St. Christopher Steel Band, 1964 – 1977

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John Rawlins, circa 1959.

Formed in Birmingham in 1964, the St. Christopher Steel Band was made up of seven members who were all originally from St. Kitts. The group’s Guitar pan player and vocalist John Rawlins was born in St.Kitts in 1940. He began singing with a steel band in St. Kitts at the age of 14 but hadn’t yet learnt to play the instrument. He soon learnt to play the pans and took up Guitar pan. John, known as Tim, came to England at the age of 19 in August 1959.  He saw the move as an opportunity to work and help his family in St. Kitts financially. He first lived in Wednesbury in Sandwell where his cousin had secured him a job at Patent Shaft Steel Works. He arrived on Sunday and began working as a labourer on Monday. As well as working as a labourer he trained as a Spare Man. He later worked at GKN Steel Works and Sertec Steel Works in Birmingham. John joined the St. Christopher Steel Band in 1964. The other members were:

  • Leroy Matthew (Tenor pan, bandleader, arranger)
  • Franklyn Norford (Guitar pan)
  • Wendell ‘Pat’ Boone (Double second pan)
  • Melvyn Edwards (Cello pan, vocals)
  • Rudolph ‘Midge’ Davies (Drums, vocals)
  • Peter Edwards (Bass, vocals)

The band performed locally and built up a fan base. Their repertoire included ‘Elizabethan Serenade’, ‘In The Mood’, ‘Island In The Sun’ and ‘Yellow Bird’. The band also composed their own music but were best known for their covers. They took part in the first Leeds West Indian Carnival in 1967 and entered the steel pan competition, the first of its kind, and took first place with their version of ‘Elizabethan Serenade’. St. Christopher Steel Band performed at other carnivals across the country in the 1970s including Nottingham Carnival in 1970 and 1971. The band became well-known in their home city of Birmingham and played throughout the city including an appearance at the 1970 May Ball held at the University of Aston where they shared the stage with Chris Barber and The Fourmost.

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Flyer for the May Ball, 1970.

St. Christopher Steel Band’s big break came in 1974 when they made an appearance on the TV talent show ‘New Faces’. They were the first steel band to appear on the show, predating 20th Century Steel Band’s winning appearance in 1975. St. Christopher Steel Band came fourth on the show but were spotted by a Mr. Franklin, a travel agent.  Mr. Franklin offered them a two week gig at a hotel in Spain. The band went on to play in clubs, pubs and hotels around the world. They played concerts in England, Scotland, Wales, Spain, Germany, India and the UAE. During a residency in Dubai the band were not allowed to drink alcohol in the city but could buy alcohol outside of Dubai. The band members would travel outside of Dubai and smuggle alcohol back to their hotel room, risking a prison sentence. Once the hotel manager found out, the band were certain they would be arrested. To their delight the manager understood that musicians enjoyed a drink and told them that they could purchase alcohol from him as long as they only drank it in their hotel room.

Back in England, St. Christopher Steel Band made an appearance on the BBC Radio programme ‘Caribbean Corner’ and in 1977 they recorded the album ‘Island In The Sun’. The album was recorded at Grosvenor Recording Studios in Birmingham and was released on the local label Hollik & Taylor. The album contained twelve tracks that were “their fans’ requested favourites”. St. Christopher Steel Band disbanded around 1977/1978. John Rawlins went on to join the Tropical Islanders Steel Band who made an appearance on the TV show ‘Alright Now’ in December 1980 and later appeared on ‘Tiswas’. He then joined the Sunjest Steel Band who recorded a number of CDs and was later a member of the Caribbean Harmonics Steel Band who made a DVD of their performances.

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Island In The Sun album, 1977
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