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A passion for pan – a tribute to Frank Rollock Snr

The following article originally appeared in the 24 August 2001 issue of Hot Tickets magazine and is reproduced here, with minor edits, as a special tribute to Frank Sylvester Rollock, 13 Oct 1937‑20 Apr 2020.

“The steel drum has something in it so that when you get into it, or it gets into you, you don’t want to play any other instrument.”

Frank Rollock is a courteous, quietly spoken man whose voice still has the characteristic lilt of his native Trinidad. He is surrounded by his six grown-up children and numerous grandchildren, who listen quietly and attentively as he speaks at his home in Brixton. A ring of steel unites all three generations, because the entire family plays in London All Stars, one of the UK’s premier steel orchestras.

Born in Tunapuna, eastern Trinidad, around the same time as steelpan itself, Frank Rollock originally set off in a rather different musical direction. When he was a young boy, his mother, Violet, enrolled him for piano lessons. As luck would have it, the panyard of Sullivan’s Steel Orchestra was just around the corner. Soon, the lure of Trinidad’s national instrument proved irresistible.

Frank recalls: “I used to leave home, go to the piano lesson, but end up at the panyard playing the steel drums. After a time my mum went to pay the piano tutor her fees. ‘What are you giving me this money for?’ she said, ‘I haven’t seen Frank once.’” He had to admit that it was pan, not piano, he had been learning. At this point, many parents might have issued a stern rebuke, because steelbands still had a rumbustious reputation in Trinidad at that time. Luckily, Violet Rollock was understanding and not only allowed Frank to stay on at Sullivan’s, but positively encouraged him.

With his brother Roy, the 17-year-old Frank set up his first band, called the Modernaires. Soon his life changed direction again, as he followed Roy to England in October 1959, bringing with him some precious steelpans and settling in south London. Before long, the two brothers had formed a new band, playing with two of the founding fathers of British steelband music, Russell Henderson and Sterling Betancourt.

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