Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Tropical World 2011

Dear Debs, These little spiny mice line themselves upand sleep on each other. Cute or what?

And they were neither interested in or bothered by our steelbands. Which were: Day One: Foxwood first set, namely: yourself, Charlotte, me, Bex and Sarah. Second set was first half of East Steel: namely Karen and Cheryl, plus you, Charlotte, Bex and me. And thanks to Sarah for the photos.

Day Two, Set One was going to be South Steel, but ended up as Foxwood, being firstly Bex as a soloist, then me and Bex - a duo, then me Bex and Gary - a trio, with Sarah, a quartet, and with Charlotte a veritable Trout of a quintet. [Sarah would like to point out, correctly, that she was early for Set Two, and not late for Set One].

Debs, above is Tuesday Set Two, the glorious East Steel, other half, namely Lynn, Anne, Alli and Cathy plus us, of course.
We decided this year to invite more guests. Some Sparrows came last year but I wanted to 1, give more opportunities to more pannists and 2, vary it a bit, if only for the Tropical World Staff. And I did think/ hope it would decrease the pressure. Well, it did and it didn't. . . . .

Tuesday Day Two Set Three was Foxwood Steel again. And it must be said, that East Steel were the only band of us to practise Christmas tunes, and they were something of a hard act to follow!

Wednesday Day Three was a full on three-band night. Firstly Foxwood Steel and Doves, and to our great delight you bobbed up for Set One. We were you, me, Bex, Natalie, Katie, Charlotte, Georgia and Sophie. Day Three Set Two was Sparrows [above and to the left]: namely Maisie, Nina, Claudia, Millie S, Millie C, Chloe, Sophie, Evie and Ashley. The Yorkshire Evening Post was doing an article on the Sparrows [published on 24 December], so, half way through this set we got photographed. It was getting more complicated . . .

Lastly, Day Three Set Three South Steel, namely: yourself, Charlotte [your leader], Neil, Caroline and Kerry. Bex and Katie played along. I did a bit, but, OMG, so tired. Put as many pans as we could into my Tardis of a Skoda Fabia, discovered that one Sparrows had left her bag, money and bus pass into another Sparrow's mother car. Thank you, Trish, for going back out again. All I could think was goodbye to Shaun, to the mice and meerkats and hullo sofa.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Unity Panto

Dear Debs

So, you have your visa! I guess that means we will just have to have anothere goodbye drink. Oh well, if I must.

And here you are at the Unity Panto. Here's a picture you took from across the room, one from the first set,and a further one with you in.

This year Unity Panto is Gullible's Travels. Always meant to, only ever played/acted in one. Too much other stuff. So, the least I could do is a little pre-panto panning, and thank you to Sarah, yourself, [Foxwood], Amy, Varshika [Foxwood Doves], and Chloe and Millie C [Sparrows] and Sophie [Sparrows, Doves], we did a couple of 20 minute-slots.

We all sight-read tunes that we necessarily only play once a year. Plus Wavin Flag to give the Sparrows a fighting chance of already knowing something on this limitedness of pans. And then a day of rest before the undoubted madness that is Tropical World!

Monday, 26 December 2011

December Term Time Gigs

Dear Debs

A whole term has now passed for you, and you are still in the UK. I can only imagine how frustrating . . , and I am glad that the odd steelband gig has helped keep you sane, though these gigs won't be doing anything much for your solvency!

In my last blog I looked wistfully back to having my own school shows, but actually I couldn't do all the things below and be attached to only one school, and in any case you can't really fight Fate. So, counting my blessings . . . .

After Sharp lane's successful debut gig came the adorable Rosebank [Dec 2]. First off was Fred and Alex's guitar groups then my Yr 4 Mixed Percussion [two pans, glocks, chime bars, xylophone, djembes, tambourines] Group. We played the chords to Merrily, and asked the audience to sing the tune.

Then East Steel at the Town Hall [Dec 7] YAMSEN: SpeciallyMusic Concert. Players were me and Bex, Lynn, Anne, Judy, Joyce, Cathy, Cheryl, Vicky, Katie, Karen, Natasha, Alli, Ruth, Adele, with Natalie on kit. This year Bex's beginners made their debut as our support act [Wendy, Peter, Jeanette, Bella, Rameice, Trisha]. Our featured tunes were Saviour's Day and Minuet in G [Bach]. But the best fun to be had was accompanying the prize giving with Mango Walk, Jamaica Farewell and Troika [just the catchy bit].

Allerton Grange was next [Dec 8]. Mostly it was the glorious Year 7 plus Ciara and Misha. Many of these Yr Sevens had played pans in their primary schools [some even with me at Moor Allerton], so unsurprisingly they were going for Pachelbel's Kanon [this time in C], Au Clair de la Lune, Price Tag and Wavin Flag. Allerton Grange also has its own brilliant Yr 11 steelband led by Theo, who a, had arranged Walking in the Air for them and b, agreed to stand in with the Relative Beginners as quite a few couldn't make it.

Friday was quite quiet. I don't "work" on Fridays. Went to Sharp Lane to collect rest of pans for tuning, went to Bradford [accidentally had left workshop set with two F pans from the double bass - bit like two left feet] with the right foot [so to speak], babyminded Maya, saw Daisy's big Uni performance, helped Rick load the van for tuning, babysat so Danny could see Daisy's show, taught JJ how to knit.

Saturday [Dec 10], me, Bex, Nat, Vicky [coming from Hyde Park, Horsforth, Little London and Chapel Allerton] played with Sparrows: Millie S, Claudia and Evie [coming from Hyde Park, Chapeltown and Beeston] played, as Sparrows for Little London Community Fair. Louie, Claudia's dad assumed the role of compere, and I tried to book him as such on a permanent basis. [I think he thinks I'm joking]

Putting the last pans into the van as he did, Rick set off for Clapton at 6 am on Saturday -10 Dec]. While Sparrows were rocking Little London Leeds with Little Donkey, down south in big London Grafton was knocking Sharp Lane's pans back into shape. And the rest! Pans and Rick arrived back safely at 9.30pm. House flooded with pans again [as usual, I hear the family say]

At Crawshaw [Dec 12] the BTEC class danced their way through Winter Wonderland, and emoted through Silent Night. Not able to get to your old school, Debs, South Leeds as our performances were concurrent. Soz, Charlotte.

[Dec 14] I mustered 4 Sparrows [Maisie, Nina, Georgia and myself] for the ArtForms Special Needs Singalong at West Park. We lost the only copy of our featured song, Last Christmas about ten minutes before going on, so we just played the chords and let the audience sing the tune. And, when we tried to join in with the new little concert band [Julia from the ArtForms Wind Trio and Friends], we discovered they had some new little keys to Rudolf and the rest. Transposing as we go!

[Dec 14] in the evening, the Steel Siblings [self-named and so called because all these City of Leeds Year 7s have sisters who also play pans, and the Silver Robins played for City Vibe at City of Leeds School, with Varshika having to agree that she is a better drummer than me, then the Sparrows [Amy, Maisie, Jenner, Millie S, Millie C, Varshika and me] previewing one of our Music For Youth tunes. [And what was that, I hear you wonder.]

[Dec 15] Al's son poorly, so off to Methley for Yr 6, and one of the best ever arrangements of Jingle Bells and Winter Wonderland! I had only met them once before. They accepted me, let me count them in, and then they were a credit to Al and to their teacher and to themselves

[Dec 16] Last day of term. This was Foxwood Steel and Foxwood Doves at Prince Philip Centre for the PHAB end of year party. I wouldn't normally spend the last day of term entirely sober, but owing to some confusion of dates this happened. We were me. Bex, Joe Mac, Amy and Danielle. Danielle, since she gave up being educated in exchange for work and being meaningfully trained hasn't played a gig for months. She was tremendous and had to endure being hugged for her efforts! [Pics to follow]

Unity panto [Dec 17] was possibly some gigs too far. More anon.

Friday, 23 December 2011

December. A Day in the Life

Dear Debs
It's December, and you have have yet to leave these shores. Hmmm. This below is Claudia, Millie S and Evie from the Sparrows with me, Nat, Vicky and Bex being Christmassy at Little London Community Centre.

It's been a whirlwind of end-of-term and end-of-year concerts for me. And sometimes when I look at all these shows I wonder what would have happened if the World hadn't started counting exam results as a marker of how good a school was, and Foxwood School had stayed open. As Head of Music and Head of Expressive Arts, I used to run the whole show. It wasn't all pans back in the day, and quite a few of my rock musicians went to play semi-pro. One ex-student, even, used to used to busk and beg outside the Cardigan Road Co-op, Leeds, for years. Another ex-Foxwood student was the manager of said Co-op and he [Steve] gave busker [Adam/Seb] the boot. Can't say I blame either of them.

Now I am just a part of everybody else's show, and then, in Christmas week, I can't even get to them all. And often when I do, it's the periaptetic's nightmare - take 7 December for example.

8.00 am load van and car

8.50 Pudsey Crawshaw teaching

10. 20 Leeds Town Hall, unload pans .
11.20 Quarry Mount Primary School teaching
12.00 home load drum kit into car
12.30 West Park Centre load double basses into car

1.oo home, unload drum kit back into house [hmmm!]
1.20 Sharp Lane Primary School, teach, load half their pans into car.
3.00 Cockburn High unbload one pan, teach

4.20 Leeds Town Hall, unload the double basses and give Rick car

4.45 Vicky S and I set up the pans on the Town Hall stage
5.50 sound check .
6.30 YAMSEN:SpeciallyMusic concert with East Steel

9.30 unset stage pans, stack by Town Hall back doors

and after that it was Thursday, collect Town Hall pans, teach a bit, concert at Allerton Grange; Friday collecting more pans and loading van ready for the London trip to the pan tuner's; Saturday Sparrows at Little London Community Centre, then later that evening unloading the precious cargo that was a vanful of tuned pans, sparkling tuneful from Grafton's expert hands and hammer.

More December anon

Sunday, 18 December 2011

1976, the Strike of 2011 and Sharp Lane in Belle Isle

Dear Debs

Before I go back to the gigs that followed the Lantern Festival I feel a seasonal act of reflection coming on. It’s 1976, and three things are happening 50 miles away, two in Leeds and one in Blackburn. In Leeds 1. Helen and her chums in the council are taking up the government’s anti-racist, multi-cultural initiative that is SECTION 11 and 2. they have appointed StClair Morris to be Leeds Education Music Service's first steelpan teacher, [and one of the first in the UK [following Gerald Forsythe in London for the GLC].

In Blackburn I had just had my second child: and was also just meeting racism for the first time – massive, wholescale, disgusting unprovoked relentless attacks on the newly arrived and arriving Asian immigrants.

When Daisy was old enough to hang out at the babyminder’s, I took on a couple of part-time jobs, one as a barmaid, and one as a petrol pump attendant. Through both jobs I met various members of the public whose views on race left a little to be desired.

I got the phone number for Len Proos at the Blackburn CRE [Commission for Racial Equality].

I started to work as a volunteer for the CRE, and did eventually get a part-time job teaching Asian women English [which also seemed to involve an amount of eating great food and learning how to make pechoras and chapattis]. Here were my first tentative efforts at writing to the paper [Lancashire Evening News/Post?]. This resulted in nasty letters, phone calls and even an undertaker appearing at 11 one evening to take me away. [Len said it was par for the course.][It was also the 70s, hence the perm!]

Six years later, now a qualified English teacher in Leeds, I met StClair. My headteacher, Bob Spooner, had also used Section 11 money to buy a set of steel pans for the nearly all-white Foxwood School, to be a positive example of black culture. The music teacher hated the sound of the pans. Knowing of my history in Blackburn Mr Spooner asked me to learn how to teach them. It was a tenuous link; it was 1982; it was love at first sight.
Every Friday morning StClair came to Foxwood School, taught us a tune. I wrote all the notes down and we rehearsed during the week; then I went on a course [Music For Yourself and Your Class] at Beckett Park where I met Jan Holdstock. Here I met grids, and colour-coding. I needed something so we could easily remember what St Clair showed us on Fridays. Eventually I devised the Foxwood Songsheets, a highly refined system of grids, now also published and still used extensively in Leeds and in pockets round the UK [usually in the wake of a conference steelpan workshop].

And that’s how all this started. Thirty years later, Sharp Lane Primary School all-included Yr 6 Steel Band played for Over -55's lunch club in Belle isle on the 15th November, and Foxwood Steel and Leeds Silver Doves played for thousands of protesters outside Leeds Art Gallery for the Great Pensions Strike on the 30th. StClair, steel pan peri pioneer, travelling from school to school in the 70s and 80s passing the baton on, but without needing to let go. StClair retired from the Music Service a decade ago, but is still gigging with his Paradise Steel Band, and still doing workshops.

Back to the diary of November: from Yr 6 Sharp Lane [gigging after 2 and ½ half months – only possible with Stacy and Diane’s total involvement] to Foxwood Steel at the Rally – only possible to be that good through playing together for years, and having two amazing drummers: Natalie and Joe. Sadly for you, Debs and happily for us, the Rally was a gig that you were still in the UK to do.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Lantern Festival

Well Debs, you'll be sorry missed this one. Bus to train station, train to Leeds, bus to Hyde Park Corner, already in the dark, walk up to City of Leeds School, back out in muggy misty, slightly
drizzly. Debs, I'm trying to make you feel better! It was ace! Damp and dark but warm, and gloriously autumnal. Here we are at the bottom of the school drive, crossing Woodhouse Street:

The Lantern Festival march was the brainchild of Jill Wood, headteacher of Little London Primary School. Originally a walk around Little London and ending up at their school, this year five primaries [Blenheim, Brudenell, Little London, Rosebank and Quarry Mount] joined together and all marched to Woodhouse Moor, Hyde Park and then on up to City of Leeds School.

Now this is not the first time Sparrows and Robins [citywide and City of Leeds steelbands] have played for the Lantern Festival. Here's three pics of us from previous years. And some lanterns before and after the march.

The first time we joined the march, as you can see from the picture above where Joe and Jenner have matching hair styles, it was daylight. It was nice being able to see, but I still walked into the concrete bollard. Next time it was dark, but playing pan de neck slows you down and when we came out of the graffiti tunnel we couldn't find the rest of the marchers.

This year it was just lovely, and so moving especially when, out of the darkness we saw the primary schools moving across Woodhouse Moor, and up Woodhouse Street to meet up.

Lastly I dragged our local MP, Hilary Benn into the pans for a quick Sparrows and celebrity photo. Hilary's getting used to it. In fact these are the very same instruments he stood next to at the Woodhouse Festival in Year 2000. Although the players have changed. Hilary and I are the same. We have have just got greyer.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Black History Month Thomas Danby

Now then Debs, backtracking briefly from the Sculpture Park; here we are Thomas Danby for Black History Month. Some steelband let them down last minute; I scraped together you, me, Varshika, Joe, Katie, Mig and Amy. Did I say scraped? We rocked! I tried to introduced some subtle numbers. No. We rocked; we calypsoed; the quietest we got to subtle was reggae.

When Black History Month is good is when it asks us to celebrate when other cultures have contributed to life in Britain. "Black" culture brought me and mine steelpans, and gave me ultimately, one of my big reasons. Above is us playing, then us waiting for the van. [It's not all getting the applause!]

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Black History Month Yorkshire Sculpture Park with Foxwood, Doves, Sparrows and where Katie left her hoody next

Dear Debs

As your departure is imminent from the UK shores, so how much Foxwood and myself - how much we will miss you! Within one week of leaving your car with your ma for the interim, you have become the queen of public transport.

First, on Thursday 20 September you jumped on a train with your trusty soprano [aka tenor] pan, [see next blog for pics]; then it's the train from Huddersfield to Wakefield, then bus to West Bretton for four sets [one marching] playing with Doves and Sparrows, and meeting up with Katie en route.

We played in the main building at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. We were me, you, Katie, Vicky, Varshika, Natalie, Georgia, Stewart [Charlotte was still parking]. This - without the drum-kit, I call these our acoustic sets; then we nipped outside to this lovely patio veranda balcony thing [see left], and Charlotte emerged from the lower car park to join us, as did Fehmina who had been left holding the drum kit while we played inside. Neither job for the faint -hearted.

Then the Sparrows appeared, mostly from Tricia's car, and led by flag-waving Damien [top picture] paraded with pan de neck and flag waving down to the teepee [right]. Our hosts, Helen and Damon appeared to have ordered a beautiful sunny late October Indian summer of a day for our celebration of Black History Month. Sparrows and Doves were Amy, Fehmina, Varshika, Millie 1, Millie 2, Evie, Claudia, Jenner, Maisie, Ashley, Chloe, and Nina.

And while we parading across the grass, in the background Vicky, Damon, Katie, Stewart, Varshika, Amy and Tricia were getting the static pans down to the Teepee for the last set. Usually I ask parents to sit back and let their children get on with being in a band, including the setting up and packing away. On this occasion I just looked at Tricia and said Please! [This time Katie left her hoody in the Teepee.]

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Dogs aren't just for Christmas; Steelbands aren't just for Carnivals

Dear Debs

In the middle of the carnivals and festivals this summer came a poignant moment. On the last Saturday in August, which would have been Donovan's 23rd birthday, six Doves/Foxwood played at Harehills Cemetery for the unveiling of his headstone. John said that Donovan wouldn't let it rain; and there was a moment when we watched the rain fall on one side of the trees, but not on us. Obviously we played You'll Never Walk Alone.

I've always discussed the value of music with my music students; for the highs and lows in life; for happy and for sad; for the weddings and the funerals. Six years ago Sheena, staff member from City of Leeds died, and her son and daughter [David and Lyndsay] asked the Sparrows if they would play at the funeral. The band, mostly then years 9 to 11 [aged 14 to 16] felt uncomfortable and said "it wasn't right". David and Lyndsay came to meet them and told them how much it would mean; six players agreed to do it, and then we had a skirmish about playing the calypso numbers. They said "it wasn't right", and David and Lyndsay had to talk them into it.

In the end, Lawnswood Cemetery 2004; Sheena so popular the whole school was closed for the afternoon, and we Sparrows cried and played our way through Dead or Alive, You'll Never Walk Alone, Le Onde and the theme from Swan Lake.

This summer it was hard too when it came to playing in Harehills. The family around the grave; should we really be playing Under the Boardwalk or Diamonds Are Forever? Yes we should, and yes we did, but it was difficult. And out of our band, one was a cancer-survivor herself, and one had lost her own very young brother-in-law to the same disease and, in fact, Chris had shared the same cancer ward with Donovan all those years ago.

But I guess, of equal importance, when six school student pan-players played at Lawnswood, and when three steelpan teachers and three students played at Harehills, they played played as musicians. And their role, in both instances was secondary, as background; they played music in order to support mourners at a very difficult time in their life.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Bradford, Bradford and Brotherton

Hi Debs, Before we played our last carnival of the season, Foxwood Steel did a couple of charity busking slots at Bradford Interchange bus station. On both occasions we made nearly as much as it cost us in transport and babysitters to get there. The first time we played was the day before Manchester Carnival and two days after Manchester's riots. The station had never been as empty. "Ah, well," someone opined, "you've picked a bad day for it, what with the riots." Hmmm. Still it was a lovely venue.

At Brotherton Carnival we played at the arena entrance welcoming carnival-goers as they came down from the big main road. We were Foxwood Steel [you, me, Bex, Nat, Diz, Gig, Mig, Lizzie, Katie,Vicky, Charlotte], Doves [Amy, Varshika, Sophie, Joe], Steel Rising [Karen, Ruth], South Steel [you and Charlotte in dual role, Caroline, Neil]; we played two long sets, only repeating Dead or Alive, while the hurdy gurdy played the Archers in the not-so background. What is it about sounds mingling in the air: when does it stop being charming and start being irritating?
Anyway we [Bex and Vicky] put up our fabulous events tent [think we should be getting a commission from Go Outdoors for all this product placement!], whereupon it didn't rain, and only the drummers didn't mind being in the shade; everyone else was trying to escape back into the sunshine. We played until it was time for the rock band to take to the stage. They got half way through their sound check before somebody cut through the mains lead up on the main road. After that we only competed with the hurdy-gurdy for sound attention. and left just as the electric was being reconnected and three would definitely have been a crowd.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

July 2011

Here's a list of the gigs in a very busy July 2011 and a few of the pictures:
1. 2 July Foxwood, Sparrows, Doves at City of Leeds Summer Fair .

2 July Sparows at Springbank Summer Fair
3. 5 July Mariners resource centre, Beeston
4. 7 July Doves at Outdoor Performance Area, Music For Youth, Birmingham
5. 9 July Foxwood, Doves, SteelRising at Huddersfield Carnival
6. 10 July East Steel at Ben Rhydding Primary School Summer Fair
7. 12 July Sparrows at Leeds Poetry Slam, City of Leeds School
8. 13 July Sparrows at City of Leeds School Awards Evening
9. 16 July Sparrows at Moortown Community Event
10. 16 July Doves at Ecclesfield School Arts Festival, Chapeltown, Sheffield
11. 17 July Sparrows and Doves at the West Park Centre
12. 19 July Sparrows and Doves at last open rehearsal at City of Leeds School
13. 23 July Sparrows and Doves at Festival of Britain, Southbank Centre London
14. 30 July Foxwood at Katie's Big Lunch

31 July Sparrows, Doves, Foxwood, East Steel at Donovan's Day, Millfield [Potternewton] School

Monday, 5 September 2011

Festival of Britain 2011

Dear Debs, It seems that you are now heading for Carriacou by way of Abu Dhabi which is somewhere in the Near Middle East, as Science Advisor. I'm not sure what to say, so I think I'll say Massive Congratulations. The work you did at Merlyn Rees and South Leeds High Schools, staying there through all the troubles, inducting one new Science teacher after another; devastating one Ofsted after another with your wonderful successes, only to see an incompetent and corrupt private education company close South Leeds - oh Heavens, I've wondered into my wrong blog!

Anyway, I'd like to think that playing pans with Foxwood and South Leeds is what has given you the strength to keep going, especially when it must have seemed that brilliance was no match for money and power.

Well, I was trying to go through all my gigs chronologically, and I was just heading towards the 60th anniversary of TASPO [Trinidad All Percussion Steel Orchestra] playing the first Festival of Britain in 1951, which was about to feature the Leeds Silver Steel Sparrows and the Leeds Silver Doves when I discovered that the Leeds Carnival Committee had run out of money and couldn't afford the massed Foxwood Carnival Steelband.

Debs I wish I couldn't believe it, but I could. Sadly I could. I looked on the Leeds Carnival website to see who was on the committee. Who thought it was okay to dismiss the bands who were good enough for the Festival of Britain at the Southbank Centre [only 4 weeks earlier], who were good enough for the Royal Albert Hall [2 years previously], who were good for Huddersfield, Manchester, Otley, Featherstone, Brotherton Carnivals, invited to London and Birmingham.

When we were asked to play at the Festival of Britain, I felt the same glow that I had done in 1993 when I was asked for the first time to play on a float at Leeds Carnival. And, once you get over the nerves, there is nothing like playing your hometown. And, when we were asked to play in London, the particular slant was on how pans had got into schools and reached Britain's youth. So the Festival organisers asked the National Festival of Music For Youth to reccommend some bands, and they reccommended us from Leeds. And there was nothing like playing for your capital city, and representing your town, and representing it with students from the inner city of your town, including Hyde Park [that's in Leeds], Chapeltown, Harehills, Osmondthorpe, Beeston, Kirkstall, Holbeck, Middleton, Little London, Burley.

Debs, it doesn't get better than that.