When Steel Talks

Everything Related to the Steelpan Instrument and Music

Revisitied - Panman Lord Woodbine: The forgotten sixth Beatle

England, U.K. - Author James McGrath said to When Steel Talks “I'm especially keen to re-promote this piece at present, because a new, very long book on the Beatles has just been published - and, though it has its merits, it is very disappointing to see that it scarcely mentions Lord Woodbine as a musician, only as a promoter.” - October 17, 2013

------------------------------------------------

Dr. James McGrath has graciously granted When Steel Talks permission to republish his article on Lord Woodbine in its entirety. In addition, Dr. McGrath has provide access to his article which contains more on Lord Woodbine and the steelband players. Click to read 

Panist Lord Woodbine taught the Fab Four the blues– but was written out of pop history. -
James McGrath

Liverpool, UK -   ...He was part of the first professional steel band in this country. They played in clubs and shebeens in Liverpool 8, where in the Eighties, race riots would erupt. He made up a delightful calypso about various characters named after cigarettes. His chums, probably as a joke, renamed him Lord Woodbine. It stuck...

In 1958 he was with the All-Steel Caribbean Band, led by a fellow Trinidadian, Gerry Gobin. At the Joker's Club, where the band often played, the musicians noticed two white lads who seemed keen. They were Lennon and McCartney, wide-eyed and restless kids, like many others on rock and dole. The steel-pannists moved to the popular Jacaranda Club in Liverpool 1 and The Beatles followed. Gobin, unimpressed by their music, was initially irritated by these hangers-on. Candace Smith, then Gobin's partner, was also suspicious of them: "Bloody white kids, trying to horn in on the black music scene."

When the lads were just starting out, dreaming, green and crazy about music, they, said Woodbine, "made themselves orphans, deliberately" and followed him like motherless chicks, hanging around the joints he either part-owned or played at, always trying to have a go on the steel pans. "Woodbine's Boys", they called them, Paul, John, George, Stuart Sutcliffe (bass player and "fifth Beatle") and, after Woodbine persuaded them they needed a drummer, Pete Best.

Woodbine was not ambitious; The Beatles were, and like most young people, they were takers and triers. The Trinidadian helped guide them through their formative musical years, an inadvertent father figure, an accidental hero. They found each other – the uncut band-players, often unwashed too, getting acquainted with cannabis and their somewhat unconventional role model, who part-owned shebeens and strip clubs, ran up debts and loved making music. Speaking to the musician Tony Henry, the Welshman Allan Williams, the first promoter of the group, admitted that without his old business partner Woodbine, there would have been no Beatles. It was Williams who parted with the group just as they were beginning to get popular. Woodbine's chicks flew away. Brian Epstein, their next father figure, stepped in and the rest is history....

read entire article, below

A homeless black man lived under one of the arches near Waterloo station until about five years ago, when he and his box vanished. His name was Samuel (pronounced to rhyme with Danielle). Most of the time, he talked to himself or slept, but on some summer evenings he would start clapping and sing lines from songs by Marley or The Beatles, or reminisce about Liverpool, where he was born and raised. His deep voice rose from a reservoir of cigarette tar and pain. One story he returned to again and again was that of another Liverpudlian, the calypso singer, songwriter and music promoter Lord Woodbine. For Samuel, Woodbine was just one more talented black man, used then cast aside by the white world, just like those impoverished blues singers in New Orleans, and countless R&B, reggae and rap artists who never got their due: "Who know today that Woodbine, he make the Beatles. Who wants to know a black man did that?" Who, indeed.

When the lads were just starting out, dreaming, green and crazy about music, they, said Woodbine, "made themselves orphans, deliberately" and followed him like motherless chicks, hanging around the joints he either part-owned or played at, always trying to have a go on the steel pans. "Woodbine's Boys", they called them, Paul, John, George, Stuart Sutcliffe (bass player and "fifth Beatle") and, after Woodbine persuaded them they needed a drummer, Pete Best.

Woodbine was not ambitious; The Beatles were, and like most young people, they were takers and triers. The Trinidadian helped guide them through their formative musical years, an inadvertent father figure, an accidental hero. They found each other – the uncut band-players, often unwashed too, getting acquainted with cannabis and their somewhat unconventional role model, who part-owned shebeens and strip clubs, ran up debts and loved making music. Speaking to the musician Tony Henry, the Welshman Allan Williams, the first promoter of the group, admitted that without his old business partner Woodbine, there would have been no Beatles. It was Williams who parted with the group just as they were beginning to get popular. Woodbine's chicks flew away. Brian Epstein, their next father figure, stepped in and the rest is history.

Only one substantial article was ever written about Woodbine – by Henry in 1998. He managed to interview the man himself, who, even then, was reluctant to intrude into the established Beatles legend. Maybe it was pride or humility, or both, or that Woodbine didn't want the whole black Liverpudlian contribution to The Beatles projected on to him. There were others, of whom more anon. There were some poignant moments in the interview when Woodbine couldn't hold back his bruised feelings, his disappointment that he was so casually overlooked by his boys.

As the years went by he had to endure further indignities, reminders that he was Mr Nobody. The worst blow came in 1992 at the Liverpool Playhouse, where he was invited to see Imagine, a play about The Beatles. The backdrop was a photograph taken in 1960, at the Arnhem Memorial, Germany. In the original, Woodbine – who had hired the van – was in the photo with Allan and the band minus John, who stayed in the van because he was a pacifist. The Trinidadian had been airbrushed out: "It really hurt me. Maybe the great Beatle publicity machine did not want any black man associated with their boys."

And it carries on. Woodbine is virtually absent from the many books on Beatlemania. Biopics are as myopic. There is an interminable line of films on The Beatles, the latest of which was the BBC's Lennon Naked, with Christopher Eccleston playing Lennon in a white suit. Liam Gallagher is making the next Beatles movie. Will it drop in on Toxteth? Best not to hope, as many say in that part of Blighty.

Biographers have passed over the black Liverpudlian who inspired and supported the fledgling band. The role of Liverpool, too, is often underestimated. In 2002, McCartney told the Liverpudlian writer Paul Du Noyer: "Liverpool was a huge melting pot. And we took what we liked from it." Various witnesses saw this happening. The black Liverpudlian band-leader George Dixon remembers the boys watching him and the guitarist Odie Taylor at the White House pub. The Nigerian-Liverpudlian singer Ramon Sugar Deen recalls the way their music developed: "I heard them jamming in the Cavern club and the rhythm had changed. They'd got some chords off Odie."

Greg Wilson, an enthusiastic promoter of black music, believes it is impossible to determine "influences" on artistes, the mix inside them, how their own talent responded to the sounds and thoughts of others. However, in accounts of the Merseyside four, credit is always given to Motown, Ravi Shankar and individuals such as DJ Greg Wilson. Only the musicians of Liverpool 8 have no place in the narrative. They have been Tipp-Exed out. Woodbine was the first singer-songwriter Lennon and McCartney ever met, yet one writer said that the Trinidadian had only a "walk-on part" in The Beatles' story.

Born in Trinidad in 1928, his real name was Harold Phillips. When only 14, he lied about his age and joined the RAF. After the war, he went back home and then retuned to England in 1948 on the famous SS Windrush, which carried the first boatful of hopeful West Indian immigrants to their motherland. Though they faced raw racism and hostility, most of these immigrants had spirit and song and a buoyancy that not even the bitter cold could drag down. Woodbine knew how to enjoy life, whatever it chucked at him. He was part of the first professional steel band in this country. They played in clubs and shebeens in Liverpool 8, where in the Eighties, race riots would erupt. He made up a delightful calypso about various characters named after cigarettes. His chums, probably as a joke, renamed him Lord Woodbine. It stuck.

He perished in a house fire in Toxteth with his wife 10 years ago this July. The inferno ended an extraordinary life. He was 72 and by all accounts as skint as he had always been, though generous till the end. In his time he had been a lorry driver, railway engineer, builder, decorator, shopkeeper, TV repairman, a barman, club owner, songwriter, singer and musical mentor.

In 1958 he was with the All-Steel Caribbean Band, led by a fellow Trinidadian, Gerry Gobin. At the Joker's Club, where the band often played, the musicians noticed two white lads who seemed keen. They were Lennon and McCartney, wide-eyed and restless kids, like many others on rock and dole. The steel-pannists moved to the popular Jacaranda Club in Liverpool 1 and The Beatles followed. Gobin, unimpressed by their music, was initially irritated by these hangers-on. Candace Smith, then Gobin's partner, was also suspicious of them: "Bloody white kids, trying to horn in on the black music scene."

Marylee Smith, Jamaican, 81, used to visit her cousins in Liverpool. Interviewed for this article, she recalled Toxteth's music scene then: "They was there all the time, you know, all the time, like they was looking for some black magic, pushing in, rough boys, unwashed sometimes. Jumping on to the stage, playing the pans like it was theirs. Some of us didn't like that. But the musicians, they didn't mind so much." Woodbine was bohemian, free, left wing, incautious. He even had the boys performing in his strip club. It must have been madly exciting.

In 2008, McCartney recalled those times in Mojo magazine: "Liverpool being the first Caribbean settlement in the UK, we were very friendly with a lot of black guys – Lord Woodbine, Derry Wilkie, they were mates we hung out with." More than that, actually. George Roberts, part Arab and another Liverpudlian promoter, observed that Paul and John not only liked being with people of colour, they were getting to know deep musical traditions and skills: "They had two passions. One was to learn authentic R&B and the other was to become famous. Lennon would never have got that in Menlove Avenue; McCartney would never have got R&B with his upright piano and dad."

Other Toxteth musicians brought on the two wannabes. The Somali-Irish guitarist Vinnie Tow was seen showing John and Paul the seventh chord in the Chuck Berry style, says Roberts: "John was always asking Vinnie, 'Show me this, show me that.'" The Guyanese guitarist Zancs Logie was another willing teacher. In 1995, Woodbine told Derek Murray, author of a forthcoming book on black music: "Zancs was always showing Lennon something. Until he died [1994] he was proud of how he taught Lennon to play guitar." George Dixon thought The Beatles were "three-chord wonders. We were playing sophisticated 15-chord numbers. But The Beatles progressed and others didn't so I admire them."

Williams and Woodbine got The Beatles to Hamburg, then a happening place hungry for new talent. Williams had found some cash left behind in a club – instead of blowing it on themselves, they sent for the boys, shacked up in shabby rooms and got them bookings. The group fell out with Williams when they made a return trip to Hamburg and got bookings without giving him a cut. Later, as The Beatles found fortune and fame, people in Liverpool would say to Woodbine: "See your boys doing great, Woody", and he did feel chuffed. He needed them less than they once needed him. That is a kind of victory.

That affection was not fully reciprocated. True, The Beatles always took a strong stand against racism. When he bumps into black Liverpudlians, Paul McCartney spontaneously remembers his "old friend Woodbine" and others. He has done an admirable amount for black and white musicians in his old city. But when Woodbine burnt to death in 2000, McCartney left it to his press office to issue a statement. The surviving band-members should have attended the funeral, or at least had a public memorial to honour the man. Better still, surely they should have seen him right when he was alive?

Fame brings all kinds of past and present hangers-on – people making wild claims of previous intimacies. Woodbine and the others who helped The Beatles never did. Their protégés were too busy, too wary, too rich, too famous to feel any sense of obligation to those who taught them to fly high with their musical wings. It is forgetfulness more than malice, but still can wound.

And so Woodbine's becomes another sad story perhaps to turn into a blues song. Dr Helen Davies, lecturer in cultural studies, believes that he dramatises the way "'authentic' history is constructed. We see time and time again that the voices that are recorded are white, male and middle class."

Not good enough, says the sociologist Max Farrar, who remembers the Toxteth clubs: "We were listening to black music – it was the start of the, some would say curious, some dubious, love affair that white people like me have with black people and the emancipatory culture they have created. It's high time this debt was properly acknowledged." If it was, we might get to celebrate Liverpool 8, its struggles, appeal, and the fantastic cross-cultural creativity that made The Beatles.

Views: 1678

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

So, what's new?. Same old story, we open our hearts to them, they lap up our genius then use it to make millions and leave us in the dust without a word of thanks.Think of it, every musical genre was started by us, Nubians, and who always come out on top?. Do the math.

And the math says, in this case, BILLIONS, not mere millions.  Take into account Paul McCartney's worth alone, the other Beatles themselves or their estates, and then there's the Beatles catalog of music, etc., etc, etc

see? it happens all the time....we create but get no credit.....do you recall reggae was born out of the calypso and mento forms in the early to mid-fifties? happens all the time...

Fascinating

bugs

Not sure how anyone can spin this as a race thing and/or being exploited by the white massa.

Obviously Woodbine was one of those people who gives freely of his knowledge without wanting anything in return.

At the time of his association with 'the boys' he had no idea where they would end up and probably didn't care.

Over the years he had plenty time to stake a claim for acknowledgement or even money. He didn't. It shows the class of the man so who are we to lament for him. If he had struggled all along to try to gain recognition for what he had done it's one thing but the man never pursued it so why are we so concerned or offended.

Yes I believe that in the grand scheme of things he should have been recognized and rightfully so- even rewarded, but he himself did not seem to have a problem with it and in any case no one can actually claim that without him the 'boys' would not have gone on to greatness on heir own (or with other mentors). Obviously they had some innate talent that carried the to where they ended up.

I'm also sure that others would have benefitted from Lord Woodbine's generosity and never made it that far.

Musicians always mentor musicians. It's part of the cycle of growing up as a musician. Go into any panyard and see what's taking place. Should we be angry if any of the youngsters or even foreigners (white, chinese, japanese, etc) actually go on to become great money making musicians without giving us credit.

Wonder what everyone thinks about Andy Narrell then.

Enough HATRED has been directed at Andy Narrel to fill the seven seas!!!

WOW!

I did not see this article until today. And its been around for years! 

It is particularly interesting and I agree the lack of recognition of the contribution of black musicians to the rise of white musical icons like the Beatles is disconcerting. And of course its racism that led to the airbrushing of Woodbine's image out of the early picture of the Beatles. What else could it be? We do not need to go searching for obscure explanations. And although no one claimed that the group was racist -- far from it -- it seems a little disappointing that they did not  at least give some recognition to the contribution the black Liverpudlians made to their music.when it was being birthed.

And I do not think that anyone is making any claims on behalf of Woodbine, Rather they are just filling in a historical gap and commenting on the fact that it has been omitted. in the first place. 

And maybe it is because of our knowledge of things like this that some persons are so suspicious of, and aggressive to, Andy Narell. It is a deeprooted fear that, despite the fact that he has made no such claims, music historians  somewhere in the future when pan has taken its place in the annals of modern music, will grant to Narrell all sorts of accolades and make all sorts of claims on his behalf re the development of the instrument and the music. And that this would make him more important than many true pan pioneers.

And then Narell, like McCartney may not come forward to correct the error!

Andy Narell - Speaks on the Steeldrum Artform

''Why is Andy Trying to Infuse His Musical Will on Our Panorama. He is Still an Infant on the Panorama Scene and Has Forgotten His Rookie Status and Is Very Disappointed whenever His Music is Rejected. This is a Cultural thing that He is Trying to Change. He Cant Go into Jamaica and Try to Change their Reggae Culture So Why is He Trying to do this to Our Music. He thinks that He Knows Panorama Music Better than us. He should be Learning not trying to Change Something He knows Nothing about. He Comes every Year with His Spice less Music and wants it to be Accepted and is Pissed off whenever He Dont Make the Cut.

Andy Narell His Music & Steelband Panorama

Narrell's discussions on pan are always interesting. 

For example, when he says "we have done, perhaps 1% of what we can with the steelband", and I respond "WHAT"? I then remind myself that, unlike Narell who first heard the steelband as an organic, developed, thing, with clever arrangers and a range of instruments, My steelband experience began when a band had  a few pan roun de neck, a few tenors, a couple seconds and guitars (I think they had started to come in) and a 3 note bass  and  dudup and iron.

I lived through the excitement of the early geniuses who made this thing into real music.

I was on Frederick street when de fellers came down playing 'Back Bay Shuffle',  I remember the excitement when some  pans started being wheeled and, as a boy pushing them. and later on experiencing the euphoria of actually playing them.

I saw the phenomenon grow, where men, unschooled in musical theory, made music that astounded the world.

I remember Dr Northcote,English music festival judge, speaking highly of the instrument but suggesting that they 'stay away from orchestral classical music as being a bit out of their range and smiled as the men completely ignored him and other naysayers and then exulted when Nortcote come back 4 years later and marvelled at the panmens mastery of the genre.

I heard all stars drop their first bomb, I listened to Starlift playing Ray Holman, a teenage schoolboy's arrangements, full of musical ideas and subtlety..

So I forgive Narrell and his 1%! He simply does not know how great this so-called '1%' is!

I know we will continue to grow this amazing musical form/instrument/ concept. We will continue to ignore the advice of musicians who come from outside and tell us what we must do with our thing. Dah is how Trinis is.

I appreciate and understand Narell's understanding that the steelband is really like no other musical orchestra. especially when playing calypso. I have never seen any orchestra play in which the members so 'catch de spirit' and become part of the music itself!

What I am impatient with, is his refusal to understand the essence of panorama.

Panorama has its genesis in pan on the road at carnival time. I know he missed the heyday of pan on the road, when these amazing entities called steelbands would travel through the streets of POS, thrilling themselves and the revellers with their music. He cannot understand the relationship between a carnival steelband and the masqueraders/revellers/ crowd/audience, having not witnessed this phenomenon. So he cannot grasp the elements of  arrangement which Trinis insist must be in a 'panorama tune'.

Maybe, if he had been in the streets on those days or after panorama began, been in the North Stand in early days, he might have had an inkling.

However, I agree that it would be nice for us to have a kind of 'pan ramajay' sponsored by corporate bodies, where large bands also entered and  in which steelbandsmen could compete on a different level, where pure musicianship and experimentation, would be the only criteria.

But he is , as my mother would have said, 'fars an out a place' to want to change panorama, which is one of the last remaining elements of the golden era of pan because it keeps the link between pan and the man on the street -- who created it ; which preserves something that one day we can return to and develop and so save the carnival itself!

Yuh Know...Years ago a European{so-called 'Engineer'},came to T&T,and critciized  [now AnceSTAR} Bertie Marshall's "Pan-Tuning" Technique>>Big Article in the Trinidad Guardian Newspaper>>>

Only to come around soon after,retracting what he so boldfacedly,insultingly said before. However his new Praise for Bertie...wasn't 'Headline News'!

Self-seeking Soucouyants like these...suck the *Blood of our Culture>>then promote themselves as the so-called 'Authorities'..ON WE T'ING!

Ray Holman must know that HIS{Ray's} MUSIC...Is what that guy 'studied'! STOP Allowing:-"Culture-Vultures" to "CON"tinue sowing Seeds of Doubt {In Our Young People especially},by insinuating:-*Inferiority,*Incompetence or *Incapability where our Adults>>>Arrangers,etc>> are concerned...Whilst Forcing:-"DEM T'ING" on *WE PEOPLE>>>Using WE "NATIONAL"-Competition as a "CON"ditioning Vehicle.

It is:-Wake-up Time>>No More "Mental-Enslavement" in this "Golden-Age"!!!!!........... ASE! ASE! ASE-O!

RSS

© 2019   Created by When Steel Talks.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service