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Pulling no Punches - Andy Narell, Arranger for birdsong Steel Orchestra, Speaks on the 2014 Panorama Season

An exclusive WST interview with Panorama arranger, recording and performing artist Andy Narell


Andy Narell“...You ask if I want to win Panorama.  In its present form, I would have to say it doesn’t interest me at all.  I would however like to be able to play my music at the finals, and have always considered that a privilege  worth striving for.  Every year I’ve participated I’ve tried my best to get my band there, and it’s very disappointing to not be invited to the party...”  Andy Narell

Global -  Panorama arranger for birdsong Steel Orchestra Andy Narell  shares his thoughts and speaks candidly about the recently-concluded 2014 Trinidad and Tobago National Panorama in an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks.  The annual Trinidad & Tobago Panorama is the world’s premiere tuned percussion competition.

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Panorama up to this year has been sidewalk food. Andy is inviting us into the bistro. The judges like their doubles and roti, they don't want to taste nothing new. Like many respondents here they may be fiercely 'loyal', even though bistro aroma nice. They stuck in a box. But change is inevitable. Andy will not only survive, he will eventually succeed. Along the way his style will rub off on our upcoming musicians/arrangers who themselves will want to grow pan. And was it not exciting having him here? We are better off for him!

Why people have to act as if the man is being done a disservice?

Is it respectful to enter a competition that he has no interest in winning in it's current form?

What is wrong with it's current form? 

Furthermore if Birdsong have no interest in winning panorama, PanTrinbago should refuse their entry.

Its a competition for crying out loud! 


Where have you and Kathleen been all the time?

I'm in London lol.

But seriously in 2000 Birdsong players came and played in my band for panorama, and to see them stumble on like this hurts me deeply.

I feel people aren't being real on this subject because they don't want to offend Mr Narell and stop themselves from being able to work with him. 

Why weren't these same people who are saying poor Birdsong, saying anything the two previous years when Birdsong had better panorama tunes in "do something for pan" and "pan woman" arranged by Rafael Robertson?


What's the name of your band?  the management of Bird Song is out to lunch with this Andy thing.

It's Glissando Steel Orchestra. Rudy Smith did our music for panorama that's why we got Birdsong players. I've never been Trinidad so I can't speak on the management. But as a pan player, I wouldn't want to play his music "in its present form" for panorama.


The judges work in an Indian restaurant and you can't go there and order Italian food.

No one here is saying that Andy will not survive, what's being said here is it's the wrong place for his music.

Change WILL come, but Trini style. Every arranger in T&T can arrange music like Andy, can Andy arrange music like Trini? we may never know because Andy don't do Trini style.

How did he make the finals with this...

This tune (Coffee Street) has a Panorama tempo, why can't Andy other tunes have this tempo


We all know that change WILL come but Trini arrangers going down Andy street, I doubt it.  

I submitted the following article to a local newspaper in Antigua & Barbuda and I posted it on my blog, www.myantiguabarbuda.com

Pan Man War

Dr. Lester CN Simon-Hazlewood


Anyone who likes music and loves the steel pan should find time to go to www.whensteeltalks.com and read the comments by, and responses to Andy Narell following the 2014 Panorama in Trinidad and Tobago. It is highly recommended reading with implications for steelbands in Antigua and Barbuda. The thesis, arguments and responses are almost as fierce as a real, old-time steelband clash, with the irons in front and the steel behind.

When we remove the periphery of this very interesting discussion, the central points from Andy Narell are that "Winning Panorama and creating music have diverged"; the great, winning Panorama arrangers pushed the limits; year after year we hear the same chromatic runs and gimmicks; and "the discouragement of innovation has been going on for decades".

Andy Narell is saying what many musicians and pan lovers are afraid to say. He has made similar observations before. I share his central remarks on Panorama as I stay awake year after year, to the very end, straining my ears and my sleepy self to hear something more, something different; something I have not heard before.

We have to separate the core of Andy Narell's message from Andy Narell's response to his own criticism. I listened to a recording of the semifinal performance of his arrangement this year and I think it should not be in the finals, as the judges at the semifinal decided. I listened once because I did not want to listen a second and third time to be more analytical. Judges listen once. I understand the harmonic ideas he said he included in his arrangement. And I share his desire to want to hear this short of harmonic complexity in Panorama. I love the African 6/8 rhythm section in his arrangement this year. The arrangement reminded me of Coffee Street and I even rudely referred to it as Bush-Tea Street because of the similarity of concept.  

Andy Narell is facing a very interesting problem to which there is an equally interesting solution. When an arranger sets out to arrange for steelband, the crucial, inescapable, musical fact is that despite the difference in pitch and range, the similarity of sound from all the different steel pan instruments is in stark and obvious contrast to the wide variety of the types of sounds from the instruments in a symphony orchestra. Hence" Carnival of the Animals" by Camille Saint-Saens will probably not work as well in a steelband adaptation.

Arrangers for steelband will probably be better served, initially, by regarding the string quartet than the entire symphony orchestra simply because the string quartet has a similar handicap in variation in sound qualities. Harmonic and rhythmic interplay must take charge when variation in sonority and timbre is narrow.

The difference between Panorama arrangement as it is now and what Andy Narell is clamouring for, is inclusion of more harmonic and rhythmic complexities and less of the banal, formulaic, predictable, chromatic runs and other gimmicks. You can even predict when some of the gimmicks will be played, and go to the bathroom or refrigerator, or catch a quick nap and get back up, losing nothing much.

Andy Narell said it was just a few ticks faster than Clive Bradley's arrangement of High Mass, but I was not moved much by his arrangement this year. I must confess that this is probably because I think his Coffee Street arrangement is of such a high class that it was not surpassed by this year's arrangement of We Kinda Music…then again, to be fair, I have listened to Coffee Street more than 100 times.

What Andy Narell may be saying or wishing is for the top, winning Panorama arrangers to do what, to my mind, he does not do very well. Take out some of the simple musical gimmicks and add more harmonic complexities and variation in rhythm. What Andy Narell may be saying is that he knows the top, winning arrangers can do precisely that but they have locked themselves into this winning formula and refused to push the boundaries. How annoying it must be for him that others refused to do what they can do, to my mind, better than he. Panorama deserves it.

A local musician, George Jonas, suggested that if Boogsie Sharpe had done precisely what Andy Narell did this year, the judges and pundits would have hailed it as the best slice of bread and sleight of hand  to have happened to steelband arrangements for Panorama. My feeling on this is that as Boogsie Sharpe continues to stretch the boundaries of rhythm, the boundaries of harmony will remain dissatisfied, frustrated and unfulfilled without similar stretches. Time, the heartbeat of music, will tell.

What Andy Narell is saying to us, in the final, reasoned analysis of this wonderful argument and subsequent melee, is to be ourselves, to be West Indian, to be like the pan instrument itself: different, and innovative.

Being creative and winning and pushing boundaries are the fundamental, unique and defining qualities in our cricket, music, language and style and fashion, and even our badness. Those Trinidadians and Tobagonians who are annoyed and are heaping buckets and gallons of scorn on Andy Narell are probably unknowingly upset that a white, foreign, pan player (who was introduced to pan by an Antiguan and Barbudan, my recently deceased cousin, Rupert Sterling) is reminding us, just reminding us, how to be West Indian. 

Still doesn't explain why he enters a competition he has no interest in winning in it's current form. Don't get me wrong, I do see the potential in his music to truly mash up panorama, but at the moment its only potential.  As far as coffee street goes I'd be more happy to play it than we kinda music for panorama but it wouldn't satisfy my panorama spirit.

Panorama is panorama, not a steel band festival, please let's not get it twisted!


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