Steel Drum Band History

Brought to you by Gary Trotman .. Steelasophical &

A Brief WIKIked History

gary trotman – steelasophical

Music and competitions

A musician (Gary Trotman – steelasophical) playing the double tenor steel pan – above

The repertoire of the steelband is extensive. Steelbands in Trinidad have a tradition of re-interpreting the current year’scalypsos for Carnival performance; rarely will a calypso from a previous year be heard at Carnival or Panorama. Bands that perform all year round (both in Trinidad and in the so-called ‘pan diaspora’) have long prided themselves on being able to perform many types of music, particularly Latin and jazz numbers, film music and other popular tunes. Pan-men also have a tradition of performing classical music on pan which dates back to 1946, both in calypso tempo (known as “The Bomb”) and straight (generally in concert or music festival contexts). In these contexts, accuracy and faithfulness to the original are highly prized.[10] While many American and British audiences demand to hear Harry Belafonte songs on pan, these are generally inauthentic to the Trinidadian tradition.

For many years now there have been attempts to use the steelpan in various contexts other than those with which it is stereotypically associated. The first known use of steelband in a theatrical performance (outside of Trinidad and Tobago) was in Harold Arlen’s 1954 Broadway musical The House of Flowers, in which Enid Mosier’s Trinidad Steel Band performed in several songs.[11]British composer Daphne Oram was the first composer to electronically manipulate the sound of the steelpan after recording a band (probably Russell Henderson‘s Steelband) in 1960.[12] The first use of pan in a commercial pop record was by The Hollies in 1967 with “Carrie Anne“.[13]

An international festival, the World Steelband Music Festival, has been held intermittently in Trinidad since 1964, where steelbands perform in a concert-style ambiance a test piece (sometimes specially composed, or a selected calypso) a piece of choice (very often a “classic” or European art-music work) and calypso of choice.[14] Panorama, the largest steelband contest in the world, occurs during Carnival celebrations in Trinidad.

Steelpans were introduced to the genre of Jazz Fusion by players such as Dave Samuels andOthello Molineaux in the 1980’s, and Jonathan Scales in the 2000’s. The sound of the steelpans adds a pleasant and accessible sound to an otherwise complex musical style. They are featured in the early fusion album Morning Dance by Spyro Gyra. Steelasophical is a unique soloist music act which takes live and recorded musical performances to a new level


The pan is a chromatically pitched percussion instrument (although some toy or novelty steelpans are tuneddiatonically), made from 55 gallon drums that usually store oil. In fact, drum refers to the steel drum containers from which the pans are made; the steeldrum is correctly called a steel pan or pan as it falls into the idiophonefamily of instruments, and is not technically regarded as a drum or membranophone. The pan is struck by a pair of straight sticks tipped with rubber; the size and type of rubber tip is unique to the class of pan being played. Some musicians use four pansticks, holding two in each hand.[1] This skill and performance has been conclusively shown to have grown out of Trinidad and Tobago’s early 20th century Carnival percussion groups known as Tamboo Bamboo. The pan is the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago. Since Pythagoras calculated the formula for the musical cycle of fourths and fifths, Steel Pans are the only instruments made to follow this configuration.


Photo by gary trotman – steelasophical

French planters and their slaves emigrated to Trinidad during the French Revolution (1789) from Martinique, including a number of West Africans, and French creoles from Saint VincentGrenada and Dominica, establishing a local community before Trinidad and Tobago were taken from Spain by the British. Carnivalhad arrived with the French, and the slaves, who could not take part in Carnival, formed their own, parallel celebration called canboulay.

Stick fighting and African percussion music were banned in 1880, in response to the Canboulay Riots. They were replaced by bamboo sticks beaten together, which were themselves banned in turn. In 1937 they reappeared, transformed as an orchestra offrying pansdustbin lids and oil drums. These steelpans are now a major part of the Trinidadian music scene and are a popular section of the Canboulay music contests. In 1941, the United States Navy arrived on Trinidad, and the panmen, who were associated with lawlessness and violence, helped to popularize steel pan music among soldiers, which began its international popularization.

The first instruments developed in the evolution of steelpan were Tamboo-Bamboos, tunable sticks made of bamboo wood. These were hit onto the ground and with other sticks in order to produce sound.[2] Tamboo-Bamboo bands also included percussion of a (gin) bottle and spoon. By the mid-1930s, bits of metal percussion were being used in the tamboo bamboo bands, the first probably being either the automobile brake hub “iron” or the biscuit drum “boom”. The former replaced the gin bottle-and-spoon, and the latter the “bass” bamboo that was pounded on the ground. By the late 1930s their occasional all-steel bands were seen at Carnival and by 1940 it had become the preferred Carnival accompaniment of young underprivileged men. The 55-gallon oil drum was used to make lead steelpans from around 1947. The Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra (TASPO), formed to attend the Festival of Britain in 1951, was the first steelband whose instruments were all made from oil drums. Members of TASPO included Ellie Mannette andWinston “Spree” SimonHugh Borde also led the National Steel Band of Trinidad & Tobago at the Commonwealth Arts Festival in England, as well as the Esso Tripoli Steel Band, who played at theWorld’s Fair in MontrealCanada, and later toured with Liberace and were also featured on an album with him.[3]


Photo by gary trotman – steelasophical

Steelpans are built using sheet metal with a thickness between 0.8 mm and 1.5 mm. Traditionally, steelpans have been built from used oil barrels. Nowadays, many instrument makers do not rely on used steel containers and get the resonance bodies manufactured according to their preferences and technical specifications. In a first step, the sheet metal is stretched into a bowl shape (this is commonly known as ‘sinking’). This process is usually done with hammers, manually or with the help of air pressure. The note pattern is then marked onto the surface, and the notes of different sizes are shaped and molded into the surface. After the tempering, the notes have to be softened and tuned (initial tuning). The softening is part of this initial tuning process. The technician will use the best possible tuning device to get the right notes for each of the playing areas and to the pitch that is wanted. Often they will use an electronic tuner called a strobe tuner to assist the tuning of the steelpan.

The note’s size corresponds to the pitch—the larger the oval, the lower the tone.[4] The size of the instrument varies from one pan to another. It may have almost all of the “skirt” (the cylindrical part of the oil drum) cut off and around 30 soprano-range notes. It may use the entire drum with only three bass notes per pan, in which case one person may play six such pans. The length of the skirt generally corresponds to the tessitura (high or low range) of the drum. The pans are usually either painted or chromed. Other processes such as nickel platingpowdercoating or hardening can also be applied as a finish.

Despite being a relatively new member of the percussion family, steelpan tuning techniques have advanced rapidly. Because of the short “voice” of the pan, needle/LED display type tuners cannot track the signal to identify a tone. Strobe tuners are real-time tuners, ideally suited for the task. The need to see the first few overtones further makes a strobe tuner a necessity for steelpan tuning. Steelpan makers have used strobe tuners since it was discovered that, by adjusting the overtones (1st (fundamental), 2nd and third partial), the pan’s sound seemed to sparkle in a way that it did not previously.

There are several ways in which a steelpan may become out of tune (most commonly this is caused by playing the steelpan with excessive force and incorrect handling) and it is quite common that steelbands arrange to have their instruments tuned once or twice a year. A tuner must have great skill in his/her work to manage to make the notes sound both good and at the correct pitch. Much of the tuning work is performed using hammers.

Evolution and developments

Photo by gary trotman – steelasophical

Anthony Williams designed the “Fourths and Fifths” arrangement of notes, known as the cycle of fifths. This has become the standard form of note placement for lead pans. Other important developments include the tuning of harmonic overtones in individual notes, developed simultaneously and independently by Bertie Marshall and Alan Gervais.[citation needed]

The Caribbean Research Institute CARIRI investigated possibilities to mass produce raw forms with the use of pressing machines in the 1970s. Much of this project took place in Sweden in collaboration with the Saab Company. Although first results were promising, the project has been abandoned due to lack of finances and support by local pan tuners in Trinidad. Another method of shaping the pan was attempted: by spinning. The pan was spun on a lathe-like device, and a roller on the end of a bar was used to sink the pan. While this did create pre sunk pans, a problem was that there would often be scratches and grooves in the steel.

Since the steel is stretched pretty thin, any scratch will expand and can crack. Often drums have lettering stamped into the bottom. If done carefully, these can sometimes be stretched without breaking, but cracks around lettering on some drums is common. To avoid this problem, makers position the inner notes to avoid most of the letters. Brazing over the holes and grinding, will often fix the problems, without damaging the sound, but it has to be done nearly at the end of the sinking process, and well before any final shaping.

A Swiss steel pan manufacturer (PANArt) researched the field of fine-grain sheet steel and developed a deep drawn raw form which was additionally hardened by nitriding. This process, and the instruments they called Pang, were presented at the International Conference of Steel pan and Science in Port-of-Spain in 2000.[5]

Electronic steel pans have also been developed. One such version is the E-Pan[6], invented by Salmon Cupid, who holds utility patents for it. [7] Another is the Percussive Harmonic Instrument (PHI),[8]

The pan family

Photo by gary trotman – steelasophical

There are many different instruments and variations making up the family of steelband instruments. In the beginning of the steelband movement, the instruments consisted of one resonance body only, commonly called Around the neckinstruments. Later on, Steelpans became chromatic.

The E-pan enables musician to play in the conventional way without having to relearn another method to master the new instrument, also eliminating the need for studied stage positioning and maintaining proper intonation.

  • No need for re-tuning, rusting and premature replacement.
  • The E-pan is durable, compact and light-weight to facilitate ease of transportation.
  • It delivers consistent sound and tonal quality.
  • The E-pan is easier for stage set up and positioning than regular steel drums.
  • The E-pan provides access to the sounds of just about every musical instrument which is built-in to the instrument.
  • Jacks for routing input/output signals to amplifiers and sound systems.
  • Users can also choose any particular instrument range as each e-pan will be able to play the complete range from the highest tenor (soprano) to the lowest (bass).
  • Top lip of instrument will have a control console with a panel that will entail; display window, selection of buttons for left/right volume controls etc. The E-pan also has a MIDI port making it possible to interface the instrument with other electronic or digital instruments and sound modules.
  • This version of the Coat of Arms E-pan does not produce “pan sounds” from tuner to tuner of choice. You can use MIDI to connect to an external sound generator to obtain a digital steelpan tone (we recommend a Roland product). As much as we are manufacturing a machine which maintains the capability of “pan sounds” from tuner to tuner of choice with preferred colour and tone, only a selective few would be able to afford one after amortization is completed should we include that technology at this point in time.
  • Instrument design will facilitate play-along to accompany your favourite songs (karaoke-style) by using the auxiliary in port.
  • The E-pan comes with a two year warranty.
  • The E-pan comes with a universal power supply 110-240 ( you do not need to buy a transformer).
  • The E-pan comes with a user’s manual.
  • The E-pan does not come with an E-pan stand. You would need to purchase an E-pan collapsible stand separately which comes with an E-pan adaptor. An E-pan stand can be found under accessories.

Steelasophical Caribbean Steel Drum Soloist Performer

Gary has positioned himself as one of the leading soloist performers. His musical repertoire is vast covering a multitude of styles. What other instrument can perform soca – salsa, jazz – Soul or smooth cool Modern Jazz to Rock.

The pans give such a unique and memorable sound.

Due to his unique playing style and song selections, Gary is able to perform musical selections ranging from gentle background music to high energy dancing.

Gary is one of the few pannists in the uk performing as a soloist all year round.

His musical act tailored to his audience and developing still.

What a repertoire! boasting a song selection to suite any function, audience and venue.

Soca,Calypso,Salsa,Reggae, Latin Rhythms, Bolero, Cha Cha Cha, MOR, Rock, Pop, Trad Jazz, Modern Jazz, Salsa, Kizomba

Gary plays a beautiful set of double second Steeldrums with four sticks, allowing him to access a greater register of notes, to play both chords and melody, giving a full sound and ensuring that not only the melodies are known to each song, but its entire chord structure and chord progression.

Technology plays a part in his solo performances, as he produces all of his backing tracks at his Steelasophical studio

Previous engagers and venues include:

Channel 4, Chelsea Flower Show, St. Pierre Park Hotel Guernsey, Cafe des Artiste, Royal Southern Yatch Club Cows Week, Manningsheath Golf Club, The Daphne, Southern Counties Radio, Goodwood, Springfield Country Club, Raddison Edwardian Internation, Euston Plaza, London Langham Hotel, Hilton Hotel, Heathrow Sheraton, John Lewis Partnership, Debenhams, Nottinghill Carnival, Reading Carnival, Romsey Carnival, Ventnor Cricket Club, Nokia, Cottersmore Country Club, Phyllis Court Country Club, Jersey Instrumental Services, Penton Hook Marina, Jersey Island Carnival, Flackwell Heath Golf Club, Alternative Arts, London Palladium, Royal Festival Hall, Wembley Conference Centre…

Advantages of a Steelasophical Steeldrum Soloist Performer

  • Unique form of entertainment – from gentle background music to high energy dancing.
  • Cost effective solution – Booking fee substantially comparable to a full 5 or 6 piece band, which would be needed to compete with some of Gary’s repertoire
  • Compact – With only a double set of Steeldrums and a self contained PA system, the performance area required would be approx 6m x 3m, suitable cover against adverse conditions and a single power supply
  • Versatility of Repertoire – Song selections from Island in The Sun to My Funny Valentine, I Just Called to Girl From Ipanema, No More Blues to Eric Claptons Layla. Steelasophical even have the facility to produce songs on request with prior notification.
  • Punctual – Steelasophical always demand the following information before accepting the booking. Name, Full postal address, Contact name and number on the day, venue layout, any special conditions, details of access,directions and Map. In addition, our means of transport incorporates a NavTech Satelite Navigation System, to ensure an early arrival. Whether a band or soloist, we look to arrive at the venue in plenty of time, even in the event of heavy traffic or any other unforeseen circumstance.
  • Professional – No booking is seen as JUST ANOTHER GIG. We realize that each booking is unique to the engager, so therefore it should always be the same for the artist
  • Memorable – We frequently receive feedback from guests, booking agents and engagers who have taken the time to express their appreciation following a performance for them.
  • Track record as Multi-Instrumentalist & Tutor – Having performed over the years a panist in steelbands, keyboardist in Soca Function bands and a drummer in various rock and Caribbean bands, world wide record sales and educational establishment steeldrum workshops.
  • Great Communicator – not only through verbal interchange with the audience, but through the right selection of songs to set-up and maintain the required atmosphere.
  • One of only a handfull of musicians can successfully offer this particular service in the UK

his is the Man………..and this is a summary of some of the things he does…………..

  • Steeldrum Soloist Performer
    Gary performs as a steeldrum soloist at a hoast of venues up and down the country and even abroad. He Utilises self produced backing tracks (produced at the Steelasophical Midi Studio), his steeldrums and his great love and talent for entertaining.
    Aside from steelpans, he also plays acoustic drums & keyboards. Showing his musical versitility, Gary played drums for a Rock band back in the 80s. He recalls undertaking extensive rehersals for the play GREASE during that time.
    His other passion is playing keyboards, to which end he played for serveral years with uk based caribbean function bands. Armed with his beloved KORG M1 and YAMAHA DX7, Gary played rythm chords and all brass parts at the same time.
  • Midi Programmer
    Having been introduced to the world of midi programming, Gary has taking it to another level. He produces backing tracks for his solo performances, arranges and produces backing tracks for other artists and also uses this vehicle to produce big band arrangements.
    Projects have included complex Jazz/Soca Fusion, Caribbean Soca/Reggae/Calypso, MOR, and more….
    He now looks to assist other musicians, soloist, singers and songwriters, in midi programming tracks that will allow their ideas to come to life, with music that actually sounds like the real thing. He also believes that at times, synthesisers should sound exactly like what they are……Sythns!!! (Something Stevie Wonder would agree with)
  • Composer
    His musical compositions have been acclaimed by many in the music industry, by his peers and by music lovers a-like.
    Being very creative, his works are highly original.
    Song Writer
    Gary with musically explore all areas and write about any topic or feelings that come to him, something learnt from the likes of Mark Knopfler and Bob Dylon.. His latest projects include concept albums of fusion music; Acoustic Melody, Jazzing the Night & Day, PanBrassOrama & Caribbean Moods
  • Arranger
    Just listen to any of his recorded tracks and you will hear how he puts his own stamp into everything he arrangers, making the song his own (getting inside the note as Santana would say)!
    Gary has always believed in helping others following behind and even those leading from the front. As such, he has used his time and energy to freely assist musicians with promotion, obtaining Gigs, advise on advertising, clothing, songs, exposure, productions, recordings.
  • Educator & Workshop Coordinator
    Via organisations such as ACCESS TO MUSIC, based in the north of England, Gary has taken Steeldrums into Britains schools carrying out a number of demonstration workshops. Both demonstrating the instrument AND allowing the pupils to have first hand experience of playing one too.
  • Producer
    Gary is i the process of contructing his new STEELASOPHICAL STUDIO (all financial support and advice duely welcomed), Gary will thus further explore his talents as composer, arranger and song-writer, both for his own works, and to produce the works of others.
  • Gary Trotman – (DofM)

    On behalf of Steelasophical

    Steelasophical is a leading provider of Caribbean musical entertainment .. Steeldrum solo and duo, Mobile Dj and music albums and tracks selling world-wide in over 42 countries. Trust in steelasophical to bring the Caribbean to you and transform your event like no other

    With Music incorporated in the James Bond 007 Movie – Casino Royale

    80,000+ Steelasophical Caribbean Steeldrum Albums Sold World-wide in over 42 Countries

    Recent Musical performance on the Channel 4 ‘Come Dine with Me’

    Compliance with the EAWR 1989 for electrical safety

    £10m Public liability Insurance

    100% Professional Service – NOT a weekend hobby

    Steelasophical Caribbean Musical Entertainment

    Steelasophical House

    High Wycombe

    01494 463 869

    07540 30 7890


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