May 5, 1971 Halcyon Steel Orchestra’s official establishment date.
Penrod Kirby one of the founding fathers and first captain of the band indicated that the original vision of the Steelband was espoused by PLM political candidate Selwyn Walter as one of his campaign promises to the constituency in 1970. Among the many reasons, the steelband would have added another layer to community engagement to include providing musical accompaniment for events in the area, such as the annual Christmas parties for the then dominant Empire Football Club.
A steelband would not have been novel to the area as there were two precursors, Stardust (Christian Street area) and Duke of Vion (Federation Street area).
In 1971 as Member of Parliament, Mr. Walter (Sir Selwyn) sourced drums and secured assistance from colleague Member of Parliament Donald Halstead to utilize the Trinidad & Tobago duo of builder-tuner, already on island working with the Supa Stars Steel Orchestra, to prepare the first set of pans for Halcyon. The pans were prepared and delivered to the pan yard, without fanfare readied for the core unit which included the Kirby bothers, Gatouk Harris, Melvin Simon and James “Tanny” Rose among others.Mr. Penrod Kirby, who was also the first arranger for the band recalls that while the concept for the Steelband was in the 1970 and execution began in the second quarter of 1971(May), the actual pulling together of members and instruments commenced later in that year.
Under his leadership a core small team began recruiting of members proceeded and practice commenced. The band’s first outing was 1972 Old Years Day, on Christian Street at a function held by the then MP Selwyn Christian. At that time the band had a core of 30 members, including two women (Bernadette and Carol) who played bass.
The first and only pan yard/band house was a former government slaughterhouse, located next to the area known as Knuckle Block, now the parking lot of the Complex that currently houses the Magistrates’ Court. Information gleaned suggests that the building was sourced through the combined effort of Sir Selwyn Walter and Mr. Malcom Daniel.Captain Kirby recalls the early challenges of arranging for the band which was largely his responsibility, as well as the camaraderie which was fostered among the players.
He pays respect to the Joseph brothers, both musicians who were key to improved arrangements and expanding the repertoire of the band in the early years; they being the only support Halcyon received during in the teething stages. The band’s first two tunes were ‘Tiny Blue Transistor Radio’ by Connie Smith and ‘Miss Mary’ by Sparrow. Halcyon Steel Orchestra placed in the bottom tier of the 1973 Panorama and was eliminated in the preliminaries of the 1974 National Competition.
The Band’s witnessed a significant upturn by 1975 to win its first of 13 National Panorama Championships. The band’s most successful captain was Mr. George ‘Scenty’ Thomas who led the band to six (6) National Panorama Championships and many regional and international tours, while former captain and perennial arranger Victor ‘Babu’ Samuel is currently joint holder of the record for the most National Panorama Championships as an arranger.
Halcyon was engaged during the early years of Antigua’s tourism industry as one of two steelbands plying their trade for cruise passengers at the Deep Water Harbour and counts amount its many ‘playing out’ opportunities more than four (4) decades at Shirley Heights Lookout Restaurant.
Early sponsors of the band in 1973 were LIAT and Halcyon Cove Hotel. The most dominant sponsor was Antigua Masonary Products (AMP) Ltd from 1981 to 2011 (30 years) with the impactful influence of Mr. Walton E Theodore senior employee of the entity to worked to ensure the long term and positive impact of the sponsorship.
In 2021 the Halcyon Steel Orchestra became the second institution to receive national honours from the Government of Antigua and Barbuda. The Institutional National Honour in the Most Precious Order of Princely Heritage (GOLD) for unquantifiable socioeconomic contribution to the Grays Green Community and steelband music in Antigua and Barbuda since its inception in 1971 AND for 40 years of unbroken performance at the Shirley Heights Lookout.
It is noteworthy former Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer is the longest serving administrator of the band. Save for his two year course of study, he has always been involved in the management of the band up to today.