St. John’s Antigua- The LIME Hell’s Gate Steel Orchestra beat off the challenge of five other steelbands to be crowned the 2012 national Panorama champions of Antigua & Barbuda.
Playing a Khan Cordice arrangement of Sir McLean Emmanuel’s J’ouvert Rhythm, Hell’s Gate got the judges nod over the Digicel Halcyon Steel Orchestra who took the first runner up position and, in a carbon copy of last year’s results, the Carib Seas Harmonites Steel Orchestra who were named second runner up.
Band number one, the Dennis Restaurant East Vibes Steel Orchestra, started the night’s festivities with a Curtis “CC” Cochrane arrangement of Short Shirt’s Jammin’. It was probably the composition of the band and not the composition of the music that went against this band.
Numbering just over the minimum 50 players, it was always going to be an uphill battle, but when all the players are of or barely above primary school age, it raises the question of experience and panmanship.
Almost all the pans were painted and not chromed which affected their tonal quality and diminished the power of the sound that the band could deliver.
CC’s arrangement was good and he opted to go with a slow tempo aimed at helping his young charges to execute the music without being hurried. This worked and the band executed very well. There was a strong tenor line with double seconds helping the single tenors. The low section was weak. They were there but not in sufficient numbers to project clearly to the audience. A creditable performance though by East Vibes and they will get better if they stay together.
The Digicel Halcyon Steel Orchestra played in position number two. Bedecked in red and white, Halcyon, all 110 of them, stretched from end to end on the Carnival City stage. The crowd gathered in front of the stage to watch a Victor Babu Samuel arrangement of Short Shirt’s We Are The Ones and they were not disappointed.
It was a fantastic performance. Halcyon’s reputation of being a disciplined well-drilled band was on show as the execution of the piece was confident and near flawless. There was a lot of variation in what was an intricate and exciting arrangement. Halcyon played at what appeared to be just under 110 beats per minute, a tempo that lent itself well to the piece. Throughout the entire piece various motifs were explored and embellished while always remaining in touch with the tune’s central melody.
One could always tell which part of the tune the arranger was developing. The melody was spread from tenors to low section to basses with changes of volume in just certain sections giving the band its dynamic variation.
The engine room, so long a standout feature of Halcyon, was used in more of a supporting role and integrated very well with the band. The overall effect was a professional polished performance from Digicel Halcyon, filled with great music and exceptional panmanship.
If I were nitpicking (and I am) I would say that when the melody transferred to the low section that the volume dropped just a little but the basses were used to reinforce the guitars so this did not take away from a terrific performance.
The West Indies Oil Company Gemonites played a Patrick Stone Johnson arrangement of Short Shirt’s Jammin’. The Gemonites as well stretched from end to end on stage with just over 70 players. The tonal quality of their pans is the hallmark of this band and on Panorama night the Gemonites’ sound was clear. The arrangement this year was not as intricate as in previous years and this helped the young group with the execution of the piece.
The players played confidently and executed very well. The tempo was faster than that of Halcyon’s but the players handled it well. The melody moved throughout the band and could be heard clearly, except when it was taken up by the guitar pans, at which point there was a noticeable drop in volume.
The arrangement held firmly, however, to the original melody lines as different themes were explored. Nice changes of beat from shango to reggae supported by a steady rhythm section gave the band the bulk of its dynamic variation.
Outstanding bass movements highlighted the piece and excellent execution coupled with the bright clear tones of the band’s high quality pans summed up for the WIOC Gemonites what most spectators called a “very, very good” performance.
The Carib Seas Harmonites played in position number four. Topping out at just over 60 players, Harmonites were the smallest of the “big bands” on stage Panorama night. Harmonites performed an Aubrey Lacu Samuel arrangement of Short Shirt’s Kangaroo Jam.
Harmonites had a good arrangement and executed with a power that belied their small size. The tiered setup of the pans worked for this band and their well-balanced sound was clearly transferred to the audience. Once again this was another band that had problems with clarity when the guitars took the melody. Apart from that, it was a confident performance and when the Harmonites were finished much of the audience was surprised by what the little “big band” was able to do with what they had.
Defending champions LIME Hell’s Gate were next and they did not disappoint their many fans, who crowded in front of the stage to hear them. Short Shirt’s J’ouvert Rhythm was the tune of choice and the arranger Khan Cordice went for a slow tempo of 108 beats per minute. It worked perfectly. The over 100 players executed extremely well. The arrangement was fantastic with Cordice exploring almost every motif present in the original tune.
Particularly pleasing was his use of subtle volume changes as the melody transferred from section to section to create dynamic variation. Two drummers led a consistent and aggressive rhythm section. The music flowed from movement to movement bringing cheers from their fans and grudging applause from everyone else. At the end of the performance it was clear that Ebonites playing at six would have to do something spectacular if they were to win this Panorama.
The Cool & Smooth Ebonites, celebrating their 40th anniversary, closed out the night’s competition. Ebonites appeared on stage with close to 100 players and performed a Dane “Wadika” Gomes arrangement of Swallow’s Rev Up Jouvert.
An aggressive introduction led into an even more explosive arrangement. This performance by Ebonites was more polished than we’ve seen in recent years.
The discipline in the execution was maintained throughout the piece. The tonal quality of the pans was outstanding as the very strong tenor line executed the exciting arrangement. Outstanding and aggressive phrasing marked a performance that was superior to any we have seen recently from this band. The appreciative applause from the crowd after the performance was richly deserved as the Cool & Smooth Ebonites sought to put themselves in contention.
At the end of the night, consistent with what the majority of pundits in the grounds were saying, LIME Hell’s Gate were declared winners. Digicel Halcyon, as outstanding as they were, were named first runners up and the Carib Seas Harmonites were named second runner up. All of the bands performed well but the LIME Hell’s Gate appeared to have addressed a greater part of the judging criteria than the other bands.
The Antigua Commercial Bank Eustace Gatux Harris Panorama 2012 was highly entertaining and all participants should be congratulated.
It was one hell of a Panorama.
By Sam Roberts with contributions from Bernard “General Buntart” Duplessis.