Happy Birthday “Captain” – Neville Jules
May 21, 2003
By Khalick J. Hewitt
The name Neville Jules is synonymous with discipline and innovation. Under the Captaincy of Jules, Trinidad All Stars Steelband was the most disciplined steelband of the era. Neville Jules grew up in Rose Hill and attended Rosary Boys’ Roman Catholic School as a young boy. He is one of the early pioneers in the steelband movement. It was Neville Jules who gave the steelband world the ‘Grundig’ instrument. The name Grundig was the grand radio of all radios in the 1950s in Trinbago. It had a beautiful and distinctive sound. No other radio sounded like it. It was with that in mind that the name ‘Grundig’ was given to the guitar pan instrument.
One Carnival day you could recognize the Trinidad All Stars by the sound of the ‘Grundig’. I came to know Jules while All Stars was situated in the Garrot (Attic), upstairs Maple Leaf Club (no longer around) on Charlotte Street, near Duke Street. Also, at that time Jules worked on the Wharf where my grandfather worked and knew him. One Friday night, my friend Audra Preddie from Nelson Street took to me to the All Stars panyard to learn to play steelpan under Neville Jules.
Audra took me to the garrot and introduced me to Jules. He said to Jules: “Captain, ah bring my friend to learn to beat pan.” Everyone addressed Jules as Captain. Indeed, he was the Captain in every sense of the word for he ran a tight ship. At that time we used the word ‘beat’ to describe our pan playing. Jules looked at me and smiled. He said: “You want to learn to beat pan. You going to school?” I replied yes and that I attended Rosary school. To which Jules replied: “That is the best school in the world, stand up
behind that tenor pan.” So began my pan career. However, it was short lived because I soon realized that the every night practice took me away from the girls. That was my teenage years and I was in my prime. So I left. But, I never forget the impact Neville Jules made on me.
I never heard Jules raise his voice to any panist. He was soft spoken. He never argued with a panist. He would softly relay his instructions to other panists like Brainsley, Shoreland or Rupert or Broko to tell you what to do. Most important, All Stars never got into gang fights under his leadership even though All Stars was known to have many famous ‘badjohns’ in the band.
All the steelbands respected All Stars’ neutrality. You see, unlike most of the steelbands, All Stars was not a community band. What I mean is that unlike Desperadoes, Renegades, Casablanca, San Juan All Stars or Tokyo which were heavy community steelbands, All Stars served many communities. Players came from George Street, Nelson Street (Upper and Lower) around Piccadilly Street, Jackson Place, Laventille, San Juan, Diego Martin, Belmont and as far as Carenage. A community steelband had its root in the lime on the corner. Usually the ‘limers’ made up most of the core members. And, the lime was usually on the street where the steelband was situated. There was no lime on Charlotte where All Stars was situated. So, most of its panists came from elsewhere.
The 1960s were the glory years of the Jules’ captaincy. It was under Jules that All Stars entered the Panorama with the hit “Patsy”. Previously Jules forbade All Stars to enter the Panorama. He had the foresight to see where Panorama was heading. It was Neville Jules who started the ‘bomb’ tunes to play jouvert morning. A ‘bomb’ is a classical piece that is transcribed to calypso music. But, the status of every steelband was in winning the Panorama competition. Since the Panorama was held annually and the Music Festival was bi-annual, the Panorama won out as the competition that tested the musical mettle of the panist. It was the Panorama that defined the superiority of a steelband. Or so everyone thought. In those days, one of the rituals after carnival was the meeting on every corner from Ash Wednesday till months into the year, to discuss each steelband’s contribution to the Panorama festival. Everyone would analyze and criticize each steelband’s arrangement. One such liming spot was the Piccadilly Street bridge where you could see pockets of limers debating the merits and demerits of the steelbands who played at the Panorama leading to heated arguments about who ‘beat’ good or bad.
Next, Jules started a tradition that continues today. All Stars was the first steelband to serenade the Police Officers by stopping in front of Police Headquarters that was on St. Vincent Street. Jules felt that the officers had protected the masqueraders for the carnival, most not being able to play mas themselves or listen to a steelband and should be given an opportunity to hear steelband music. So, the band started a practice of playing their favorite musical pieces for the police officers to hear. One of my favorite ‘bomb’ tunes is still Anniversary Waltz.
So, on Carnival Tuesday night, maybe an hour before ‘last lap’ at midnight, when all steelbands and masqueraders had to stop playing pan and mas, and carnival ended would end, All Stars would head for St. Vincent Street and stop in front of the police headquarters and play all their carnival tunes but mostly their ‘bombs.’ Mas players would dance with their partners in the band while All Stars played tune after tune and around 11:30 pm the band would start moving toward Queen Street and headed to the garrot where once again they played the’ bomb’ in front of the garrot and ended a joyous festival. But, the discipline continued. Jules had everyone take their pans upstairs to the garrot and packed them away neatly.
Today, Jules is Captain Emeritus of Trinidad All Stars Steelband. Happy Birthday Captain.
Thanks for the Memories.
Khalick J. Hewitt
President & Founder
International Steelpan & Calypso Society
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