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Steelpan in Motion

Published: 
Saturday, February 3, 2018
From Sando to London, Austin puts
Globetrotting pannist Wade Austin.

After growing up in San Fernando, playing with Fonclaire and touring Europe with Skiffle, Wade Austin has become a highly regarded pan player and teacher in London.

He runs a band and a programme call Steel Pan in Motion and is busy performing, traveling and always teaching young people.

His mission is to break boundaries, or go beyond them, take the music and the young people he teaches to places they never imagined.

Austin started out living right next to the Fonclaire pan yard and grew up playing pan there. His uncle Wire Austin is the founder and long time manager of Fonclaire so it is not unusual that this would be his introduction to pan.

By age 12, Wade was privileged to be part of Fonclaire’s stateside. “In November 1985, the Queen of England was visiting Trinidad and Fonclaire was chose to play for her and after playing we all got to meet her, we were all so excited.”

It was also frustrating those early days. “At Panorama finals 1990, we were waiting for our time to go on stage; there were two bands before us. I remember during the whole time they were performing hearing the crowds in both the north stand and the grandstand were chanting for Fonclaire.

“It was one of the best feelings. At the same time, it was also a hard night as we lost by 1/2 a point.”

Wade Austin attended Pleasantville Comprehensive where both Liam Teague and Darren Shepard went also.

He was still a young man, 18-years-old, when he switched to play for Skiffle and he served as a drill master for them when Skiffle went from pan round the neck to conventional band.

In 1993, he did tours with Skiffle that took him to Singapore, Malaysia, Germany, Italy, Denmark, Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, and England.

Austin decided to move to London in 1994 and has lived in England ever since and devoted his life to music and education. He attended City Lit College in Holburn taking music courses, focusing on jazz. At the same time, within six months, he started teaching pan at various after school projects in London integrating music theory as part of the pan programmes.

He started in a few schools and slowly expanded to a full load of teaching in London area primary schools. These schools had gotten pans through the work of pan pioneer Gerald Forsyth who had worked for the education authority to get instrument to dozens of London schools.

Wade Austin continued teaching, touring and gigging until 2003. At this point in his life, Austin was interested in expanding his horizons and for the next several years gave up teaching and went back to school at the Islington Music Workshop, concentrating on learning recording engineering and production while still performing with different bands.

When he went to get involved in teaching 2012, sadly it seemed that a number of schools that had steelpan programmes a decade earlier no longer had them.

Recently, he set up Steel Pan In Motion conducting group classes private lessons, and delivering workshops at schools across the country.

He has been doing solo or duo private performances or working in bars and night clubs playing along side the DJ as well.

Recently, Austin formed a jazz oriented band (Steel Pan Fusion) which released its debut album— Melting Pot—in November 2016, and completed its first UK tour in August 2017.

But now he is excited to arrive home today for three works to hear the sweet sound of pan and cheer on CAL Skiffle and NLCB Fonclaire.

n RAY FUNK is a retired Alaskan judge and a Fulbright scholar who is passionately devoted to calypso, pan and mas. Dr Andrew Martin is an ethnomusicologist, percussionist, pannist, and Professor of Music at Inver Hills College in St Paul, Minnesota.

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