Pan Trip

Beez Neez now Chy Whella
Big Bear and Pepe Millard
Mon 2 Nov 2009 20:30
A Pan Visit - with a difference - The Personal Touch
We went on another short notice trip with Jessie. This time it was Monday morning, jobs planned and he radioed to say he had a group of six going on a pan visit followed by Angostura, mention a sampling of Rum products to Bear and he was in the shower before I could say "shall we go". Clean and tidy we were ready for the off at 09:30. We drove to the left of Port of Spain to Petit Valley, pulled off the road, down a steep slope, behind a field full of "one careful owners".
Some of the "one careful owners" and some of the debris from pan drum manufacture
Jessie of course had many calls on his mobile. Then we saw the actual supply of 'raw drums'
Our host Tony, who said he was "in his late fifties". He has been playing, tuning and making pans since early boyhood.
Whist Tony was getting his bits and bobs ready to show us - Jessie told us all he knew - plenty of size involved.
This is the new factory being built just down the road. When it is finished it will have gas ovens to heat the pans. Nowadays oil drums are tempered steel with many inclusions, they have to heated and chromed to prevent rust and keep the instrument in perfect condition and tuned for up to ten years. Drums must be kept in a padded bag, away from extremes of temperature. Funny when we watched some of the big bands at Emancipation, as they were finished the drums were hauled into the back of a flat bed truck, we guess they have full time tuners? 
Jessie had told us a little of the various classes of band. A small conventional - meaning the single drum is seen hanging around the neck - is made up of 15 - 20 pans. Small conventional - on stands - 20 to 40. Medium 40 - 80. Large ( the bands we love to see ) 80 to 120. These big bands have the biggest available cash winnings in competitions. Judges count the numbers of pannists and strictly observe the minimums or a band may have to drop a class due to sickness or people not showing up, so it pays to have 'spares' around on the day.
Most pannists play by ear or repetition of learning. Jessie says a couple of months before Carnival he takes trips to the practices. Groups of tenors in one corner, groups of bass etc. They produce an awful noise, but as carnival approaches each set of pannists have memorised what notes, in comes the conductor and it's all brought together. Some bands as previously mentioned have played together for years and play a huge number of tunes from memory.
The full tool kit, notice some of the hammer tops came from the big gas cylinders. A ready to tune pan, this has a full octave tuned to a piano. In the old days all notes were tuned to an old recorder before any pianos came to Trinidad. Tony showing how he measures the depth. I did a full history of the pan drum on a blog called Steel Bands back on the 20th of March so will not go through it all again. The difference here was being able to see an oil drum go through the stages of hand production to finished, highly chrome polished drum costing around £500.
One of the famous Phase II pannists happens to work with Tony, we have seen him several times, not an ounce of fat on him, now we know why. He showed us how you can use an ordinary hammer to stretch the oil drum. Then he picked up the "canon ball" known as a 'stone'. He skillfully let it drop, caught it and dropped over and over, completing a full circle of indentations. The noise was awesome. Once the desired depth is achieved - depending on the type of pan being made - the hammer is used to smooth out the humps and bumps. Next job is to use a marker pen and draw a spiders web which forms the basis of note formation.
A bass with five notes - stretched to a depth of four inches. You can also buy a bass with three notes - usually C, C and G. A bore drum - any drum with strategically placed holes, making it much louder - used in outdoor concerts. A nearly finished tenor drum, stretched to a depth of seven and a half inches to eight, maximum nine inches - any deeper the drum would surely tear. Each note nowadays is separated by a half inch gap and a sharp point is used to mark the edges, skillfully hammered by eye.
Cigarette end thrown, stood on a piece of broken breeze block, foot tapping the beat, sticks taken from the top of his shorts, "do you know Misty" and proceeded to play the most magical private concert ever.