DT caught up with Chris Storey from local steel pan orchestra Pan Nation. Chris has been teaching and arranging steel pan since he was a teenager and also works for the Haringey Music Service. We were lucky enough to sit in on the main band’s rehearsals and our editor had a go at playing some steel pan at the beginners class. It was lots of fun and comes highly recommended!
What’s your role at Pan Nation?
I’m the manager and musical arranger or musical director.
Have you been teaching the group for a long time?
I’ve been teaching a lot of these children since they were seven or eight years old. A lot of them are now into their mid twenties.
What made you decide to start Pan Nation?
There was another steel band in Tottenham, Pantasia, that rehearsed at the Selby Centre. Pauline Williams set it up around 2000. She recruited me to be the arranger and then I bought along a lot of my students I taught here [Holy Trinity Primary School]. They disbanded when Pauline moved back to Leeds.
A lot of the kids in Pantasia suddenly had nowhere to go and no where to play. So we just thought, we can start up a band. I thought, ‘they’ve got instruments here because I teach at this school [Holy Trinity Primary School]’ and the school was happy to rent out the premises to us. Further along we thought how were we going to cover costs – with either gigs or subs from the players. Eight years on we’re still going strong.
What kind of performances do you do?
It ranges from your average wedding gig or birthday party, local carnivals and even carnivals outside of London in different parts of the UK. We’ve done the Lord Mayor show and the New Years Day parade, which we’re going to do again this New Year.
What kind of music do you play?
I think that this is one of the things that we do that’s a little bit different to other orchestras, we play every single genre of music because you never know who you’re playing to. You never know what kind of crowd you have. You could teach the traditional calypso and soca tunes but if you go to a certain type of venue, they don’t know those types of songs, so you’ve got to do the latest pop tunes or 70s, 80s, rock, classic, jazz, you’ve got to cover it all. The band have to remember a lot of music off by heart which is challenging.
Do some of the players help to choose some of the songs you play?
Yeah, if they’ve heard some songs that they want to do they can ask me to help arrange it. Some of the members have already done their own music for the band as well. That’s one thing we really like to push if the youngsters want to try a tune out and try it themselves we open doors most definitely. We’ve got a really musical bunch here. Really talented.
What’s the biggest achievement?
Oh my gosh! There’s so many! I think getting the band to Rotterdam carnival [in July 2016] has to be one of our biggest achievements. That was a lot of research and development with the kids. The kids really had to start doing music themselves, and looking into the kinds of music that would be good to play at Rotterdam. To get funding for that has to be the highlight for Nation at the moment.
How many members did you take away with you?
I think it was 20 players and five committee members. About 25. It was absolutely freezing cold and it was wet but it was a really really good gig.
When did you first get into playing steel pan?
I started playing when I was seven years old at Seven Sisters Primary School just round the corner. I’m a local boy, born and bred here. There was a Trinidadian teacher called Clyde Dias and he taught me all the foundations, all the basics. I wish I’d asked him more in hindsight. I was only a little kid and I didn’t know that this was going to be my career. I remember coming home and damaging my mum’s pots and pans to make a steel pan and my mum having a go at me for killing her wok. That was it. I wanted to be a steel pan teacher.
What do you most enjoy about playing steel pan? What attracted you to it as an instrument?
The sound. When I was in the nursery they had steel pan practice upstairs in the juniors and I could hear it coming out of the window. I’d always loved the sound, even though I never knew what it was until I went to go and see the instruments. I love the fact that you can do anything on it, you can play any type of music. It’s a great instrument and the sound is so infectious. A lot of people say it brings you joy when you hear it and I agree, it does.
Do you play anything other than steel pan or is that your speciality?
That’s my thing. I can play piano and I can play drums a little bit but pan’s my calling.
Is pan what you’ve always done?
Always done. Wouldn’t do anything else unless my arms dropped off.
Why is Pan Nation so important to Tottenham?
Tottenham’s had a really bad thrashing in the press in the past years, with regards to the Mark Duggan incident and the riots that kicked off because of that situation. Whenever I do see Tottenham in the press it is never a positive thing and I think we are a positive thing coming out of Tottenham.
These kids are positive role models within the community. They’re not in the street and they’re not causing any problems. They’re coming in here, they’re making music, they’re going out and they’re performing for the community. We are here for the community.
I think performing and music is a very positive thing. It gives self well being, happiness, and, for these youngsters as well, they get to come and spend time with their friends. There’s always things to work towards and stuff for our community to come and see.
Are there any big events for us to look out for?
Now that we are the Tottenham Hotspurs Official steel band we play at quite a few. At the moment we have to travel to Wembley because they’re building the new stadium. We’ve recently been approached by Saracens rugby team who want us to play on their pitch during half time. We’ve got our big annual Christmas fundraiser on 16th December at Gladesmore Community School. We’re really looking forward to it and hope to raise a lot more money so we can buy some new instruments and cover the rental of our rehearsal space.
If you’d like to purchase tickets for the Pan Nation Winter Concert you can do so here: https://www.tickettailor.com/all-tickets/23061/3780/ We’ve heard that there will be lots of music, dancing, food and a rum punch.
If you are interested in getting involved with Pan Nation they have a beginners session at 2pm on a Sunday afternoon at Holy Trinity Primary School and their main band, for more advanced players, rehearse on a Thursday evening.