Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Tropical World, Beetroot and Brie

Dear Debs, I’m in trouble for breaking into the Christmas Brie! It went so nicely with the beetroot from the Organic Man that I had been boiling up all day [beetroot not man that is]. Nobody else in the house likes beetroot, organic or not, so the lingering smell of saucepan full of soil and in seemingly imminent danger of burning dry, plus the incident with the Christmas Brie, well it’s the doghouse for me.

I’ve been on tour in Tropical World, Roundhay Park, Leeds, hanging out with the meerkats and the crocodiles, as, of course, you were, Debs. It wasn’t Carriacou, but it was warmer on our little patch of sand inside the tropical house than it was out there on Street Lane.

We, Foxwood Steel Bandits, had a run of five evenings, from Saturday 18th December to Wednesday 22 December. As this was our third year running, and as each evening ran from 5 till 8pm, I was trying to vary things, if only only for the Tropical World staff! By way of a change I invited some other bands to do guest spots. Plus we tried to vary the non-Christmassy stuff, even arranging Telstar for one of the staff, who had asked me if it could be done on pans when we were here 8 or so years ago.
First off on Monday evening was South Steel, ex-pupils from Merlyn Rees and from South Leeds Schools, leader: Charlotte Emery. [Charlotte does all the illustrstions for my songbooks]. They were Charlotte [herself], Debs [yourself], Andy, Caroline, Neil, Sarah, Holly and Kerry.

On Tuesday, advanced music centre steel band, Steel Rising, trod the beach boards. These are four people who have been playing in main music centre band, East Steel, for a decade or so now. Three of them [Alli, Karen, Ruth] started off at East Leeds Music centre [hence the name] and one [Vicky] began at West Leeds Music Centre. These were hosted at Parklands High School and at Pudsey Grangefield Schools, respectively. Now West Leeds Music Centre operates as a satellite at City of Leeds School [Thursday evenings, beginners welcome if you're interested].

Alli, Karen and Ruth work in the health service, and in education; Vicky is a teacher, who is just adding steel pans to her list of subjects taught!

Wednesday, it was six of my newer Silver Sparrows.
This was Claudia, Jenner, Kurt, Millie, Maisie and Nina, coming from Allerton Grange School, City of Leeds School, Abbey Grange School and home schooling. They were taking on pans they'd not seen before and were sight-reading songs we, for obvious reasons, only play for two weeks in the year. This little group had previously done a couple of similar concerts in Little London, so they are getting used to being thrown in the deep end.
One visitor patted me on the arm and said well done for all the good work. Another was overheard asking his companion if some of us were beginners. Well there were indeed some dodgy notes as we tried to extend our repertoire beyond its normal boundaries.
Whatever. Seasonal Greetings to you all.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

A Little Reunion in Huddersfield, our Steelpan Second Home

Well Debs,

We caught up with you at the Grand Opening of MacKinley's Caribbean and African Foodstore in Byram Street. Realising that your move to Carriacou was not exactly a done deal yet, I also saw a little window, which one might call your lunch break.

Amy, from the Sparrows, had spent Thursday night with her essay on French film Etre at Avoir [or Avoir et Etre, je ne m'en souviens lequel]; consequently had not slept; Georgia decided to give birth at 8.30 that morning [I guess that a fair enough reason for not coming to the gig]; Bex was still on maternity leave; and I moved a few lessons around.

The Mayor of Huddersfield was there to cut the ribbon; this wonderful foodstore was full of Caribbean and African food; people that I had worked at with Education 2000 passed through; we had a small space by the front window. We were rehearsing when we saw you, Debs, hurry past, in distracted Wonderland White Rabbit fashion, pan in one hand, stand in the other. You heard us, but didn't see us, so we had to race off after you to get you back!

We took turns holding baby Michael; and Charles had a turn and he wasn't even in the band! There was also a tricky moment with a bus and one way street while I was moving the cars from Street One to Streets Two and Three.
Byram Street took Amy back to when we played Huddersfield Carnival two/three years ago. Mary had asked for a children's band to play outside the church on the very same street the same day as the parade, so Amy and four fellow-Sparrows [teenagers, not really children] played while Foxwood and SteelRising set up the float by the Hudawi Centre. Then at precisely whatever time it was they packed those pans and folding kit away, stacked them in church and legged it over to the parade and jumped on said float.

It also took us all back to playing inside the Carnival Arts Centre further uptown for the pre-carnival launch earlier this year. We played until the rain stopped and then moved out onto the pavenment. And then. a few years ago there was the Rum Boat. And then of course there was the Town Centre static for the Carnival before the times we were on lorries. And the Hudawi centre for the After-Celebration a couple of years back. So I guess you could say that Huddersfield has become our second steelpan home. And we have stopped getting lost in the one-way system, which is a bonus.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Come Rain, Come Shine

Well, I was looking back through the photos and there we are in June this year at the Bradford Mela. It was Saturday, and the sun, as you can see, is shining. As ever, we had a load of pans to transport from where we parked to where we were to play. But not at all as ever, 1. there was a proper parking place for us, with several passes for all of our cars, and 2. there were these little ace golf buggies to transport us from parking to playing. I was in Mela Pan Heaven. [Whatever happened to, "You can't park here."? Usually it's not really a gig unless you're having a set-to with a security guard.]

Sunday at the Mela, however, it rained. We set up our gazebos and took shelter, as you can see from this picture below.

But it went on raining, and we were now fighting the audience for a place in our own gazebos. Somebody suggested we charged rent, and we'd earned 37p before they started smoking and I pushed them back out into the rain.

Now I know, Debs, you're wondering where did that 37p go, but I can assure you that it was all accounted for.

On the left is a close up of the reality of the rain in a gazebo. These rain capes were courtesy of the festival organisers. And I think you'll agree - very fetching!

The more it rained, the more band members found they had to leave Bradford early. Eventually we persuaded the organisers that, even if we did make from Zone 2 to the now available Children's Tent, we would probably not do justice to our musical abilities again. And, also, who would be left to hear us plod our way through C, G and A minor.

After it was agreed that rain really had stopped play, we waited for the golf buggies to take us away, loaded up the van and the cars, drove to Leeds, unloaded the can and the cars, took all the pans out of all the cases and left everything drying all over the ground floor of my house. The following day, you, Debs would have been doing mock Science with Year; I would have been somewhere in Leeds with the three-chord trick on pans, coming home to the great repacking.

Well, Debs, what changes? The great British weather continues to thwart the best laid plans o' mice and men. The Foxwood Steel Bandits have now bought an events tent big enough to house the band and most of a wet weather audience. I guess the difference between Carriacou and Leeds is, when it's it's wet in the West Indies it's probably still warm.

On the right above is East Steel inside the Lakeside Cafe at Roundhay Park. We were going to play in a marquee in the park for PHAB's 40th Yorkshire birthday while the wheelchair-users and friends ambled round the park. Instead, band members put up half the pans that we had brought in the cafe's conservatory, and took turns playing, alternating this with being photographed with [Sir] Jimmy Saville who had called down himself for a quiet full English [that's breakfast]. The Leeds Lord Mayor was also present, in a you-know-when-you're-getting-old when the lord mayors start to look young!

The local newspaper mentioned the event, the Lord Mayor and the celebrity.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

NAME, Tiddles and the Alzheimer's Society Walk

Hi Debs, Well, I feel another letter to you coming on.
Last Thursday saw Diane and me taking to the M62 and M6, Junction 15 and quite a prolonged map versus satnav "discussion" as we took the Stone turn-off to go to the NAME [National Association of Music educators] conference.
Diane was still on about the dual carriageway that we didn't take, to the east of the M6. I was pointing out that we were here, while conceding that the roads to the west had been small and bendy. We agreed to go on scoring small points till one of us got bored.

Which was sometime Friday afternoon.

Friday lunchtime we gave a short powerpoint on differentiation and inclusion in Music lessons. This seemed to go down okay. So we could go back to discussing the dual carriageway on the east of the motorway. And get back to networking, getting Diane to work out how to get my laptop onto the internet, a couple of pints of lager, and working out how to get back in time to play for the Alzheimer's Society Walk in Roundhay Park Leeds.

We originally agreed to play this gig some months ago, and I was going to come back Saturday. Then another steelband got booked, so I went back to staying at conference till Sunday. Then the other group dropped out, and we got dropped back in. And now I'm in the Midlands with no way home. And I'm still texting Foxwood, Doves and Steel Rising to see who wants to play in a bandstand in Roundhay Park to a couple of ducks, and briefly to 200 of the members of the Alzheimer's Society as they set off on their walk round the park. Or, another fine mess, as Charlotte likes to call these ad hoc ones.

Saturday morning and Morgan texted me to say that he fallen downstairs at the bar where he worked landing on the 14 wine glasses that he had just dropped. Just another Friday night at A and E, then. Saturday afternoon and I get another text to say Tiddles has been run over and they're holding the funeral now. So when Christine is going back north at 6pm I jump in her car. The map and the satnav discuss discuss the relative merits of the road to Uttoxeter and beyond. Curiously they were as one mind.

On Sunday morning it was wet and windy. We put the Events tent into the van in case, but no need. The bandstand did what it said on the tin. Kept us dry, as long as we huddled towards the leeward side; we had to do warm ourselves. In the picture you will see we were mostly wearing hoodies over hoodies. And you will also see the audience that was left after the walkers walked off. Actually I think Shaun from the Park and Mike from Oblong were still there, but sheltering on the other side.

In the end players were from Foxwood: me, Georgia, Bex, Stewart, Charlotte, from Doves: Danielle and Joe M, from Steel Rising: Vicky, Alli and Karen. Holly foolishly fetched up with Charlotte and strummed some mean chords on Charlotte's soprano pan. [These C sopranos are just excellent for high chords]. Foolishly for her, not for us.

My friend Barbara passed on this quote from her friend:
“Steelband was fantastic - kept on playing and the sound was marvellous!”
Well, let me tell you, the sound in that little bandstand half-way up the side of the Little Lake Roundhay park, Leeds, was to die for. If we did keep on playing it was for the sound we were creating, that joint shared music-making experience. And when those moments come along you don't want to let go.

So that was the weekend of the 18/19 September. I'm worn out all again just writing it all down.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

The Last Carnival of the Year

A moment in the playing year. Brotherton is the last Carnival of the season. And the first time without you, Debs. This year we had the lovely Steve as our float driver again. We wanted to take him home with us, but Helen said he and the lorry had to go back to Stourton. Oh well!

Players this year were myself, Georgia, Natalie, Bex, Stewart, Lizzie from the Foxwood Steel Bandits; Vicki, Ruth and Karen from Steel Rising, and Varshika, Amy, Henry and Joe M from the Leeds Silver Doves. Daisy couldn't play as Lola had worn out all possible babysitters.

The Brotherton and Byram Carnival is the brainchild of Helen Finister, who left Leeds, a few years ago, to run a pub in Brotherton, just off the A63. Helen's father, William came from the West Indies to live in Leeds way back in the 50s and was one of the original players in the Esso Steel Band, famous and fondly remembered in these parts in West Yorkshire. It is great honour that it is his daughter who books us year after year to wobble around over the A1M1 playing all this year's favourite tunes. [Sorry, Steve, the driver, not wobble at all].

The rain just held off, and I believe that it is also rainy season in Carriacou. Debs, to whom this letter about life in Leeds -schools and steelbands -is addressed is actually having to return, temporarily, to the motherland next week, having fallen foul of the CRB check expiry date experience.

I will spare you all my thoughts on the value of these money-spinning private business slips of paper till a later date. Meantime, here's hoping Debs will be back in the UK long enough to join Foxwood on its autumn season of gigettes here and there [or as Charlotte usually describes them . . "another fine mess . . " Well, there have been moments along the way].

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Letter One: Leeds Carnival

Dear Debs

Drank too much lager at the Queens Show on Friday. Saturday, consequently didn’t happen. Sunday was spent by the side of the Bolton Road in Bradford playing for the bike riders, while James [aged 2 and 1 day] worked out how to crawl backwards under the bars at the edge of the road. Laminated a few setlists Sunday evening; forgot to give them all out the following day.

Also had to explain to Andy [from South Steel] that I couldn’t fit two sets of big bass into the Works van, and that playing tenor bass was not a demotion. In the end gave myself tenor bass, as a, I’m not proud, and b, you don’t have to spent whole songs with your back to the rest of the band in the keys of F, Bflat, C and G . This is the only known disadvantage of rearranging the big basses into whole tone scales. And if you stand the other side of the stage it’s just the same in the flats and sharps keys!

Well, we put the congas and the smaller bits of the drum kits under the basses, but it was a tight squeeze, and Bex’s place in the cab was taken by one of Natalie’s guitar pans. [Don’t think Bex minded getting a lift in the comfort of her own car].

When we first got mainstage and not a float, five years ago, we were disappointed, but after spending what seemed like a fortnight on the float at Manchester Carnival this year, the miked up spacious stage at Leeds seemed like a palace. We did get our usual warm welcome from this lady, who was suggesting that I must be visually-impaired to think that there was a parking space behind the stage. But there was such a space for us, and, for those of us whose task it was to set up 25 pans and sets of pans, all the stands and 2 drum-kits, it made it a relatively easy task.

Shock horror: I dropped Magician and Sweet Soca from the repertoire. Put in Wavin Flag and Buffalo Gals, Not everyone had had a chance to practise. Held my hands together in the shape of a U and mouthed “unison” at them, “What, said Morgan, mistaking my U for a cup, “ does she want a drink?” No unison happened.

The first time we were miked up, was it four years ago, I struggled to get the band to understand that we could play sweeter, and still be heard at the back of the arena. Debs, you once famously said to me, “Put it down to enthusiasm.” Well, nothing’s changed. Four years later, enthusiasm’s still reigning. And so we belted out our massive setlist of 18 tunes, and we were great, loud, but great. Clocks had its brief moment of melody only, and Natalie managed to established similar for one verse of Nah Goin' Home, so there were two moments of near subtlety. Then again, enthusiasm reigned.

One picture is the packing away bit. Let's face it: when it comes down to it, 25 people can't all pack away at the same time. This year Debs, I made sure that I turned left onto Harehills Avenue, then left again up Avenue Hill, this way avoiding anyone mistaking the van for their girlfriend.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Dear Debs, I'm sending you a letter

Let me explain. In August, my dear friend, Debs tore herself away from her newly-made academy of a school, South Leeds Academy, South Leeds Community High School as was, Merlyn Rees High and Matthew Murray High as were

- it was only four or five years ago that you, Debs, were battling to induct an endless succession of new Science teachers into the newly merged riot of a school, and you succeeded. Against all the odds, you, as Head of Science, and all of the rest of you who saw it through, you at the newly-merged school, you finally convinced Ofsted that you could win,

- and from largely white Belle Isle, you all also fell in love with the enrichment of culture that the large Asian population from Matthew Murray School brought into the mix.

Well, “the last thing” that the Ofsted inspectors told your school as it fought its way back to sanity and a stable work-force, “The last thing you need now is to be made into an academy” But it was the first thing that Education Leeds, our uncaring private education firm [and wrongly-named on both counts], and Education Secretary, Ed Balls, had on their minds.

So, jumping forward in time, it is hardly surprising that the love of a lovely West Indian man weighed against the contempt in which our education leaders held the above-average working teacher was, as they now say, a no-brainer. And somewhere on a West Indian island the children now will get the benefits of Debs’ learning, hard work and experience.

But Debs, you were/are also a key member of my Foxwood Steel Bandits, and, unusually for us, would practise between gigs, whereas, on the whole, most Foxwood players regard every other gig as a practice.

So, that’s it. Debs is 3,000 miles away, somewhere hot, and we’ve just played Leeds West Indian Carnival, and it was still quite hot, even in the UK. And accidentally I included Debs in the email circulation list telling all the players what time to be on stage and all that. When she replied hoping that it had gone well, I in turn replied, how insensitive of me [bonkers] to leave her on the list. And you, Debs said no, keep me on it. Let me stay in touch, gig by gig. And that’s when I decided to write my letter to Carriacou.