The Super Bowl of Pan


by Dalton Narine

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Dalton Narine

Dalton Narine

I wasn’t at all mesmerized by the sheer beauty of the performances by Renegades, Desperadoes and Phase II in the Panorama Large Band semi-final. I believed it would happen and expected the results from the git-go — the moment I heard (and fully grasped) Voice’s rich counterculture message, a song out of step with the prevailing social norm but at peace with the Gades, Despers and their supporters.

I wondered why Massy Trinidad All Stars (TAS) neglected to form the third side of an equilateral triangle located plumb in the heart of history; of the teething steel band’s fight for rights to jam on the road, even dominance and the strong hold of machismo; where complete mayhem broke out time and again on respective turfs in the surrounding communities: the original Hell Yard dry river digs and Renegades’ and Desperadoes’ pan yards.

Dalton Narine joins Trinidad All Stars as a teenager, rehearses the Band’s 1959 Bomb, Intermezzo, in the garret of the Maple Leaf Club on Charlotte Street.
Dalton Narine joins Trinidad All Stars as a teenager, rehearses the Band’s 1959 Bomb, Intermezzo, in the garret of the Maple Leaf Club on Charlotte Street.

OK, that was then, but we haven’t evolved. Instead, we’ve devolved into an unpleasant life of madness across the nation. It’s why the song evokes the power of love from the heart, as well as the power of darkness in the land.

A few TAS friends take issue with my rant. They think a lightning flash has blinded me and corked my ears. They should mind their business and concentrate on getting Skiffle off their backs, let alone leapfrogging Phase II, Despers and Renegades.

Those mean muggers work hard at intimidation, staring me down and looking at me like I’m still shell shocked from the war, when they’re the ones with sensitive issues.

Renegades Steel Orchestra at 2018 Panorama Semi Finals
Renegades Steel Orchestra at the 2018 Trinidad & Tobago National Panorama Semi Finals
- photo: Robbie Joseph

Wait till the drums roll up to the Savannah and the music is set to Panorama brightness. I hope they walk back the talk they talk.

I mean, in the aftermath of the semi-final, Skiffle has established itself as an elephant in the room. Some TAS supporters may be loathed to fully accept the fourth place twinning of the South band with the 2017 champions. They don’t think Skiffle belongs in their universe. And, unless TAS arranger Leon “Smooth” Edwards finds his magic, the peculiar New York Triad, like a chord of three musical notes, consisting of a given note with the third and fifth above it, just might jack up the fundamentals of their Brooklyn harmony to at long last score one for the Southland.

Skiffle Steel Orchestra
Skiffle Steel Orchestra at the 2018 Trinidad & Tobago National Panorama Semi Finals
- photo: Robbie Joseph

Will Massy TAS get its comeuppance?

After all, the haters, they had no excuse to trample on the soul of arguably the oldest steel band during its magnificent years — to wit, the sufferation and healing that marked the hopeful triple crown eras, 1980-1981 and 2011-2012. Sometimes Panorama brings dread in a time of creativity and exultation. In a sense, the villain always gets his comeuppance. But, if you know the Stars, that’s not likely.

Trinidad All Stars
Trinidad All Stars Steel Orchestra at the 2018 Trinidad & Tobago National Semi Finals
- photo: Robbie Joseph

Some will argue that TAS is the Mt. Everest of all things Pan (the road, the stage and the concert hall); that Smooth is demonstrably the better arranger than Despers’ “Zanda” Alexander, and can tussle, as well, with the musical weight of Duvone Stewart, music director of semi-final winner, Renegades.

Don’t mean nuthin’, though it’s a moment for TAS to redefine all-time greatness, considering that it is presently constituted as a final night band by its mass of followers.

What if TAS had rocked back and listened to Voice?

Well, it would’ve been the simplest and most direct route for the band to match Desperadoes’ eleven Panorama titles, and Smooth to cop his tenth.


Desperadoes Steel Orchestra
Desperadoes Steel Orchestra at the 2018 Trinidad & Tobago National Semi Finals
- photo: Robbie Joseph

For now, I’m recalling the harmonious sounds of love summoned up by the Gades, and the Radoes’ welcome rat-a-tat reverb. Talk about big-time vibe. That staccato rhythm of gunshots in the performance proves the song’s relevance. That it harks back to reality. Zanda knows the power of art. “Boogsie”, too, opening his rendition of “Hello” with a sampling of the iPhone’s iconic ringtone.

Phase II Pan Groove
Phase II Pan Groove at the 2018 Trinidad & Tobago National Semi Finals
- photo: Robbie Joseph

Say what. Hang it up? Life is a lot easier the lower I keep my expectations but richer for a festival that ranks as the Super Bowl of Pan. Bring it on.

Dalton Narine joined Trinidad All Stars as a teenage tenor panist in 1959. His father threatened to beat him up if he caught him playing the instrument, but Narine soldiered on and his dad gave in.

The Super Bowl of Pan ADDENDUM:

In 1979, Pan-Demonium Steel Orchestra leader Conrad Franklyn approached me for sponsorship of the band to perform in the vaunted Super Bowl halftime show.

I was a public relations officer for Eastern Airlines back then. My boss was Frank Borman, Commander of Apollo 8, the first mission to fly around the Moon.

Pan-demonium Steel Orchestra at Super Bowl XIII-  photo Courtesy of Dalton Narine

Pan-demonium Steel Orchestra at Super Bowl XIII, Orange Bowl, Miami
- photo: Courtesy of Dalton Narine

The department gave its approval, and, unbeknown to the brass, I pasted Eastern Airlines stickers on the drums. Super Bowl security removed the stickers overnight and the next morning I replaced them with Eastern’s bird logo (see logo on drums in picture). Security was too busy to notice the change. The band made a splash in front of 85,000 people who came to watch the American football final between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys in Miami’s Orange Bowl. The morning after, Borman and his executives called me on the carpet. They raved about the nationwide phone calls the airline received and praised my ingenuity. Pan-demonium went on the play for many years at Disneyland in California and 12 months in Tokyo, Japan. Conrad Franklyn passed away in 2013. The story in the attachment above the picture is written in his honor. Franklyn was truly an entrepreneur and the Super Bowl show helped to push the band to its goals.

I wish I had Conrad’s photo. He stood with me as we watched the band perform right there on the field.

He did it. Put T&T on the map. Right there, smack in the Super Bowl half-time show, long before there was Prince, and Janet Jackson, Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars and Beyoncé.

Many, many people (85,000 in attendance) will remember that Trinidad band with the strange name. Pan-Demonium.

So will those week-night partygoers in Tokyo, who lapped up the Calypso rhythms too.
Conrad made me manager of the band over there (I had a six-month paid leave of absence as an editor at Ebony magazine in Chicago).

It was due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) emanating from my combat experience in the Nam.

The band played four nights a week, or every other night. Peter Minshall came backstage once and thanked everyone.

He was special to the group, spoke and joked around with band members.

Boogsie Sharpe, too, met with us. The Phase II pan god dropped arrangements for several pieces so we wouldn’t have stock shortages.

The musicians included double-second player, Juggie [Anthony Rose], from Exodus, as well as former Trinidad All Star, Yohan Popwell (current arranger for Scherzando), Joey Lewis’ son on drums, singer Marilyn (can’t recall her last name - she used to back up Kitchener in the tent -- great voice) and another player (from behind the bridge).

The group was a huge hit playing in an oversized pub/restaurant that promoted a new beer brand throughout that entire year in 1990.

The Japanese came straight from work in their suits and left drunk every single night.

They rode home in subway and elevated trains. [PS: The pub/restaurant invited the group along with others from different countries, such as the US, Brazil, and a few others.]

Unfortunately, it behooved me to call Conrad to take over management of the band, because my PTSD from the war kicked up every minute of my stint in Tokyo — the Oriental smell wafting in the air; the tight space in the hotel room, the food and the smell of diesel fuel.

Couldn’t help it. I’d have killed myself. So Conrad left LA right away to sub for me.

Conrad Franklyn was an affable, dapper entrepreneur who made the world spin for a lot of people, including me.  


   Performances -  Big 5 - The Pan Concert

Dalton Narine
About the author, Dalton Narine

Dalton Narine watched a movie among friends and was harassed for watching the credits roll. He was 12. They laughed at his quip that someday his name would be scrolling like that on a movie screen somewhere. Little did they know it was a prescient warning.

A similar scene played when Narine stopped learning the piano and walked into a panyard. Nobody believed him until they saw him playing classical music on pan on J’Ouvert. Eventually Narine co-founded the iconic PAN magazine and became senior editor.

Narine, an award-winning writer for two newspapers and a magazine, started working on a novel. But the chair of Columbia University film school steered him toward a screenplay instead. Your story is a movie, the professor said. Today Narine is working on his final draft, with two more screenplays in his head.

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