Saturday, December 5, 2015

Chad Gets Some Bad News About Herman "Guppy" Brown

Anyone whose been to the Caribbean knows the enchanting sound of the steel drums, a.k.a. 'pan' or steelpan - the perfect upbeat music for sun drenched beachside afternoons spent with friends. It's impossible to be sad and be around pan music - unless you've just discovered that your hero, the manufacturer of the most revered steelpans in the Caribbean has just passed away.

Jen & I visited London early December 2015 and spent our time doing some very untouristy things like trying to find Lawrence Hayward in Shoreditch, seeing Wire at Tufnell's Dome and shopping on Regent Street. Early on an uncharacteristically warm evening at the Oxford Circus tube station entrance we heard some accomplished pan playing - Christmas songs all. We stood close to the lone musician (later introduced as Chad), a dark-skinned man of African heritage as he played intently while a mass of holiday shoppers streamed by mostly oblivious to the talent they were briefly exposed to. Maybe I'm more hard-wired than most for appreciating the music; I spent the first five years of my life more often than not a nude brown baby on the beaches of Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas where such a sound was not uncommon. But here in London? A treat I could not ignore.

I made two recordings of him with my Zoom H2n recorder. The first I elected to stand back a bit and get the sounds of London - people walking by speaking Russian, French and more, their heels clicking on the paving stones (the recorder was on the ground where it would pick up less wind noise). The second recording was started after we'd already talked to him for a few minutes about his time in London. For that I held the recorder. A very interesting aberration in the first recording is the high pitched noise, like electronic crickets that my recorder captured. My best guess is that there's a ton of buried power and telecommunications cables beneath the street that introduces EMI to things like a digital audio recorder. I can't think of any other cause for the noise. It's much less noisy in the interview when I held the recorder. Oh well. It's better than NOT recording it, eh?

Recording 1 - street playing 
Recording 2 - interview and Pan in A-Minor by Lord Kitchner

The second recording is Chad talking about why he was in London and encouraging me to not waste my time in cold New Orleans for Mardi Gras when I could be in Trinidad listening to pan music. While we were talking he received a phone call and became crestfallen. Turns out that his favorite manufacturer of the pan, artisan Herman "Guppy" Brown had passed away the same day. Chad pointed out that his pan made by Desmond "Mappo" Richardson, while being excellent in craftsmanship still wasn't the equal of one by Guppy Brown. 

Take a minute to listen to this man excitedly talk about the music that makes his life go 'round and revel that we live in the kind of world where magic like this can be found at Tube stops and beaches in the Caribbean.

Anyone interested in purchasing the world's second best hand-crafted steelpans would be advised to contact Desmond "Mappo" Richardson in Trinidad at phone: + (868) 675 0918. Life's short. Wait too long and you might have to resort to the third best.