Sunday, 31 May 2015

Foxwood Steel at Owlcotes M&S Charity Day

Well, it's May half-term and we have no gigs booked. Astonishing. I decide the time for some new kittens has come.
irrelevant pic of Dibble and Mittens
Well, first we have no requests and then three come at once. Which are actually all at the same place. However, we can only do the Friday.
Well, reader, this was a cracker!

For a start, we were inside which I thought would be acoustically overkill. Not so. Customers were complimenting M and S on our performance, one person phoned in to say how they enjoyed the "theatre". The manager told us we were "outstanding". Sophie B H looked after us really well.

It was a good feeling.
Pots of tea. Crisps and strawberries. Compliments, and more compliments. Someone came up close, looked at us and said, "You have no microphones. This is really you making all this lovely sound." One person came up very close and told us we were too loud.

Met the gang that Vicky and I had worked with at Crawshaw for a decade or more. And ex-colleagues of Wanda kept popping up. 
We were me, Bex, Amy, Sophie, Varshika [on half term from Liverpool Uni!], Vicky, Yi Bai, Wanda, Kirsty. Foxcubs, literally waiting in the wings, were James and Michael.
Varshika said she only came once she knew we already had a drummer, but she was tempted out of drum retirement for We Nah Goin Home and Yi Ba tackled double seconds for the first time. Only three chords. Yi Bai took it in his stride.
Now it's back to kitten-watch. Purr.
Foxwood Steel is an all-acoustic steelband playing everything from traditional West Indian calypso/soca to pop, reggae and classical. If you want to book a band or learn to play pans yourself please email

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Steel pan Workshops in York

Victoria Dave Charlotte Hall Park Horsforth 1990s 
It's over a year now since my friend Dave died. and high time that his legacy was properly reactivated in York. The adult band, Steel Expression, that he formed was determined to keep on playing, both for themselves and in Dave's memory. The younger band Rhythm and Steel, is "resting", as they say.
One way or another York Music Service found me and I, them, and we ran a series of four workshops which were designed to train up prospective pan teachers,  reactivate former players and interest new ones.
The willing sacrifices from York Music Service were Christian and Billy. Helen from Steel Expression attended every session. Tom, Chris and Becki for Rhythm and Steel ventured warily back. Dan welcomed Charlotte from London who is also wanting to learn more about  the Foxwood songsheets and what is suitable repertoire for the various abilities.
Week One at York High School, Acomb, and I set up the York pans and the extra ones that I had brought from Leeds and waited both nervously and expectantly for the students. Astonished to find 22 people. We covered colour-coding and two chord, eight-bar songs.
Week Two. Different people and slightly less. Started with different two-chord song, moved to three chords [still major] and some contrapuntal stuff.
Week Three. Different people again. I upped the degree of difficulty so that Tom and Becky could relive Eddie Grant's Give Me Hope Johanna. This wonderful song, still in the Foxwood set was taught to me in the early 1980s by StClair Morris and improved by the additions that Dave suggested in the late nineties. [Dave's great strength was how he added to arrangements]. We added minor chords and there is no doubt that Drunken Sailor is a top tune for all time.
However, I went back to Leeds and realised that this [Give Me Hope . . ] was a tune too far, and for Week Four . .
We returned to the easier songs and considered waltzes and some, and then launched into the Kaiser Chief's Oh My God. Which this class of old hands and of complete beginners learnt from start to end inside 45 minutes. Predictably we ended with a riot. [Dave's partner/now widower came with me this week to see Dave's legacy beginning to bloom.]
I shall miss my Monday afternoons, but not the A64.
If anyone wants to learn how to play steelpans, join a band or hire a steelband they can contact me/us on

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Foxwood Steel at Oakwood Farmers Market Again

The day started sunny and windless and stayed as such for all our set. Oakwood Clock and surrounding square have been refurbished and the Clock itself is big and beautiful against the blue skies and spring green tree. We were me, Yi Bai, Katie, Bex, Vicky, Charlotte, Sophie, Gary, Daisy, Amy in order of arrival. Please note that I was, and in the van, the first at a gig. This won't happen again, so may as well make this note.

Bex told us she had a small free gig. Was totally puzzled until I put in the hyphen. A small-free gig!

We played 25 songs in 3 sets in 2 and 1/2 hours. Amy said she was too tired to play until Sophie put her straight! Actually that was the level of the excitement. It was the third event this week for four of us [me, Bex, Vicky Sophie at Middleton Park [East Steel], at Wharfedale [massed school bands], now here [Foxwood]. All have been great to be part of. Love playing parks and bandstands, love playing festivals, love playing outside on stone in built-up areas. Thanks to Ian for inviting us yet again.

So that's it. Here's some pics. [And the cloth banner was originally made by Trish Senior for Foxwood at Foxwood School in 1980-something]

If you want to book Foxwood Steel, or any of the bands for an event, contact us on .

Leeds Massed Steelbands Amazing at Wharfedale Festival, Ilkley

Well, there comes a point every year when I wonder if carting all this metal out of Leeds and into Ilkley is worth it, and whether arranging the adventure that is the 4.32 to Ilkley is worth it, when nearly half of them nearly always don't show!
And then we get there, but this year especially. This year we had four separate pan teachers, four separate schools plus Sparrows, and this year too, New Sparrows.
Wanda agreed to kick the proceedings off with Oulton. As it is SATs week, Oulton bring their Year 5s, so these wonderful children have been playing for just two terms. They play Frere Jacques, and Lazy Coconut, with Wanda percussing with claves. Superb.

Next Bex brings a Yr 5 and a Yr 6 group from Clapgate, South Leeds. They play Come and Sing Together and The Surprise. They too have been playing for two terms and both group use chime bars as well as pans. Absolutely beautiful.
[pic to follow]
Next are my Allerton Grangettes. They are tackling Land of the Silver Birch, Michael Jackson's You Are Not Alone and Westlife classic, You Raise Me Up. Here, we are putting together for only the second time the after-school club and the daytime class. Not all were able to make it so Bex and I stand in. They make it through some tricky chords and song structures. I was very proud of those who had made the effort to get there and play.
LS14 Steel is Natalie's contribution from Beechwood and Beyond [ie Yr6 and ex-pupils]. They include Daniel the wonder-drummer who plays from the floor while the rest of the band is on the stage. Amazing. They play Candy, All of Me and Cecilia. Mind-blowing!
[pic to follow]

Friends, we have not finished. Next is Bex's and my New Sparrows. Principally they are two ex-Oultoners who have joined Sparrows this year and are on a frantic catch-up curve. We play California Girls and Under the Boardwalk. So proud.
[pic to follow]
Penultimately the Leeds Silver Steel Sparrows themselves. Well, actually out of a twelve strong band we are down to three! We have cornered the market in A, AS, and GCSE students. But instead of them being a pale reflection of themselves two months ago, we decide to present what they would have been like and we volunteer ourselves: staff and Foxwood Steel players to stand in as best we  we can!
So actual Sparrows present are Millie S, Ashley and Claudia [Yr11 and mid two exams. Yo. [Claudia. She deserves a medal and good grades. Did her revision on the train.]. Bex is Millie C, Vicky is Naomi and Georgia, I am Chloe and Bella, Yi Bai is George and Sophie is the rest.
We play our Music For Youth set of The Entertainer, Don't it Make My Brown Eyes Blue, Hips Don't Lie, Morning and In the Hall of the Mountain King. Forgot to take pics so here's one we took earlier of Sparrows at Harrogate.
And then everyone gets up for the massed band. And all play the Horn Concerto and In the Hall of the Mountain King [very easy version]. House down, adjudicator called it a proper celebration, said he knew how difficult pans were to play, how we should be better known, and . . .
.  .  best of all he didn't ask anyone to smile.
So we did.
And thanks to Liz, Blanche and co from the indefatigable Wharfedale Festival Committee, and Robert Marsh for his kind comments. These steelbands are funded and run from Leeds ArtForms and from Oulton and Beechwood Primary Schools.

Friday, 15 May 2015

East Steel at Middleton Park

May 10 2015 sees East Steel at Miggy Park, South Leeds for its triumphant spring return. We have now collected quite a following but think it may have something to do with the lovely new café by the lake. Tea, buns and playing in a bandstand. Mmmm!

Everything went to plan but we did have a nervous moment or two, as this was the same day as the Leeds half-marathon and half the band lived inside its route. As it turned out I was able to drive under bridges on the inner-ring road, so I probably didn't need to have worried.
We were Trish, Anne, Lynn, Pippa, Sophie, Yi Bai, Vicky, Wanda, Kirsty, Bex and myself. We played our usual set plus the new 2015 ones - Maria, Soca Junkie and Matilda. It's still a case of brace yourself and go for it.
East Steel is a music centre band funded and organised by Leeds ArtForms Music Service. Leaders: Victoria Jaquiss and Bex Ainge

Saturday, 2 May 2015

East Steel play St George's Festival Morley Leeds

I am squeezing in this gig in Morley between teaching at North Leeds Music Centre at lunchtime and Charlotte B's big birthday bash in south London this evening. I must be mad! In the morning I pack Bag A for the music centre, Bag B for the gig, and Bag C for London
Anyway Wanda come to the rescue with extra transport, and the rest of the band these days mostly own and bring their own pans. I go home, then Rick takes me over to Morley. I am already in East Steel polo shirt and leave the music centre bag with himself.
I don't quite get over feeling guilty about not setting up; it's weird seeing and hearing your own band playing as you walk down pedestrianied Queen Street. They are concentrating so hard on the song in hand that they don't even see me slip in behind a pan until the end of the tune.
Players today are Trish, Wanda, Vicky, Sophie, Pippa, Victoria, Bex, Yi Bai and surprise appearance by Katie [who even found her old East Steel t-shirt]. We are bedding down this and last year's new tunes: Somewhere Only We Know, Soca Junkie/Matilda, You Raise Me Up and Maria.
Then there in the audience are the bride and groom from two weeks back, and Maddie joins us again for You Raise Me Up. After she texts me: Lovely to see and hear you. Had a gin and a dance with Rosie outside Cucinas while you played . . 

  We pack up our ludicrously heavy but stable and rain-proof gazebos, and Bex and Yi Bai do the comedy moment.
Trish takes me to the station and while the rest of the band are settling down to a cuppa or a glass of chilled white, I am still waiting for the 8.40 on Blackfriars Bridge Station. Another hour I can raise a glass myself to one of the bestest gigs. Cheers!
East Steel is a Leeds music centre steelband run by Leeds ArtForms Music Service, leaders/teachers are Victoria Jaquiss and Bex Ainge