.

  • Tony’s quality of tuning produced a very unique tone with his early use of harmonics.

  • Inventor of the 4 pan (a form of cello pan).

  • Anthony Williams made outsize pans (larger than the standard 55 gallon drums) using sheath metal which he tuned [into] some tenor pans, cellos and bass, some of which were used on the Ivory and Steel Recordings in 1969.

  •  North Stars made metal bins and hand held cases for transporting their pans since the early sixties.

Musical

  • Anthony Williams, a self taught musician with North Stars won Steelband Panorama in 1963 and 1964 and placed 2nd in 1965.  His format of introduction, verse and chorus, counter melody, change keys [and] re-harmonization, has been the musical prototype for Panorama since then.

  • North Stars won “Trinidad and Tobago Music Festival” in 1962 playing “Voices of Spring” and in 1966 playing “Poet and Peasant Overture”.

  • They excelled in “Carols and Classics” in 1965.  Many can remember the scintillating rendition of “Sleigh Ride”.

  • Performed with the “Marionettes Chorale” in 1967 and 1968.

  • Performed at the 1968 U.S. Republican Party Convention in Miami.

  • Performed in Madison Square Garden in New York in July 1969.

  • Performed in New York’s Carnegie Hall on the “Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964 and with Winifred Atwell for the Ivory and Steel Concert in 1969.

  • Performed at the U.N. in New York in 1969.

  • Anthony Williams is one of the earlier composers of his own tune “Pan Down 5th Avenue”.

Social

  • The first steel band to introduce (loaders) separate persons to load and transport their pans to and from venues.   Band members always travelled to and from performances in arranged taxis.

 


WST - Did you perform with Winifred Atwell? What was that experience like? How did it come about?

Maunday - “I performed with North Stars on all “Ivory and Steel” concerts.  It was a marvellous experience, ineffable.  We were given the opportunity to be critiqued by musical luminaries Duke Ellington at the Country Club in Maraval and by Leopold Stakowski at C.B.S. Studio in New York.”

“‘Ivory and Steel’ came about from a couple of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) Chamber of Commerce members Mr. and Mrs. Englefield who formed a Company called Trinity Advertising.  They wanted to showcase the best of T&T musical talent. ”


WST - We’ve heard all sorts of stories about the demise of North Stars. Rumor has it that North Stars was out of the country so much that the people forgot who North Stars was. Others have it as just the opposite, and that North Stars passed up lucrative opportunities and performance contracts to return to Trinidad for what would amount to nothing more than bragging rights. What really happened to North Stars?

Maunday  “The Black Power uprising in T&T during the years 1970 and 1971 with its dusk to dawn curfew resulted in steel bands being very inactive.  Opportunities to perform dwindled.  The musical mood of the country and the region changed with soul and protest songs being extremely popular.”

“The predominantly classical offerings of North Stars which we worked so hard to perfect just a year and a half before that were seemingly no longer in demand.”

“I guess mainly because of this ennui, in September 1971 North Stars imprudently accepted (one night before departure) a contract to tour England and “possibly” the continent as part of a cultural contingent comprising Julia Edwards Dance Troupe, The Mighty Duke accompanied by Art De Coteau and Errol Wise.  The contract and travel arrangements were flawed from the start as on the day of departure in Piarco Airport, only thirteen of twenty North Stars members got seats on that chartered flight.  Chaos reigned.  The Mighty Duke also did not get a seat.  Seven of us including the leader Anthony Williams and a random half of the pans were left in Trinidad.  The remaining pans were sent to England about 10 days later from the Piarco Bond.  At the end of the three (3) months tour, the members in England had no return tickets and became domiciled there where the majority formed themselves into a playing and singing steel band named Twentieth Century.  By the end of 1971 three of the members who went to England returned to Trinidad with the help of family and friends.”

“In November 1971 Tony made a herculean effort in restarting the band but soon became overburdened by the added loss in quick succession of family members very dear to him and these depressive events precipitated his decision to call time on the band at the end of March 1972.


WST -  What do you think of today’s steel pan organizations and leadership?

Maunday - “Unfortunately the main steel band body Pan Trinbago which seeks to have worldwide authority over pan like FIFA has over football - has finances like Haiti and as a result cannot stage any event without being funded.  Individually there are some well-led steel bands: Exodus, All Stars, Renegades, Sforzata and Starlift, to name a few.  While it is nice to see persons interested in forming bands, the ease with which a single pan band is formed and after three (3) years can vote on matters in Pan Trinbago, is a bit worrisome.”

“Imagine a single pan representative can vote on matters involving conventional bands.  Can you imagine Anguilla voting on matters at the UN Security Council?”




WST - What do you think about the two million dollar first place prize? 

Maunday - “Considering that the first prize in the 1963 Panorama was one thousand dollars. Two million now is a great achievement, but Pan Trinbago could have used the opportunity to achieve a resurgence of interest in steel band activities by staging a number of events throughout the year with the band acquiring the most points over the majority of these events getting the two million dollars. Panorama being just one of the events would naturally be given greater points than the others.”


WST - What would you recommend to these orchestras with new financial concerns?

Maunday - “Steel bands should also see themselves as Event Promoters and should pursue avenues to make money by staging paying events firstly in their pan yards if practicable, and on a broader scale to other venues. I see no reason why steel bands cannot use a portion of their winnings to promote concerts and or fetes like any other cultural promoter:

  • A significant portion of steel band supporters have followed the crowd to the Soca Artiste Music All Inclusive because mainly there is no alternative. Steel bands should stage their own Inclusive – PAN Inclusive.

  • All steel bands need to be transported at some time. Investments in trucks and maxi taxis could bring lucrative returns year round.”


WST - What is the future for pan as you see it?

Maunday - “The future for pan is to find ways to augment quality but diminish size. It has become impossible to acquire land large enough for conventional bands to practice. Hence one of the reasons for the proliferation of single pan bands.

  • It would assist if band members become musically literate and arrangers score their arrangements for each Section of pans which could be practiced by band members on their own at home, school etc. if they have their own instruments.

  • Steel bands of the sizes at present 120 plus players cannot make good economic sense and will always have to solicit funding, be it from sponsors or government.

  • We also have to change the socio/economic culture surrounding steel bands. We have to shape the mindset of supporters that they must be willing to pay to hear good steel bands; not everything is free.

  • Steel bands should acquire competent resources, form themselves into musical academies and vocational schools, or offer courses so as to play a communal role in the development of their young members and interested persons.


WST - What should the pan fraternity concentrate on?

Maunday - “The pan fraternity should concentrate on self sufficiency reducing the cost of producing pans. They should encourage steel band arrangers to provide a story line to support their musical arrangements. This will help audiences to better understand what the arranger is trying to represent. It is helpful to have a musically literate audience if not in notation but in understanding approaches. European societies have had the benefit of documentation of their music for hundreds of years. We need to document ours so that other arrangers can advance from that base.”


WST - Could North Stars compete today?

Maunday - “I am inclined to believe that the scientific and musical mind of Anthony Williams would have enabled him to compete in any period. I know that there was much more he could have offered in the area of experimentation as a lot of his ideas remained unfinished. However I also believe that God gave every hero an age and every age a hero. Anthony Williams had his, thanks be to God.”


 


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