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The History of Steelband in Trinidad and Tobago

Story behind the steelpan

November 20, 2000
By Norman Darway

In an article written by Michael Anthony in the Express (October 25 ) it was stated, and I quote, "The 1939 incident with nine year old Winston Simon completely shattered the normal course of events so far as these steel beating boys were concerned."

He was referring to the claim by Winston "Spree" Simon that he had invented the first ping pong at the age of nine.

This can be easily disproved for at that time "Spree" was living in the deep South, as he himself was to explain on occasions, that he has his early education in South Trinidad (read evening news, Friday March 3, 1950, page 4, about where he got his education).

Also, anyone who knows anything about the early development of the instrument couldn’t even imagine a nine year old in a steelband or tamboo bamboo band in Trinidad. Again "Spree" Simon says he was the "Little Drummer Boy" for John John and loaned his pan to someone who dented in the face, etc, but this is also untrue since there were no steelband on the road before Alexander Ragtime band introduced it.

This was on February, 1939, when Spree would have been nine years of age. So he could lend no one his pan nor tuned one.

Hear George Goddard in 1987 "The pan which took ‘Spree’ to glory had actually been tuned by Andrew "Pan" de la Bastide and sold to ‘Spree’ Simon for one shilling" (see the Trinidad and Tobago Mirror (Friday February 27, edition, "Spree got his pan in 1946", says George Goddard. "Spree" would have been 16 years of age then.

In a competition on Carnival Saturday night on March 2, 1946, at the Mucurapo Stadium, Casablanca won from six other bands, Commandoes came second, where was "Spree"?

Three years earlier in 1943 at a competition on St Peters Day in Carenage (when Ellie Mannette introduced rubber on the pan sticks), Invaders won, Tripoli came second and Tokyo came third. Where was Winston "Spree" Simon?

It would seem that Mr Michael Anthony has forgotten that he confessed in a conversation with me at Crosby’s Music Centre that he was ignorant of the existence of a steelband called "Five Graves to Cairo" which was later shortened to "Cairo" in the very area where he lived. Winston "Spree" Simon never won a major steelband competition, and to say that his playing and contribution to the development is to perpetuate a myth based on misinformation.

The only men whose dexterity could be compared to Mannette in those days and who actually beat him in competition were "Chick" McGrove Springer and "Sonny Roach.

The great Kitchener when he came to town from Arima immortalised in calypso the first steelband from what he heard in town, but before he died he was to admit that he was wrong and corrected himself in the tune "Pan Birthday". Mr Anthony, you are jumping like most others out of time, in the band.

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