The rivalry between steelbands has been and will always be a fundamental point in the development of steelpan music and musicianship. Every year competing steelbands strive to outshine each other at various competitions. Some steelbands are old adversaries who not only want to improve, but also want the ‘bragging rights’ as being the winner or to be placed above their adversary.
An alternative approach to the development of steelbands and steelpan music is for steelbands to form collaborations. Collaborations give pannists and steelbands the opportunity to:
- work together in achieving a shared goal
- expand their repertoire
- try new things
- learn from each other
- play different instruments
- create a fuller sound
- perform as a large ensemble
- perform to a larger audience
- promote the steelpan instrument
Volcano is a regional youth steelband set up in 2007 by Sage Gateshead to compliment five other existing musical ensembles.
The aim was for Sage Gateshead to create opportunities where Volcano could:
- perform alongside other steelbands from the North East
- benefit from working with guest steelpan tutors
- home in on both musical and performance skills
- focus on one instrument throughout the academic year
- playing a wide variety of musical styles
- provide steelpan workshops
- have lots of fun
- provide support to steelbands in their area
Volcano’s first collaboration was with Sunshine Panners from Hayden Bridge. Since then, Volcano has performed with North Tyneside Steelband, Newcastle All Stars Steel Orchestra and Chillingham Road Steelband and at events such as Spring Steel, Gateshead International Jazz Festival, VAMOS Festival, Pan Dango Summer Tyne Festival and the North East Steelpan Festival.
In 2009, the Turner prize winning artist Jeremy Deller was commissioned to organise a parade as part of the Manchester International Festival.
Deller wanted to include a steelband in the parade to perform the music of the Joy Division and the Buzzcocks. Steel Harmony was formed by a collaboration of Hi-Tec Steelband, Steel Tempo and individual pannists all from Oldham, Greater Manchester. The steelband performed in a procession on a float playing the Joy Division songs 'Transmission' and 'Love Will Tear us Apart' plus 'Ever Fallen In Love' by the Buzzcocks.
The success of this collaboration earned Steel Harmony a spot on stage at Glastonbury in 2010.
In 2011, the actor Colin Salmon and his wife Fiona Hawthorne came up with the idea of a collaboration - 1000 Pans was the bringing together of a world record number of pannists and steelpans to perform for the handover of the Olympic Torch from London (2012) to Rio (2016).
This event took place at the end of the Paralympics to mark the closing of the Olympic Games, and was held at Jubilee Gardens, Southbank, London.
400 musicians performed ‘Aquarelo do Brasil’ on 1000 steelpans under the direction of Brent ‘Antics’ Holder the arranger and manager of CSI Steelband.
Some of the steelbands were Croydon Steel Orchestra (Croydon), CSI Steelband (London), Harlow Steel Orchestra (Essex), Long Eaton School (Nottingham), Metronomes (London), North Tyneside Steelband (Tyne and Wear), Nostalgia (London), Pan Nation (London), Pan Jazz International (Portsmouth), Pantonic (London), Pure Steel (Derbyshire), Phase One (Coventry), RASPO (Reading), Steel Pan Academy (Warwickshire), St Michaels and All Angels (London), The Littlehampton Academy (West Sussex) and individual pannists.
This event was sponsored by the Arts Council England.
Women of Steel
In 2013, Women of Steel (WOS) was formed from members of two of the UK’s most successful Panorama winning steelbands Ebony and Mangrove.
WOS is an all female quintet whose members are accomplished soloists in their own right. Each member is proficient in a different genre of music and uses their individual musical skills to create and arrange music for the steelband. Their repertoire includes classical, jazz, soca, jazz funk and calypso. Some of the WOS members also accompany the steelband with vocals.
The aim of the group is to showcase the music abilities of female pannists. However the group is not exclusive and performs with their male counterparts from time to time.
WOS has also created a ‘sisterhood’ of female pannists who regularly perform alongside the group to showcase their talents.
Pandemonium@50 is a digital music project created to celebrate 50 years of steelbands parading through the streets of the United Kingdom. The project is based at Yaa Asantewaa Arts, a centre that encourages collaborations and partnerships that benefits community related events.
A part of Pandemonium@50 will include members from Real Steel, Ebony and Mangrove and steelbands putting their talents to good use by recording and performing new compositions.
The project was launched at the beginning of 2015 and performances will take place in the summertime.
This type of collaboration is based on the use of digital media. The idea of the Virtual steelband is to get as many people from around the world to make their own individual recordings playing a particular tune. All of the recordings submitted are then digitally mastered into a single music video that will be available on You Tube from August 2015.
The tune ‘Bella Vista’ was written by Trinidadian pannist Liam Teaque, Professor at Illinois University and arranger for Silver Stars Steel Orchestra, Trinidad.
Virtual Steelband is open to anyone who wants to join; either as an individual or a steelband. Jenny Webb and Delphina James are two notable UK pannists among over 300 other pannists from 10 different countries, who have enlisted themselves as members of the this steelband.
- Pan Jam Cambridge - a steelpan workshop set up for pannists from the East of England. This workshop brings together steelbands, steelpan individuals and anyone wanting to learn to play steelpans for the first time. In addition to the group being challenged by a professional steelpan tutor, they also spend time getting to know each other, networking and arranging to support each other throughout the coming year.
- UK Panorama - our biggest and most high profile steelpan event. Panorama attracts steelbands and individual pannists from all over the UK to take part in a celebration of the very best in steelpan performance by competing in this annual competition. Although there is rivalry, it is still a great way for pannists to have fun, network and gain new experiences. A moving example of this was when RASPO from Reading and Pandemic Steelband from Aberdeen's Bucksburn Academy joined forces in 2011 to compete at Panorama and also played 'on the road' at the Notting Hill's Carnival Sunday and Monday.