Trinidad and Tobago


Chapter of pan history destroyed

Apr 12, 2001

FEW locations have been as misunderstood as the relatively small area called Hell Yard, the scene of Tuesday’s fire which left 20 people homeless and, by the same opportunity, wiped out a significant piece of pan history.

Indeed, several of the meanest characters mentioned in Sparrow’s calypso “Bad Johns” were once either resident at Hell Yard or frequented the Charlotte Street, Port of Spain, location—Sagiator and feared stick-fighters Joe Prengay and Fitzie Banrie among them.

The infamous “Mastifay” and “Cut Outer”, both mentioned in Small Island Pride’s deceptively titled “Carnival Celebration” calypso, were also of Hell Yard.

But then, it was the very barrack-yard where Neville Jules founded the band that first became known as The Boys from Hell Yard. That steel orchestra, now known as the Neal & Massy Trinidad All Stars, remained under his leadership until he migrated in 1971.

Jules, who created the Jouvert Bomb competition for pan (the annual Pan Trinbago competition in this genre now carries his name), is also credited with inventing the style of bass and cello pans still popular today. He is one of 11 pan legends due to receive lifetime awards in New York next weekend from the T&T Folk Art Institute.

Nor was Jules the only famous name in pan lore to come from or pass through Hell Yard. In fact, in his band were Rudolph “Fisheye” Olliviere, Winston “Spree” Simon and Andrew “Pan” de la Bastide.

Burntout store
Bookstore owner Anthony Luke surveys the damage
to his business place at Hell Yard yesterday.

For that matter, the mini-ghetto didn’t only produce top pannists. The 1961 national calypso king, The Mighty Dougla, was also a product of the famous yard.

But Hell Yard first came to fame long before pan was the preferred musical instrument. Its location, on Charlotte Street, just south of Piccadilly Street corner (with entrance next to the Salvation Army), made it ideal for stickfighting contestants from areas to the east and north.

The East Dry River at its back also provided a getaway route for the less fortunate.

Tamboo bamboo bands often helped create the mood at stickfighting gayelles and the group from Hell Yard was certainly among the more popular aggregations. Sagiator was captain of the Hell Yard tamboo bamboo band in the period leading up to the 1930s, a group which annually produced a Carnival Day presentation called Bad Behaviour Sailors and who, it is said, coined the saying: “You can’t play sailor and ’fraid powder.”

Hell Yard, one of several such living areas around Port of Spain in the first half of the 20th century, distinguished itself by a reputation that may have been somewhat unfair, given that most areas of close inner-city living regularly produced pointless conflicts.

What was once a cheap way of housing labourers from cocoa and sugar estates just outside the city, became a feared area.

But with the turn of the 1930s, the rhythm and chanting of the stickfighting gayelle and the clatter of tamboo bamboo and iron-hubs beaten with steel poles would give way to the new musical adventure inherent in pan.

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