Tag Archives: steel drum

steely pan

(Post by John Allan from Bridgetown, Western Australia – July 2022.)

20th Century Steel Band

It must have been around 1976 when Scotland’s premiere funk and soul band Souled Out decided it needed a bit of extra input in a bookings/managerial sense. We’d been a fairly independent unit up until that point but gigs were a bit sporadic. We reckoned we should be performing 3 or 4 times a week.

We had 2 interested parties. One was a guy called Wally who worked for CBS records and his mate – I’ve forgotten his name – who had a modicum of success with the band Middle Of The Road. If I say Chirpy,Chirpy,Cheep,Cheep you might get my drift.

Middle of the Road

Wally gave me a copy of an album of flute music by Thijs Van Leer of Focus which was quite pleasant and I – and the rest of Souled Out – had spent a late evening in the home of Mr Chirpy after a gig at Falkirk town hall. He lived in a substantial bungalow in Fintry, with shag pile carpets, chandeliers and his own recording studio. I thought at the time this would do me.

The other contender was a known booking agent who claimed he could fill our social calendar and as it turned out, his pockets.

Personally I was all for the first two but was out voted by my fellow band members.

So we went with Mr Twenty Percent and initially he did come up with the goods. A weekend tour of Scotland’s north east taking in Banff, Lossiemouth and Nairn was a good little earner if you could put up with eight of you crammed into a small caravan and a diet of endless fish suppers.

And that is why we found ourselves at Aberdeen University.

University gigs were fun and profitable, usually because they were run by Student Unions. The backstage area at Stirling was the lecturers’ common room. Our driver/roadie Jamie, took a liking to a couple of designer lounge chairs and decided to surprise his dear old mum. They would look grand in the front room with a couple of crocheted antimacassars. While we were playing, he made two trips back to Glasgow with his newly acquired soft furnishings. They were large chairs!

What ? The university wouldn’t miss them, there were dozens of them. It’s our tax payers money ! We were just re-appropriating the states assets !

Back at Aberdeen, we were second billing to recent New Faces winners 20th Century Steel Sound, a nine piece steel drum (or pan) ensemble.

20th Century Steel Band

Apparently everybody in Trinidad is a panel beater and can knock up the end of a 55 gallon industrial drum into a melodic idiophone when struck with a rubber tipped stick. From bass to treble – boom, cellopan, guitar pan and pin pong and you’ve got the full orchestra.

The sound induces a delirium in peely-wally folk who feel the urge to don garish board shorts, drink copious Malibu spritzers and try to bend themselves backwards negotiating low slung barriers.

After being picked up from a busy days work and squeezed into the back of a van for over 3 hours, it was welcoming to find a carton of beer waiting for us in our changing room. I thought I should share this revelation with our fellow performers 20CSS so sought out their room backstage and knocked on the door, beer in hand.

The door opened and I was immediately hit by a fug of herbal goodness. Through the thick smoke I could just make out a figure. I was about to share the news of our complimentary refreshments when I saw a six foot stack of beer cartons behind him. He said something which I didn’t quite catch. It could have been his thick Caribbean patois or perhaps the fact that there didn’t seem to be any neural contact between my ears and my brain. I was quickly reaching a higher cerebral plane with every inhalation. The door closed in my face and I started to laugh at the pathetic can of beer gripped in my hand.

We did our thing then made way for Bubbles, Trampas, Bravo, Stomp, Smokey, Ory, Spring, Godfrun and Colin. Why Colin never got a nickname is one of life’s mysteries!  

I really enjoyed their set and so did a great many undergraduates from Aberdeen judging by the numbers on the dance floor. Finishing in the wee small hours we eventually packed up and trundled back down the road again to Glasgow. I was propped outside the shop where I worked waiting for opening time. There was no point in going home. Another eight hour day at the coalface then picked up again for the journey south. Hello Dumfries !

I came across a pannist (that’s what they are called) Andy Narell, some years later and and was impressed how he can really make the instrument sing.

There is also a track from wunderkind bassist Jaco Pastorious‘ solo live album featuring the gloriously named Othello Molineaux on steel drums.

Unfortunately the 20th Century Steel Sound had limited success and split up after a few years. They did have a couple of albums and several singles released.  Heaven And Hell Is On Earth has been sampled 103 times by artistes including Kanye West, Jennifer Lopez, Black Eyed Pees and Grandmaster Flash. I bet the lads didn’t make a penny from it!

I’m happy to say I found a Facebook page dedicated to the band which just goes to show they weren’t a flash in the pan.