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Published on November 25th, 2017 | by Robbie Joseph


Rickford ‘Ricky’ Decairos – Music is not what I do. It is what I am!

‘Music has the power to express your emotions when words are not enough.’

Rickford Decairos, mostly known to everyone as Ricky or Mr Decairos, was born on 29th October 1938 in Georgetown, Guyana (formerly known as British Guiana). He went to Borda Market Primary School and also attended a sports club in the afternoon where he enjoyed playing table tennis, basketball and football. At the age of eleven (11), Ricky found his love for music when he joined The Invaders Steelband and was a member for 4 years.


In 1955, he came to England to live with his grandmother, when he was 15 years old. He attended Day’s High School where he achieved the Junior Cambridge Certificate (equivalent to O Levels) with passes in English, Maths, English Literature and English History from 1066.

Ricky went on to study at the Polytechnic College in Shoreditch for four (4) years. At the age of nineteen (19) he was called up for National Service, which he did for two (2) years at RAF Staffordshire Air Base, achieving the rank of LAC (Leading Air Craft Personnel). While doing his National Service, Ricky took the relevant military exams and progressed to the rank of SAC (Senior Air Craft Personnel) for the next three (3) years. During that period he undertook the Royal Air Force exams Part 1 and Part 2, passing in English, Maths, Civics and RAF History. He also took and passed the RAF Air Movements exams that gained him promotion to the rank of Corporal, which would have led to Sergeant, had he stayed in the RAF, at the Cardington Air Base.

During that time Ricky served in the Far East Air Force for MAMS (Mobile Air Movement Squadron) from November 1965 to May 1967, where he was part of the aircrew in charge of aircraft handling. He served in Brunei, Cyprus, Malaya, Philippines, Sarawak, Sabah and Singapore. Some of his responsibilities were dealing with the control of passengers, baggage and freight for outbound and inbound flights.


A quote from Ricky’s RAF testimonial says, “Corporal Decairos greatest asset was his appearance, which has always been to the highest standard”. Anyone who knew Ricky will surely concur with such a statement, as he was quite particular with his appearance.

After 12 years of exemplary service in the RAF, at the age of thirty one (31), he left and went on to a career with BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation), now British Airways.

While working with BOAC, Ricky started teaching at Goldsmiths College for two evenings a week, doing steelband music and lecturing to Bachelor of Education students for their music exams in Specialist Percussion Instruments from around the world for a total of six (6) years.

Having a burning passion for music since he was eleven (11) years old and this continued throughout his life until he sadly passed away. His passion for music was so prominent that in 1975, at the age of thirty-seven (37); he was granted a one-year leave of absence from BOAC to undertake, on a part-time basis, teaching steelband at Haselrigge JM and Crawley JM schools (now known as Mostyn Gardens JM School).

After Ricky’s probationary period, a request was made by Mrs De Bray (HMI retired) to BOAC for him to be put on the panel of steelband tutors. That request was accepted by all the senior officials and was his initiation of teaching steelband permanently in different schools in three different boroughs. Ricky also aspired to form and be part of his own steelband called Silver Echo, which was both successful and entertaining.

In 1979, he became known in the pan world, as the founder of Lambeth Youth Steel Orchestra (now Southside Harmonics Steel Orchestra), which has gone on to become one of London’s finest steel bands. They regularly perform in the capital, have toured the Channel Islands, Italy and France, and since 1987 they’ve appeared regularly at the Notting Hill Carnival where they have been voted “Best Steel Band On The Road” for many years.

Ricky’s steelband tutor’s career spanned over thirty-five (35) years. During that time, he achieved his British Association of Steel Bands’ (BAS) Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award, in 2009 at the age of seventy-one (71).

Sadly, Ricky had an unfortunate accident in December 2007, which left him bedridden for ten (10) years, but that did not stop him, his spirit and love for music continued. He would always ask to listen to music whilst sitting in his wheelchair, bopping his head along to it, or to watch it on TV. He used to like to watch all the sports channels, you name it Ricky had seen it. Not forgetting his action movies – his favourite movies were Shaka Zulu, Roots and Shogun. It has been confirmed that Ricky has seen them over and over and over again!

Sometimes in our lives we meet a special person. Ricky was one of those people who we can honestly say has had a great influence on a lot of people (he tutored hundreds and inspired even more) because he changed something deep within us.He may have said or done something that really touched your soul.

‘Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul’. Ricky you were the inspiration!

Ricky will always have a place in our hearts because we owe a little part of ourselves to him. His teaching was stimulating and supportive, with students encouraged to develop an advanced, critical approach to music that was supported by theoretical understanding and practical skills. Without him lots of his students and people he interacted with may never have become the people that they are today because of his tutorship, kindness, gentle and caring ways.

He has always been an inspirational role model and motivated us to greater achievements. On a personal note, Ricky taught my son to play the steelpans at a early age that fuelled his musical passion, so much so that he went on to excel in music composing his own songs and creating a boy band with his fellow students.

Rickford ‘Ricky’ Decairos. You have gone to continue your musical journey in heaven to serenade the angels with your musicality, but you will never be forgotten by all of us you touched!


By the Family of Rickford ‘Ricky’ Decairos and Robbie Joseph.


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