Sterling Betancourt MBE – a pan roun’ neck legend

Sterling Betancourt (pictured far right) is launching a calypso about TASPO that he’s written (which the ever-popular Crazy has contributed the vocals to) at the Trinidad High Commission in London on March 26th 2013.

The man is an octogenarian, but amazingly still has a lot of the energy he first brought to this country when he first arrived in 1951 as a member of TASPO (the Trinidad All Steel and Percussion Orchestra). This was a steel band consisting of 12 of the finest steel pan players in Trinidad, from various steel bands (the first and last steel band ’supergroup’?) and they predominantly played with the pans strapped around their necks either sitting, standing or strolling.

TASPO’s participation in the Festival of Britain was integral in establishing this new instrument- the steel pan- into the musical landscape of the country at that time. Sterling was the only member of TASPO to stay behind after the tour and it wasn’t long before he was performing alongside Russ Henderson with other Trinidadian musicians including my uncle Ralph Cherrie and my father Max at society events.

Now Sterling is an MBE and is feted- quite rightly- for a number of things related to pan and carnival, but for me personally it’s his pan roun’ neck contribution that I admire the most.

Audiences love to see steel bands on the move and wearing the pans around their necks as they stroll whilst they play and Sterling would have been the first they ever saw in this country doing it with so much energy and enthusiasm. If there’s a guy with a bigger smile as he ‘chips’ down the road beating pan- sorry, but I’ve yet to meet him!

Sterling loved pan roun’ neck so much that he would play and limbo under a pole as part of Russ’ band’s act in the early days. Now that’s a tough act to follow! He also loved it so much that he founded a pan roun’ neck band- ‘Nostalgia’- when he probably felt steel band was losing this important part of its history.

He has also spread the pan roun’ neck gospel in Switzerland with remarkable success.

Nonetheless there are still too many pan players today who don’t ‘get’ the thrill of playing a pan whilst wearing it. Many young players, who- let’s face it- have the least physical excuses for not doing it, have had no real exposure to it.

It is visually far more entertaining from the audience’s perspective than watching bands play their pans on stands when, apart from Panorama, performances tend to look….well, static.

I think we should follow the likes of ‘Nostalgia’ and Rachel Hayward’s ‘Euphoria’ to try and revive its fortunes in the UK. Whilst busking (more on that in a later blog, methinks!), I’ve really enjoyed the pan roun’ neck experience – if not nearly as much as Sterling.

The Cherry Pickers- with a line up of Cherries, Mark, Elliot and myself- will be supporting Sterling’s CD launch at the Trinidad High Commission. I might just take my pan strap but don’t worry- out of respect for Sterling I should be able to resist the urge to pass my hat at the end of the night.

As always, I would really love to hear your comments on this.

I’m also looking for guest contributors so if you or anyone you know would like to write pieces that express your passion for your area of ‘tropical’ music, dance, etc, please get in touch!

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Posted in Steel Pan

3 Responses to “Sterling Betancourt MBE – a pan roun’ neck legend”

  • Mark Cherrie says:

    Nicely written.

  • Brian Alleyne says:

    CAN WE HAVE PERMISSION TO REPRODUCE YOUR ARTICLE ON BETANCOURT IN A CARIWEST MAGAZINE HERE IN ALBERTA THIS SUMMER. IT WILL BE OF INTEREST TO MANY MEMBERS OF THE CARIBBEAN COMMUNITY. I BELIEVE THAT A FORMER TASPO MEMBER NOW LIVES IN EDMONTON. HIS NAME IS NEVILLE ALEXANDER’
    THANKS
    BRIAN

  • quentin kean says:

    nice to find this. and a coincidence. am trying to find out about the tour of Mecca ballrooms TASPO did in 1951 after the festival (including Leeds, Manchester, Glasgow). Almost nothing written about it. Should be. Have you got a way of getting in touch with Sterling? Can you pass it on? Be very grateful. Cheers


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