Hueloy [aka Vincent “Hueloy” Lila Yip Young], a former steel band player, now an entrepreneur in the record industry specializing in calypso music and Caribbean music.
The interview began with the organization of steel bands in New York. It was gleaned that there were at least two earlier steel band organizations which are now defunct. Today the National Council of Steel Pans is an organization that is promoting an annual steelband concert of — classics and carols.
In your estimation what are the leading steel bands of the decades?
Hueloy came to this country in 1968. At that time the top steel bands were as follows:
New York Harmonites
As a result of the Panorama, the below bands are the tops in the early 1980s: BWIA Sonatas
New York Golden Stars
B’s Metro Steel
Moods Pan Groove
In Trinidad, the best band of the 70s and early 80s is the Desperadoes. In Mr. Loy’s estimation, the Desperadoes is the best band ever. Their leader, Mr. Rudolph Charles (recently deceased) will be remembered not only for his leadership but for the innovations he pioneered on the steel drums.
In the course of the conversation, it was gleaned that several steel bands had merged and then later dissolved. This prompted the writer to ask - Why? Hueloy responded that there were differences over money, ideologies of management, personality problems, etc., which caused the dissolution of many steel pan groups.
As far as philosophy of the steel pan is concerned, do you feel that the “spider web” is a better pan than the “Ellie Mannette” style of pan?
The response was a flat “no”. To elaborate, he said each tuner thinks his style is the best. Bands have been successful with one style while other bands have had success with another style, adding that said question could be debated for years.
In terms of construction how do you compare the two pans?
Response: The spider web pan definitely has a distinct musical pattern in its design whereas in the “Mannette” style of pan, the notes are scattered.
As far as standardization is concerned, the spider web pan is definitely more applicable. Allan Gervais made a perfect Mannette-style pan, but Gervais died and the younger panmakers are not making this style pan. After Ellie Mannette migrated from Trinidad, Allan Gervais continued to make his style of pan. The spider web pan is the dominant style in Trinidad, but not in New York.
Bertie Marshall took the Mannette-style pan and eliminated some of its notes to get clarity. He started the pan from E Flat and called it “high tenor”. But it had its drawbacks because one always needed to return to some of the lower notes which were not on the high tenor pan. There was clarity, but no depth. To compensate for this he devised another pan called the “double tenor.” Whatever notes that were not on one pan were on the other pan. This gave a fuller range with both clarity and depth. Bertie Marshall created the double tenor pan in 1965-66.
The spider web pan can be constructed either clockwise or counterclockwise. The writer theorized that this was done for ease of movability depending upon whether the player was left handed or right handed. At this particular point, Mr. Loy stated that facilitation of movement was not the theory behind it, but the desires of the tuner to establish his own turf.
In order to bring the pan into the realm of acceptance, it must some how be standardized. How would you go about solving this?
Response: The pans are standardized to some extent in Trinidad. For example the cycle of fifths is standard; the Bertie Marshall double tenors are standard; the Ellie Mannette second pans are standard. The cellos are standard Mannette style. Most bands used a mixed combination of the pans that have been standardized. The Johnston family is the only band that uses only one type of pan which is the spider web pan.
What do you feel are some of the problems facing the bands? Response:
Finance - they cannot support a family and support their act. It is too expensive. In order to have the Trinidad sound, one needs 25–30 members in a band. Without a sponsor, it is too expensive. Sponsorship is the resolution to this problem. Another problem is available space. Store fronts make good facilities.
What do you feel about basements being used as available space for construction and rehearsals?
Mr. Loy found no objection to it.
The writer had to state the reaction of people who have had experience with a basement being used as such. In a similar experience it is felt that steelband people are totally inconsiderate of others. They would construct pans from dawn to sunset and then rehearse from sunset to the wee hours of the morning in total disregard for the neighbors. These people pay rent and mortgages and would like to enjoy their dwellings and not have to listen to this loud music throughout the day and night. Therefore the question of availability is definitely a problem. One cannot take steel pans which were designed and played in the open spaces of the islands and bring it to the enclosures of the city in a basement and not expect to have repercussions. Direction and good leadership are also problems to be dealt with. Also the concept that steel pan playing is a recreational thing must be obliterated if others are going to respect it as an art form. The inability to read music is another problem. Mr. Loy suggested that there be some formal musical training for all pan players.
What form of music do you prefer calypso or classics?
Calypso is good for the festive spirit, but on the international market, in order to break through, the pan must play classics. Some bands that play classics are the Desperadoes, Catelli All Stars and Casablanca. These bands are in Trinidad and are noted for their music.
What do you see as the future of the steel pans? In what direction would you like to see them go?
Mr. Loy pondered for a few seconds, then said that he would like to see the size of the bands get smaller for economic reasons. He would also like to see standardization and a whole new approach. Steel pan players must listen to the leadership and dedicate themselves to the art of steel pan playing.
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