Page last updated at 09:00 GMT, Saturday, 23 August 2008 10:00 UK

Pan bands in anniversary play-off

By Jane Mower
BBC News, London

Steel pan player
The London-based Ebony Steelband took the title in 2007

For 30 years the best of UK talent have lined up to compete in the hotly contested Panorama steel band competition.

And this year the defending champions Ebony are vying to take their 18th title as the National Champions of Steel.

Since its inception in 1978 Panorama, which originated in Trinidad and Tobago, has been a precursor to Notting Hill Carnival.

While the main focus of the crowds is on the floats, costumes and sound systems, steel band music has been a central part of carnival since it began.

It was in 1964 that social worker Rhaune Laslett invited pan players to play at a small event she was organising in Notting Hill to soothe tensions in the wake of race riots.

Coveted title

After their successful first appearance, the musicians returned each year and the event evolved into a costumed West Indian carnival.

Director of the London-based Ebony Steelband Trust, Pepe Francis, was also one of the leading lights behind the UK Panorama event which began later in 1978.

He said: "Panorama is a part of carnival, that's tradition, so once Notting Hill carnival was established Panorama would automatically follow.

"It took us a while to get it into Notting Hill Carnival as it wasn't as big as it is now plus it took a while for bands to form in the UK.

It's what the young people in the bands look forward to and that's why they practice throughout the year
Pepe Francis

"Once we had a few steel bands formed here one of the obvious things was to have a Panorama competition."

Competition for the coveted title is fierce and practice sessions take place almost on a daily basis in the weeks leading up to the contest.

Mr Francis said: "It's what the young people in the bands look forward to and that's why they practice throughout the year.

"It starts to kick in from about June and then it really takes off in July, then come August you're practicing just about every day.

"Everyone who plays a part in a steel band in England looks forward to Panorama and even the people who aren't playing steel band any more but come to support the band look forward to the competition.

"It is the main event of Notting Hill Carnival."

And Mr Francis has gained great satisfaction from watching the Ebony Steel band go from strength to strength in its 39-year history.

10-minute performance

"Ebony is an institution which we have built over the years.

"When I see where we are going and what we have produced and the kind players we have produced I think that is satisfaction enough."

This year 11 bands, each made up of between 40 and 75 musicians, will take to the stage in Hyde Park on Saturday, 23 August.

Each will give a 10 minute performance, some bands will even have chosen the same tune, and it is up to them to make a lasting impression on the judges.

30th UK Panorama contestants
Caribbean Steel International Community Group (1st year)
Croydon Steel Orchestra
Ebony Steelband (defending champions)
Glissando Steel Orchestra
London All Stars Steel Orchestra
Mangrove Steel Band
Metronomes Steel Orchestra
Pantasia Steel Band
Real Steel (based in Plymouth)
Southside Harmonics
Stardust Steel Orchestra

Despite Ebony's outstanding record of 17 wins, nine of those in consecutive years from 1985-94, Mr Francis keeps a tight reign on his optimism for the impending competition.

"We are always optimistic about Panorama," he said.

This year the band will perform the Ten Commandments of Pan and while Mr Francis says it is a popular tune he does not expect more than two or three bands to be playing it this year.

And as for predicting victory he said he will be unable to comment until the piece is finished.

"I can't say that until the tune's finished and we are no-where near finished.

"We won't finish the tune until probably the day before."




SEE ALSO
Carnival to 'welcome the world'
23 Jul 08 |  London
Notting Hill Carnival under way
27 Aug 06 |  London
Carnival's route to success
27 Aug 04 |  London

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