The sad story of a talented friend , musician and steel-pan player.

I first came to know Michael Alleyne around nineteen sixty one.

I was still attending Naparima College in San Fernando when we moved to Marabella , and was fortunate to find that my friend and classmate Derek Greaves lived nearby.
That year , we did what was to become routine for most of the early sixties ; we started visiting Southern Marines pan-yard for their pre Carnival practice sessions.

The leader of the band was someone I consider an unsung pan pioneer , Milton “Squeezer” Lyons , and if I remember correctly , the practice sessions were held in the pan-yard located under the Lyons house every week night and Sunday morning , and they were fun , and an enjoyable informal community event .
Back then , steel band rehearsals were mini concerts ,and before the session was over , bands would play their entire Carnival repertoire , which back then was enough music for two days of road play.

On my first visit to the pan-yard Derek pointed out Michael Alleyne , who was a student of St. Benedict’s College at the time .
In the audience was Michael’s mother and I heard her bemoan the fact that her son was only interested in steelpan and music , not his school work.

Anyway , those were the “pan round neck” days , and I can vividly remember Michael , a boy among men , carrying a second pan around his neck on carnival days.
Later his younger brother Karloff also joined the band as a tenor player , and his small size and relative youth was noted by the radio commentator during the broadcast of the first panorama ever , which was held in San Fernando in 1963.

Of course we know that Southern Marines made history as the first steel-band to win a Panorama event in Trinidad.

southern marines 1
Southern Marines Steel  Orchestra on Carnival day , in the early sixties. (That’s me to the right , with dark glasses and cigarette )

To us Michael was something of a local musical prodigy ; he was attending St Benedict’s College ( High School ) and playing in the school’s band, while a member of the prestigious Southern Light Orchestra in which he played the oboe.

His favorite pan was the cello  ; a new pan created in the early sixties as we transitioned from the “pan round neck” era.

Michael was also a skilled saxophone player , and he was featured as a lead in the newly formed Louie Bryce band.

And , though a boy among men , he was gradually earning a leadership role with the steel-band where he started assuming the role of arranger , a role previously filled by Squeezer.

In the early sixties , Southern Marines had become established as one of the top steel-bands in south with a fine stage side and a very talented line up that included Michael’s brother Karloff and Burch Kellman on tenors , both of whom were assisting master tuner Milton Lyons, and gaining experience in the art of pan tuning.
“Squeezer” Lyons was a superb pan tuner ,and his tuning skills gave the Marines the reputation of having the sweetest pans in the south in those days.

In the mid sixties , the decision was made to create National steel-band , and bands had the opportunity to each send a representative.
In retrospect , it must have been a difficult choice for Squeezer , but eventually , Bertram Kellman was sent to the National Steel Orchestra as the representative for Southern Marines.
As would be expected , this was not well received by Michael , who thought with some justification , that he should have been chosen.

But , there was only one slot per steel-band , and who knows ?
As a tuner , Squeezer must have been impressed by the skills shown by Burch , and valued his potential.
And , Burch was also a very good panist, which we sometimes forget when we think of him only as an outstanding tuner.

national steelband

In this photo , Michael Alleyne ( Scarlet Symphony ) stands second from left ( with cigarette , next to Lennox “Bobby” Mohammed ) , Bertram Kellman ( Southern Marines ) stands to the extreme right)

In the old days , there was always grumbling within steel-bands over money ; how it was spent , and divided among players , especially after a fairly successful Carnival season.
So , it wasn’t too difficult for Michael , who was well liked and respected by us all , to use that dissension to create a break from Southern Marines and form a new steel-band.
So , a new steel-band called Scarlet Symphony was created , with Michael as captain , arranger and the band’s representative in the National Steel-band that was soon to go on tour.

Around that time ,I had lost interest in my combo band since I was hanging out with Michael and other panmen , so after the band’s debut at Carnival 1966 , I joined the band as a tenor bass player.
Meanwhile , a popular local guitarist named Louie Bryce formed a dance band , with Michael as one of the lead musicians as saxophone player and arranger , at which he proved quite capable.
I also became a member of that band , joining the rhythm section.

However , both bands were short lived .

Michael Alleyne remained a good friend , and I knew him as a gentle talented soul, full of wit and humor and totally consumed by music.
It was the nineteen sixties and psychedelic drugs and hallucinogens had become popular , especially with musicians and entertainers , and our guys had began to experiment , primarily with marijuana.
Michael was the first person to introduce me to American psychologist Dr. Timothy Leary , a counter-cultural hero who promoted the use of psychedelic drugs like LSD for personal growth.
He once told me that he would use any substance if he felt it would increase his musical creativity.
So it was no surprise that Michael was also experimenting with drugs.

After the demise of Scarlet Symphony and the Louis Bryce Band, I joined the band Silvertones of San Fernando.
As I got involved in my San Fernando steel-band , I was distanced from Michael , and rarely had contact with him , until I left Trinidad to migrate to the US VI in 1968.
For decades , I heard little about Michael’s whereabouts , except vaguely that he had passed away in Europe.
Recently , I heard from a credible source , a steel-pan player from Amsterdam , who knew Michael in the nineteen nineties..

He said that it appeared that Michael may have gotten involved with the wrong people , towards the end.

This is by not meant to discredit Michael or to sully his character, to me he was a good friend and a fine and talented individual but I know he came to an unfortunate demise, and this is the story I was told by a source I consider to be credible.

He had met Michael in Trinidad in nineteen ninety eight  , and Michael bragged about being involved in big drug deals , though he was unsure whether to take him seriously.

michael alleyne
Michael Alleyne ( left) and Guyanese panist John O’Brien , in Amsterdam , transporting their pans to practice by bicycle 

According to my source Michael Alleyne died in Amsterdam , and his death made the national news on a TV Crime Watch program ,because of its gruesome nature ,since he was smothered in his bed.

The crime was never solved.

3 thoughts on “The sad story of a talented friend , musician and steel-pan player.

  1. Hi Mr Joseph I am a great admirer of your love for the out culture I have about two hundred pan albums and I still look around for what I can find you know my younger brother sunshine bass player I hope we can connect on Email thank you have a great day later

    Like

  2. I lived on Monty street in Marabella where Scarlet Symphony set up camp. They were just 4 houses away from us and I was encouraged to join the band. I had known Michael for most of my life and was shocked and confused about his supposed passing. With no real information,it was difficult to believe not only that he had passed but also the way in which it happened. I am both sad and thankful for this information as it brings closer for me about the whereabouts and passing of a man that I admired and considered a friend. My thanks as usual Glenroy.

    Liked by 1 person

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