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'Twas Bertie's year

Bertie Marshall

By Terry Joseph

Unlike previous years in which the dedication of Carnival to the celebration of one of its components went by largely unnoticed, the recently concluded festival tribute to pan was anything but tokenism.

In declaring this year's festival a tribute to the national musical instrument, the National Carnival Commission (NCC) adopted the theme Pan for Carnival, commissioning gold-coloured pan-sized designer motifs from The Signature Collection as Grand Stand decor and backing the enhanced aesthetic with tangibles.

Master pan tuner, innovator and inventor, Bertie Marshall was selected as the icon and by obvious extension, the work of his legendary Highlanders Steel Orchestra brought into focus, via a special Jouvert competition named in his honour.

For the contest, which was held on Ariapita Avenue in Port of Spain, collaborator Pan Trinbago undertook administration. The NCC set up infrastructure and offered some $45,000 in prizes for steel orchestras performing best renditions of any tune made popular by Highlanders. That too was won by Exodus, who added the record $15,000 prize to a bumper seasonal take already topping $250,000.

Of equal interest was the response of Neal and Massy Trinidad All Stars who although not competing sent leader Beresford Hunte to announce the band would pay tribute to Bertie Marshall in song one they felt reflected the orchestra's opinion of the master tuner. All Stars then proceeded to play "How Great Thou Art".

In addition, via the NCC, the Culture Ministry gave Marshall a $10,000 cheque, choosing for the handover a Carnival Sunday reunion of Highlanders members on the site of Marshall's former Success Village home, an event at which several pledges were made in his name.

Attended by Culture & Tourism Minister Pennelope Beckles and with Commissioner Sigler Jack deputising for NCC chairman Kenny de Silva, the gathering brought together Highlanders stalwarts "Professor" Les Slater, Franklyn Ollivieri, Ushkay, Tony Slater, Teddy Belgrave et al and the band's stoutest supporters, including Kelvin "Younger" Colthurst, who "conducted" the orchestra annually in its Jouvert heyday.

On behalf of The Angostura Group of Companies, who were part sponsors of the reunion, marketing and promotions manager (and former Miss World), Giselle La Ronde-West presented Marshall with a plaque and a pledge of $1,500.

Pan Trinbago president Patrick Arnold vowed to make available a $50,000 facility for development of the site as a museum in Marshall's honour, a sum that includes a gift to the pan legend. Arnold praised organisers of the event and asked to be updated as plans outlined by Slater and Belgrave for a Bertie Marshall Foundation developed.

Gifts and plaques also came from the International Caribbean Carnivals Association (ICCA) - among its representatives that day president Selman Lewis - and Highlanders USA.

Overwhelmed by the outpouring of appreciation and gifts, Marshall said he welcomed the idea of being able to enjoy the accolades and offerings.

The reunion party went well into the night, with additional drinks and food on hand at Miss Norma's shop obliquely across the street; this ensuing fete rendering several members incapable of arriving at the pan contest before sunrise Monday.

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