Panorama steel band competition

The hotly contested Panorama steel band competition has been a precursor to the carnival for 27 years, with the cream of UK talent battling it out. But now these talented musicians are struggling to stay in Notting Hill. Time Out meets the performers

  • Panorama steel band competition

    The bass pans have a really impressive booming sound...

  • Despite what experience and our pullout guide may have told you, Carnival starts on Saturday. For a lot of people, it ends on Saturday too. Because on Saturday, when you’re probably washing the car or tottling round Tesco or swearing that you’ll never drink again, an enthusiastic crowd converge on Horniman’s Pleasance Park, Kensal Road, to watch the Carnival’s best-kept secret – Panorama. Not to be confused with the long-running current affairs show of the same name, Panorama is the UK’s national steel band competition, and whether you know it or not, it’s the beating heart of the whole Carnival shooting match.

    A lot of people who love Carnival are unaware that Panorama even exists, yet its roots are intertwined with those of the Carnival itself. Steel band music has been a central part of Carnival since its very first year, in 1964, when Rhaune Laslett invited the pan players who regularly performed at The Colherene pub in Earls Court to play her inaugural street party. A then-impressive but now quaint-sounding one thousand ravers turned out to the Notting Hill Children’s Neighbourhood Festival to dance in the streets to the Russell Henderson Steelband and Sterling Bettancourt’s band, Nostalgia.Steelband music, a joyous mix of calypso, soca, samba, classical and whatever else is lying around was the official sound of Carnival well before the sound systems started muscling in. Although Panorama itself didn’t evolve as a competition until 1978, it has since grown to be one of the biggest and most respected steel band competitions outside of Trinidad & Tobago. Compared with the modern delights of the Rampage Sound System and friends, this might seem like a quaint boast, but seeing the amount of work put in by the reigning champions Ebony Steelband puts it into perspective.


    Top-flight 'big band' panamaniacs
    play an array of pans simultaneously

    Ebony was founded 38 years ago, and has taken part in every Panorama since its inception. Over the years, they have won the contest a more than respectable 14 times, including nine consecutive wins between 1985-94. Their next closest rivals are the slightly younger ‘Millennium Champions of Steel’ Mangrove Steelband (formed in 1980), with seven wins. Mangrove last beat Ebony at Panorama 2004 by a single point, after Ebony were docked two points for turning up late. This might give you the impression that the steelpan scene is a lackadaisical affair, but for the month preceding Panorama, the 50-plus members of Ebony’s Panorama group practiced for at least three hours a night, five nights a week. You can bet they weren’t satisfied with second place.

    Anise ‘Haffers’ Hadeed is the arranger for Ebony’s ‘big band’, the A-team of top players who represent the orchestra in concert and competition. The arranger hold the same role and status as the producer in hip hop or reggae, and the job is somewhere between composer, conductor and football manager. ‘There’s a fine line of balance,’ he says of his team’s planned performance, ‘I try to imagine what will excite the crowd, yet still, it’s a competition so you have to think about what the judges are thinking as well.’

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