Patrick Arnold, the former Pan Trinbago CEO and president who passed away, age 84, on May 10 is one of our latest cultural icons whose contribution to our nation we must pause and contemplate.
Arnold, who lived his last days at Peace of Mind Nursing Home at Signal Hill, Tobago, was a tireless advocate for the steelband movement.
Pan Trinbago president Beverley Ramsey-Moore, herself a Tobagonian, described him as “one of those leaders who made a tremendous impact on the organisation in terms of its movement forward.”
That’s a fair assessment of Mr Arnold’s work with the steelband organisation, which he urged to reassess its traditions and presumptions.
The founder and manager of Tobago’s Our Boys Steel Orchestra, he fought for increases in prize money, instituted preliminary panyard judging, controversially moved Panorama to San Fernando twice, negotiated remittances for players and championed leadership training and empowerment.
Mr Arnold was said to have been particularly proud of bringing preliminary judging back to panyards in 2002, putting the process in front of the fans and players in an intimate setting.
The change was met with some resistance by Pan Trinbago members, but the “pan craw”’ is now widely accepted as an improvement on the costly sprawl of collective judging at that stage of the competition,
Mr Arnold served as Pan Trinbago president from 1996 to 2009 when Keith Diaz replaced him in leadership elections. He would go on to serve as NCC chairman from 2011, after serving on the board as Pan Trinbago’s leader.
His long service to culture and reputation for equanimity might have been a blend of his work as a steelband manager and as a politician, having served as a PNM-appointed senator in the second Republican Parliament between November 1981 and October 1986. He was never far from the steelband. While studying at university in New York, he worked with Ellie Mannette and, according to a remembrance note by US pan soloist Andy Narell, a longtime friend and colleague, also worked in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he would be found building and tuning pans in McClaren Park.
That work resulted in Mr Arnold being asked to go to Japan to build pans in that country.
Through his friendship with Mr Narell, Our Boys would record two albums for Chris Blackwell’s Mango Records.
It wouldn’t be until 1999 that Mr Narell would be allowed to arrange for Skiffle Bunch under a presidency by Mr Arnold that sought to expand instead of shrinking the influences and collaborations available to steelpan musicians.
According to Mr Narell, Mr Arnold sought, under his presidency, to establish, “a new era where anyone could come and participate in Panorama as an arranger, that we should welcome new ideas.”