Archive of International News Items

Mar 16, 2015

Pan icon Terry Noel honoured by Queen

UK - Terry Noel, the longtime Leader of the Melodians Steel Orchestra UK went to Windsor Castle on March 6 this year where Queen Elizabeth II awarded him with an MBE, Member of the Order of the British Empire, for his contribution to steelbands in the UK. It was a fitting honor for a leader in the globalisation of pan.

By Ray Funk for Guardian

In December last year, the band also issued their third album, Melodians Magic, the first album in many years. Both serve to recognise a long career in pan education.

Terry and the Queen had a brief conversation and discussed the fact that the Melodians had played for the Queen at her Diamond Jubilee in 2012 as well as three garden parties at Buckingham Palace and eight years ago at the Commonwealth Day Services in Westminster Abbey.

For Terry Noel, it was the best. “It was a fantastic and memorable day. It was nice to know the Queen remembered the Melodians and enjoyed their playing.” The Melodians had a big celebration with friends, family and supporters the next evening and Terry wore his special outfit to play the basses with the band.

From Coryal Village to Arima to London. Terry Noel left Trinidad after being a police officer in the mounted branch and travelled to England to become first a psychiatric nurse and later a youth social worker. He retired after serving over 15 years as a magistrate. But he never was far from pan. He played in the police steel band in Trinidad and in Esso Tripoli.

In England he first formed a group called the Groovers and later after a spell in Trinidad returned to the UK. Noel founded Melodians, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2012. He took the name of the Arima band he had just been playing in when he founded the band in London and ever since he has been the one connection between the two bands. All along, he taught pan in public schools in addition to his day job.

Formed in October 1987, the band has received two Performing Rights Society Enterprise Awards, a Royal Anniversary Challenge Award and a BT (British Telecom) Innovation Award. As part of the Making Music Adopt a Composer program, they worked with innovative young composer Neil Luck on a new composition Acirema that was played on BBC Radio 3 in early 2012 and available on Youtube as are several other cuts by the band.

For the last four years, the band has stored its steel drums at Henry Cavendish Primary School in Balham in South London and rehearsed there twice a week. In exchange for housing the drums, Melodians lets the students at the school play the instruments and provides a tutor. The result has been two new members of Melodians who are only 11-years-old.

The band keeps its maximum at 34 members and rehearses weekly on Thursday evening and Saturday afternoon. They are a versatile band performing from weddings and receptions to concerts with an annual Christmas concert. For many years they were sponsored by BT and did their annual Royal Albert Hall Christmas concerts. But for the band, their greatest joy is international travel.

Melodians have been to over 30 countries around the world including Azerbaijan, Australia, North Korea and Russia, becoming a band of choice for British embassies celebrating the Queen’s Birthday. They have become quite popular in doing so and they will travel for the love of spreading the joy of the instrument. When arriving at a country like Zambia, they will always play God Save the Queen but often the local national anthem as well, which has proved quite popular in showing their respect for the country they visit. Their audiences around the world are amazed and delighted to hear their national anthem on pan. Once when they were doing this in Austria, the ambassador got involved and joined them on trumpet. They have also been going to a festival in Turkey and France several times as well.

They have gotten new exposure with their involvement with the famous conceptual artist Jeremy Deller who made them part of a film called English Magic for British exhibit at the 55th Venice International Art Biennale in which they performed three disparate pieces of music chosen by Deller, from a section of a Ralph Vaughan Williams symphony to an acid house piece and David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold the World. Deller arranged for the band to go to Venice for the premiere of the exhibition and then for the opening of each of the three British locations on the tour of the exhibition.

The band’s new album features the three original recordings done for the English Magic film and recorded at Abbey Road studios plus a variety of selections from pop music by the Beatles, Lionel Ritchie, Boney M, Queen and the French electronica group Daft Punk as well as Brazilian composer Jorge Ben. Two numbers on the album were ones they had featured this fall in a concert in a collaboration performing them with an 80 voice choir called The Big Sing. It had been a long time coming but the recent new exposure caused many requests for the band to record a new album. The arrangements are largely by members of the band. It also includes an arrangement and original by Robert Thompson based in Arima who was active in Melodians here as well as supporting the British group.

• Ray Funk is a retired Alaskan judge who is passionately devoted to calypso, pan and mas.