Steelband music was, from its early days, synonymous with Trinidad
The “town” bands were fiercely territorial; some had
grown out of criminal gangs, and they defended their turf with passion.
On Carnival Monday and Tuesday, flagmen cleared the road in front
of the processing bands, setting limits: here but no further! If
two flags claimed the same corner, it was war. When bands met on
the city streets, their clashes were notoriously bloody.
The Woodbrook bands were less warlike, but for many years they could
not pass the intersection of Park Street and
St Vincent Street — “Green Corner” — to
enter downtown Port of Spain during Carnival. In 1957, lives were
lost in a steelband clash outside the General Hospital on Charlotte
Street. The authorities considered banning steelbands altogether,
but, since that had been tried unsuccessfully before, it was decided
instead to channel their rivalry entirely into the music.
The result was the creation of the annual steelband competition,
Panorama. It offered prize money and prestige, and largely succeeded
in pacifying the warriors. (Whether it has benefited the music is
a matter for critics to argue. Certain technical advances are obvious,
but we will never know what direction the music would have taken
if left to its own devices.)
Holman was only 17 years old when he composed and arranged Invaders’
tune for the very first Panorama competition in 1961. Ray’s
Saga was the first ever “own tune”, or specially composed
piece of music, to be played at the event.
Like Jit Samaroo with the Renegades Steel Orchestra, Holman was
a tender youth directing “hardback” men who were also
seasoned musicians. He saw this as a special honour; but the fact
is that, in the pan movement, the music rules — the nuance
of tone, the turn of a phrase, the perfection of rhythm and harmony,
are all that matter. Musical skill is respected above all else,
and Holman’s lack of years was not a disadvantage.
In 1963 he left the Invaders to join Starlift, and during the 11
years he spent with this steelband he solidified his reputation
as a composer and arranger. Starlift placed third in the 1964 Panorama,
playing a Sparrow tune, Bullpistle Gang; then, five years later,
took the coveted crown, winning the 1969 title with Kitchener’s
song The Bull. Sparrow’s Queen of the Bands helped them tie
for first place again in 1971. By the age of 27, Holman already
had two winning Panorama arrangements to his name. But it was at
the 1972 Panorama that Holman added daring to his combination of
talent and hard work, earning himself a major place in the history
Starlift went to Panorama that year not with a calypso of the season,
as was customary, but with the specially composed tune Pan on the
Move. Uproar ensued when Holman once again brought an “own
tune”; there were threats, abuse, formal protests. But, as
he points out, this all happened only after the band had won the
north zone finals and placed third in the national competition.
And it was the calypsonians, not rival panmen, who complained. They
wanted more exposure for their own music, and felt threatened by
Holman’s pan composition.
Pan on the Move was followed in 1973 by Pan on the Run a tune inspired
by a rare clash between Starlift and Invaders in Carlos Street during
the 1972 Carnival season. Later it was recorded by the Chaconia
Singers. “It was advantage, / They went on a rampage,”
the lyrics (by calypsonian Merchant) went. “It was pan on
the run, / Every man and woman, / It was pan on the move.”