Thursday, 31 August 2017

Foxwood Steel at Manchester Carnival Sunday 2017

And here we are again, at Manchester. Today we are again me, Debs, Sheeks, Sophie, Wanda, Fehmina, with Guest Pippa. We have lost Gary and gained Charlotte.

with Liz and percussionists

And today, yippee, we meet Liz from Unison again, who is backing percussion for as long as she can leave the stall.

We have a dinky little stage on the grass and we can play from 2pm for as long as we like. We played our hour long set with as much enthusiasm as we could muster, we have finished off poor Varshika who has offered to play kit today for us, not her usual instrument, but she is still in the top five with all those who can actually play, and not those of us who can just keep a beat.

Wanda decided to change into her vest [on stage!] 

The trouble is, and it's not confined to Manchester Carnival. It is just a competition: who can be the loudest. And a sound system plus person with microphone wins. We abandon all our subtle static tunes and belt out all the loud and fast [and old] ones.

2015 film-maker looking for steelband at Carnival
With our support Damien is trying hard to keep the authentic in Carnival. (two years ago, a film-maker came up,to us, saying Oh my dears, I have been thinking where are the steelbands, and here you are. [Yes, we were, yes we are.) 

We gathered a nice big little audience; we gave the kids tambourines and woodblocks and we had joyful moments.
with percussionists

Now, how to get back to Leeds. Wanda was our metaphorical flag waver. When she came across the police horses, they suggested that she moved out of the way of the van behind, "Neigh", she replied, "I am asking you!" lol and more lol. We're thinking hi viz vests. 

Foxwood Steel play Manchester Carnival 2017 on da Float Saturday

Earlier this year I gave a presentation on the Carnival Conference at Leeds Beckett on the Importance of steelbands at Carnival. I made four main points:

  1. That Carnival is not Carnival without steelbands, and really this should mean not just the one.
  2. That steelbands in the early days of the UK Carnivals (70s, 80s, early nineties) were more numerous, but today they are an endangered species.
  3. Running a steelband is already a magnum opus, but combined with h and s rules (some sensible, some over the top), the marginalisation of music and the arts in education, the power of the sound systems, it is even more difficult.
  4. And really the pay, if any, doesn't match the time and effort put in.

So, I take my hat off to Damien from Manchester who has, over the past decade or maybe more, fought for the inclusion of steelbands in Manchester Carnival. When he first contacted us and put us on a float, we were one of five steelbands on floats. The last few years it has only been us, and we have also played in the arena (as in the centre of Alexandra Park)

dragon deflated after leading the parade

I use the word "fought" advisably, but am not elaborating today. 
photographer being photographed

From my point of view, it is very hard, getting our bands together for these all important summer Carnival gigs. Besides players we need drivers. Besides transporting people we need to transport pans. As for getting together to rehearse, impossible. We have to use old core tunes, and add fresh ones where we can. 

easiest songbook

Way back in the 80s and 90s I devised this system of notation; I named Foxwood Songsheets after the school where its need became apparent and I dedicated it to the late and astonishing Jan Holdstock who pointed me in this direction.

With the songsheets the less able are able, and the amazingly able can sight-read amazingly hard tunes. (Or, in Gary's case, sight-read the bass lines for Wings of a Dove, and on triple basses that he has never played before!). In short, for a band on the road, a big repertoire, and all the more interesting to play for all that. 

Where's Sophie off?

This year we have our same lovely driver, Tony; we are the only steelband; we are the lead float. Tony asks, have you got a full complement this year? What does he mean?
in the park waiting to set off

We are a full band this year including Number One Drummer [and Number Four, or whatever she is in the rankings this week]. Nine players. Luckily not a big truck. Unluckily Unison is not able to be with us today ( and that's a long story not for here).

posing in the sun afterwards

on the A62. Lol

So I come over in the van with Fehmina and Gary taking the A62; Wanda setting off an hour or so later (lol) can zoom along the M62 with Sheeks, Sophie and Natalie. Pippa lives in Sale and brings herself on the bus. Debs is on the train from Huddersfield. 

It's all about the Money, Money, Money!

Half way along the parade we lose a laminated copy of MoneyMoneyMoney; next minute Sophie has jumped off the truck and gangling along the road to retrieve it. 

We get filmed for this, as we always are, and Pippa later finds the footage. It's not too bad at all. Recording a moving band from a distance with half the band facing the other way . . .
The dragon extended to lead the parade

This parade takes 3 and 1/4 hours. OMG! No tune gets played more than three times. We had decided to drop Clocks till it is revamped, but towards the tired end of this route, I shout It's 3 o'clock and point to my watch. Clocks? Shouts Sheeks, and we do it in relief that this is only the once.

I stand next to Gary so that  for any song that he has absolutely never played the tune for before, he and I can swop. Well, he played bass at school, and you can tell! And I loved the change.
Everyone else goes back to Leeds (and Huddersfield); I take my precious cargo and stay with Pippa, so we will ready and fresh for Round Two in the arena on Sunday. We write out tunes and pan and piano all evening. Ace.
waiting for the lights

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Foxwood Steel play Leeds Pride 2017 and nearly march it too


Well, this is our/Foxwood Steel's third gig at Blayd's, and our second time there in blazing sun for Leeds Pride. And what an honour to be asked.

And in honour, I found some rainbow ribbon, and added forever to our banner [originally made by Trish at Foxwood in the late 80s].

I won't go on about what Pride means in general and what Pride means to me. Let's just say that celebrating this event means the world. . . .



Me and Sterling Notting Hill 2004 - just saying
As Leeds Pan Central and Friends we have also marched twice for Leeds Pride, both times for a local business. I myself have marched pan de neck quite a few times - with Nostalgia at Notting Hill [once even alongside Sterling Bettancourt!, the significance of which I did not realise at the time!],
Sparrows marching for Harrogate International Festival. Oh happy days!

with Sparrows at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and for Harrogate International Festival,
Sparrows at Little London Lantern Festival 2008

for the Little London Lantern Festival, and other times I can't quite recall.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park 2010ish

Also six of the Sparrows did put on pan de neck and go into the audience at the Royal Albert Hall. Awesome, until I realised they had stayed down there too long and I had to go down and get them back on stage. Lol!
Leaving the stage, pan de neck Royal Albert Hall

2017 -for a minute there we were six
However just about nobody liked pan de neck, so today, August 6 2017 we are 4: me, Wanda, George and Lola. But we are good, careful in our choice of repertoire and industrious in collecting percussionists form out of the other marchers.

Sadly, as we aren't officially part of the march, we get chucked off it [health and safety, lol!] as we are about join on the end. Just as well really as now we need to leg it down to Blayds.

me and Luke

And if we hadn't been chucked off, we would never have heard the tinkling sounds of another steelband coming from the Courtyard. Yay, it's StClair and Paradise.

Paradise Steel Band

After interfering very publicly with StClair's set we head off back down to Blayds and only just get there before it is
almost too chokka to walk through the crowds with or without a pan round de neck.

Vicky Bex and the rest have set up the static pans at Blayds. Georgia is still sorting out babyminding.

But now the parade is all in and people, including our players, can't get past the stewards. Then with twenty minutes to go here is Natalie, ten minutes to go here are Sheeks and Diz, then woeful cries for help from Georgia on the old social media.

Now Bex climbs the white charger and goes off to rescue the fair maiden. My stress levels . . . . .  And she is here just as Natalie gets a few extra minutes before the start.

Ginger added some percussion

In all we are me, Bex, Katie, Natalie, George, Vicky, Daisy, Georgia, Amy, Varshika, Wanda, Fehmina, and Lola [stealing the show! Hmm!].

I sneaked Wings of  Dove, Swan Lake, Rolling in the Deep, Tragedy and Money Money Money into the set. And got Dancing Queen back where it belongs. Especially after the nervous start, this was enormously pleasurable. But a few drinks were in order afterwards till we were all out of order!