Biography

Norman ‘Panmaestro’ Stewart

My first experience of playing music, that I can remember, was when I was about five years old, my father brought a piano into the house for my sister. My sister was having Piano lessons at the time and it was not long before I was playing too. I discovered I could play quite easily by ‘ear’ but found it much harder to play while reading music. My brothers showed musical tendencies too, by learning to playing the guitar. When our parents were out we would all form a band and start playing music together with a few additions like the washing up bowl, milk bottles and pots! This was the foundation to the start of my musical career and playing Steel Band.

 “I could play the tune on the bass that everyone was struggling with!”

When I arrived at secondary school there were indeed plans to start a Steel Band and the music teacher said anyone interested should put their name on the list. Twenty would be chosen to go forward for audition. I will never forget the night of the audition, because I was not chosen to go to the initial audition and I was desperately working out schemes to get there! I had a stroke of luck because my best friend was selected so I tagged along behind him, keeping myself out of the way in the corner of the room and just observing what was going on. The steelband teacher was a Trinidadian man called Roy Jacob. I remember him showing everyone what to play on the bass Pans but with little success, no one could copy him. This continued for quite a while before I decided to pounce on a window of opportunity presented to me. The school music teacher had left the room so I came out of the corner and announced that I could play the tune on the bass that everyone was struggling with! Roy, somewhat surprised, allowed me to continue and was amazed. When the school teacher came back into the room, Roy suggested that I be added to the list for the final band. The teacher could hardly disagree!

When I was in my last year at junior school my sister came to me and said that at my new secondary school, that I would be attending the following year, there were plans to start a Steel Band. I had only ever seen a Steel Band on TV once before, so knew relatively nothing about them, but what I did know was that this was something I wanted to be part of.

Unfortunately, Roy only came back to the school once after that initial visit, so we were largely left to our own devices, and as a result the first band never lasted long. However, not deterred, I soon brought together my friends to keep the band going. We would meet to practice not only after school but also during each break and launch time.

We started to get invited to perform at engagements and it wasn’t long before our popularity grew, resulting in the band having more players than instruments. That was when I tried to make my first pan. I remember it took an eternity to ‘sink’ and shape the pan. When it was finished I took it home and tried to tune it. I was so pleased with my endeavours I decided to get in touch with Roy Jacob and arranged to take the pan over to him and show him my prize possession. On the day we agreed to meet my Dad and I traveled to Birmingham, pan under my arm and full of pride, we met and I took him through how I had made my first pan. But within minutes of him reviewing my pan, and to my utter shock, he said, ‘this pan will NEVER tune’. I was extremely disappointed. However, what Roy did say was that he would teach me the art of tuning a pan. This was a seminal point in my Steel Band career because I was invited to attend the Midlands Arts Centre and work with Roy Jacob and the Maestros Steelband.

I was not only learning to tune pans but became a regular member in the Maestros Steel Band. When I left school, Roy asked me to come and join him as his assistant, teaching in schools and running workshops. It was an exciting time for me, I was learning so much. At the beginning of October that year, we went to Germany performing workshops and making pans for schools and community centers. But my exciting world would soon be shattered. In less than a week after arriving back from Germany, Roy Jacob died on the way back from a performance. We were all devastated.

I was nearly 17 at the time, and after a lot of meetings, to convince staff at the Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham of my passion and ability for Steel Band, they agreed to support me in taking forward the Maestros Steelband.

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I went to Trinidad for the first time in when I was 22, and played with a 120 piece steel orchestra in the national Pan-o-Rama finals with “Solo Harmonites Steel Orchestra”. This was a great experience for me, seeing at first hand how it’s really done. I have been to the panorama many times since, playing with bands likeThe Desperadoes Steel Orchestra, Phase 2 Pan Groove and Fonclaire Steel Orchestra. I was leader of the first Steel Band to play in the old Ukraine, when Kiev was in the process of learning how much music can be viewed as a universal language when words can often fail. We did six Ukraine folk songs, all of which went down a treat. My performances have taken me to several European countries, the Caribbean, Africa and the Middle East and all over the UK including performances for the Queen and Prince Phillip also other members of the royal family, many weddings, private and corporate functions on an annual basis, and community work including Christmas visits performing at Hospices, as well as tuning and maintaining steel pan instruments for many.

Television performance is included, Central ITV, Hairy Bikers, CBeebies, and many radio stations.