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Curepe and the First Steel Pan

One Lloyd Valentine Williams is adamant that the world-loved but once loathed steel pan was actually conceived in Curepe, not Port-of-Spain, the capital of Trinidad. Williams also claims that he invented the famous instrument as a toy as a child to play with him and his impoverished siblings.

From Trinidad and Tobago and all over the planet, it has long been heard and used that the pan is a Port-of-Spain invention that came through the dustbin to “music” or “music” for paint, milk and putty boxes. This line of history claims that a ruckus during the 1935 “Carnival” forced Alexander’s Ragtime Band string leader Alexander Forde to summon the band members and repeatedly hit a trash can. According to the tale, his actions not only had the desired effect of regrouping the band members and leading them home, but also unintentionally gave birth to the “trash-can music craze” that “overwhelmed” the streets the following year. Lloyd Valentine Williams, who was born in Woodford Street, Curepe, in 1934, dismisses this idea as complete and utter nonsense. “Why would a string band with well-known instruments use trash cans for music,” Williams said? But there is more to this story than the famous string band of yesteryear. It is well known that the Alexander Ragtime Band was named after an American film of the same name, but this film was not released until 1938, three years after the band leader’s legendary performance on the streets of Port-of-Spain.

Another claim to the invention of the steel pan was that of George Goddard, who stated in his book that a Laventille man, Fred Corbin, was the first to play tin pan on the hills overlooking downtown Port-of-Spain in 1937. These were, of course, pans used for paint, milk, putty, or other wares, and not real musical instruments with notes tuned by fire heat. These could not have been anywhere near the building now known as the Steel Pan because the city’s long-standing arson ordinance was still intact. Williams said “any hint of smoke” would have warranted a visit from the fire department and police. This eliminated the original tuning in Port of Spain. He claims that when he was a boy both entities were one and the same.

I won’t entertain the Winston ‘Spree’ Simon story, false as it may be, but in my research into the origins of the instrument I’ve only come across short, fragmented tales here and there, or mythic vignettes relayed there 10 different ways; nothing concrete, substantial or consistently coherent was or is available. Over time, many of these stories rose to the status of fact and served as the basis for books, documentaries, speeches and anecdotes. It wasn’t until I came into contact with the experiences of Lloyd Valentine Williams that I caught a whiff of the truth about the invention of the only musical instrument of the 20th century. After all, something has to come from somewhere; there must be a beginning, and it certainly wasn’t with the trash cans and paint cans, which are all ridiculous.

According to Mr Williams, ping-pong, as it was called at the time, started out of his desire for a squirrel. Told by his sister that it was easy to fall unconscious from the guava tree, where they regularly churned, if a can was repeatedly hit with a piece of wood, the young Williams accepted the challenge. Unable to find a can, Williams found a galvanized basin and angrily struck it with a piece of guava branch, which did nothing; not a fallen squirrel. The only things he achieved were dents in the pool and a mild scolding from his mother, whose mischievous sister said that the obligatory housework had been neglected.

But it was when Williams’ stepfather, a cruel man who worked in a public works workshop in Laventille, began bringing home 25-gallon steel barrels to feed the family’s greedy pigs as troughs, the early steel pan or. what was then known as ping-pong began to take shape. Williams told me that he had always been fascinated by all kinds of sounds, and claimed that the sound emanating from his mother’s sewing machine was the first to captivate him. This later led to him always playing or beating with old pieces of iron from the railway tracks, the metal wheelbarrow and the old sunrise biscuit drum. Williams also made it clear that although he was never a musician, he was somehow always drawn to sound.

He claims that after his “squirrel pool” dented, he took a piece of charcoal and marked four points on the

he excused himself for a piece of zinc and began to play with it. The 25-gallon pig trough was even more inviting as a toy, according to Williams; “after all,” he said, “we poor kids didn’t have porcelain dolls or toy soldiers to play with, we had to make our toys out of the dunghill in our back yard.” As with the dented pool, he marked four spots based on segments of the wheelbarrow wheel with a piece of charcoal and scored them with a piece of an old hammer and the edge of a worn bicycle pedal. He claims this crude “instrument” was the first ping pong/pan. According to Williams, it was first “played” on Christmas morning in 1940. He claims that iron bands in cities get together at Christmas and play music in people’s homes, and he was intrigued when they saw his little steel toy. An iron strap driver and bicycle repairman named Clebert, but better known as “Shanghai”, was the first to adopt his little ping pong for use by iron straps. Williams claims that Clebert later modified his ping-pong by heating (or tuning) it, transforming it into an instrument worth playing along with pieces of iron at Christmas. He also claims that it was never used during masquerades or carnivals around this time; that the celebration has long had its instruments. The fire order that hit Port-of-Spain had little effect on Curepe, Williams said, because almost all areas outside the city were unofficially considered “country.” This is very plausible because even today many Port-of-Spain residents refer to most places as “country”, even the urbanized areas outside the city. It may sound a little strange, but I have personally experienced this.

Williams said passengers on the train passing through Curepe began spreading the word about the instrument after hearing the beautiful music. He claims that the first use of the steel pan outside of Curepe was the southern town of Siparia, which used it during their La Divina Pastora festival. From there it was taken on trips to the beach and played every Christmas, but never at masquerade or carnival, which was dominated by Roman Catholic white people.

Williams claims that while Port-of-Spain had rhythm sections, bamboo bamboo, brass and string bands, they knew nothing of ping-pong or pans. According to him, the first person to introduce the new instrument to the town was Mango Rose, owner of the Laventille club (gambling house), Teddy Kingsale, who frequented Curepe and immediately took a liking to ping-pong. Williams said Kingsale brought a young man from Curepe called “Mouse” to his club to play the instrument to the delight of onlookers who had probably never seen or heard him play the instrument. According to Williams, the steel pan began to make waves after World War II and was featured in both the 1945 VE (Victory in Europe) and VJ (Victory over Japan) day street parades. Williams said his popularity in Port-of-Spain was ignited when a calypsonian, whose name he can’t remember, sang a song that said: “Port-of-Spain almost caught fire when a steel band crossed the dry river, Ziglee, Pops and Batasby ah played a semitone tune, jung -bang-ka-jung-bank-ka-jung-bank-ka.” This song, according to Williams, clearly states that the steel band came from out of town and caused quite a stir when they entered. Even the existing city bands could not play a full tune because of their instruments at the time.

Port-of-Spain later came to dominate and claim the steel pan as their own, and little by little a movement was formed in the city. But while Williams was part of the burgeoning steel band scene, he never became either a pan player or a musician. He was a mechanic by profession, and personal difficulties, as well as private ambitions, forced him to earn his daily bread. At the same time, innovators and players such as Ellie Mannette, Neville Jules and Winston ‘Spree’ Simon began to emerge as Port-of-Spain introduced and tuned the 55-gallon oil drum, which was then exempted from fire regulations. And as Williams’ trials and tribulations mounted, his pig trough experience and “Shanghai” genius were lost in the mists of fantastic new tales that began to emerge in the city about the birth of the pan. Williams said he clearly remembers Neville Jules coming to Curepe to learn pan tuning.

Today, there are various names associated with the steel pan and its origins; Lloyd Valentine Williams is not one of them because, he says, his life took a different path and, as mentioned earlier, he was never a musician; just a lover of sound and rhythm. Without thinking, everyone who enters this subject makes the grave mistake of claiming that a “pan man” invented the steel pan, or that it was invented in a “pan” somewhere. But it can never be; there could be no such thing before the instrument itself was invented. And it was called ping pong long before it was called steel pan.

Space won’t allow me to include all that Williams relayed, but there is much more to learn about the fascinating experiences of a man who claims he was just trying to create a game for him and his siblings to play on Christmas morning. parents were too poor to buy them store gadgets. However, Williams stands head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to the authentic story of the origins of the steel pan. Lived in the United States; worked at General Motors; he had his own home, vehicle and business; and as recently as 1994 he visited National Invention Services Inc in New York. He tried to relay his version of events to people like George Goddard, Kim Johnson, Aldwyn Primus, Rocky McCullen and JW Lynch, but they were either ignored or shut down. But why would such a person want to lie about an instrument whose origins are buried in myth and legend? And even worse is the apparent desire of those at the helm to cloak its genesis in mysterious, fantastical stories and tender pontifications such as divine inspiration. As mentioned before, all things must have an origin; They must come from somewhere, there is always a beginning. And no serious academic or intellectual would give credit to any “divine inspiration”.

Although Lloyd Valentine Williams claims to have invented the original ping pong/steel pan, he continues to praise the innovation of the well-known pans that helped develop his little Christmas game. Those interested can click on the link below to get the full enlightening and educational experience, as this article doesn’t even tell the half of it.

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