Thursday, 25 August 2011

Manchester and Leeds: The demise or not of steelbands in the Carnival Parade: A Tale of Two Cities

I saw it in the papers: No steelband in the Leeds Carnival Parade. Organisers blame the riots.

[This is us: Foxwood, Doves, SteelRising at Manchester two weeks ago]
Well, there never was going to be a steelband on a float at Leeds Carnival this year. By the time we phoned the organisers to check the arrangements there was nothing to arrange. The only steelband would be on the stage, and it was not our turn this year. I was told troupes don’t want to dance behind the quieter, relatively slower sounds of a steelband. And indeed I remember meeting one of the carnival queens over a decade ago in a special school where we both were teaching that term. I said we need a troupe for our band, and she said “I’m not jumping up behind no steelband” I was taken aback, even mortified by the vehemence with which she spoke.

Then this week on Radio 4 Kwame Kwei-Armah was explaining in his history of London Carnival how the sound systems arrived in order to include the watching but not participating Jamaicans and other islanders in Carnival.

Thus an uneasy tension ever since between steelbands and sound systems. What’s to do about it?

Well for a start, don’t blame the riots, and for a second, don’t put a spokesperson on Radio Five Live saying it’s not usual to have a steelband in the Leeds parade. If this was the case, which it isn’t, for the second biggest UK West Indian Carnival this isn’t something you would want to broadcast.

Four years ago the organisers of newly reformed Manchester Carnival made a massive effort to gets steelbands back in parade. They got five of us including Foxwood/Doves/SteelRising and new World from Leeds, and North Stars from Huddersfield. And four years later, they are still getting them in. You don’t have to be older generation to love steelbands. And you don’t have to be West Indian, or just Trinidadian. Along with reggae music, steelbands must be one of the most popular imports from the West Indies to UK, and indeed Europe. There’s room for us both.

Here's two pictures of Lizzie on floats at Manchester and Huddersfield.

This year Manchester experienced big city centre riots; on Wednesday the police cancelled the parade; on Thursday the troupes persuaded them to reinstate the parade; by which time all but four of the the lorries and their drivers had other jobs. I managed to get to recover all but three of my players and we played in the arena, nestling between sound systems. Better than not playing at all, and actually, it was ace.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Leeds Silver Steel Sparrows play at the Mariners and More Fund Raising for the Festival of Britain

Dear Debs

It's all go here. No sooner than we get the pans back into the Pan Room at City than it's round the back of the school with van, and loading up for the Mariners' Day Centre, Beeston. This is where band-member, Evie's mum works and it's a good few quid to help us down to London. The Lord Mayor calls, and Bruntcliffe School brings a lovely band and singers.

This is on Tuesday July 5th, which is a week day. The band now consists of maternity leaves, home educated and Year 11s just finished their exams. It was ever thus. And how is it, I hear you ask that we can all play along together from different bands?

Answer: Foxwood songsheets, sight-reading, and a number of tunes in common. It is not rocket science, and while "purists" wobble on about the aural tradition, my bands can play loads of tunes, at the drop of hat, at summer fairs, galas, local carnivals and festivals, and re-open any number of bandstands without going into rehearsal meltdown first.

Pictures to follow.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

City of Leeds Summer Fair and the Great Run-up to the Festival of Britain

It is the first Saturday in July and Sparrows, Doves and Foxwood are all in action at the summer fair. John has brought the inflatables and the Smalls are eying up the rides. We are now fund-raising in ridiculous earnest. Ashley's dad, Richard, is the bun-sale king, and now he and Vicky have made £20 selling cakes.

In a rash, and very typical Victoria-esque moment last week I told Spring Bank Primary School that I would call up with some Sparrows and do a spot with my Year Sixes and with Sparrows. Luckily, Millie's mother, Trish, has a big car and big heart, and we bundled two cars' worth of players along to do this. Most of Year 6 scattered, but a few brave souls did stand up to be counted. Back to City where I found I had left Amy, who had been the first to offer to do this little gigette.

I don't have permission to show the primary school students so here's a pic of some Sparrows playing after. We didn't make any money at Spring Bank because I forgot to tell them we were fund-rasining. I might sack myself as a money-maker, but I'd have to get in there before Bex does.