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Fifty shades of pan

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Some religious sects recognise the value of self-flagellation as a way of “sanctifying” the flesh. Nobody comes to drag you out of your house or hand you the whip or the chain. You wake up in the morning with beating yourself bloody in mind. The whip is there and you have worked out where and when the deed is to be done, usually with spectators at hand.

In the secular world, experimentation with S&M (Sadism and Masochism) ranges from light slaps to heavy blows, inexplicably (in my view) enjoyed by both giver and receiver. But, hey, consenting adults et cetera and so forth.

Then there is the annual Panorama competition, well known for its long-suffering faithful. And, now, Panorama semi-finals 2017, which took the licks to new levels.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am a veteran of over 30 years and staunch Panoramian. I have stood in the long, long line at finals when the gate stayed closed because the stands were being “cleaned.” I have seen the best seats being “sold out” even before they have gone on sale. I have sat next to freeloaders wearing badges who talked through entire shows, and met culture ministers at their first and last Panorama.

But I also listen to, talk about and write extensively about what I consider to be the greatest single feature of life in T&T—not Panorama, mind you, but the steelpan. I pay close attention to the instrument, the social organisation to bring bands together and the musicianship to generate increasingly creative artistic output. Great stuff!

Now, back to Panorama semi-finals 2017.

All began relatively smoothly even when my unfamiliarity with the process showed as I walked up to the Lotto ticket counter. The short lady in front had lodged a complex mix of bets I did not understand. Then it was my turn. Two Panorama tickets, plus $5 on the number 12.

I walked away confidently. At last, a fool-proof and convenient approach to Panorama ticket sales, albeit by cash only. At least the Lotto people have the IT systems to monitor the number of seats sold against the number of tickets available, together with the security features to minimise the risk of counterfeiting. It has to be difficult to replicate a ticket that carries a potential value of millions. We safe!

Why hadn’t Pan Trinbago thought about this before? Did it have to take a crisis of sorts for the NCC to commandeer this aspect of the annual proceedings to make this happen?

Fast forward. Panorama semis day. The Panorama veterans (I have crossed 30 finals, Peter Ray Blood, 54 years) would know that at the semi-finals you hear some of the best pan music anywhere on the planet. The bands need to pull out all stops. Unlike the finals, they have not “reached” yet. They take no chances. Nothing needlessly fancy will take place. Good pan. Fine.

Now, here we are. A promised 9 am start, 58 bands, small, medium, large. The weather is nice. Panorama posse engaged. All systems go.

Wait! Fifty-eight bands? Yes, we had known for weeks now. The whip had come out of the box. We all saw it coming. But still … the shades of grey in life that make you go hmm, yet you still venture on bravely.

Facebook banter now turns to a dead serious inquiry. The mathematician on the block makes his calculations. Big Bands by about 10 - 10.30 pm — 46 bands later!

So, Howard Dottin gets the maths right and you get there in time for the Medium Bands. Scratchy radio coverage makes you kick yourself for missing some of the Small Bands. But you’re inside.

Now, Medium Band number four and an announcement that the North Stand has reached full capacity and a potential disaster is in the offing. I had reckoned that the “Greens” crowd would have further infected the usually boisterous, partying hordes over there, but not to such an extent.

Indeed, from across the stage I recognised them. Mostly, but not exclusively, young, fidgety and unused to the rigours of extended attention to a single source other than a mobile screen.

The rhythm sections stopped on cue, but you heard the lingering chatter. The absence of a “concert culture,” is how I usually put it. Happens over here in the Grand Stand as well. A band is playing and the nutsman continues making his sales pitch, people walk sluggishly to their seats, the people behind you continue their noisy banter and some ministerial entourage walks down an aisle. In the middle of a performance.

So, did the NLCB get this one wrong? I doubt it. So, what was the “miscommunication” Kenny De Silva spoke about that had the North Stand reaching (weight) capacity?

How come there was so much space in the Grand Stand, especially the “Special Reserve” section? Usually this section is at least half full with people who arrive late and are served eats and drinks.

Then, 13 hours later, with the show still going strong, the first of the Big Bands enter the stage. Someone texts to say “I reach. I in North Stand.” No time to ask “how?”

Some of us had actually planned to get to what is usually the sweet end. But most preferred to keep their jobs and/or be useful to humanity the following morning. By 3.45 am it was all over and we knew this year, for the semis, that strap came out soaking wet for all concerned.

The Panorama veterans (I have crossed 30 finals, Peter Ray Blood, 54 years) would know that at the semi-finals you hear some of the best pan music anywhere on the planet. The bands need to pull out all stops. Unlike the Finals, they have not “reached” yet. They take no chances. Nothing needlessly fancy will take place. Good pan.


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