Ready to rumble

ST JOHN’S, Antigua – The nation’s pannists will make their way to Carnival City tonight for Panorama, the biggest musical show in Carnival.

In excess of 500 pan gladiators will take the stage, all determined to lift the 2011 Panorama championship trophy. Their long nights of preparation complete, they will probably be seen rumbling through the streets of St Johns today, faces grim with determination, moving their instruments of battle into fighting position. After weeks of preparation it has come down to this day and there can be only one champion.

Let us begin our look at the battle to come with the defending champions the Hadeed Group of Companies AMP Halcyon Steel Orchestra. At the resumption of Panorama in 2001 after a six-year hiatus, Halcyon took a while to find their feet.

This was the band that struck fear in the hearts of many in the ’90s. This was the band that won back-to-back championships four years in a row before the break and all of a sudden they looked like shadows of their former selves. They still had swagger but had no onstage performances to back it up and they were routinely beaten on Panorama night. The other bands had caught up and Halcyon had no answer.

Fast forward a few years and Halcyon rule the roost once again. Victories in 2008 and 2010, and taking first runner-up in 2009, make Halcyon one of the most polished steel bands in Antigua today.

Executive member Daryl Dublin revealed that this year the stars seemed to have aligned themselves for Halcyon and they have had a dream preparation for the competition. He expects them to be “criss lakka biscuit” on stage.

They will take the stage this year with 100 players. With multiple-Panorama winner Victor “Babu” Samuel handling the musical arrangement, Halcyon will be more than a handful.

The champions are celebrating their 40th anniversary and will be even more motivated to make a statement tonight. Look for a big rumbling sound backed up by a driving rhythm section that is their hallmark.

The Lime Hells Gate Steel Orchestra has also established itself since 2001 as one of the bands to beat. Taking championships in 2002, 2006, 2007 and 2009 leaves little doubt that this is a band that delivers.

Do not let the youthfulness of the players fool you. The championships they have won were not flukes. They can play as well as anybody.

Khan Chordice, after winning in 2009 as a 19-year-old, returns as the band’s musical arranger. In 2009, armed with 100 pannists, he destroyed the competition with a sublime arrangement of Swallow’s Party in Space.

He was beaten into the first runner-up position last year, so this year the Lime Hells Gate will be looking to make amends. Chordice says that they have anywhere from 80 to 100 players for their performance of Swallow’s Satan Comin Dung.

When Hells Gate takes the stage they normally occupy it from end to end. It is another band with a big sound that is usually well drilled. Execution has been their hallmark and their performances have always been highly entertaining.

The West Indies Oil Company Gemonites is another band that cannot be counted out. Perennial favorites in the early 2000s, they won Panorama in 2003 and 2005. In a period of transition after 2005 they returned inconsistent results.

Their rendition of Patrick Stone Johnson’s arrangement of Short Shirt’s Pan Rhapsody in 2009 remains one of the best Panorama performances in Antigua by a band playing first.

Having placed second runner-up last year, the Gemonites will feel like they are on the verge of taking the title once again with a performance of Lion’s Frenzy. They will go into this year’s competition with around 70 players, but this is a good number for the Gemonites since on the occasions that they have won, they have never surpassed 80 players.

Look for a bright sweet sound from the pans and the sweet harmonies coming from a Stone Johnson arrangement.

The Caribseas Harmonites Steel Orchestra is a band that is no stranger to Panorama victories in the 2000s, with their last triumph coming in 2004. Lingfield “Codjo” Martin was the arranger then, and with his services no longer available to the band, they have had difficulty reproducing that success.

This year the collaborative effort of Woto Samuel and Aubrey “Lacu” Samuel on arrangement will guide the Harmonites in their rendition of De Panman’s 50 Years Tribute to Swallow.

The band definitely possesses the talent to take the Panorama title but it always seem to come up short on the night of competition. The Harmonites will take the stage this year with around 70 players and if they perform at their best will be within more than a shout of winning.

The Cool and Smooth Ebonites has been the proverbial rags-to-riches Panorama story. Normally a smaller band with a small sound, the managers have transformed the band into a giant threat.

In recent years they have taken the stage with upwards of 80 players and their fortunes have followed their growth. A top-three finish still remains their best finish since 2001.

They are now a big energetic band and will be looking to do some damage this year. Lacu retains his position as musical arranger and this year the Ebonites will be performing Short Shirt’s Nobody Go Run Me.

Lacu has yet to win a senior panorama in Antigua, and will certainly be hoping that this performance will be the vehicle that takes him to the throne.

This year sees the Panorama debut of a new band, the East Vibes. Untested they may be but their arranger certainly is not.

Curtis “CC” Cochrane is a veteran of many a panorama battle with the Halcyon Steel Orchestra. He brings with him his band from the eastern part of the island to test their mettle against the established bands.

It can be an intimidating environment for newcomers, but all wait with baited breath to see what they have to offer. A CC Cochrane tune will be their weapon of choice.

The Cool and Smooth Ebonites will play first tonight followed by the Lime Hells Gate, East Vibes, The Hadeed Group Of Companies Halcyon Steel Orchestra, The West Indies Oil Company Gemonites, and The Caribseas Harmonites Steel Orchestra.