”My journey through music started from young. I grew up seeing and hearing my father playing guitar and piano in the house. My mother also played a little.
Growing up in a Pentecostal Church hearing the guitar, tambourine and bass. Hearing the singing and harmonising in praise and worship. Hearing that robust Caribbean Gospel style rhythmic clapping and foot stomping and strong accented singing had a big influence on my musical development from early on.
To be honest, I’d always had a strong leaning towards music from very young. As a child my Dad realised I was pitch perfect (in that I could hear a musical note, remember it long term and tell what the note was when I heard it again).
Dani at The Abbey Gateway Reading 2006
When I banged a small garden fork on the concrete and told him it was an F# he went to check on the piano and found it was the case. Ironically, the piano at home was tuned a semitone down, so I had to realign my tone reference to A440 concert pitch during my primary school years.
Having got a guitar for my birthday at the age of five learning my first basic chords, I developed my early craft listening intently to the musicians at the district church within our denomination.
The chords and playing style intrigued me and I would spend time as a little boy working out the chords and strumming style that I’d heard, growing my practical musical vocabulary, experimenting with hand formations that would produce the sound I was looking for.
Slough All Stars South Hill Park Bracknell 2006
From the age of six I was playing guitar regularly in church as part of the music team on Sundays, increasing in skill as the years went by.
At the age of ten I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to learn to play violin in Middle School (that’s what present day Primary Schools were called in the 1980s). That was when learning that kind of orchestral instrument was greatly subsidised by the government.
Slough All Stars with RASPO Reading 2006
Because of my time previously spent playing guitar and experimenting on the piano, I took to the violin pretty much immediately and developed at a very fast rate due to such a positive experience with my first violin teacher, a man called Michael Crompton.
Under his tutelage, I had extra sessions in general musicianship with other music tutors and played with others of my generation in various string groups at East Berkshire Music Centre which was based in Windsor.
Looking back at it now, learning to play the violin opened me up to a world of music and ensemble play that was simply magical. It’s one thing listening to “Classical/Orchestral” music being played. It’s another being part of the Orchestra creating such an amazing musical sound with other young instrumentalists of high standard.
The Royal Wedding street party Fulham London 2011
During my time with East Berkshire Music Centre I was priviledged to be part of East Berkshire Youth Orchestra performing at the Hexagon and Eton College among other venues for a number of years from my mid to late teens, through Secondary School to the end of my time at Langley College.
RASPO tour for Showtime at the London 2012 Olympics
The joy of playing music. Madejski Stadium 2013
My musical journey continued through study at Middlesex University Trent Park in Performing Arts and Music honing my craft in performance, composition and musical analysis, which paved the way to my introduction to the world of Steel Pan.
Growing up in Slough I was loosely aware of a professional Steel Band in Slough. The band’s name was “The Tropic Isles”.
Teaching steel pan at RASPO’s PanYard South Street 2014
I later got to find out that they were the original Steel Band in Slough who had built up some noteriety over 26 years of playing up and down the country, playing for all kinds of functions. Some members of that group even ended up playing on one of the then very famous rock/pop artist Rod Stewart’s albums.
The band broke up in the 1990s but a member of that band, a man called Earl (Eustace) Herbert had a desire to grow up a next generation of Steel pan players and have a large Steel band in Slough. In 1997 he, along with a lady called Kath Shackleton, joined forces to get “Slough Youth and Community Steel Orchestra” started.
For ITV News Dani leads the workshop and talks about the art of learning steel pan. South Street Arts Centre 2015
Eustace Herbert then employed the help of Bob Paris who had been leader of the Tropic Isles and was already working as a steel pan tutor in schools which included work at Windsor boys School and Eton College.
Bob was the lead tutor of the fledgling Youth and Community Steelband and two other members of the Original Slough Steelband helped out whenever they could. These were Howell Carty and Neil Carty.
My brother Kwame who at was in his late teens at the time had joined the Steel band from the get go. I did not join until a year and a half later as I was still studying in London and was quite busy at the time.
Jason Yarde, Paul, Mary and Dani launch Carnival of the World. Reading 2016.
However, I was approached by Eustace Herbert who had seen my brother and I performing pieces we had composed on violin with backing tracks we had made.
Eustace asked me to come and help as he felt my presence and skills would be a boost to the group which had now called themselves the shorter name of “Slough All Stars Steel Band”. So I came in and slotted in wherever I was needed, discreetly adding extra harmonies or chord notes to the existing arrangements on any pan that I was playing.
This is where my journey through the world of steel pan began.
At The Royal Albert Hall for BBC Proms in 2012 and with a fifty-piece orchestra of school children in 2016
Now there came a time when Bob Paris, the lead tutor/arranger of the band, could no longer commit to tutoring and arranging for the community steel band so I stepped up as tutor/arranger for this band of young people and teenagers, I being the eldest at the age of 23-24.
This sparked a period in which I worked my craft as a steel pan player, arranger and composer. It also sparked a greater awareness of the potential of what could be achieved in steel pan music.
Steel pan did not have to be some quaint tin can raucous noise or on the flip side tinkery curiosity that people played with straw hats and flowery shirts to remind themselves of sunny holidays in the Caribbean. There was so much more.
The schools steel percussion orchestra play Grieg’s ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ at The Royal Albert Hall 2016
Slough All Stars assimilated pop, classic R&B, Jazz, and popular ballads to the repertoire, thereby widening our appeal. During these years Slough All Stars got seriously smaller comprising of three players.
The bass pan player Michael, my brother Kwame a tenor pan player and me on Guitar pan. We dedicated ourselves to the goal of becoming one of the best 3 piece steel bands in the country with this in mind the musical level of the band grew. My brother and I both composed and arranged for the band.
CultureMix Carnival of the World 2016. Image by WEB Camera Club
Paul Jr Watson, who is currently the Head of Creative Development at CultureMix Arts, joined Slough All Stars as a teen dedicating himself to the art of steel pan playing along with his school friend Darren and brother Chris who had both joined earlier.
Two others also joined; Alicia the daughter of an Afro Caribbean Martial Artist/Poet well known at the time in Slough and her friend Stepherina. The group did end up growing to ten players for a time with the addition of Helena and Stewart but settled as group of eight.
It was during this time still under the mentorship of Eustace Herbert that we got to go and see other steel bands in London at the Steel Pan Explosion event.
We also watched huge bands rehearsing the night before Panorama in Notting Hill which was a revelation. It was eye opening and inspiring and reminded me of the magical feeling I felt all those years ago playing with the East Berkshire Youth Orchestra.
‘Movin’ – Reading Contemporary Art Fair 2016
As the years passed and the musical level of Slough All Stars increased and thus came a period where the Band was becoming more of a professional entity and less of a “anybody can join no matter what level” community band.
It was at this time that Kwame and Paul came in to contact with the founder of CultureMix Arts Mary Genis who had made enquiries about Slough All Stars performing at a special Black History Month event organised at Reading Town Hall in October 2005.
At that event we officially got to meet RASPO, a Reading based steel band started by Mary. It sure was something watching another group of enthusiastic players younger than us enjoying themselves performing in front of proud parents.
Much impressed with Slough All Stars’ performance at the event, Mary invited us to collaborate with her company CultureMix Arts Ltd, working with RASPO as arrangers and taking on job roles as tutors in schools, as the business was expanding.
IYA Rebels perform for The Peace and Love Concert at The Purple Turtle Bar Reading 2018
I joined the CultureMix team in 2006 as an arranger for RASPO and to cover schools as a steel pan tutor while Mary was building business and performing arts links in Brazil for a month.
In that year, Mary and Ailsa, who was Band Captain of RASPO, rehearsed and performed with Slough’s next generation community steel band Panachea.
It was also in the Summer 2006 RASPO, Slough All Stars and Panachea had their first collaborative performance. This was the catalyst for an amazing 11 years of me working with CultureMix as part of the team.
Those 11 years has seen my home steel pan crew “Slough All Stars” become “Stelphonic”. Those years have seen me eventually become a school steel pan tutor and I admit I’ve learnt a great deal in that role.
Those 11 years have opened me up to many wonderful perfoming experiences from playing at Notting Hill Carnival, performing in Dublin at the One World Festival and enjoying the wonderful atmosphere, to performing at the Royal Albert Hall at the proms. There are just so many and I expect there will be many many more. ”
Words by Dani Richardson (May 2017)
Page compiled by Mary Genis
Main image (top) Slough All Stars at The Abbey Gateway 2005
Outro by Mary Genis
In 2006 Dani joined CultureMix to cover my schools music teaching while I travelled to Brazil on a funded visit to explore Afro Brazilian Carnival culture in Recife, Pernambuco. Whilst there I worked with Ylê de Egbá a performance group based in the hillside community of Alto José do Pinho. Led by the deeply spiritual Dito D’Oxossi the group practised Candomblé – ‘a dance in honour of the gods’ with Yoruba beliefs combining aspects of the Catholic faith. Ylê de Egbá promotes the culture and maintains the traditions of African people brought as slaves from Nigeria.
I took two lead tenor steel pans and ran workshops for the local community. In exchange I learned about Afoxé and marakatu rhythms, helped to make costumes, and took part in performances, some with a 14 year old boy Otavio who excelled at learning the steel pan. I returned to the UK inspired by the richness of the Afro-Brazilian culture and the very serious approach to music despite the relative poverty. I left Otavio one of the steel pans and felt a sense of pride as the group continued to use it in their performances.
Twelve years later CultureMix won Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation status (ACE NPO) with four years of investment enabling the return exchange with Ylé de Egbá to take place. Dito and the eight piece group arrived in early August 2018 with Otavio, now twenty-six. Otavio set about learning Paul and Dani’s Panorama arrangement on steel pan whilst Dito and the other members produced costumes and enriched the orchestra’s engine room with their unique percussion rhythms.
After a triumphant three weeks of radio and TV appearances, performances at Carnival of the World in Reading, Panorama and London Notting Hill Carnival the exchange was successfully completed.
Ylê de Egbá returned to Brazil on Tuesday 28 August 2018. It was that same evening our Dani passed away.
Slough All Stars, Panachea and RASPO play Hot Hot Hot at The Oracle Shopping Centre Reading 2006
Ode to a Maestro
by Arwah Chakera for RASPO
I never will forget the day I joined the band,
When the Maestro smiled so kindly and took me by the hand
He led me to a pan and showed me how to play
I began to learn a skill I would then hone every Thursday
The Maestro reawakened something long forgot
A love of playing music, I didn’t know I’d lost
Each week as I got better, my enjoyment grew and grew
Before long I could not wait to perform as part the crew.
Week on week the Maestro taught us,
Intro, altro, verse and chorus
Every part he had in his head
‘Not ripe enough’ was the rhythm oft said.
Each rehearsal he was patient
As we struggled with the arrangement.
Three versions of Jammin’ we did learn,
Each week unsure to which we would return.
At gigs we always tried our best,
Put our memories to the test.
To make sure we got each note exactly right,
The Maestro never missed a wrong note, no matter how slight!
Yet never once were we made to feel bad
‘Cos our mistakes never made the Maestro mad
Music was his passion, which he loved to teach
“Amazing Grace” he oft did preach
As we say goodbye to this talented man
Kind and good, who believed we can
RASPO is a family and you meant a lot
With every song we play, you will not be forgot.
by Louie Genis
Dani boy oh Dani boy
You will be missed so much
By all the people you have reached
Your gentle soul has touched
Dani boy oh Dani boy
Though you are gone in flesh
Your spirit remains forever
In an eternity that’s blessed
In July 2010
Raspo went to Ireland
Festival of world culture
Dani took his violin
So much soul
As he stood up and played it
How he charmed all the locals
With songs he learned in Gaelic
I could really tell by the look in their eyes
They genuinely felt an affection for this guy
For me being there I knew I’d seen something special
How he reached and he touched with a genuine expression
Dani boy oh Dani boy
Although I’m feeling blue
I’m thankful for being lucky enough to have known you
Yes it is true
you left us too soon…but
Your memory like a melody
Will always be in tune.
Reading All Steel Percussion Orchestra play Mad Man for UK Panorama 2018