By Brian Lindsay Campbell
“In ardent memory of Evelyn and Monica Bullen, Dennis “Pannie” James, Arnold “Zorro” Alexander, Joan ”JP” Pivott, Earl “Stray way” Bruno, Randy “Sky” Bruno, Norris “Fix It” Mc Donald, Oswald “Coo Coo Man” Charles, Reynold “Ray” De Coteau, Edwin “Fries” Stiell, Harold “Old Post” Charles and all Commancheros who have Passed on”…..
Aunt Artlyn beating her Enamel plate with a spoon
To signal the end of practice saying “Not another note here…
Could be the pumpkin, potato, yam or dasheen
The Hi or the low the Frank Moore or the Frank Less”….
I remember clearly the light that hung on the gospo tree that shone the players. The immediate sound from the notes to my ears as I leaned over the kitchen door, in close proximity, the house where I was born, a stone throw from the sacred ground where Commancheros was formed.
The players’ nicknames that dominated the original Commancheros were Punch, Shaky, Lion, and Young Chack, Ba-say, Dr. Fats, Hilow and one called Sicee Bird. The pan tuner was Spanky Cyrus and Timmy Mason and Jucky were syncopating providing the cords for the music.
However, that did not happen overnight, it was the vision of one of the founding members to form a steel pan band in the community. According to Dennis ”Punch” Phillip, “people were leaving the community to play pan with Wayside Symphony of River Road and Angel Harps of the Carenage. “So I started to collect empty drums with the aim of forming a band, but we did not have our first set of pan until a Trinidadian named Allan, who made and tuned pan for Wayside Symphony.
He continued, “They did not have enough drums, so I gave them what I had and in return, they gave me three sets of pan” which paved the way for the formation of the steel band.
He also pointed out that Evelyn “Brat” Bullen joined them about a year later after he invited him to be part of the Commancheros.
Commancheros first play out was at the Silver Sands Hotel on Grand Anse Beach. The Band quickly graduated from a small jam band to a steel orchestra and provided the music for Old Year’s Dance at the same hotel.
In 1968 Commancheros entered the St. David’s Panorama competition which was held at Belle Vue in St. David playing field Carnival in 68 by Lord Kitchener and To Sir with Love by Lu Lu from the motion picture To Sir with Love, and Commancheros won that competition.
According to a senior Commanchero who still reminisces about the band’s first competition victory, to him, it was a special memory even though he has been on stage with the band for all other panorama and music festivals victories then and now.
In 1969 Commancheros travelled to Carriacou for Regatta along with Angel Harps. In 1970, they entered the national panorama competition and one of the songs they played was the theme song from the motion picture, “The Good the Bad and the Ugly”.
Commancheros placed second behind Trevor Emmanuel’s band which won the competition that year. Later on in that same year, Commancheros got sponsorship from W.E. Julien and Company, and they became known as Coca Cola Commancheros.
Towards the end of 1970, Commancheros landed a ten-year contract to play pan on Russian Cruise Liners through its agent here W. E. Julien and Co. which was operated by a West German company Neckermann.
Those ten years can be considered as one of the most important and transformative years in the development of Commancheros and by extension the community of St. Paul’s. Commancheros provided a platform for many young people with an opportunity to play pan and at the same time to tour many interesting parts of our world, which they got paid for doing so.
According to a senior Commancheros member, it was the first time I got so much money, which gave me my start in life”.
Commancheros visited several countries in West Africa, Morocco, Gibraltar, Genoa in Italy, Mexico, Honduras, Panama, Haiti, the Canary Islands and Rio in Brazil and much more including the U.S.A. and Canada.
During those years, Commancheros cut two long-playing album, the first was “Play Mas” in 1972 in Barbados and the second “Variations in Tempo” in Trinidad in 1976 and was the second steel orchestra to cut two albums.
While in Trinidad, Commancheros practiced at Trinidad All Stars Pan Yard where they were very well received and very much appreciated during the practice sessions there, especially when they played the classics, like Voices of Spring and the Light Calvary Overture and Extracts from Carmen!
Commancheros have played in every social function on the island throughout the 1970s from Woburn to St. Patrick.
1974, Fitzroy Bedeau and as you wake Ghetto
Where we played cards and dominions for so
And when we de badder than Inspector “Bogo”!
For me, Commancheros true character of defiance came in 1974. The country was engulfed in a political crisis, after Bloody Sunday, November 18th, 1973 and Bloody Monday, January 21st when Maurice Bishop and his colleagues were beaten in Grenville, St. Andrew and Rupert Bishop was killed on the Carenage in Otway’s House and the country was plunged into a national strike.
There was much talk that there will be no carnival but that did not happen in St. Paul’s. With steelpan on wheels Commancheros, rolled out of the pan yard to the St Paul’s Police Station and back playing the Mighty Shadow’s “Bass Man” and “I Come Out to Play”, in the face of Police and Green Beasts. That for me was the first defining moment in our history as a community and steel band.
With the re-introduction
of the pan festival in 1975 at the Regal Theatre, now renamed Reno, Commancheros entered and won the competition and all the other prices that were at stake including the best dressed band, and best choice piece “Voices of Spring” and went on to defend the title successfully in 1976 with Extracts from Carmen as their choice piece!
The festival came to an end in 1977 because no other steel orchestra was ready with the “Test Piece”, which was the Barber of Seville which was difficult for the rest of the steel bands except Commancheros thanks to Inspector Lionel Lawrence who interpreted the classic beautifully, for Commancheros to execute properly.
To compensate the fans that were getting ready for a Commancheros three-peat in the competition the organisers, together with the steel band management arranged a concert at the Regal Cinema between Coca Cola Commancheros and Guinness City Symphony steel orchestras. Those two orchestras were sponsored by W.E. Julien and Co. Ltd. The concert was well attended and patrons were satisfied with the performance of the two outstanding steel orchestras.
Most persons who attended had no doubt after an examination of the presentations of the two steel orchestras that if the competition was held, there was no way that Commancheros could have lost based on their outstanding performance during the concert, especially when Commancheros played “Poets and Peasants” and the test piece, “The Barber of Seville”.
Commancheros also provided the music for the 1978 Carnival Queen show at the Carnival Queen’s Pavilion and music for Derek Clouden’s carnival mas band, “Sailors Traditional” which won band of the year title that year.
John “monkey John” “Brass Court” Davis
Who ran a hose from his yard?
To the pan yard to wet down
Cheros players because they were
Calling his name on the pan”
When Cheros and Garot (Garry) and the Rhythmers
Played at Soul City on Carnival Sunday nights
And start J’ouvert in front of Beard’s Shop”
The sounds produced by Commancheros during the last fifty years can be only considered as melodic and sweet sounding and has the character of a dance band and earned the title as the best beating band on the road and in parties.
Moreover, in 1980 Commancheros re-entered the national panorama competition playing the Mighty Scrunter‘s, “Woman On The Bass, a classic arrangement by Evelyn “Brat” Bullen but just as ten years earlier as faith had decided that Trevor Emmanuel band South Stars from Belmont won the panorama again.
This time we place third. That night big men cried when the results were announced. It was the beginning of the end of many who played that night.
In 1981 Cheros travelled to Cuba to participate in the Varadero International Music Festival and left a magnificent impression, according to Dennis “Punch” Phillip as “only the Mexicans out did us”.
The following year, 1982 Cheros produced its first carnival mas band, called “Early Dwellers from Central and South America”, and one year later teamed up with other carnival mas’ band associates from the Carenage and the City and formed Commancheros and Associates on the Sunday of the Whitsuntide weekend at the pan Yard in St. Paul’s.
Up to 2016 the organisation, Commancheros and Associates have won some twenty-two (22) bands of the year’s titles since its formation in 1983.
Nevertheless, the hunt for a national panorama title continued unabated and with the advent of the Flying Turkey who started providing songs for Commancheros for the panorama competition in 1993 with a hit song called “Commancheros” expectations were at an all-time high. The Flying Turkey is a very decorative Grenadian artiste who constantly pulls out all the stops which are very high in quality when preparing to enter competition of any sort.
It was after SpiceMas, in 1993 whilst a group of young men residing in Grenada and New York were conversing somewhere in St. Paul’s as to what they can do to help Commancheros.
It took one of those gentlemen to develop the idea going forward. He organised a “pot of food” and some drinks at his residence in New York after returning and later on he invited some of his comrades over. They thought that it was food alone they were going to eat. However, he presented his ideas to them and they agreed and this was the beginning of Commancheros New York Support Organisation (CNYSO).
In 2013, CNYSO celebrated its 20th anniversary with an awards ceremony in New York honouring its members and the founding member of Commancheros Steel Orchestra Dennis “Punch” Phillip and others.
To date, CNYSO has contributed significantly to Commancheros Steel Orchestra, in cash and kind and the wider community as a whole.
For the 1994 national panorama championship, Commancheros played a Flying Turkey selection, “Cheros Express” which was arranged by Cecil Noel and this was good enough to beat Republic Bank Angel Harps by one point to win the band’s first ever national panorama championship.
The celebrations erupted from Grenada to New York in a flash and everywhere on the planet where there were Commancheros supporters.
That same year we were able to capture the junior, senior and the Arts Festival championship for the first time since the formation of the steel orchestra in 1967.
Commancheros did it again in 2006 with Pan Is Alive and the following year in 2007 (Steel) by former two-time calypso monarch, Smokey who was a former Commancheros player.
It was two amazing victories as the songs were arranged by Cecil Noel and Andre Greenidge.
I am sure that by the time we reach another fifty years, we will have more panorama titles under our belt, but it will only come with hard work and discipline and total community involvement.
After coming close on countless occasions between 2008 and 2013, Commancheros seniors returned to winners’ row in 2014 playing a Black Wizard selection (Soca Feeling), the 1988 road march song and in 2016 playing Inspector’s “Dance”, which was a 1986 road march song.
Both winning songs were arranged by Andre Greenidge thus making Commancheros a five time national panorama winner.
It is also four titles won by the band through Musical Director Andre Greenidge in ten years. Andre archieved a minor in music while he was studying overseas, but also seems to connect especially with the young players of Commancheros.
I am sure that I can safely say that “we have come a long way but we have a long way to go” where panorama victories are concerned but I pledge we will get there eventually.
It is my opinion and maybe the opinion of others that we would have had many victories as one of the leading steel orchestras on the island. That is not the case and for that reason we have to continue to strive for perfection.
Meanwhile, Commancheros Juniors were making up for lost ground since their first victory in 1994 when they played Cheros Express by the Flying Turkey. They went on to win the Junior Championship in 2007 (Mas-Nika) by Smallies, 2008 (Cheros Boys) by Soca Elvis, and 2009 (One for my fans) by Smallies – all songs were arranged by Stephen Greenidge and Calvin (“Butch”) Thomas.
In addition, in 2015, (Raise your Hand) by Flying Cloud and 2016 (Mas} by Japs, arranged by Miguel Smith and Jonathan Francis, making six titles in their short history and this year 2017 based on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Commancheros I am very optimistic that Cheros Junior will be out in full force to make it three consecutive victories for the second time since their first victory since 1994.
The seniors will look to create history by winning the title on their fiftieth anniversary as they did on the fortieth anniversary.
During the years, Commancheros was crowned best beating band on the road, festival champions, and J’ouvert bomb tune champions under the leadership of Evelyn “Brat” Bullen.
Christmas mornings will not be the same for many families if Commancheros did not go and serenade families like Arnold John and family, Ernest and Dudley Marshall and family and especially Phinsley St. Louis and family.
From Grey Stone Road to Calivingny, the St. Louis family provided in a very special way for Commancheros members. It was the point of refreshing, recharging and revitalising before we continued our journey back to St. Paul’s.
This year, 2017 can really be an extraordinary year for Commancheros and our community of St. Paul’s based on the dynamics of our fiftieth anniversary.
In 2008, Commancheros seniors were looking to win a triple at the national panorama championship for the first time and the juniors were looking to win a double at the junior championships.
However, this year, 2017, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Commancheros, it is the other way around the juniors will be looking for a triple for the second time and the seniors will look for a double for the second time.
Time alone will tell at Kiddies’ Carnival and Pantastic Saturday night, if both the juniors and seniors of Commancheros will return as panorama champions in both categories as they did in 2016.
After panorama 2017, Commancheros should be off to New York for a short tour, returning in time for the official week of activities which starts on Sunday 1st of October with Church service at Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church, Roxborough, St. Paul’s.
This will be followed by a brunch at the St. Paul’s Community Centre.
We should be very proud of our achievements for many reasons, for example, Cheros maybe the only steel band that has functioned for fifty unbroken years, travelled the world and the only steel orchestra to have visited Cuba three times.
We have had some low moments; we fought and sometimes we still fight. Moreover, we even lost a few good men but in the face of all that, we have never stopped functioning since our formation.
We have won in almost every major category, except (Pan Xpression) and provided music for every possible function as the Flying’ Turkey said “we have come a long way, but we have a long way to go and “if the right-hand gets a cancer is the whole body that feels the pain, so let us gather strength to build our home again”.
Finally let us thank the people and organisations who sponsored us for the last fifty years, namely, Dudley and Ernest Marshall and families, W. E. Julien & Co., M.N.I. B., D & M, Grentel /Cable and Wireless and LIME, CNYSO and now FLOW.
Indeed, without the support of the above we could not have accomplished so much. Besides, we look forward to their continued sponsorship and can assure them that we will continue to do you proud.
We must pay recognition to Lloyd Gaye who started making and tuning Commancheros instruments in 1971-2012 and was also a member of the steel orchestra that toured on the Russian Cruise Line in 1972.
Since 2013, his son, Federico Gaye, has been continuing in the footsteps of his father by doing a remarkable job with the tonal quality of Commancheros instruments, which is why Commancheros is the sweetest sounding steel orchestra on the island.
In addition, let us thank our parents for their prayers and support over the years.
During the last fifty years Commancheros have been managed only by three very hardworking individuals, Evelyn “Brat” Bullen until 1983, Cecil Noel and currently by long-standing member O’Brien “Spoiler” Robinson who I have no doubt will be working very hard to ensure the success of this memorable occasion.