Saturday, 28 July 2012

Steelpans at Bradford Industrial Museum

I tried to tell them last year that it was pointless under 7 years old, and then I gave in. Of the hundred or so that passed through there was only about 7 who were over 7! Luke, their Education Officer booked me again, saying how successful I had been last year. A sucker for flattery or a good quote,  and being one day off a full week's work, of course I agreed to do it again. Luckily for me, and for the children of Bradford, Sophie is training to become a primary school teacher next year. She had confessed to needing things to do; I opined that Bradford Industrial Museum might a useful bit of work experience. So here we are on July 26th 2012, Twelve Bar Blues, Merrily we Roll Along, Largo in F and even in G.

IT started slowly, then it never stopped. We didn't get past a few good chord sequences, but we kept it all to 15 and 20 minute slots, persuaded as many parents and carers as we good to join in. Luke kept us going with cups of tea thick and fast. The poster above my head says: Terrible Times for Children. Honestly it refered to when it was a working mill!

Royal Park School Playground Clean up, and there's life in the old cat yet

Just when I thought the holidays had finally started, I find I have a message from Sue the Relentless texter. She's there in the Royal Park playground from 10 am till 4pm collecting plants, planting them out, tidying up. There were five of them left when I finally rocked up at 3pm. Out of Sue, herself, Martin, Little John, Ian, Dawn, Magda, Dave and Wain. Ex-pupil Scott turns up to lock the gates. Gwen provided the flowers.

I planted some flowers, discussed Radio Four's choice of appropriate panellists with Martin; why I got dropped from Leeds Carnival with Wain, took some photos and left them still hard at it.

By the way, I just read they want to expand yet another local primary school.

Royal Park, standing, elegantly in the heart of its community, still awaits the call. It took over 100 years to build its history. You can't consult on that or buy it, you know.

By the way, Clippy, who came my way in aforementioned cardboard box in 1996, and is, consequently  a cat of some great age, has taken to living in the garden. And on Tuesday we found out why. I had my back to her sitting on a garden chair when the combination of the look of terror on Daisy's face, and the hideous sound of pouncing of cat on mouse [or possibly baby rat]  had me frozen with fear. Got over the shock, turned round, saw very proud Clippy with ex-mouse.  Pic to follow. Meantime here's one of Clippy earlier this year on a shelf.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Foxwood Steel at Katie's Barbecue

Katie's back garden was the perfect stage. These old and ex-council houses in East End Park were from a time when a garden was a garden and you feed the whole street with the produce grown. Katie and house-mates are just growing decking and some plants in tubs which I just had to help un-waterlog.

You, Debs, were on a three gigs in one day roll. I was in a post-traumatic leaving school I absolutely loved teaching at day-after. And it was still early evening, and you know, when you're the one counting the stands, making sure the soprano pans go in their cases the right way up and trying to keep the tunes in their alphabetical order, well, you can't relax.   Debs, I am not complaining. I love being a band leader, and accept the restrictions that go with it.   We were you, me, Bex, Katie, Natalie, Lizzie and Vicky.

After we played there some hoo-hah with the fence. Hmm.

Foxwood Steel, Steel Rising, East Steel, Leeds Silver Steel Sparrows, Leeds Silver Doves at Lawnswood YMCA

I would like to thank the YMCA for inviting us [at rather short notice] to this event. Otherwise I would have started on the sherry at 3 pm saying goodbye to City of Leeds School, and then not been ready for this wild combination of as many players from as many of my bands as happened.

 Players from all the Foxwood stable of bands fall into three categories:
1. specialise in one pan
2. can play all pans
3. can also play drum-kit [the minority]

And you can get always get some 1s, you can always get at least two 2s, but those bloomimg 3s . . .Well . . . .
We had three hours. No Natalie, Tim, Joe, Varshika, or even Alan, so no proper drummer. Even so, Bex and Ashley were marvellous while they were there - Bex having to go early and Ashley being asleep till I texted him back to reality! But was Ashley's surprise lie-in a blessing in disguise? OMG, It's Bruce, ex-colleague and drummer: Bruce, who agreed to sit in for an hour in this baking heat, learning all our tunes as he went along. [And Bruce, if you're reading this, contact me.]

Hour One was Foxwood, Steel Rising and Doves: me [Victoria], you [Debs], Bex, Lizzie, Gig, Daisy, Vicky, Karen, Ruth, Amy, Sophie

Hour Two was East Steel, Sparrows [but Jack and Naomi were both ill, Ashley still zzzzz], and: me, Bex [for a bit], Vicky, Lizzie, Karen, Ruth, Judy, Anne, Lynn, Amy, Gig, Sophie

Hour Three was same as Hour Two plus Ashley.

Obviously we played YMCA [which is on the Sparrows' second CD] ; not obviously it didn't rain. A good all round gig,  let's pack away and get off to East End Park . . .

Goodbye again to City of Leeds School

Well, it's a over a decade since I first visited City of School, as Head of Steel Pans for the Music Service, and realised that the local rumours about it being a rubbish school were unfounded. In particular I was impressed with Ms Hardwick's Music Department. And a couple of years later, I put my money where my mouth was and sent my two youngest children there.
A couple of years later I realised that Music was not one of the school's strengths anymore [Ms H had moved on], and offered to help out. [In a sort of wistful I wish I had a proper home school again.] The Music Service finally agreed to release me, after a bit of pressure from my old headteacher, John Steel, who was being a superhead at the time. So I stood in as Head of Music, found a willing friend [saxophone player and would-be teacher, New Zealander, Paul] to be the other member of department, wrote all his lesson plans, and gave him all the "easier" classes. [Paul left the UK to go back to New Zealand the following year. Hmmm.]

This is some of the speech I would have made [and here's just two of the most incredible pieces of artwork from 2011:
"I wanted to make a speech this afternoon about how sad I was to leave City and look back at my moments, but actually . . .

It's hard to leave what I felt I never really joined. I kinda just slipped in. I came to be head of Music for half a year, including for when the Ofsted came. It was a couple of weeks before the Ofsted. I spent the weekend putting up displays and looking out my old Foxwood lesson plans.

The Ofsted inspector said I had low expectations of the kids. I looked earnest and kept my mouth shut. Low! There was one Year Nine class who I thought would all kill each other and was amazed that they even stayed in their seats. I had only met some of the classes once before and actually I thought, in the circumstances, I had been brilliant [I think it's safe to use that word again.].

After giving me the obligatory hard time, the kids were even more annoyed when I told them I wasn’t staying, so when Donna arrived we put it to school that it would be helpful for the transition if I stayed on . . . then when Bridget arrived . . and Carrie-ann. . . . In fact it’s taken a double dip recession [whatever that is!] to get rid of me!

When Margaret Hamlet asked me to stay on, I felt I couldn’t because my own kids were then there and in Years 8 and 9 and both heading towards Music GCSE. But I would have loved to. The palpable racial harmony, and the various musical talents and experience of both the immigrant and local children – so exciting.

Then there were extreme highs and extreme lows – highs included winning the UK World Music Award for the Sparrows which included 50% City and ex-City students, and overall included 19 different nationalities [hence the flags – see youtube: Leeds Silver Steel Sparrows play Royal Albert Hall]; lows were being banned from the LGHS/COLS version of Carnival Messiah and from Leeds Carnival last year [I felt that I had let the kids down]; highs again were winning through to the national Festival for Youth five years running and then being asked to bring both bands [Sparrows and Doves] to the Festival of Britain at the Southbank last July. Now that was massive. Two bands out of five from whole of UK included children from Little London, Holbeck, Hyde Park, Chapeltown and the rest! This is us, outside the Festival Hall and inside playing with the other bands.Another high was when I realised that PE, Science and EAL could tell what time of year it was by how good, or bad [!] the pans sounded.

My latest high is called Maryam, Rukhsar, Raheem, Samera and Rayshan, and somehow or other, I hope it’s not the last I have seen them."

Suitably it rained on the last day of term, and we took no pics so here's two of when we said goodbye to Strawberry Queen, Christine, admin assistant extraordinaire.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Thursday Friday goodbye to Blenheim and Spring Bank

On Thursday afternoon at 2pm I said goodbye to the delightful year Six at Blenheim as they played their last concert, joining in with Sophie's choir. It's the last week of the school year, and every little band in my steelpan Leeds world all sound good now. They sound musical; they work as teams; they play to their strengths; they have played to audiences who don't sit there squirming, but who may clap along and ask for more.

Don't have a pic of Blenheim classes so here's one of their pans.

"Parental choice" means that the year sixes of Hyde Park, Little London and Woohouse are being scattered around the different high schools in a long corridor from central to north Leeds starting with City of Leeds School, to Carr Manor, Lawnswood and Ralph Thoresby.  Sadly only two of these schools have pans [I'm working on it!], and only one has a dedicated steelpan room. So this great universal instrument that has let whole classes blossom is now closed to all but a handful.

At 2.30 I am 3 miles away sitting in the audience at Moor Allerton watching Al's lovely Year Sixes do their thing and take a bow.  Sounded ace. No pic of Moor Allerton so here's one of Al with his own band at the New Roscoe. By 3.15 I have criss-crossed Leeds again to pick up Lola from Kirkstall Valley School. And then back to panicking about how many players I'll have for the YMCA on Saturday [a late gig request dangerously inside the school holidays], and collecting  up the pans for who doesn't own their own.

Friday saying goodbye to Spring Bank, and reminding my little gang of boys who became Middle Steel that we will meet again [at West Park], and then, after ten years at City of Leeds School it's time to say goodbye again.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

It's Wednesday. The Steel Siblings at Brudenell

In the morning I say goodbye to the glorious Quarry Mount Year Sixes. Then Al Roberto [it's seems like all one word] has this little concert at Brudenell, and we bring the Siblings down from City of Leeds to join them. Ace. They do djembes; we do pans; then we all play together. Even acer. Ashley joins us. Can't show the Brudenell players; here two Siblings pics.

It's Tuesday. It's City Vibe

Natalie's at Greenhill and I'm at Allerton Grange earlier on. Carrie-ann has to set up on her own, and we get there just in time for the show's start, at which point I realise that Maryam and Nyla are expecting to do pan de neck and that the harnesses at at my house. Thankfully, I live half a mile from the school so someone at home is able to get them there in time. Thanks, Rick.

Anyway between the Yr 10 BTEC class, Natalie's Friday classes and the gorgeous Siblings [renamed Steel Six for the purposes of the talent show] we have three excellent steelbands in the show.  here's a couple of pics of the Fridays and of the Siblings [note that Nyla and Maryam are doing pan de neck]; the BTEC same as for last week - no decent new pictures.

Thus my last City of Leeds School City Vibe as regular staff.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Daisy's degree, and it's a big one

She had aways been contemplating uni, and when South Leeds High School became the latest victim in both UK governments' scams to privatise education, so after ten pretty happy years at Merlyn and then at the merged South Leeds, Daisy applied to Leeds to do her degree in Theatre and Performance Studies.

Primary and Middle schools had nurtured her after a very early dyselxia diagnosis [visiting academic doing research at Brudenell Primary School], but high school was not really interested and she fled with a decent clutch of A to Cs which thankfully included Maths [without which apparently your adult life can't begin] down to the Wakefield College via a stint as TA at Royal Park.

Anyway to cut a long story, this is how me, Joe and Daisy came to be drinking sparkling white or red before even the Archers had been on! Daisy and Rebecca nearly missed their own ceremony.

People say you must be very proud, and of course I am, but also angry, angry that our education system which had been heading towards the care of the indivual, forces teachers to concentrate instead on the astract concept of average grades achieved, and as for those children who open books or computer screens only to see dots swimming about, well, what use are they to the school's survival?

When I myself went to Uni I ended up taking the wrong subject, and ended up with a degree in Russian, in a language I couldn't really speak. So when I got honours [a 2 2] I was totally relieved, because I never doubted my own academic ability.

But, Debs, when Daisy, exactly twenty years after her last high school report told her she should do something about her spelling, walked onto the stage of the Geat Hall, Leeds University to collect her first class honours degree certificate, the word, proud, was far too small a word for how I felt.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

If it's Sunday it must be Kirkstall

Now then Debs, home with the Huddersfield high; alas the adrenalin is waning, and we must be good for Kirkstall. The weather holds. We play in the cloisters; this is an after-festival party for all the workers from the day before. We all get tea and buns.

Some non-drivers go for the punch. Michael aged 2, is seen eating the orange out of the punch. Oh no. Does Bex know?

After the crush of the 18ft float, the cloisters are the widest of open spaces. Stiill we squash up on the path where we play a set with a few quiet tunes in it. Lizzie even leaves for her shift before we play Dead or Alive and isn't bothered. Well, that's been a few years coming.

We were me, Bex, Sophie, Natalie, Daisy, Lizzie, Gig, Vicky, and guest,Ashley. Smalls were Lola, Michael, James.

Meet up with Rita, ex-headteacher of the epic Royal Park School, and also, with Kelly [singer, drummer, pannist], ex-Foxwood -player from the old school days. Tried to remind Kelly what a great player she was - she wasn't buying it.

Foxwood Steel at Huddersfield Carnival

Dear Debs,

You know because you were there. We were first float in the parade, and we got applauded in the town centre after playing Dead or Alive - a right proper round of applause, never had that before,  Excellent. Lizzie in Dead or Alive heaven. Lizzie in Huddersfield Carnival heaven. We all were.

It's the second Saturday in July. It's Little London Community Day, Kirkstall Festival and Huddersfield Carnival. In previous years Natalie and/or Carrie-ann have done stuff at Little London [and I deliver the pans for them Friday and pick them Monday], while Foxwood is at Huddersfield. This year I thought I might just do the one gig!

I am going to go back briefly to Imagine on BBC2 a couple of weeks back. Paul Simon revisited South Africa 15 years after his very contraversial Graceland episode with Ladysmith Black Mambazo. During a studio session he asked some musicians to learn a piece of music overnight, but when they returned next day they hadn't done it. And the [white] studio engineer shrugged and said to Paul Simon, "You see what we have to put up with." [Debs, you'll see where this is going in a minute].

But first. How cool that you should come back from Abu Dabi just in time to play this carnival for your adopted home  town of Huddersfield. All in all we were you, Charlotte, Neil and Caroline from South Steel, Karen and Ruth from Steel Rising, and then you, Charlotte, me, Bex, Lizzie, Gig, Vicky, Daisy, Amy, Varshika, Tim and Sophie from Foxwood and Foxwood Doves, plus guest, Sparrow: Ashley.

Well I knew that the theme was the Jubilee and Olympics so we were doing Diamonds Are Forever [calypso] and Chariots Of Fire [ditto], but Ladysmith and Paul reminded me of Diamonds On the Soles of her Shoes. I wouldn't say it was finished but we had a go. Actually all I had really managed was the key, a chord sequence and a random snatch of the melody.

Three quotes from Huddersfield: These from someone talking later in Huddersfield town centre to Ashley:
     Yous guys were awesome, I have never heard a steel pan band play in such rocky conditions before and sound as good as yous did. 

and another:  the ways yous move while yous are concentrating is amazing, best band I have heard in a long time.

and this oddity, overheard by another player:

I can't see the point. It's not for white people. It's meant to be about us, about black people. . . . This is boring. They were meant to draw a crowd in. . . . 

How sad that, after all the Carnival Committee's efforts to say that this is a event for everyone in Huddersfield, that anyone should think this, and even say it in our hearing. I know that Mary and all the organisers wanted Carnival to be something to include everyone. Still, we have always felt most welcome in Huddersfield, a nearly all-white band at a West Indian Carnival, especially after our experience in our own home town of Leeds. See the link below:

Is this comment some sort of weird cultural apartheid, I wonder? It is true that we paced ourselves on the float, playing a soft set of less powerful tunes before we got near the packed centre of town so that we didn't burn out before we played to the biggest crowds. But they were still good tunes.

Debs, I hope that this one person's comment. But, if not, maybe this is a debate to be had publicly.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

If it's Friday it must be Beechwood

Now then Debs

For gigs during the school week, I rely on a steady stream of top class pannists who are also just finished uni, Yr 11, in a gap year, gave up uni, are on maternity leave, unemployed, work part-time or who can work flexi-time. Last year, if you recall, Debs when we opend MacCauley's shop in Huddersfield, it was your lunch hour!

Unusually, at Beechwood, noone was holding a baby while playing. Quite frankly it made a nice change. If you have a baby to hold you need to be on bass or on the melody. Chords is a nightmare. And once the baby gets past 6 months it starts objecting to being passed round. As I think, Charles found at MacCauleys, and he wasn't even playing.

I digress. At Beechwood we were me, Natalie [whose school it is], Jenner, Daisy, Sophie and Ashley.  We were mostly Sparrows and one Foxwood. Beechwood teacher, Cat took some excellent pics. Here are some. [And it was one of those  lovely moments, then back to the day jobs. Natalie went on to be photographed for the YEP while playing out with Seacroft Grange].

I went on to plan for Huddersfield Carnival. We were adding Diamonds on the Soles of her shoes and Chariots of Fire for the ubiquitous theme. Then at ten I nipped down to the Wardrobe to watch Joe Mac play guitar in a band.

Leeds and York

Dear Debs, in real life I am a peripatetic teacher and head of my department, but my casual attitude to earning a wage led me several years ago into the uncertain world of part-time permanent employment and a constant need to find extra weekly work.

It goes from one adventure to another. A few months of travelling round the Welsh valleys setting up the pans round Newport and Chepstow; a year getting to know opposite ends of Bradford; a term at West Leeds High School; a year at Primrose High School; a year in York, and of course workshops at conferences round the country, from Sunderland to Bristol, from Yarnborough to Sheffield and Stevenage. These thanks mostly to Carole Lindsay from the SMA [Schools Music Association] and to NAME [National Association of Music Educators].

It also led to a decade of very happy one or two days a week at City of Leeds High School. I was acting head of Department for half a year in 2004, but, with with the two Not-So-Smalls in Years 8 and 9 it just wasn't appropriate to stay on full-time. Anyway I managed to hang around there nearly for ever part-time and continue with my regular whirlwind tour of Hyde Park, Chapeltown and Armley.

This led me on Monday to spend the day with Carrie-ann and City's Yr 10 BTEC class. Students have to learn about such as setting up instruments, mikes etc and deciding repertoire and arrangements, and even wardrobe. So it was down in the Drama studio for the pans and the mikes and the amps; the students had changed into the agreed outfits [and Debs we, in Foxwood spent years wearing red and black!].

They were amazing: singers, guitarists; pannistes; drummer. Credit to Carrie-ann [from City] and Sophie [from ArtForms] for the singers. And these group of students come from Lithuania, France, Holland, Czech Republic, Poland, Sudan, Malaysia, Portugal, and of course some come from Little London and Chapeltown. Some only came to the UK during this their Year Ten. Ah, the power of the language of music.

Next day Tuesday I am in a school in York, for world arts immersion day. To cut down costs I was both driver and teacher. Then back to Leeds for Sparrows then Tuesday Steel evening class. Left home in Leeds at 7.30 am, got back home at 8 pm. [Failed miserably to upload a pic from my phone]

Next day Wednesday back to the day job and catching up. Debs, I am shattered.