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Published on December 30th, 2014 | by Robbie Joseph0
Frank Rollock Sr – Mr Steelpan! – Founder of Brixton Carnival and much more
Trinidadian born Frank Rollock grew up in East Trinidad, Tunapuna to be exact. From a tender age he was sent to piano lessons to enhance his musical skills. His interest in music was part of a family tradition. It was only when his mother approached his music teacher to pay his tuition fees it was revealed that he was not attending piano lessons but frequenting the panyard. After acknowledging his love for the steelpan instrument, his mother allowed him to continue. At the age of 10-11 years, Frank was being taught by Clive Foster and playing in Sullivan’s Steel Orchestra. In 1956 at the age of seventeen, Frank and his brother Roy (coincidentally, Frank’s uncle who was also called Roy had his own orchestra in the USA) founded their own orchestra called Modernaires. Frank compiled a book of arrangements for Modernaires through the inspiration of the famous Trinidad All Stars whom Roy played with.
At the same time he was learning the art of pan making and tuning under Carl ‘Frecklenose’ Greenidge and stammering Stanley Warner. In 1959, whilst preparing for a steelband music festival with Merry Stars Metronomes whose leader Kenrick Thomas later became his brother-in-law.
Frank made a conscious decision to migrate and join his brother, Roy in the UK. He brought some pans with him and in February 1960, Frank, Roy and some friends took to the streets of Brixton to celebrate Carnival. Their actions were noted as the first time pan was played in Brixton and also as the initiation of the Brixton Carnival that has become an annual iconic event in the London Borough of Lambert. Frank remembers his fellow West Indians joining in with their bottles and spoons and the amazed look on the faces of Britons on that cold wintery day in February 1960.
He started gigging with Russ Henderson and Sterling Betancourt, playing at some of the UK most prestigious society functions. He was taught to play the alto and tenor saxophones by Alan ‘Pops’ Briggs, as well as sight-reading, theory of music, harmony and conducting. Frank was self-taught on the six string and bass guitars. In the late sixties he played the sax with the Tony Morgan Roadshow and the bass guitar with Rudy Jones and the Ambassadors, they toured Germany and played at most of the clubs in the West End around the same time the Beatles were making their mark in the music industry.
Family life took its toll and the touring was put on hold. Pan music was dominant for some time when Courtney Laws approached Frank after seeing him perform at the Coach and Horses pub in Brixton. On Courtney’s advice Frank approached Kingsdale Secondary School where he started teaching pan music. Kingsdale is now one of the many South London schools that has benefited from his musical talents. In conjunction with Audrey Dennett, the head of music for ILEA at the time, Frank was able to form the first ILEA School Orchestra. In the mean time, his seven talented children were developing their musical skills on a variety of brass and reed instruments and the family band; The Royaltys was enjoying great success under Frank’s direction. Such intense interest developed for the pan instrument that in 1974 a band evolved to foster and maintain this, London All Stars was an obvious tribute to Frank’s background. He has directed the band through many successes, culminating in their winning the UK’s first National Steelband Festival Championship.
In addition to his commitment to London All Stars. Frank has made untold contributions to the advancement of the Steelband Movement in the UK. He co-founded the Steelband Association of Great Britain and the London Brotherhood of Steel and has held office in both organisations with unselfish distinction. Today, Frank is a founder member the British Association of Steelbands, the successor to the London Brotherhood of Steel. In 1981, he founded the Brixton Arts Culture and Carnival Committee to afford a wider community the opportunity to learn musical instruments and share in the Carnival heritage. He is also a founder member of the UK Pan Tuners Guild.
It was also befitting that Frank conducted the first combinations of steel & voice, steel & contemporary dance with Alma Henry Contralto playing Rossini’s Ona Voce Poco Fa and Softly Awakes My Heart and Steel and ivory with pianist Maxine Franklyn playing Schubert’s The Trout to be staged in Britain.
In 2000, Frank was the musical director of Ebony Steel orchestra who were declared European Champions at the European preliminaries of the World Steelband Music Festival held in Paris. Ebony placed fourth at the finals held in Trinidad in October 2000.
Frank and Gerald Forsyth OBE were responsible for the formation of the UK National Steelband that played at Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2002 and London All Stars players were notably included for this event. London All Stars continues their tradition of being an all-family steelband as all of Frank’s grand and great grand children are now players in the band ensuring that the legacy he has started will live on for many generations to come. Frank is well known for his love for classical music and his musical arrangements are testimony to this.
The young Rollock players in the band have been making their mark each year at the Notting Hill Jouvert competition with the older heads just being around to ensure that everything runs as smoothly as it possibly can. Since the competition’s rebirth, London All Stars has won the coveted title in 2004 – 2006,
London All Stars – BAS Bomb Tune Champions
London All Stars have become known as the BAS ‘Bomb’ tune champion winning this competition six times since its rebirth in 2004. A hat trick of wins from 2004 – 2006, 2008 followed by wins in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014 established them as the UK Jouvert Bomb tune victors. This all family steelband started with Frank Rollock’s seven children performing on a variety of brass and reed instruments as ‘The Royaltys’ until London All Stars was formed in 1974 under Frank’ musical direction. He directed the band through many successes including winning the first UK National Steelband Festival Championship in 1983, capturing the title of ‘Champions of Steel’ by winning the National UK Steelbands Panorama competition in 1980, 1985 and 1989 and placing second in 1987 and third in 1981 and 1982.
Jouvert Bomb Tunes:
2004 – Crying
2005 – She
2006 – Romeo and Juliet
2008 – Softly awakes my heart
2010 – Liebestraum
2012 – Feelings
2014 – Shadow of your Smile
Out of frustration due to the lack of a place to practice, Frank Rollock Sr – built his own panyard in his back yard in Brixton London; giving the band a firm foundation and opportunity to continue its development as one of the big bands in the UK.
London All Stars has consistently attended and supported the UK National Panorama competition over the years and when they do not appear their players can be seen playing with other bands in the competition.
The beauty of it is that when people hear the band coming down the street, they automatically know its “All Stars” and their excitement at seeing the band “back on the road” is gratifying to say the least. The band in its own right has not been inactive, just more discerning in their performances. The band has been more prominent on the private function scene, with individual players enhancing other “band’s” performances at private functions, as those in the know realise that if you want a good session pan player that can play any pan, (and if the pay is right, will play two separate instruments at the same time i.e. bass and a strumming pan,) then you must have a “Rollock”
Frank and London All Stars Steel Orchestra celebrated their 40th anniversary this year and will always be well remembered for their unique style of playing and sound.
The hard work and dedication that Frank has shown deserves rewarding by the relevant authorities. Being a pioneer of Trinidad & Tobago’s steelpan artform, Frank continually projects a positive image of the instrument that is needed to further establish this wonderful creation of the twentieth century far into the next Millennium. It is a pleasure and honour knowing this remarkably talented musician.