Pan-round-neck tradition in UK carnivals -2

Outside London Projects
eg: Pan-round-neck and a new Steelpan Academy in the heart of the British Midlands.

Diana Hancox, an invited speaker at Nostalgia’s Steelband conference in 2006, addressed the issue of ‘Increasing pan provision and its status in Schools and Communities’ (Hancox, 2006). One of the main outcomes of this conference was the need to develop a steelpan grading system on par with that established years ago for classical instruments and Nostalgia and Diana’s group began work on various join projects. Following several meetings, her colleague Jacqueline Roberts of SV2G focused on developing a grading system, while Diana began plans for the successful establishment of a Steelpan Academy. Nostalgia Steelband worked closely with the group to develop the Midlands pan-round-neck steelband, helping to preserve this part of pan history and culture outside London. The band is now playing out regularly on it own in the Midlands whilst also joining Nostalgia at Notting Hill Carnival. Projects such as this are being endorsed by Nostalgia to continue to promote the tradition of pan-round-neck. Making inroads into Bridgwater’s 400 year old Carnival.

Bridgwater’s West Country Carnival coincides with the British ‘Bonfire night’ and can be traced back to 1605. Like so many events around 5th November, it dates back to Robert Parsons’ and colleagues (Catholics, which included Guy Fawkes; the ‘guy’) attempt to blow up the Protestant British Houses of Parliament during the reign of James I. The original Bridgwater celebrations, which celebrated this failed attempt, consisted of a large bonfire in the Cornhill. A large wooden boat was built and over one hundred tar barrels were added together with any inflammable material to create a spectacular bonfire that could been seen for miles. Effigies or ‘guys’ representing the gunpowder plot instigators were added to the fire by local groups of people known as gangs. It is believed that these gangs started the trend towards a procession, as they paraded their guys towards the bonfire. Over the years the tradition continued and the annual celebrations became more and more elaborate, involving costumes and music, until the main feature of the event became a large carnival procession. Local people who dressed up and took part in the event were known as ‘Masqueraders’ or ‘”Features’ – terms still used today to describe the participants of the parade.

The key elements of this event has been retained and today the picturesque historic Somerset town of Bridgwater is home annually to a magnificent spectacle of lights, costumes and music and is regarded as the largest illuminated parade in the world. Despite the near zero temperatures at this time of the year, from 2003, Nostalgia Steelband players have been proudly carrying their pans around their necks through this three mile carnival route (which takes between 3-4 hours), cheered on by some 150,000 spectators who line both sides of the route. Many of these spectators attend in order to see this mesmerising display of colour, sound and movement but few would have seen or heard steelpan music before. The impact of this music, as the only steelband in the carnival, can be seen by the curious and excited expressions on their faces. So popular has this been that Nostalgia has been requested each year to join the carnival. To add to the electric atmosphere and build up for the evening parade, numerous events are showcased during the day.

4) From London to Europe; Pan-round-neck marches on: Developments in Germany and Switzerland.

i) Switzerland:

Even though Switzerland had such a small number of West Indians domiciled there up to the 1980s, it was one of the first European countries to have adopted, developed and vigorously promote steelpan and, now competes at the highest level, in competitions such as the ‘World Steelband Music Festival’ in Trinidad. With over 150 of steelpans listed on websites, the country is recognised internationally as one of the leading proponents of steelpan. Most are concentrated in Zürich, Aargau, Thurgau and Bern with the latter dating back to the early 1970s. Zürich’s two best known pan-round-neck bands, Sandflöö and Bollito Misto are nearly 30 years old. Sandflöö was invited by Nostalgia to play together at Notting Hill Carnival in 1987. In 1995 they jointly participated in the Panorama competition and delighted audiences and players alike with their dexterity and competence.

Nostalgia has had very fruitful collaborations with many Swiss steelbands particularly, Nostalgia’s former panist and arranger, Paul Francis, director of ‘Funland Serenaders’, Bern. Members have joined Nostalgia for many years to participate in the Notting Hill carnival and vice versa. Nostalgia has been privileged to have many proficient players, such as Junior Gill, Tamla Batra, Rudy Smith, Yves Maino and many others who join the band annually to participate in many activities in London.

Nostalgia has forged links with many Swiss steelbands through their former leader Sterling Betancourt sometimes with intriguing outcomes. For example, while playing with Sandflöö during the Zürich carnival of 1989, Elisabeth Pfafflin was inspired to form a new band, the ‘Jolly Jumpers’. The band was eventually dissolved in 1995, giving way to a new dynamic off-shoot, known as Sterling’s Angels. This took root in 1999 and under Karen Stark’s leadership, has been very successful up to the present time. The ‘Angels’ are a dedicated pan-round-neck band and have played alongside Nostalgia Steelband for many years in many carnivals particularly the Notting Hill Carnival. They have had a huge impact both in Switzerland and London and being a young all-girl band, have be inspirational for many young panists (Joseph, 2004).

With so many activities in Switzerland and their desire to maintain contact with developments in Trinidad, London and elsewhere, a global network was necessary. The Swiss took the initiative and before long,, the brain child of Monika Nicoletti-Tung began meeting these needs and soon became a house-hold name for steelband enthusiast around the globe. Monika, an accomplished steelpan player, has joined Nostalgia for over 20 years to play both in London and various parts of Europe. The success of this website and its many varied aspects was eloquently presented by Monika at the Steelpan Conference of 2006 (Nicoletti-Tung, 2006). Other websites such as,, etc follow.

ii) Germany – Dortmund and Hamburg

Germany has had carnivals for centuries in cities such as Cologne, Hamburg, Berlin etc but only relatively recently has steelband music begun to make an appearance in its cities. Among the pan-round-neck bands, the ‘Bäng Bäng Marchingband’, Pankultur, in Dortmund has been inspirational in its drive to make Dortmund, in Germany’s industrial heartland, the hub of this Caribbean art form. Other bands include Walking Steel a professional small pan-round-neck band that was founded in 2000. There are also two all girls pan-round-neck bands, ‘Ladypan’ that was formed in 2006 and the well known ‘Pans’ n Roses’ whose members have played with Pankultur and Nostalgia Steelband at the Notting Hill carnival for many years.

It is also here in Dortmund where the foundation of exhilarating and inspirational carnival is being carefully nurtured from its roots. PanKultur has been joining forces with Nostalgia since 2000 to play at Notting Hill carnival. In 2005, Nostalgia teamed up with PanKultur’s ‘Bäng Bäng Marchingband’ to participate in an interesting experiment that will one day grow into major street carnival. Up to 30 panists led a carnival parade into the market place and through the tiny cobbled streets of the city thereby taking this music into the heart of the city to very curious and astonished onlookers, most of whom had not seen a steelband before but, nevertheless, lined the streets and waved on the pan players. This was followed by a number of events including ‘Caribbean Night’ that featured a live pan-round-neck show and larger steel orchestras from various parts of Europe.

..continue reading