When we hear the word steelband, we generally think of Caribbean islands with sun, sea, sand, moonlit nights, palm trees, calypso music, fun, Hawaiian style shirts and the very best in company.
For many, this belief has become the 'norm' or what is expected when a steelband is mentioned.
However, this is not always the case. With the development of the steelpan and the pannist’s willingness to explore different forms of music, the ‘steelband’ can be seen as a versatile music ensemble, performing in many different settings.
In the early 1960s, the British composer Daphne Oram conducted experiments with steelpans and electronic sound.
In 1967, pop group The Hollies featured the steelpan in their chart hit record Carrie Anne which was said to be the first hit record to feature real steelpans outside the Caribbean.
In 1974, the St. Christopher Steelband from Birmingham appeared on the British Television Talent Show ‘New Faces’ and was placed fourth.
In 1978, the world travelled Blue Bells Steelband performed at the Ibrox Park stadium, Scotland for the Rangers FC footballer John Grieg’s Testimonial.
In the 1980s the St. Christopher Steelband went on to appear on the Saturday morning children's TV show 'Tiswas' presented by Chris Tarrant.
In 1988 a UK steelpan soloist performed the Flight of the Bumble with the Manchester Youth Symphony Youth Orchestra to a sell out audience at the Royal Northern College of Music. This was one of several solo performances held to promote the versatility of the steelpan instrument on a classical stage.
In the 1990s a steelpan combo, Sunset Sound, was one of the most popular bands on the music circuit. The group consisted of lead guitar, bass guitar, drums, steelpans and vocalists. Their repertoire included calypso, country and western, rock and roll, ballads and reggae.
In 2002, Lennox Sharpe performed with Mangrove Steelband (London) and the BBC Concert Orchestra at Albert Square, Manchester.
In 2006 the James Bond film Casino Royale featured a UK pannist.
Steelbands Ebony, Phase One and pioneer Russ Henderson regularly performed on the television programme Pebble Mill at One. Some other television programmes that featured steelbands were Rastamouse, CBeebies, Songs of Praise, Come Dine with Me and Emu’s World.
Top of the Pops was a milestone for steelbands in regards to gaining mainstream popularity. Some of the songs chosen were:
- Calendar Song performed by The Trinidad Oil Company
- Mary's Boy Child/Oh my Lord, Brown Girl in the Ring and Hooray! It's a Holiday performed by Boney M
- Morning Dance: Spyro Gyra used an Oberheim to produce a synthetic steelpan sound at the beginning of this tune
Jimmy Buffet’s Coral Reef Band, featuring Robert Greenidge, no doubt has the largest worldwide fan base for a group that includes a steelpan in the band.
Skid “Nevely a Trinidadian Punk Rock combo formed in 2010 has been described as unique and unorthodox. Their inclusion of a tenor pan in the group and presentation of music has created a new dynamic with a worldwide fanbase.
Grover Washington’s ‘Just the two of us’ is probably the most famous pop song that includes a steelpan solo.
With the advent of the digital age, information about the popularity and the development of the steelpan has increased at a pulsating rate. It is likely that you will now see and hear many varied examples of steelpan musicianship.