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Tribute To Women In Pan

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Meet Alice Adams - UK

“It’s the most indescribable & amazing 10 minutes. I felt full of every single emotion after Trinidad Panorama, it was my biggest achievement to date and I just can’t believe I did it. It’s bittersweet because you have worked so hard up until that performance and then it goes over so quick and you don’t play the tune again!” 

She is insightful, daring, and committed.  Her passion for Pan took from the UK to participate in the Trinidad and Tobago National Panorama.  In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks -  panist Alice Adams shares her feelings, experiences, and insight into the Steelband music art form and more. Hear her voice - feel her passion.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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WST - “Tell us about yourself - who is Alice Adams?”

Alice A. - “Hello! I’m 23 and I’m from Newcastle. I’ve been playing pan for just short of fifteen years predominantly with North Tyneside Steelband. I had a bit of a break from pan while I studied architecture in Glasgow between 2013 and 2016 but played intermittently during holiday times and with Northern Steel Orchestra in 2015 and 2016 at Junior Panorama. I’ve been back in the north east for two years now and I am happy to say I play pan now more than ever!

“It wasn’t until 2017 that I played my first UK Panorama with Ebony Steelband. I loved it so much, I booked my flight out to Trinidad about a month later to play with Renegades in February 2018!”

WST - “How and when did you first become involved with Pan?”

Alice A. - “My middle school had a set of pans and at lunchtime I’d stand and watch the school band rehearse through the window! I hadn’t ever even seen pan before and I still feel really lucky that my school even had a set of pans. I started playing shortly after that. At first it was just a weekly session on a Friday evening after school but then my tutor recommended that I join North Tyneside Steelband who were/are the local community band. I’ve been playing ever since and got involved with tutoring in schools as a younger leader from being 13 with ‘Steelbands North.’ It’s the best thing I’ve ever got involved with and it’s influenced so many aspects of my life.

“I trained to be an architect for just under 5 years and now I work within community arts, organising and programming arts projects for lots of different groups, often those with poor mental and/or physical health or living in disadvantaged areas with little exposure to opportunity. I’d like to think that some of the arts projects I work on in my professional life give young people the same joy and sense of belonging that I have gained from being part of a steel band.”

WST - “What is it about the steelband that captured your attention?”

Alice A. - “I like how accessible it is as an instrument; although I was always musical I never read music fluently and it never limited me as a young player. It’s just such an exciting and beautiful instrument. It’s all about how you’re working and playing together, one person relying on another and I think that’s really unique.”

Alice Adams (right) performs with Northern Steel Orchestra
Alice Adams (right) performs with Northern Steel Orchestra

WST - “You play pan in the UK - talk about some of your experiences through the years?”

Alice A. - “I think I have been really fortunate as a Northern player to have had as many national opportunities as I have. I am really proud to say that I was part of Northern Steel Orchestra’s first Junior Panorama in 2015 as the only band outside of London to have played and won. I played two Junior Panoramas before I turned 21, and even now it’s really amazing to see young people from across the region genuinely working hard to get a piece of music to a Panorama standard. I think it’s a real testament to the talent there is in the North East that I think sometimes goes unrecognised.

“As part of North Tyneside we’ve played all over the country but I always love playing in London and experiencing the larger bands. We were invited to play at Mangrove Blockorama last year alongside a few of the London bands and that was fantastic, it was the reason I decided to play UK Panorama once and for all the following month.

“We also played at the Wickerman Festival in 2013 and that was really good fun. We played on the main stage alongside mainstream artists which in a way feels like a bit of validation for what we do.”

WST - “This year you performed with 2018 Panorama Champions Renegades Steel Orchestra - Describe that experience and musical journey?”

Alice A. - “I can’t even begin to describe how nervous I was on that flight to Trinidad! It was the most amazing and challenging experience I’ve ever had.

Alice Adams, at right
Alice Adams, at right

“I feel very privileged to have played Duvone Stewart’s arrangement with some of the most incredible players. I spent so much time just watching the technique and the performance of the Renegades, mesmerising! The Renegades players are the most wonderful, talented and humble people. It was very challenging musically - I am naturally a double seconds player but learnt the tenor part in the couple of weeks leading up to going over to Trinidad. There’s something really exciting about playing tenor for a Panorama piece - so complex but you’re right in the heart of it all!

“It was difficult being a new foreign player this year but in hindsight I think I improved as a player so much because I knew how important it was for everyone to play the best they possibly could.”

WST - “What are those eight/ten minutes like on stage for you, performing in Panorama - how do you feel?”

Alice A. - “It’s the most indescribable & amazing 10 minutes. I felt full of every single emotion after Trinidad Panorama, it was my biggest achievement to date and I just can’t believe I did it.  It’s bittersweet because you have worked so hard up until that performance and then it goes over so quick and you don’t play the tune again!”

WST - “Talk about some of the similarities, and differences, in playing pan with orchestras in the UK, and with one in Trinidad & Tobago?”

Alice A. - “My experiences in the UK are so different from one another! North Tyneside Steel Band (NTSB) is very much a community band, and I guess recreational activity for a lot of our players. Inevitably it’s taken more seriously when there is competition at play.

“I think one of the similarities with the four bands I have played in is that there is a real sense of family and inclusion. I’ve grown up with everyone at NTSB, they’re my best friends and we’ve shared some of our best moments and achievements. Similarly, Renegades has such a strong sense of community, I knew I was safe in the panyard - everyone knows each other and families and friends are all present and welcomed.

“Undoubtedly the culture of pan in T&T (Trinidad & Tobago) is so different. Pan is valued and respected as a ‘real instrument’ - unfortunately I don’t think that’s always the case in the UK.”

WST - “Given that you’ve been a steelband musician for several years, what is most notably different in your opinion - from when you were a young player, to now as an adult?”

Alice A. - “I haven’t noticed much difference but I guess I was so unaware of the pan world until I started playing a bit more after University.”

WST - “What keeps your passion for the instrument and art form going?”

Alice A. - “At the moment I feel like it’s the discovery of new things. Over the past couple of years I’ve seen, met, new people and learnt so much and it’s just ignited the passion I have for the instrument even more. Trinidad really made me realise how beautiful the instrument is and how far it can go. I think seeing someone like Duvone Stewart play and work is a massive inspiration - I’d never played or heard an arrangement like ‘Year For Love’.”

WST - “Who, and what are your musical influences?”

Alice A. - “I like all sorts of music but within steelpan I like the influence popular culture has on our music at NTSB. I enjoy busking and seeing the reaction to a popular tune played so differently from what the audience have ever heard and seen. I’m really into soca since getting back from Trinidad!!”

WST - “What is your favorite Panorama arrangement?”

Alice A. - “I remember streaming UK Panorama in 2007 to watch some of NTSB play ‘Sharing Licks’ with Stardust, arranged by Brent Holder. I remember thinking that “I definitely want to play a Panorama” some day after that!”

WST - “Who is your favorite arranger and why?”

Alice A. - “I just have to say Duvone Stewart because his arrangements have a special place in my heart as my first and only Panoramas. I just love playing and listening to everything he does.”

WST - “Some people are still vague about the steelpan instrument, what it is, and even moreso, the concept of a full-size Panorama orchestra. Are there still times you encounter co-workers or friends, people in general - to whom you have to explain the steel band art form?”

Alice A. - “This is a regular occurrence! Every time I mention it to someone new (most days) I get at least one blank look. I once sat in an interview chatting away about how much I love steelpan and the interviewer said “Steelpans just leave me cold.” - He’d clearly never heard a good one!”

Alice Adams with Renegades for T&T Panorama 2018
Alice Adams with Renegades Steel Orchestra

WST - “What is your opinion on the current state of Pan in the UK?”

Alice A. - “I think the arts in general are having a difficult time in the UK. Lack of understanding of the value of arts is difficult to go up against and I guess steelpan is so niche within the UK - people don’t get it, and funding is hard to secure.

“I also wish there was less of a separation between bands in the UK and we could all learn from each other more.”

WST - “If you had the power to change something in Pan immediately what would that be?”

Alice A. - “I wish pan was treated the same as other respected instruments.”

WST - “What have you been most proud about as it relates to Pan?”

Alice A. - “I’m really proud to be part of the steelpan movement in the North East of England. North Tyneside Steel Band is coming up to its 30th anniversary next year which is a fantastic achievement and there are so many other exciting young bands in the region.”

WST - “Is Panorama a curse or blessing from your perspective?”

Alice A. - “A blessing. Although it can be fierce, it’s a celebration of talent, culture and friendship. It’s been extremely beneficial in regards to my playing ability.”

WST - “What would be your advice to young female players all over the world who are dreaming of following in footsteps such as yours?”

Alice A. - “I’d say go for it, enjoy every second, don’t be scared to ask questions and soak up the experience of everyone around you. I think it’s a good time to be a female pan player - Candice Andrews-Brumant is leading the way!”

Alice Adams, at right
Alice Adams

WST - “What is next for Alice Adams?”

Alice A. - “North Tyneside has lots of really exciting plans for our 30th anniversary which I am excited about. To keep playing and making the most of every opportunity - watch this space!”

photos provided by Alice Adams

   Alice Adams performs with North Tyneside Steelband performing “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, at the Whitley Bay Playhouse, February 2016

Their Story, Their Voice, Their Life, Their Dreams - click for more stories

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