On October 6 2017 Leeds lost another pan pioneer, StClair Morris, who was not just a player and band leader, but the first official peripatetic steel pan teacher for Leeds Music Service. He was the first pan teacher at Foxwood School Leeds, and he was also a prolific gigging musician.
StClair came to Leeds from St Kitts as a young man. He was a lay preacher as well as a pannist, and he also drove the van for other bands, eventually deciding to form his own band, and so in the 1950s/early 60s Paradise Steel Band became active, and they were still playing last Saturday 30 September just six days before his most untimely death.
When Section 11 money was allocated to schools in order to combat racism and promote arts from other cultures, the Leeds Music Support Service bought a set of steelpans, and appointed StClair as the first ever steelpan teacher. He was not only the first in Leeds, but one of the first in the UK.
His job was physical hard work, as well as ground-breaking. At first he would drive his van full of a steelpans from one school to the next; the children would meet him at the school entrance, and help him unload, then learn, then load back up; then StClair would drive to the next school.
Then other Leeds schools, including Foxwood High School in Seacroft, bought pans, which is when I met StClair. Foxwood Steel Band kept going when the school closed in 1996, and all the Foxwood Panyard bands still play some of the songs that he taught them way back in the 1980s.
Of the schools that he visited, including Leopold and St Michael’s College he taught players who run their own school and music centre steelbands. These include Wanda Thorpe [then at Leopold, now runs Oulton Steel Band], Charlotte Emery [then at Foxwood and at Merlyn Rees, now runs South Steel], Bex Ainge [then at St Michael’s now runs music centre band, East Steel], Eileen Butterworth, [then at St Michaels, runs St John Fisher Band, Dewsbury], and Victoria Jaquiss, now running Foxwood Steel and Leeds Silver Steel Sparrows, who have played Royal Albert hall, Royal Festival Hall, and in Lille. Other band leaders include Pauline Williams who went on to run of the big London steelbands, Pantazia.
Besides teaching and gigging in Leeds, StClair and Paradise Steel Band toured this country, doing workshops, and was as well known with pan fraternity in London as he is here in Leeds.
When he started teaching in Leeds it was a lonely life as the only peripatetic steelpan teacher. Now we have a department of five part-time teachers.
Paradise Steel Band also featured in the first years of Leeds Carnival. When Victoria spoke earlier this year at the International Leeds Carnival Conference she paid tribute to StClair and the other bandleaders who brought their beautiful West Indian sounds to our city, and was glad that she was given this opportunity to name check him [and the other pioneers] to the world.
StClair was a very generous man; who allowed everyone to do their thing with the songs and the instruction that he gave them. He gave us all his blessing when we gained our independence from him, forming our own bands, and using and rearranging the tunes he taught us. Sorely sorely missed already.