Oh Danny Boy
Bassy - Love Vine
June 29, 2018
Oh Danny Boy

Before we get into de full swing of Vincy Mas and wid Junior Pan taking place on Sunday, ah want to share ah long overdue story about my friend Frank Laborde. He is quiet and approachable, and loves his privacy. However, through persistence, ah got him to sit down and talk foh ah while.

Frank was born in New Town, Old Montrose, now known as Block 2000. He refused to disclose his age; told me dat was not important. But my calculations tell me dat since he was ah lad in Primary School during de Riot of 1935, dat his teachers were Cadman Fraser (Met-dis) and GCH Thomas (Anglican), den Frank is closer to100 years ole dan he looks.

Back in the early 1940s, dis youngster migrated to Trinidad, de land of Steel Band. He be-friended one Norbert Vanderpool, a co-worker who was a member of Invaders Steel Band. Norbert invited Frank to a practice session in the Pan Yard in Woodbrooke. Frank was simply fascinated with everything he saw and heard, in particular the Ping Pong or Tune Pan, de lead instrument dat is today deTenor Pan.. He noticed that de notes were not arranged in the diatonic scale, in the normal alphabetical order, CDEFGAB but were scattered all over the pan and was referred to as de “Scatter Note Pan”.

Dat first visit to Invaders Pan yard was an eye-opener and inspiration for Frank. Silently he vowed dat he was going to build a Pan exactly like de one he saw. His main ambition was to be able to play de song: “Oh Danny Boy”, ah song dat climaxed wid ah flow of notes in de higher octave. He returned to SVG around 1948, back to good Ole Montrose, Block 2000 home of Rising Star Steel Band and later Starlift. Frank immediately went to work on his Scatter Note Pan. Dat instrument, according to him, became de first of its kind (wid Scatter Notes) to be built in SVG. He had done his homework while in T’n’T. His story is dat he obtained an oil drum from ESSO at Arnos Vale, cut-off seven inches from the bottom that has no holes/nozzles. Next was ‘sinking the Pan’, i.e. pounding the surface inwards creating a bowl (concave). With a chalk he drew the elliptical shaped notes, bigger shapes for the notes in the lower scale, and small shapes for the higher notes. His tools were ah punch or small cold-chisel and a hammer, and skillfully he carved along the chalk marks to form or separate the notes, each note with a convex shape. Grooving stage complete with 18 notes, de Pan was heated for 15 minutes on ah ‘wood fire and three stones’, then immediately thrown in the small stream nearby ‘to cool down’.

Frank’s own admission is dat he had no experience or training in Pan building, or any knowledge in music, except he knew de major scale: “Doh-Ray-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti-Doh!” However he tuned every one of those 18 notes, beginning with the lowest note “G” on the Bass Clef, climbing the scale up to high“C” on the Treble Clef. Lie-Za swears dat dis man was given ah gift from de Almighty. The actual tuning exercise was dramatic, as the entire community, including one of my classmates Paddy Corea, who later became ah Pan-aholic, came around daily to witness that historic development.

Following Frank’s Tune Pan, came Rising Star, Ole Montrose first Steel Band. Rising Star rose to fame in de early 1950s placing first in a “Local Talent Show” at Lyrics Cinema. And by no coincidence, de Band played “Oh Danny Boy.”

It was time to move again, and Frank migrated to de USA leaving his Pan behind. He spent ah good 20 years in de US and in de 1980s Frank was back. Wid pan in his vein, he soon got around to building himself a Tenor Pan that now sits on a stand in his dining room. De Pan looks a bit on de ole side, sound a bit on de ole side as well, de notes badly need tuning. Those Scattered Notes have become ah challenge to Frank to find. Even though his hands now tire quickly, he however managed to find de Major Scale on an out of tuned Pan. And den he battled away finding de notes from his fair-foh-hit Song “Oh Danny Boy!” Frank is indeed ah Treasure. And wid dat is gone ah gone again.
One Love Bassy