Officially, it was Steel the Show. Unofficially, it was a blockorama. And in reality, it was a bit of a tight squeeze. No dispute, though, about the outcome: great fun.
It was an inspired thought to give us some glistening, ringing steelpan to cheer us all up after long dark days of lockdown. It was all the better for showcasing the rising talents emerging from London’s panyards.
Those taking part were the youth sections of Croydon Steel Orchestra, Ebony, Endurance (from South Norwood), Mangrove, New Generation (W10), St Michael & All Angels aka SMASO (Brent) and Southside (Stockwell). A few of those assisting stretched the concept of ‘youth’ to breaking point – including 90-year-old ‘Scratcherman’ Cyril Khamai but most of the players were tweens and teens.
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Lockdown brought massive challenges to London’s steelbands and yet they have managed to survive, thrive (in some cases against all the odds) and, above all, practise, as was clear from the accomplished playing.
The format worked well, with each band playing short pieces in different styles – soca, jazz, classical etc. The order was random (apparently) so after one band finished playing you strained your ears for the announcement of the next one, or simply followed the crowd as it surged this way and that. And that was really the problem: there wasn’t enough space. Croydon, Endurance, Ebony. Mangrove and Southside were squeezed into Talbot Road outside The Tabernacle, while SMASO and New Generation had a little more breathing space in the Powis Square garden. Social distancing wasn’t possible, and had the weather been warmer and the crowd bigger the cramped conditions might have become hazardous.
As this wasn’t a competition, there were no points or prizes, and it would have been a hard task for a judge to pick winners and losers from youngsters who were playing their hearts out. All the bands and all the players deserve a big round of applause for their efforts. However, for this reviewer one performance in particular stood out: Endurance Steel Orchestra playing Lezginka from Gayane by Aram Khachaturian. If you’re holding a party but the fireworks have fizzled out and the dramatic lighting has blown a fuse, call Marlon Hibbert and get his band to play this – it will more than make up the difference!
One thing is for sure: the future of steelpan in Britain is in good hands.