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The Angel Harps Steel Orchestra is perhaps Grenada's most well known steelband. "The Harps" or "The Wharf Band" as they are affectionately called by their fans and supporters, seem to have been around for as long as most people could remember steelband in Grenada. As the name 'The Wharf Band' suggests, the Harps has always been based in the Carenage (The Wharf) community but its membership has always been extended to persons living outside the community. Despite this though, the band has had deep ties with the community.
The "Harps" has over the last 43 years endured a life mixed with successes and failures, trials and tribulations and a number of changes in the sponsorship of the steel orchestra. Despite these mixed fortunes, the name and the band "Angel Harps" has always survived and today has graduated from being just another steelband and is now regarded as the "Institution of Pan" in Grenada. At Panorama each year, the objective of each steelband is to 'beat the Harps' whether the band is defending champion or not. Such is the satisfaction people enjoy when they beat the Harps.
Much has changed from the early days to now. For one, the membership of the orchestra is more dynamic ranging in ages from age 9 to over age 55. In the early 1970's the first female player and, for a long time, the only female player to have played in the band was Antonia Bernard. Today the membership is almost split 50/50 among males and females most of whom have come through the band's Junior Programme and are still attending school. In the early days, mothers did not want their young sons to be anywhere near the pan house, much less their young daughters!!! The very wide cross section of persons involved with the Harps and other steelbands today illustrate the long strides that the pan movement has made and the acceptance, recognition and respect it is now given. Most of the pans are chromed and are on wheeled stands with canopies and the band consistently performs at Panorama with between 80-100 players each year.
During its existence, the band, through its many different sponsorships has been known firstly as Johnnie Walker Angel Harps, Shell Angel Harps, Dewars White Label Angel Harps, Phoenix Angel Harps, and since 1982 as (National Commercial Bank of Grenada Limited) NCB Angel Harps. In 2006, NCB was rebranded to Republic Bank Grenada Limited and now the band is known as Republic Bank Angel harps. Through the association with NCB and now Republic Bank, the band had grown from an orchestra of 30-40 persons in 1985 to well over 100 members in 1991. But despite its numbers' the Harps has always been referred to as a 'Big Band'.
The "Harps" has always been in the forefront of developing & promoting the artform in Grenada and has a number of firsts to its credit in Grenada's steelband history. In 1972, under the baton of James Clarkson, the "Harps" became the first Grenadian steelband to appear in Concert with the Royal Grenada Police Force Band. Indeed, this was the first local mixture of steel & brass. That same year, there was another first by becoming the first Grenadian Steelband to produce a record album, Brighter out of Darkness recorded in Barbados, under the musical direction of James Clarkson and managerial assistance from Mr. Evelyn Ross. The Harps also has the distinction of being the first Grenada steelband to appear in the National Panorama finals with the entire band under canopies and on wheels. This set the lead for all the other bands to follow. In 1992, Harps was the first band to field two separate steelbands in the Senior and Junior Competitions using two different musical arrangers.
The "Harps" were also first in 'adopting' schools for the purpose of forming school-steel orchestras. Beginning in the early 1970's the St. Joseph's Convent were the first to take up 'residence' in the pan tent. A few of the names associated with this group were Michelle Hercules, Hazel Hurley, Jennifer Preudhomme and Annette Phillip. They were followed nearly two decades later by the Anglican High School and recently the TA Marryshow Community College. "Harps" have also assisted the GBSS, The Grenada School of Nursing and the St. George's University. Today, the "Harps" are actively responsible for the pan programmes at the Anglican High School, the St. Louis RC Girls School and the TA Marryshow Community College.
Indeed, the Angel Harps Steel Orchestra; the Wharf Band; the Harps; the Sweetest Band in the Land; whatever name you choose to use, has a long and interesting history. But where do we begin the story that is the legend of the Harps?