What's the deal with… Panorama

Here's everything you need to know about Notting Hill's annual steel band face-off

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© Jeff Van Campen

What, the long-running BBC current affairs programme?
No, the other Panorama. For the past 36 years, steelpan (steel drum) bands from all over the UK have congregated in Notting Hill to battle for the title of Champions of Steel at this annual music competition.

How serious is the competition?
They battle to the death. Okay, not quite, but it’s pretty serious. Some bands practise for three hours a day, five days a week. There are costumes and themes – but no sheet music, mind, these guys know their stuff with their eyes closed.

Why don’t I know about this? Do they perform in hiding?
There’s nothing stealthy about a steel drum. They are massive and loud, with sessions often being held outside to replicate the acoustics of an authentic Caribbean practise area (or ‘pan yard’). Trinidad shuts down for their Panorama but it’s way more low key over here for some reason.

What kinds of people play pan?
Bands contain members of different generations, races and levels of experience. They perform all year round and can swell up to 100 members approaching Panorama.

If I want to look like I know what I’m talking about, who should I cheer on?
Plymouth’s Real Steel are the reigning champions and are going for a hat trick this year. Other regular strong contenders include Mangrove, Ebony and Metronomes.

Where and when is this spectacular event?
It takes place as a warm-up to Carnival, at 6pm on Saturday August 23 in Horniman Pleasance Park, Kensal Road. It’s ideal if you want a taste of Carnival vibes without the full-on festivities.

The bottom line: Classical music, show tunes, calypso, soca and reggae are mixed together in a massive pan, with a pinch of healthy competition and lashings of rum. The good rum.

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