Tuner, Arranger, Leader, Innovator Supreme, Pioneer.
The birth of the steelband is synonymous with his name. Neville Jules, born on 27th of May 1921, made a contribution to the steelband movement that ranks among the most outstanding of all time. Leader until 1971 of the famous All Stars, Jules’ many, well-honed talents have earned him credit for the widest-ranging innovations, from his steel pan designs, to the first J’Ouvert “bomb”, to shaping a panside around the watch-word, “discipline”.
In the early years, his exclusion from the TASPO side that toured England in 1951 was due to All Stars not having membership in the steelband association. This was seen as a great pity, for as John Slater states “ the world was deprived of seeing and hearing one of the greatest pannists of all time.”
Jules’s early work on cuatro pans, later called guitar pans, is said to have pointed a way which others followed. A fact, better known, is that he was the first to make a “tune boom” (tuned-bass) from a biscuit drum; the first to use a whole caustic soda drum as a bass – and to put two of these drums together in one tuned bass – while other bands were still cutting down their steel drums by one-third. As Jules recalls, “when the rest of the bands were still cuffing or pounding the biscuit drum as a bass, we (All Stars) were playing notes musically.” He is also credited in the late 1950’s with tuning the “grundig” as a background or cello pan as it is now called; and to have introduced a new beat to the dudup.
But it was the introduction of the J’Ouvert “bomb” however, that proved Jules’ mastery over his medium – if any proof were needed. In the run-up to Carnival, steelband practice was by the very nature of the panyard an open affair. The feeling among All Stars’ supporters was that members of other bands would come to their band to copy the work Jules was doing. True or not, it led to an incredible decision, to learn the chosen tune secretly. This is how it worked. Pan practice would end at the hour prescribed by law, 11pm. But an hour and a half later, pan players would return to practice the “bomb” tune, using their fingers, instead of pan-sticks, to learn their parts. One result of this extraordinary practice, was that pan players themselves never heard the tune in its entirety until it was ‘dropped’ on an unsuspecting public J’Ouvert morning. Needless to say, this created the greatest excitement.
According to Mabel “Mayfield” Camps, Neville was the best captain All Stars (formerly Hell Yard) ever had. She says that he was a quiet, reserved man who nevertheless commanded respect from the entire band. He was also a stickler for punctuality and his panmen were fined and debarred from practice if they were even five minutes late!
Source: The Trinidad and Tobago Steel Pan
History and Evolution
By: Dr. F.I.R. Blake