I invite all my readers to join me in wishing Halcyon Steel Orchestra, a happy 40th Birthday. For them, it has been a momentous year in that they entered it as the holders of the National Panorama Championship. There ought to be no recriminations or regrets.
The recent competition was crucial and vital. Hells Gate emerged victorious, having weathered the storms of a lifetime of competition mainly with the now defunct, mighty Brute Force. Hells Gate is 66 years old this year. However, Halcyon was born in 1971 and is today, 40 years old. Happy Birthday Halcyon. The record of both bands shows that each (despite the disparity in years) has won the national championship 11 times.
The showdown on the Thursday night preceding Carnival was momentous and historic. The judges said that Hells Gate won and the decision of the judges is final. Please join me in offering my sincerest congratulations to Hells Gate Steel Band – probably the oldest, continuous steel band in the world. It was a powerful well-executed clash. What a performance.
I was wearing my Halcyon uniform, so no one has to suspect where my sentiments did lie, on that Thursday night. I sincerely believe that Halcyon won. I have not yet seen the rationale given for Hells Gate’s victory but my sentiment goes out to all those teenage boys and girls who played their hearts out to attempt to ensure a victory for Halcyon in that momentous clash.
Champion of champions. Grays Farm and Green Bay are proud of you. You did not flinch or falter in the final battle. You fought extraordinarily well. You gave of your best and you showed the fine tough mettle and competitive spirit of a seasoned champion. We are proud of you. In any competition there must be a winner. Last Carnival, you romped home as being the ultimate in pan performance.
Let us give Hells Gate and all potential competitors a loud, clear message. Next year, we will be back. Next year we are going to win against any and all comers. Whether you play Satan coming down or going up, it matters not. We are taking the field of battle behind the power of the mighty cross and our powerful music will say, “Get thee behind me Satan.” The message has already been sent and the gauntlet already thrown down. I did not know that such a feeling of intense rivalry still existed.
“Tek dat! You know how long me ah wait foo dem bang Halcyon? Tek dat!”
My friend, I accept your opposition and hostility, but you would be surprised at the number of people who have originated in Grays Farm and Green Bay, and who support Halcyon! Many of them are not speaking out loud, but they have an intensity of feeling that is extraordinary.
You can challenge my Grays Farm credentials as much as you like. I want you to know that I was born at Bowes’ Brown Corner and you can fuss as much as you like; statistics are on our side.
When Halcyon was born, 600 of the 1600 annual births in Antigua took place in the Grays/Green Bay area. When Dr Alister Francis used to head the State College, the majority of the students came from Grays/Green. We are going to beat you with education and determination. That fierce Coromantee-style determination that fuelled and led the rebellion of the African slaves that changed the social structure of the New World. My message to those youngsters who gave the performance of their lives is: don’t give up. My message to Victor Babu Samuel, the arranger: don’t give up. My message to the Right Honourable Baldwin Spencer, our prime minister from Grays/Green: you have fought many historic battles. Fight on, my brother. Don’t give up.
To the Antigua Masonry Products, thanks for your confidence in Halcyon and your support over the years. Halcyon has done us proud, thank you for your confidence and support. My message to King Swallow who is celebrating 50 years as a stalwart calypsonian: may you have a long life. Don’t stop this party. Soldier on! Congratulations!
It is strange that Antigua & Barbuda has not yet created a national archive where all can see the history of pan in our nation and hear the incredible music that has poured forth from all those competitions that have taken place here since the dawn of pan.
A national call should be sent out to all those people who have photographs of steel bands as they existed in those early and formative years. The collections of Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, governor of the Leeward Islands who had a special interest in Hells Gate and Administrator R St J O Wayne who supported Brute Force, ought to be very informative and revealing. It was the influence of Governor Baldwin who took the stigma of the ghetto away from the concept of the steel band and made it acceptable to “High Society” here. And it was the action of Canon Yearbury that caused Rising Sun to be the first Steel Band to play in a Church – The St Georges Anglican Church.
I could go on and on, but I have no pretensions of trying to establish any criteria for a Hall of Fame for our steel bands. I do know that the history is extremely rich and intricately varied, for there was a time when almost every village and almost every section of the Antigua Trades & Labour Union had a Steel Band attached to it.
Based on the number of national victories that Hells Gate and Halcyon have achieved and on their persistent longevity alone, it is perhaps pertinent to consider both bands for such a coveted, outstanding position.
May I suggest that any committee established to set up a Hall of Fame for steel bands, and any honour appurtenant thereto, will have its hands full in carrying out its research and in establishing itself as a respected, viable entity?