September 27, 2000 By Keith Smith

Play one for Bertie

MY advice to Mr Arnold and Mr Smith is to stop fussing and organise for Pan Trinbago to give Mr Marshall its own Millennium Innovation award.

True, they’d have to find $100,000 to match Mr Minshall’s winnings, but the first thing I’d do would be to hook up with Leslie Slater in New York and between the members of the pan fraternity there and here, it shouldn’t be all that difficult to raise less than US$20,000.

I don’t know, community bias apart, that there are many who will dispute Bertie Marshall’s claims, the man hammered the steelpan into the modern era, quite apart from the distinctive arrangements he introduced with Hilanders, original enough to make you sit up and take fresh notice of as stale a melody as “May the God Bless and Keep You” or jump and wave something to “Gypsy Rondo”, long before the reaction became mandatory.

Tuner, inventor, arranger, player, band leader, Bertie remains something of steelband’s renaissance man even if, somehow, he has never quite received the wider public acclaim that the likes of Spree and Elli had, the last two requiring no surnames, the recognition instant.

Among pan people, though, the man is legend not only for what he has done for and with the instrument, but in the essential and eccentric way he has done it, Bertie Marshall stories having been told and re-told up and down Panland.

I can bear witness to the painstaking focus he brought to his work, this self-taught creator at whose gnarled knee I sat as he lectured those around him about the theory of harmonics, even as he wrestled with a particularly difficult note, tirelessly teasing out just the right sound so that, in time, his was to become the way with the likes of Rudolph Charles listening jealously from up the hill and then coming down to entice Marhsall to make that up-the-hill move, “Despers” never having looked back since, whatever the ever-present and considerable threats coming from the likes of Renegades, All Stars and all those other steelbands which have been locked in top-of-the-table competition since George Goddard made the rivalry official in 1963, I think it was.

People have their preferences, but I have always seen (or, perhaps that should be “heard”) the double-tenor which he invented as the prince of pans, given what a suitably skilled player could do with it and, to this day, I silently marvel that a man, and in these days, a woman could choose to play not the double-tenor but a pair of “seconds” or, even more bewilderingly, a set of “bass”, the choice seeming to me to be a prime example not only of human diversity but of the people perversity that is evidently a part of the human condition.

But the fashioning of the double-tenor is only the glamour end of Bertie’s continuing work. It is difficult to imagine what a steelband would today be sounding like were it not for him and I guess that is what has been driving Mr Patrick’s and Mr Arnold’s ire, neither of them being even remotely “Hilanders men” and both of them knowing as well as and, indeed, better than most the contribution that the man affectionately called “The Mad Man” has made to what is both our unique contribution to the arts and to the only totally indigenous industry we have here created.

Mr Minshall’s impact on the mas is, I think, beyond measure, but I don’t know you can measure it against Mr Marshall’s impact on the music, which is precisely the trouble and explains the difficulty in comparing apples to oranges, although to use that comparison is to imply that one is more local than the other when Mr Minshall’s mas is as local as Mr Marshall’s music, the better analogy then being, perhaps, between mangoes and oranges and the better bet being to have categorised the awards with the individual organisations being responsible for determining the genius in their own genus which is where, if I remember, we came in.

Click and have your say

Back to Trini News / Trinicenter Home