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Dixieland Steel Orchestra

Dixieland won the Island-wide Steel Band Music Festival in Trinidad in 1960, which is the greatest honour any Steel Band can achieve, and this provided Freddie with an opportunity to tour England in 1961. Dixieland has the distinction of being the only band to have won the preliminaries, quatre-finals, semi-finals, and finals at this presitgious festival.

They were also the first Steel Band to tour most European countries under the management of Sonny Blacks. They played at Carnegie Hall, for Princess Margaret on her Honeymoon in Trinidad, at the famous Savoy Hotel, together with Shirley Bassey, and were the first Steel Band to visit and perform in Africa!

An Interview with Freddie from Dixieland

How did you begin playing the Steel Pan?
Some boys in a field were trying to tune some oil drums, out of boredom really because there was nothing better to do. They were banging on old dust bins and they discovered that they could make different sounds from hammering on the metal in certain places and they started playing easy tunes. I just joined in.

Do you remember your first Pan and how did you become a member of Dixieland?
Someone threw out an old Pan and I took it and tuned it to my liking. I was a natural tuner. I formed my own Combo and we made several drums with different tuning and we began to experiment with different sounds. I liked the sound and knew at some time, it would catch on. I knew it was a new musical instrument of the future. However, there was no respect for it as an instrument or for the players that played them. People would call the police, it wasn't accepted at all. I got a proper tuner and formed my first band called Dixieharps, who went on to be one of the leading bands in Trinidad. We travelled to a festival in Brazil to represent Trinidad. Then I joined the Dixieland Steel Orchestra.

What obstacles did you have to overcome in the band?
We brought a van and travelled with the Pans through Europe, it was rough living. An agency helped with finances but by the time we had won The 1960 Island-Wide Music Festival, it was becoming accepted and popular and people were getting interested in the new form of music and instruments.

How did you become a tuner?
I went home in 1967 and by then, the quality of the Pans was better and I became interested in tuning. I use an A440 tuning fork and begin on the lowest note which is low 'C', tuned chromatically right up to top 'C'. It takes several days to tune it, maybe 2 days working 10 hours a day, sometimes more, sometimes less, it depends. I was told I had very good hearing, even now, after tuning since 1963, I still tune Pans for many top players in the country and the Notting Hill Gate Carnival is a very busy time for me!

How did you meet the Sweet and Fleetwood Mac and what was it like playing with them?
It was a great experience. We played a gig with the Sweet and they liked the sound of the Pans so much, they brought in 2 players to record with them and I was one of them. They were one of the biggest groups of the 70's. I played on 'Poppa Joe' and 'Co-Co' and we performed on Top Of the Pops all the time. Fleetwood Mac was introduced to me by an agent. They were looking for a Pan Player. I also toured Germany with Boney M and recorded with them on their hit songs 'River Of Babylon' and 'Rasputin'.

Where did you go from there?
In 1979 I became the tuner, arranger and player of Metronomes, who won several Panorama's at the Notting Hill Gate Carnival and now I teach Steel Pan in various schools. I am the Band Master, tuner and arranger of the St Michaels & All Angels Steel Band, founded in 1996, which is made up of young kids from Brent. We have performed at St Paul's Cathedral twice, many civic events including the Annual Fundraising Ball for the Mayor of Brent and we opened for Diversity at the Novatel Hotel. I teach them Classical pieces by Mozart and Mendelssohn as well as a strong repertoire of popular music going back over 60 years in a variety of different styles. We also played at the Houses of Parliament, the first Steel Band to have played there in history. I am very proud of my pupils.

The future?
Steel Pan is more popular than ever. Carnivals are popular all around the world and the Steel Drum Orchestra is alive and kicking. The Pans have progressed in such a short time from the early stages. Sonny Blacks still manages groups. Sliver Steel Combo is my own band today, we played at several hotels etc and play at many weddings, functions and parties.

Interview taken from The Steelband Movement
Members of Dixieland at the Golden Anniversary 1950 - 2000 at the All Saints Memorial Hall.
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