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February 28, 2015 - Volume 1, No. 18

Panyard Stories - 2 of 4


Denzil continued to tune pans and soon he was in demand again. The government was talking about forming a national steelband. They did not choose a tuner for the national steelband so Denzil was hoping that he would get the job. Denzil decided to talk to the president of the steelband association. Early one Sunday morning, Denzil traveled to Diego Martin where the president lived. When Denzil arrived the president was not at home so he went to the nearby corner to see an old friend. His friend James used to be a tuner in the old days when steelbands were still developing. ‘How you doing Jamesey?’ asked Denzil. ‘Boy, I catching my tail.’ ‘What you mean?’ You know how long I ain’t tune a pan?’ ‘But I though you done tuning pan.’ The last time James tuned for a steelband was in the late 1950s. James lost one of his eyes in a fight over a woman called Margaret. After that, he swore that he would never tune a pan again. He blamed the steelband for the loss of his eye.

James used to tune pans for a steelband in a panyard up Bournes Road. The night he lost his eye, the band got into a fight with a band from Laventille. It was for nothing, as far as James was concerned. First, he did not know the woman. Margaret was walking up Bournes Road and one of the fellas liming interfered with her. She was dating a panman from Laventille. She told him that every time she passed on Bournes Road the fellas called her names. They called her boyfriend Door-breaker because he used to break down your door if he was looking for you. That night Door-breaker came up Bournes Road looking for the man who interfered with his woman. James was liming on the block. When Door-breaker saw James he started to threaten James. James decided that he was not going to back down from Door-breaker and a fight started. Door-breaker pulled a knife from his pocket and stabbed James in his eye. They had to take James to the General Hospital but the doctor could not save his eye.

After that incident, James swore that he was done with tuning pan. He started drinking. Denzil knew that James stopped tuning pan so he was surprised when James said that he was looking for a steelband to tune their pans. ‘But, I though you stopped tuning pan,’ Denzil said to James. ‘Man that is all I know how to do. I can’t do any other job. I have to live.’ Denzil said nothing and they started to talk about old times. ‘But, what you doing up here?’ asked James. ‘Boy, I hear the national steelband looking for a tuner and I want the job,’ Denzil answered. ‘Them boys already have their tuner, they not going to give you that job,’ James said to Denzil. ‘I come to talk to the president,’ said Denzil. ‘You could talk to him till you blue in the face, you still ain’t getting the job.’ Denzil paid no attention to James and left to see if the president was home.

Denzil returned to the president’s house and called out his name. The steelband president opened the door. Denzil steeped inside and they started to talk. The president said to him: ‘Boy, it hard to give you the work. The fellas complaining that they want a tuner from the community.’ Denzil said: ‘But, I am the best tuner. It ain’t have a better tuner than me.’ The president responded: ‘I am not testing your skills but I have to listen to the fellas.’ The president told Denzil that he will present it to the steelband committee and promised to send and call him when they made a decision. Denzil did not like the tone of the president’s voice but decided to leave well alone.

The new pan tuner of the national steelband was introduced to the public on the evening news on TNT television. The announcer said: ‘At 2 pm today, the steelband association chose George Procope as their pan tuner. Mr. Procope will accompany the national steelband on their tour to Jamaica, Barbados and Guyana in the next three months.’ When Denzil heard the news he nearly died. He was not upset that they chose somebody else but was angry that the president did not call him or send a message to tell him. He had to hear the results on the news. That hurt. He knew the president since he used to date a girl named Margie who was Boyblue sister. Many times he used to look out for Boyblue for the president because Boyblue did not like anyone dating his sister. If he saw Boyblue coming down the road he would warn the president. And, now he felt betrayed.

George Procope was one of the new pan tuners. He tuned pans for the steelbands down south. Everybody used to talk about the sound of his bass and the mellow tone of the front line pans. He gave southern steelbands a distinctive tone from the steelbands in Port of Spain. It was a heavy bass sound. Panmen used to talk about that ‘southern sound.’ Also, George was known as a total pan tuner because he could tune and blend all the pans in the band. Denzil was noted for his front line tuning and he tuned tenor pans. The committee wanted an all round pan tuner who could tune and blend the whole steelband. They did not want to pay two pan tuners.

Denzil soon got over the steelband association affair and went back to tuning pans for any steelband that would hire him. He started tuning pans for a new steelband up Hermitage Road in Belmont. The new steelband consisted of a group of young saga boys, who broke away from another steelband to form Boston Teenagers Steelband. The new steelband had one agenda, to out play their former steelband in the Panorama competition. They didn’t care about winning the Panorama. They just wanted to beat their former steelband in the competition. So, they hired Denzil as their tuner with that in mind. They already had a top arranger in the band; Gordon who was also was the captain.

The night before, the band held a meeting. They invited Denzil and told him that if he was chosen he would have to tune the whole band. They did not have much money to hire a blender to touch up the pans or hire another tuner to tune the rest of the pans. If Denzil wanted the job as tuner then he had to tune and blend the whole steelband. Denzil agreed. Tuning the front line of a steelband is hard work. But, tuning the whole steelband is real hard work. Not too many pan tuners could tune a whole steelband. Some pan tuners are known for their specialty as tuners for either tenors, double seconds, cellos or bass. Very few pan tuners could tune a complete steelband. Denzil decided that he would take on the job. If he succeeded, it would mean more work from other steelbands. He also knew that if he failed it would mean fight.

It was about 7 am in the morning when Denzil came in the panyard. There were a few panmen in the yard with empty oil drums packed to one side of the panyard. Denzil looked at the drums and started taking down some of the drums. The other panmen assisted him and soon all the drums were separated. Denzil divided the drums into four sections: tenors, double seconds, cellos and bass. Denzil told them to build a fire in the yard and to get plenty wood for the fire. Denzil started to work. He had the drums placed over the fire, one by one. This was done to burn out the oil from the drums. He told the panmen to continue burning all the drums until the oil was removed and he left.

Denzil returned to the panyard in the afternoon. All the drums were burnt and he could smell the black oil as the stench was still hovering in the yard. He asked the fellas to clean the drums properly and told them that he will be back tomorrow morning. The next day Denzil came to the panyard to work. The first thing to be done was to cut the drums to suit the different section of pans. The shortest length was the tenor pans. Next, came the double seconds. The cellos and the bass remained in their original lengths. After that he had to sink the drums. This took lots of hammering and manual strength. One of the panmen named Tallboy was given the job to sink all the drums.

Tallboy played the bass in the band. He was big, tall and weighed about 200 pounds of pure muscle. He was the right man for the job. Tallboy got his hammer and started to sink the drum. First, he pounded the sides of the drum. Then, he moved to the center. He continued to pound each drum until they started to sink deep. Tallboy finished sinking half of the drums and then called out to Denzil: ‘Ah coming back tomorrow.’ ‘Okay and come early because I want to start tuning them pans on Friday morning.’ said Denzil.

On Friday morning, Irma prepared Denzil his coffee with some bake and shark and pepper sauce. He left for the panyard to do the one thing he loved the most, tuning pans. He stopped by the Missing Ball parlor and bought some chalk to mark out the notes on the pans. When he arrived at the panyard he saw a crowd outside the panyard. Denzil wondered what was wrong. Smithy told him that some badjohns from San Juan mashed up some of the pans last night. It seemed that one of the panmen in the band had a fight with one of the San Juan badjohns at Club 48 on Park Street. Denzil said to Smithy, ‘But the pans ain’t do him nothing. Why he mash up the pans?’

Earl knew that things would get worse because the panmen in the band could not allow this incident to go without a strong response. So it will be fight until somebody died. This meant that for the next few weeks Denzil had to watch his back in the yard. Whenever there was a riot between two steelbands, anyone in the panyard could get a beating or cut up if they attacked the panyard. Denzil knew only too well that he was not safe if the other panmen attacked.

The riot between Denzil’s band and the steelband from San Juan ended when the prime minister called the bands together to form a peace treaty. The bands met at the police station with their panmen attending. The prime minister explained that rioting among the steelbands must stop and this was his first attempt to do so. After some discussion the captains of both bands shook hands and someone took out a bottle of rum. The prime minister left and the panmen walked to the panyard and continued drinking till early the next morning.

While they drank, every panman had a story to tell about rioting among all the steelbands. Denzil could not understand why the fighting always led to mashing up of the pans. He decided to ask. ‘What I can’t understand is the pans ain’t do anybody anything but it is the pans that suffer. Why destroy something that you say you love?’ ‘If you love steelband, then how could you mash up a steelband?’ No one could answer Denzil and the drinking continued. It always bothered Denzil how steelband men treated their pans when they rioting against one another.

On a warm Monday morning, all the steelband leaders who were involved in the riot went to the police station to sign a peace treaty. The prime minister sent his representative to the meeting. The police sergeant called the meeting to order. The leaders were each given a chance to speak. Bolo, who was the captain of a steelband from John John, explained to the sergeant that when another steelband challenged his band he had to respond and could not back down. Another captain said that he was not going to allow panmen from any steelband to interfere with his woman. Everyone had their say and then it was time to sign the peace treaty. At that time the prime minister arrived with his entourage. He gave a speech about how he was so proud of the steelbands that they decided to stop rioting and concentrate on beating pan. All the panmen shook hands and hugged one another.

The next day, the local newspapers carried headlines like: “Steelbands sign peace treaty.” “A New Day for Steelbands.” “Dr. Williams say all rioting done.” “Badjohns sign peace treaty in police station.” The elders in the community were happy that the steelbands decided to stop rioting. Grandmothers felt a certain comfort to know that they did not have to worry about their grandsons who belonged to a steelband.

The communities of John John, Belmont, Laventille, Behind the Bridge and Gonzales were very happy that the steelband riots were over. Mothers were heard to say that they could now save a little money because they don’t have to look for a lawyer to represent their sons. Brothers, who got into fights because one brother was a panman and was rioting with another steelband, felt relieved that they did not have to avoid certain streets for fear of getting cut up or wounded. Sisters of panmen were particularly relieved because now they could attend parties in other communities without being afraid. Mostly, the community was relieved that they no longer had to avoid other communities who were rioting with their steelband.

Denzil looked at his woman that morning and said to her: ‘You know what I missed most about the riot days. During that time you could depend on the panmen to be in the panyard.’ Irma was confused, so she asked Denzil: ‘What could be so good about fighting?’ Denzil explained that when the riot was going on panmen had to stay close to the panyard. There was always a lime in the panyard. But now the rioting was over the young panmen are seldom in the panyard unless for practice sessions. Irma just shook her head and smiled. She understood now. Irma left to make a cup of tea for Denzil. She was getting tired of the pan thing. She wanted Denzil to settle down and spend more time with her. She felt that she was getting older and wanted to enjoy life a little more.

The only time that Denzil took Irma out was at Easter time. It was the only relax time for steelbands. During the Lenten season, steelbands were forbidden to play. For the forty days and nights of Lent, all local music was banned by the Churches. Come Glorious Saturday the music returned. On Easter Sunday and Monday it was parties and bus excursions to the beaches. Easter time was for friends, family and fun. Denzil loved Easter because he would meet all his friends liming at the beach.

The band organized a bus excursion to Manzanilla beach. Easter Sunday morning the women came out in their polka dot dresses and large hats. Each woman carried a big basket with cooked food, mauby, juice, ginger beer and sea moss. The men were also sharply dressed in their khaki pants and well ironed shirts. The boys wore their multi- colored cotton short pants and jim-boots. The girls were dressed in their peddle pusher pants and flower blouses. They met the buses on George Street at the bus stand. Everyone had a basket of something. Some brought pelau with callaloo, fry plantain and cucumbers. Others brought mauby, ginger beer, punche crème and sorrel. All the buses were crowded.

From George Street to the beach it was music all day. A few panmen brought tenor pans and a dudup. Some brought irons. Each bus was like a dance hall with steelband music blasting along the Eastern Main Road as the buses sped up the main road. As the bus arrived near the beach, the iron was ringing. People beat drums and bottle and spoon. Women teased their men that they should not try any ‘macho’ stuff in the sea to show off and drown. Denzil tuned some pans and the fellas from down the road were beating them. It sounded sweet.

As the musicians started to play someone, maybe Tampo, yelled out: ‘Bomb tune, Bomb tune.’ And the fellas started to play ‘Liebestraum’. The women started winning and hugged their men as they all sang along with the music. When the bus stopped everyone got off and ran to the beach. It was party time. The women took out their baskets with their cuisine and their blankets. The blankets were laid down on the sand. The baskets were placed on the blankets. Soon, women were dishing out food and drinks. Carol brought a favorite dish of stew chicken and callaloo. Jane brought sea-moss and mauby with fry plantain and macaroni pie. Christine brought sweet bread and pone.

Denzil was not a good swimmer. Irma warned him not to show off. But, Denzil did not listen to anyone so he decided that he could swim to Chacachacare. I don’t know who told him that he was Johnny Weissmuller but he was drinking too. So, Denzil ran into the water and started swimming out. Suddenly, Irma missed him. As she looked in the water she saw Denzil swimming and waving back to everyone. Irma started to shout: ‘Somebody help!’ Sherwin, who was a very good swimmer ran into the water and swam out to meet Denzil. When Denzil came back to land all he could say was; ‘All you don’t know I could swim.’ ‘Yes Denzil,’ everyone agreed and they all started laughing. All day Irma kept a watchful eye on Denzil because she did not want to lose her man. Sometimes, Denzil was trouble. But, after all was said and done, Denzil was her man and she could not live without him.

Soon, it was lunch time and everyone gathered together to eat. Christine was proud of herself. She baked her sweet beard and pone and put her special ingredients into them. When Carol tasted the sweet bread she smiled and said: ‘Oh God Christine, how you could make sweet bread so?’ When another woman complimented a woman on her food or sweet bread it meant that it was really good. In those days women competed in cooking because one of the ways to a man’s heart was food. The other was sex. If a woman was a good cook she was almost guaranteed a man. If she could not cook and she had sex appeal, she was in demand. Panmen loved good food and sex. Any woman dating or married to a panman had to know how to cook. It came with the relationship. When a panman brought home his friends he loved to show off his woman or wife’s cooking abilities. His favorite phrase was: ‘Girl, fix up something for my partners and them.’

Denzil was the average panman but treated Irma like a Queen. She had bore him three children, two boys and a girl. When Irma met him he was playing pan with a steelband from Morvant. He was not yet a pan tuner. She was not a steelband woman but like to go to Panorama because of the lime. Every Panorama, Irma and a group of female friends would journey to the Queen’s Park Savannah on carnival Saturday morning to see and hear the steelbands practice on the ‘greens’ in the savannah.

The carnival Saturday lime was like a picnic where people would bring their basket of food and drinks and sit to watch their band practice. It was an all day affair. Everyone came prepared to last until the first band played to the last band to play. Sometimes, a person would move around to see if they could see a friend who might be looking for them. The Panorama usually began at 8:00 pm and lasted till around 2am in the morning. Later, pan supporters would continue liming in the savannah or some would walk over to the Memorial Park. A Panorama lime could last until 4: 00 am in the morning.

It was at one of those Panorama practices that Irma met Denzil. He was giving the final touches to the pans for a steelband. He left to get some water at the stand pipe next to the toilet. He saw this woman standing alone. He asked her: ‘Who you waiting for?’ She replied: ‘Mind you own business.’ Denzil saw her answer as a challenge and started to talk to her. He had to hurry back to the band and told Irma to meet him in the North Stand on Panorama night.

On carnival Saturday night, Irma and her girl friends went to Panorama but her eyes were on the lookout for Denzil. She saw him liming with some other men. She waited until she caught his eye and smiled. Denzil said to the fellas: ‘Ah go see all you,’ and left. Irma was dressed in her red peddle pusher pants and a black blouse. Denzil looked at her from head to foot and liked what he saw. They talked but Denzil’s mind was on the Panorama. She noticed that all the time they were speaking his eyes was on the stage. She knew that it was useless to get his attention so she told him she was leaving to go back to her girl friends. Denzil was so engrossed in the music that he did not hear Irma. She left anyway.


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