SOLID STEEL: OUR BAND’S STORY

A steel band with a professional history

Our story begins with the Cherrie family who originate from Trinidad – the home of the steel band – and who have been involved in playing steel pans professionally in Britain since the early 1950s.

Our steel band was founded by Paul Cherrie in 1985, after an apprenticeship served with his father Max’s band, ‘The Cherry Pickers’ that started in 1974. By 1980 Paul was occasionally deputising as a bandleader for ‘The Cherry Pickers’ as he embarked on a full time teaching career. Meanwhile, Ralph’s son, Mark also started playing pan on the professional circuit and it was his playing as a multi-instrumentalist and demo production that principally helped launch our steel band and promote it to all the leading UK entertainments agencies of that era.

The band quickly became a favourite of these agencies which led to it playing gigs all over the UK and on foreign residencies across the world, including prestigious venues in Damascus, Djibouti and Monte Carlo.

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Solid teel band early years

Solid Steel as a steel band trio in 1985

Our steel band for hire in 2020

A steel band for hire today

As you can see most clearly from our Instagram feed we are a small family of musicians- and yes, there are a few Cherries amongst us!

We have a lot of experience of a wide variety of events including:

  • Film and television engagements
  • Wedding and corporate drinks receptions
  • Music workshops in schools
  • Product promotions
Paul is still leading the band and is fully active performing with his signature playing of the bass pan and maracas whilst singing, but is also involved with managing and playing with ‘The Cherry Pickers’ steel band which is now based in Manchester and is celebrating its 60th anniversary shortly.

Though still very much involved with Solid Steel, Mark has gone on to become arguably the most highly respected pan player on the jazz circuit in Britain today leading his own jazz quartet- and several other contemporary members of the band also pursue parallel music careers too.

An important part of the Solid Steel brand has always been that most musicians within it also sing and/or have another instrument they also play at a professional level.

The band continues to work with a couple of agencies, but far more now with a few great event organizing companies. Post-internet, the majority of our clients do come to us by personal recommendations or after discovering our websites!

So we still travel all over the country and abroad, playing fully live to audiences at events with (but mostly without!) a tropical theme like Caribbean nights, private parties, wedding receptions, corporate events, product and project launches etc. in prestigious and not-so-prestigious venues as diverse as hotels, festivals, schools, tv and radio studios, village halls, shopping centres, pubs and restaurants. In doing so, we make it our business for our steel band to transport our audience’s imagination to the most idyllic sun and rum-soaked Caribbean holiday ever!

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A steel band ready for future bookings

Our initial ambition is the same- which is to play music on the steel pans in a band that is well-educated musically, and informed by all forms of music not just those played by other steel bands or other steel pan players- and in doing so provide something special for our audiences.

We’ve always enjoyed playing our steel pans with other like-minded steel pan players who listen well and can improvise well, but also enjoyed playing with other instrumentalists like guitar, keyboard, drum and horn players in ‘steel combos’ – and will continue to do so.

We have always loved entertaining our audiences by playing for dancing when we also show our vocal talents.

We have done a lot of steel band workshops in schools over the last 10 years and our ambition is always to improve as educators and continue to deliver musically-literate lessons in more counties than ever before.

We have always loved recording steel pan and steel band music in Mark Cherrie’s studio and will continue to do that when we’ve been commissioned to do so. And quite often when we’ve not been!

Finally, we have always embraced the changes in technology that have arrived- and welcomed them. Staying modern, staying fresh by being adaptable. It did not take the pandemic that arrived in 2020 to encourage us to play for virtual events. We were already there- using the best cameras and microphones to deliver the very best audience experience possible for steel pan and steel band performances on Zoom, MS Teams and Webex.

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Our steel band’s younger generation

LEARN MORE FROM COMMON  FAQs

Steel pans come from the Caribbean. Specifically, the island of Trinidad. The island of Trinidad is made up of almost 1.4 million people English-speakers, but their roots can be traced back to Africa, India, China, the Middle East, Europe, and the Mediterranean.

Trinidad and Tobago is the home of Caribbean Carnival. It is also the home of calypso, the music which fuels steelband music there. The steel pan evolved in the capital, Port of Spain, in the 1930’s. These are just two of the many musical forms to be found alongside strong traditions of dance, literature, sculpture and painting.

In the 1800s, when Trinidad had many sugar plantations, people were brought to the island from West Africa to work on the plantations. These Africans brought their music with them. This music was based around lots of drumming accompanied by singing. The music was often played in religious ceremonies and other celebrations. It was also used as a method of communication.

The Europeans that had brought the Africans to work on the sugar plantations did not like this music. It was very different to the classical music that they liked to listen to. Because of this, they banned all drum parades in the late 1800s. But the Africans simply found a way to carry on playing music. Instead of using the drums that had been banned, they used bamboo sticks that they would hit together to beat out a rhythm. The groups of musicians that would play the bamboo sticks became known as tamboo bamboo bands. These too became banned in the 1930s.

These tamboo bamboo bands preceded steel pan bands. During the Second World War, the U.S.A had used the island of Trinidad as a military base. When the war was over, the Americans had left behind big, 55 gallon oil drums. It was discovered that if you hammered in different dents onto these steel drums, they would make different sounds. From that point on, musicians began to tune them so that melodies and harmonies could be played on what we now call ‘steel pans’.

No, but it is part of that band’s legacy, because it has a unique heritage that relates to that band. Paul and Mark’s fathers, the Cherrie brothers Max and Ralph- both of whom played piano as their first instruments back in Trinidad- were amongst the first of their generation to play steel pans professionally in the UK with Russ Henderson’s steel band. Russ- also a pianist- and another band member, Sterling Betancourt- who had stayed in the UK after playing with TASPO (the Trinidad All Star Percussion Orchestra) at The Festival of Britain- are regarded as pioneers of professional steel pan playing in the UK and have been recognised with OBEs awarded for their achievements- not least of all for being part of the band that led the first carnival parade in Notting Hill.

The Notting Hill Carnival was born when community activist, Rhaune Laslett, in aiming to highlight the multi-cultural richness of the area invited the Russell Henderson Steel Band to a street festival in 1964 which ended up with a parade that was instigated by the band itself who knew well the joys of playing ‘pan roun’ neck and parading Trinidad Carnival-style. It was a sensation and the local people followed the band dancing behind them in the street and although the Notting Hill Carnival wasn’t officially born until 1966, it was conceived then by Russ and his band which included Sterling Betancourt and Ralph Cherrie.

It was not until the mid-80’s until some of those Windrush generation players really got back to playing regularly at the Notting Hill Carnival that some Solid Steel band members then individually joined them playing ‘pan roun’ neck’ on the road. But Solid Steel is a small professional band typically in great demand elsewhere over an August Bank Holiday weekend, so hasn’t been involved in a long time- despite its Notting Hill Carnival heritage.

This is a very good question. The list of Cherries that play or have played steel pan on a professional gig so far is:

  • Max Cherrie
  • Ralph Cherrie
  • Paul Cherrie
  • Mark Cherrie
  • Chris Cherrie
  • Tania Cherrie
  • Elliot Cherrie
  • Monica Cherrie

Here is what we’ve provided to some great venues in the last couple of years

  • A 3-piece acoustic steel band for a wedding in Stoke, Staffordshire
  • A 3-piece acoustic steel band for a University staff barbecue in Cambridge, Cambs
  • Four 3-piece acoustic steel bands for race meetings at Sandown Park racecourse in Esher, Surrey
  • A 3-drum steel band for a multi-cultural awareness event in Milton Keynes, Bucks
  • A 3-piece steel band with vocals for a wedding in Loughton, Essex
  • A 4-piece funky steel band with vocals for a birthday party in Derby, Derbyshire A 3-piece traditional steel band for a wedding in Haslemere, Surrey
  • A 3-piece acoustic steel band for a wedding in Didsbury, Manchester, Lancs
  • A 3-piece acoustic steel band for a wedding in Maidstone, Kent
  • A 3-drum band for a Bar Mitzvah in St Albans, Herts
  • A 3-drum traditional steel band for wedding receptions in Chelsea, London
  • A 3-piece acoustic steel band for a corporate fun day in Cardiff, Wales
  • A 4-piece acoustic steel band for a company barbecue in Mayfair, London
  • A 3-pan unplugged steel band for a wedding in Oxted, Surrey
  • A 3-piece unplugged steel band for London Zoo, Regents Park, London
  • A 3-piece acoustic steel band for a champagne reception in Notting Hill, London
  • A 3-drum steel band for a pub in Harrow, Middlesex
  • A 3-piece acoustic steel band for a charity event in Chester, Cheshire
  • A 3 steel pan traditional steel band for a Thames Cruise from Windsor, Berks
  • A 3-piece acoustic steel band for a Caribbean Association in Milton Keynes, Bucks
  • Two steel band workshops for schools in Brent, London
  • A 3-drum traditional steel band for Lord’s Cricket Ground in London
  • A 3-piece steel band with vocals for a 21st birthday party in Alderley Edge, Cheshire
  • A 4-pan acoustic steel band for a corporate awards event in Brentwood, Essex
  • A 3-piece acoustic steel band for a pub barbecue in Winchester, Hampshire
  • A 3-piece acoustic steel band for the Church of Scientology in Tunbridge Wells, Kent
  • A 3-piece acoustic steel band for a wedding for Exeter in Devon
  • A 7-piece steel combo with vocals for a barbecue at an army barracks in Camberley, Surrey
  • A 5-drum acoustic steel band for a wedding in Bristol, Avon
  • A 3-piece steel band with vocals for a 40th birthday party in Sandbanks, Dorset
  • A 7-piece steel combo with vocals for the Horniman festival in London
  • A 3-piece acoustic steel band for a wedding in St Ives, Cornwall
  • A 4-piece acoustic steel band for a Government Office in Southampton, Hampshire
  • A 3-drum steel band for a wedding in Crosby, Liverpool, Lancs
  • A 6-piece acoustic steel band for a company barbecue in London, Middx
  • A 3-piece acoustic steel band for a wedding in Henley-On-Thames, Oxford
  • A 3-piece acoustic steel band for a wedding in Ascot, Berkshire
  • A 5-drum acoustic steel band for a wedding in Leeds, Yorkshire
  • A 3-piece acoustic steel band for a civil partnership in Wilmslow, Manchester, Lancs
  • A 3-piece acoustic steel band for a wedding in Gerrards Cross, Bucks
  • A 2-facilitator steel band team building exercise in Egham, Surrey

Of course, if we take it back far enough we have already performed extensively throughout the UK. In London, we’ve played in just about every borough including Barnet, Bexley, Brent, Camden, Greenwich, Hackney, Hammersmith, Fulham, Islington, Kensington and Chelsea, Lambeth, Lewisham, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Wandsworth, Westminster, Greater London, Barking and Dagenham, Bromley, Croydon, Ealing, Enfield, Haringey, Harrow, Havering, Hillingdon, Hounslow, Kingston upon Thames, Merton, Newham, Redbridge, Richmond upon Thames, Sutton and Waltham Forest.

We’ve played in other cities and towns such as Aberdeen, Aldershot, Andover, Ascot, Aylesbury, Banbury, Barnstable, Bath, Basingstoke, Bedford, Birmingham, Bodmin, Bournemouth, Bracknell, Bradford, Bray, Brecon, Bridgwater, Brighton, Bristol, Burton-Upon-Trent, Cambridge, Cardiff, Carmarthen, Cheltenham, Chester, Chichester, Cork, Coventry, Crawley, Crowthorne Derby, Dorchester, Dublin, Eastbourne, Edinburgh, Eton, Exeter, Farnborough, Farnham, Glasgow, Gloucester, Gosport, Guildford, Harlow, Havant, Hemel Hempstead, Henley on Thames, High Wycombe, Hungerford, Kidderminster, Leamington Spa, Leeds, Leicester, Lichfield, Lincoln, Liverpool, London, Luton, Maidenhead, Maidstone, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Newark, Newbury, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northampton, Nottingham, Nuneaton, Oxford, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Reading, Redditch, Redruth, Reigate, Rugby, Salisbury, Sandhurst, Shrewsbury, Slough, Southampton, St Albans, Stafford, Stevenage, Stoke-On-Trent, Sheffield, Sunderland, Sunningdale, Sunninghill, Swansea, Swindon, Tamworth, Taunton, Telford, Thame, Thatcham, Truro, Tunbridge Wells, Wantage, Watford, Winchester, Windsor, Wolverhampton, Yeovil, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

We’ve also performed in every county including Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Cornwall, Cheshire, Cumbria, Derbyshire, Devon, Dorset, East Anglia, Essex, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Herefordshire, Hertfordshire, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Kent, Monmouth, Middlesex, Norfolk, Northumberland, Oxfordshire, Somerset, Suffolk, Surrey, Sussex, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Wiltshire and Yorkshire, throughout England, Wales, Scotland & Ireland.

Solid Steel is not just a band, it’s a steel band company. Although it originated in London and still performs a lot within the M25, there are about 10 associate members of the band scattered around the country. For this reason- and because travel is seen as an adventure and not a chore by the band’s principal members, Paul and Mark, we are able to perform in most areas of the UK for similar rates.

We like playing as a trio. Alot. Although in the early days Russ Henderson’s band played as a 4-piece, it was really the Russ Henderson Trio that became the flagship format that other professional steel bands then followed. For that reason, Solid Steel sees the trio as its legacy and champions it accordingly. The three basic types of pan we play in this format are a tenor pan that plays melody, a second pan (think ‘rhythm guitar’ in terms of its harmonic strumming role) and bass pans with hand percussion. Max Cherrie was the first steel band musician to ever play bass pan whilst simultaneously playing hand percussion and Solid Steel’s bandleader Paul understandably champions that role and the entertainment it supplies for both the eyes and ears of its audience!

Most traditional steel bands, especially first generation Caribbean ones like the Russ Henderson Steel Band and The Cherry Pickers principally played ‘Caribbean Folk’ music consisting of calypso (the national folk music of Trinidad & Tobago) and Harry Belafonte-styled ‘island music’- along with some old Latin-American ‘standards’. We still love these songs and when hired as a fully-instrumental and unplugged acoustic steel band really enjoy playing these wonderful melodies. But, we also meet the modern demand for our steel band to play the pop and reggae that is familiar to younger audiences and is the most requested these days. Because we offer vocals within the band itself, we’re more suited as a steel band to meet the demand for modern pop covers that might be unrecognisable if played just instrumentally on steel drums.

Yes- and we do sometimes read whilst we play if we’ve been tasked to play specific requests or arrangements or are engaged in a recording studio session.

No, because music is not a sport. It’s art- and the appreciation of it is always subjective with no individual more qualified than anyone else to judge it!

Steel pans sound fantastic when played alongside a wide variety of different instruments. These instruments include acoustic instruments such as piano, upright bass, drum kit, saxophone and flute. Electric instruments such as electric guitar and bass guitar also work well for us, whilst all percussion sections that include conga drums and Latin percussion, generally, are highly complementary.

Ireland, France, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Italy, Monaco, Turkey, Greece, Poland, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tunisia, Djibouti, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, Dubai, Oman, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Qatar.

Every country we’ve played in the past with maybe a couple of exceptions, which will remain unnamed. Plus every other country we’ve yet to visit. So still plenty to go!

It’s more mature members, in particular, are more interested in the adventure provided by travel opportunities than high fees for their performance.

Solid Steel is a steel band and all steel band music is stereotypically cast in the European market as a bit of happy-go-lucky, jaunty, light musical entertainment. However much we can and do satisfy that stereotype, Solid Steel has a lot more about it. Our unique selling point- or USP- in terms of our band’s musical performance is that we are the only band that offers a 3-piece steel band which includes a professional level vocalist who also sings. But there are a few more elements to Solid Steel’s brand:

a) The band is a family band, but also a long-established professional band that is professional in its organisation. With authentic origins that originate from Trinidad it is built from a professional steel band legacy. That it was christened ‘Solid Steel’ was and is a real statement of professional intent with its offering an extremely wide variety of steel band services to the TV & Film industries, the corporate world and, of course, private individuals who require our steel band for their private party and wedding celebrations.

b) The band runs an office. Professionally. Phone calls between real humans are encouraged and emails and messages of all kinds are handled promptly and efficiently. You will receive a simple contract from us that will leave you in no doubt that the bespoke services you wanted to book and what we are providing are one and the same.

c) Musically we excel with a long reputation for only hiring the very best professional steel pan musicians to perform for you or teach you in workshops in a well-informed way, musically.

d) Entertainment is our business. We don’t only play well, but we sing well too- if required. For 99% of steel bands this is not an option regardless of the size of band performing. But also we smile, we laugh, we wear good costumes, we interact with the audience- and we enjoy ourselves! In our experience this is the best way- if needed- to encourage an audience to enjoy itself too!

Our prices are competitive. Despite this being our full-time job, we are not necessarily more expensive than other bands and will generally be able to match their quotes if fairly challenged to do so. Our performance packages start at short 30 minute performances for maximum affordability. Here are a few of those services recently delivered locally with the starting price for each package:-

  • Steel pan/drum soloist for a 30 minute performance – £150
  • Steel pan/drum soloist with backing tracks for a 30 minute performance – £175
  • Steel pan/drum duo for a 30 minute performance – £250
  • Steel pan/drum duo with backing tracks for a 30 minute performance – £300
  • Steel pan/drum duo with backing tracks & vocals for a 30 minute performance – £350
  • Steel band (3-piece) for a 30 minute performance (all live & including a bass pan player) WARNING! A steel band without a bass instrument is not a proper band! – £450
  • Steel band (3-piece) with vocals for a 30 minute performance – £550
  • Steel band (4-piece) for a 30 minute performance – £550
  • Steel band (4-piece) with vocals for a 30 minute performance – £650
  • Steel band (5-piece) for a 30 minute performance – £650
  • Steel band (5-piece) with vocals for a 30 minute performance – £750
  • Steel band (6-piece) for a 30 minute performance – £750
  • Steel band (6-piece) with vocals for a 30 minute performance – £850
  • Steel band (7-piece) for a 30 minute performance – £850
  • Steel band (7-piece) with vocals for a 30 minute performance – £950
  • Steel band (8-piece) for a 30 minute performance – £950
  • Steel band (8-piece) with vocals for a 30 minute performance – £1,050
  • A 20-piece steel band for a 30 minute performance – £2,500

Additional services that are available with the majority of these packages include:

  • Additional time: POA but a maximum of 50% of the rate of the first 30 minutes on each additional 30 minutes of playing time
  • Additional players: POA
  • Workshops (where the audience can receive some basic instruction and learn to play something simple on the steel pans): £150 for each 30 minutes
  • Gazebo (2m x 2m to weatherproof any Solid Steel performance): £50
  • Parasols (to sun-proof any Solid Steel performance): £25
  • Bose S1 Pro Wireless PA Speaker (for when vocals aren’t required but in Solid Steel’s breaks the great playlist on your phone is!): £50
  • Caribbean Party DJ (fully self-contained with PA & Lights): £750
  • Solid Steel Soloist cover version of your favourite song played, recorded & produced at Solid Steel’s own studio: £175
  • Solid Steel 3-piece band cover of your favourite song played, recorded & produced at Solid Steel’s own studio: £500
  • Solid Steel video of 30 minutes of the performance at your event: £250

Certainly and we sincerely wish everyone stays safe and well during this pandemic. Our policy is to prioritise the health concerns of clients, audiences and performers alike and strictly follow government directives. Upon booking, we will issue you a clear plan of how we can perform at your preferably outside venue, socially-distanced and under a photogenic cover that we can provide ourselves.

We can’t answer that. Or rather, we can only hazard a guess- and that would be “never”. But in 2020 & 2021 we do have a couple of tv and film appearances that feature our steel band. One is a movie called ‘Mangrove’ directed by Sir Steve McQueen and the other is a Warner Brothers half-animation, half-live action movie involving iconic cat and mouse characters who have historically been involved in lots of chase scenes. But we’re sworn to confidentiality on that one so we’ll just have to leave you wildly guessing its title.

The truth is no fame for steel pan players or steel bands outside of the celebrity found within the steel band community and its small fanbase.

However, Solid Steel has played for many celebrities and celebrity events in the past. And they have been just as lovely as the ordinary folk we more often play for.