UFO’s 2019 project – onwards and upwards on the road!





UFO had a fab summer. Thanks to Arts Council of England we were able to create new arrangements, rehearse a new set ready to perform, include new people and new ideas, try out new methodology, support our mixed ability integrated lessons, and run activities from July through to December 2019… and the project is not over yet!


And thanks To RBKC Arts we were able to create a fab local summer gig programme, bringing music and art to North Kensington, and sharing our carnival arts skills with the wider community as contributors to Notting Hill Carnival.


Here are our gigs and events in order… starting with latest at the top.  A good way of reading would be to scroll down to the bottom of the page, to earlier in the project and to earlier in the year…. then scroll up and feel the excitement build!!


For more gigs and activities, watch this space…





Event no 21 – UFO support the Ealing arts charity “Open Ealing” and play a duo gig at their gallery event.

(20th October 2019)





This gig gave an opportunity for band members to see the UFO tutors playing  as a duo… assisted by the visually impaired players on percussion… and to understand that performing can be stressful even for the most experienced of players. Click the arrow below to watch.




Event no 20 – UFO play the half way point at Ealing Half Marathon


Steelpan music to encourage the runners…






Some tweets about UFO at the marathon:






Event no 19 – UFO play the 150th anniversary of Fredericka Children’s hospital



This event also celebrated the 45th Anniversary of the charity “Radio Lollipop” that brings entertainment to children in hospital – we were pleased to collaborate and make this special day even more special! We also brought a message of encouragement to for children and their parents  – in UFO we had some members who were also sick, and others with disabilities  – but this didn’t stop the music or the fun!





Event  no. 18 – UFO take part in Hackney Carnival!

(Sunday 9th September 2019)


Arriving at Hackney, it was somewhat hysterical to see a simple mark on the road pointing out where the furious prep begins, ending in joy, colour, fun and music!




While waiting for the truck to arrive we played a mini gig in the street and got this response from a member of the in the public…



Finally the truck arrived, and after a lightning-speed truck-rig, we set off on the road!


The weather was perfect, the vibe on the street amazing, and we had canned water (provided by the organisers), snacks and sweets, a richly decorated truck, smiling players… oh and a last-minute constructed mini-loo behind a curtain, an absolute necessity given some of our participants had additional health and ability needs… what more could we ask for for a perfect day?!







Players said:


“I loved being on the truck bringing music to so many people lining the streets of Hackney. It was great hearing all the different sounds, the music of other bands, the laughter, the crowds. Although I am visually impaired and can’t see detail, I could feel the colour and sense the atmosphere.”

-UFO Member


“LOVED Hackney Carnival  – such a special procession to be involved in. And LOVED that even though we had little time to decorate the truck, the UFO organisers managed to rig up a portaloo surrounded by a curtain on the truck. This made all the difference. Someone with my medical condition could not have held on for three hours!!!”

-UFO Member



Event no 17 – UFO Get Iron!!


Having had Swiss arranger Paul Francis join us on the truck at Carnival to play iron, we decided UFO needed iron – that unique sound made all the difference.


Jason said the key word – ‘brake drum’ – car parts that many players in trinidad use to re-purpose as iron percussion.


Fiona set out on a mission and found brake drums on ebay, which we have named Ms Volvo and Mr Transit. We also found an ebay seller that cuts metal rods to size and a supplier of rubber to cover the rods to hold them – we chose bright blue. It worked!


UFO got iron!






Event  no. 16 – UFO on the Road at Notting Hill Carnival! (Monday 26th August 2019)



“The sign we know and love! When we see it go up, we can’t stop smiling”




It means that Carnival is here!











At the end of the day, once back at base, the band had a little play of “Bridge over Troubled Waters” to entertain the street and to celebrate a great day… click the arrow to play.




Quotes from players:


“It was the best day ever! To get the opportunity to be part of the band’s entourage was awesome, listening to beautiful music, taking it all in, reacting with the audience, dancing and helping the band by bringing food and water to the players was a great way of being involved. I’d never been to Notting Hill Carnival before but from now on I’ll go every year!

-volunteer helper/steward with UFO


“My son had a great time being looked after by everyone and it was one of the best days of his life.”

-family taking part in the UFO entourage.


“The whole experience was amazing… learning new tunes, getting the set tight, the truck prep, setting out on the road, meeting all the helpers and volunteers, playing to the crowd, going home playing all the way along Holland Park Avenue, de-rigging, unwinding afterwards. I didn’t want it to end.”

-new UFO player (first Carnival experience)


“It’s the first time I’ve played music in a band and the whole journey has been full of open hearted acceptance, endless joy and unbelievable energy. Learning an instrument in lightening speed can only happen when the environment is so full of encouragement that it doesn’t even feel like learning. I joined because I believe in supporting the carnival community and I’m staying because it’s so much fun and dance, really love it! 🎼💃🏾🕺🏽”

-new UFO player (first Carnival experience)





Remembering Grenfell at Carnival  – the 72 Seconds Silence.



Via the NHC Advisory Board to Notting Hill Carnival Ltd, our artist director Fiona Hawthorne led an incentive to help the people in the crowd remember and observe the 72 second silence for Grenfell, which took place on both Carnival Sunday and Carnival Monday. It was a challenge for Notting Hill Carnival organisers to find ways of reminding a crowd of up to 1 million people – amid loud music – that it was 3pm, time to reflect and respect.


Fiona felt that signs held by band leaders, people on trucks, drivers of trucks, that could be ‘pointed to’ could help. Fiona and UFO trustees planned and designed a sign: one side was to say “Please respect the 72 seconds silence for Grenfell at 3pm” to be held up and pointed to in the lead up to the silence. The flip side simply said “Please Respect 72 Seconds Silence for Grenfell” to be held during the Silence.


Fox/UFO had worked for many years with Hendersons Signs, who had annually donated left over or misprinted corex “For Sale” signs which children had used to recycle into artworks for Fox on the road – see example below of the Fox Carnival “Hearts Projects” created in 2014, where 700 children from local state schools each made a heart that celebrated the joy of community.


Hendersons stepped up immediately to support the idea – and to support Grenfell and Notting Hill Carnival – by printing 350 double sided signs, and delivering them to the Carnival for free – thank you Hendersons – you really helped make a difference.






A quick sidetrack to give a little bit of background to the Grenfell signs…


The link between Fox/UFO’s and Hendersons is an example of how commercial companies can help the arts in creative ways – its not just funding we need!


Back in 2014, Hendersons Signs had donated hundreds of misprint signs that formed the basis of Fox/UFOsrts project, which we took on the road on Carnival Sunday 2014, delighting the audience.


We then used the the hearts to decorate the truck for UFO’s first ever “Pan on De Road” on Carnival Monday 2014.




Here is a snippet of that 2014 project – we  hope it played a part in helping inspire Sophie North’s 2017 project “24 Hearts” Project  ( https://www.24hearts.org ) that came about as a creative community response following Grenfell, in 2017. With children’s art at the core, this was an example of how art inspires more art, helps build community and helps bring more people into the arts.


Looking back, we are so thankful to all the supporters of the Fox/UFO hearts project “Lovin’ De Road!”  –  who again included RBCK Arts and Arts Council of England.


Hendersons donated the corex signs…


We went to the Henderson’s base to pick them up.




We purchased an inexpensive band-saw in ebay and pulled together a team of adult volunteers who cut out 800 hearts….





We then painted them with pink and red emulsion, ready to give to children….



We mounted half of the hearts on poles, keeping the remainder as single sides, to be easy for the children to handle.


Then we went into schools in Notting Hill and North Kensington… where children’s creativity exploded and excelled!!






And the hearts looked wonderful on the road at Carnival!!




And  adorning the UFO truck at Carnival 2014…



and at Carnival 2015!



This later led to UFO Steelband gathering the original Fox hearts, and  – with the children from Henry Dickens Youth Centre – painting them green to become “Grenfell Hearts” for the monthly silent walk.




“Seeing the hearts is like seeing our old friends again… and here they are supporting Grenfell, bringing love,” said one of the Fox Carnivalists who had taken part in 2014 as a teenager and is now a young adult.


“It’s great they’ve got a new life, and are still bringing love and representing community.”





Event  no. 15 – Decorating the truck for Carnival

(Saturday 24th August 2019)



This was a community venture taking part in a street in Shepherd’s Bush and involving the local community, a team of volunteers and UFO steelband. We had to set the instruments and the stands and mount all the banners on the truck, then take the instruments off leaving just the stands. The instruments were put back in their cases and stored safely, while the trailer was then driven to Imperial College who so kindly supported us by storing it from Saturday afternoon to Monday morning, ready to take on the road at Carnival.


We were so lucky to have the support of a team of volunteers, and it felt like genuine teamwork – everyone found something to do to contribute to the overall all task off getting ready for the road.


The banners were reused from 2017 and 2018, but now in a new colour way – we had added a blue sky! Seeing them mounted on the truck was  a wonderful moment  – the new colour worked!


People said:


“It was amazing to see the blue in the banners, transforming them and giving them new life, a new feel!”

-UFO player


“Bringing the children’s art out on the road on our truck to support Grenfell and remind people never to forget, felt right. The children’s drawings are amazing – there was so much to look at, so many little characters to see. Being in full colour gave a sense that the community was starting to heal, that life has to go on, that community is powerful.”

-UFO player


“I loved that we ran a community festival to paint the banners blue. Getting to see them on the truck as a finished product was awesome.”

-UFO player


“I was so glad I had the opportunity to help dress the truck. Not only did it look wonderful as a result of all the teamwork, but it was an insight into the prep work behind Carnival that I didn’t’t know existed. There were so many tasks to be done, from screwing the pan stands into the wood floor, packing on as many steel pans as possible and arranging every instrument so that people can stand behind them and make a balanced sound and still move around the truck, putting fire hydrants on the truck, water where it is easy reached, even making sure their is a light in the toilet… it was like getting a ship ready to sail the seas!”

-UFO volunteer helper








Even no. 14 – re-skining the drums and packing pans for carnival!


Micheal Toussaint, tutor, mentor and star tenor player, brought his experience as an acoustic drummer to re-skin the drums for Carnival. Being blind does not affect Michael’s ability to carry this job out with ease and expertise, and to show everyone else how it’s done.






Event no. 13 – UFO take Notting Hill Carnival into Great Ormond Street Hospital (Wednesday 20th August, just before Carnival!)



The Notting Hill Carnival company asked us to help raise the profile of Carnival and help spread the joy of collaborative carnival arts. The idea was that we go into great Ormond Street and bring a little joy to sick children, which we did during the busy last week of practice.


We were happy to help as we knew it would be difficult for steelbands involved in Panorama to do this – and it had to be done!


We loved the experience and so did the children. GOSH told us it was their best attended event in a long time, and children from wards who were not expected to come downstairs to hear the music, wanted to come down and join in…. and they did!


We ended up with a congo line and a speech from one little boy who couldn’t contain his joy.


Players said:


“It was so wonderful and powerful to have the opportunity to bring music and carnival atmosphere to the children. Even though many were very sick, you could see how it lifted them, which was moving and nourishing.”

– UFO member


“It made me appreciate how lucky we are to have our health, and how lucky we are to be able to participate in music making. It made me really realise how sharing the arts with others is a duty that people can do to help others. I’m going to make myself remember that.”

– UFO member








Event no. 12 – The Tuning of the pans…

We were very lucky to have Mohamed Doukali come to London to tune our steel pans before Carnival.

It is always a great experience to watch a tuner at work, and to realise the hard work and the delicacy involved in tuning. Watching notes being bashed loudly with a hammer, watching the sensitive pitch reading technology at working together with the keen ears of an expert tuner, you soon realise the skill that goes into tuning a steel pan instrument.

We love having Mo to tune our pans because he is always keen to explain processes to pan players, demystifying tuning with the aim of it helping it become more accessible. Ultimately we need more pan tuners which will  help more steel bands sustain, and more new bands be created – the cost of tuning can be a barrier, and UFO is fortunate that Mo charges UFO a fair price that includes donating a portion of his time in the same way as everyone who teachers / produces /directs in UFO donates much time to the charity, helping it keep going.

Mo occasionally acts as a guest tutor and UFO loves his inclusive teaching style, but he also occasionally  plays with the band… which as not only a joy as Mo plays every different steelpan, but he also plays a range of other instruments – guitar, piano, drums – its great for amateur pan players to have the experience of playing beside Mo, Michael and Jason.

For enquiries about tuning contact Mohamed Doukali at mdsteelpans@gmail.com

We highly recommend Mo!





“Getting involved with UFO steelband is always an exciting experience. Especially when I’m called to tune their pans for Carnival and I’m witnessing magical moments occur as we all enthusiastically work on shaping and edging out the final result of a great steelband performance, with tuning hammers, putting notes back into pitch, with steel pan mallets catching the right rhythms and notes, with fun and utter dedication!”

-Mo Doukali, UFO pan tuner and musician




Event no. 11 – Clapham Park  Festival



A community event UFO supported –  we were glad to help by bringing steelpan music to help create carnival atmosphere, delighting the young mas players who had worked so hard to make their costumes.








Event no. 10 – UFO create a community Festival in North Kensington



Our intention was create a pre-carnival community fun day. We wanted to try out the new arrangements we had been learning during July and August with an audience.


We also wanted to add colour to our truck banners by way of adding a blue background!


The truck banners were originally created in a project in 2017, when we worked with children affected by Grenfell in local schools. The original banners were black and white, then in 2018 we returned to the children to add colour.


We loved the having the children’s art adorning our truck at Carnival in 2017 and 2018. We watched as the children’s art – that was all about the joys of community – bring a smile to people’s faces. We loved that some children in the audience recognised their contributions to the artwork – a little figure, a carnival float, even a figet spinner. Children had commented how they loved that we had used hundreds of small pieces of their art to create a bigger picture that WAS community. As one young artist at the time had said:


“All the art comes together to make a community, and shows we ARE a community.”


It is a powerful message after Grenfell and one to continue to spread.


The first three photos below show the three year ‘before and after’  where the  banners went from originally B&W – to details in colour, and finally to full colour with blue background.


From black and white…



to some colour…




to full colour!






It was great to have a visit  – and so much support – from Carnival pioneer Leslie Palmer!








Event no. 9 – Ghana Party in the Park!



A chance for UFO to participate in an event celebrating the culture of Ghana, and bring a little bit of Carnival.


We performed and ran workshops to give children a taste of playing steelpan and percussion.


We were thankful to the organisers for including us in this colourful, creative, well organised and inclusive event – we encourage all Londoners to visit next year!








Event no. 8 – another gig for the community in Ealing


Taking the panyard to a local community centre in St George’s Square, so local residents can come in and enjoy our music…






Event no. 7 – polishing our  new set!



Getting stretched musically learning, honing and polishing the 2019 soca tunes… its all about the music!







Event no. 6 – Street Party!



Given that we planned to dress our truck in a cul-de-sac street in Shepherds Bush to get it ready for Carnival, we decided to hold a street party there to thank the residents…. and to encourage them to volunteer as helpers on the road at Carnival. It was a truly lovely day – and we hope to help the community make it an annual event!







Event no. 5 – a gig for the community in Ealing



Taking the lanyard practice sessions out into St George’s Square, so the local people can see what we are doing…

For some UFO’s this ‘first gig’ provided valuable performance experience – its different with an audience!!








Event no. 4 – Creating and rehearsing the musical arrangements



Jason spends much time listening to 2019 soca, then chooses a selection that would work for steelpan. He then creates a series of original steelpan arrangements… and teaches them to UFO. Carnival here we come!








It was the job of our musical director, Jason Constantine, to pick a selection of 2019 soca tunes to arrange for the band.

Jason said: “xxxxxxxxxxx” (waiting for quote from the maestro – watch this space)

It was the job of Michael Constantine to act as musical mentor in the weekly rehearsals, especially assisting the visually impaired players in the integrated class

Michael said: ” xxxxxxx” (waiting for quote from the maestro – watch this space)





Event no. 3 – Fantastic news arrives in the UFO Panyard! 



We find out that Fox/UFO has been awarded funding from Arts Council of England and RBKC Arts, which will enable us to run a new project… which starts above!!




Event no. 2 – Struggling through winter, trying to keep things going….










Event no 1 – design of a new t-shirt for 2019!



In 2018 we had struggled with funding, and so our carnival experience was cut down and minimalist, and had involved an inexpensive print of a one-colour shirt for Carnival…. Florescent green with pink writing.

But stock had all gone, so in order to bring different colour ways to gigs in 2018, we had recycled some UFO vintage t-shirts. We’d tried various ways of recycling… we found the last few hot pink t-shirts and blocked out the 2015 date with a strip of heat-pressed gold. One industrious and innovative UFO player even embroidered over the peeling-off logo on an old UFO blue shirt – go Sivi! We dug out 2016 t-shirts to give young players… but we needed a bright new t-shirt.






Fiona designed the t-shirt and decided to go for Trinidad flag colours  – red, black and white – to honour the invention of the steel pan instrument… but main design involved lots of generic flag imagery to give an inclusive, welcoming and international message. We used this t-shirt for most of our events in winter and spring and hoped we would be able to also print a new t0-shirt for Carnival… if we won funds to get there!






More testimonials from participants:

“I’ve been part of the community steelband for a little over a year now, and it was great to be involved in the charity’s summer arts project. The experience of playing pan music is so uplifting- worst day at work – just go to pan, and the music and arrangements by our teacher just makes me feel happy. But it’s not just the music, it wouldn’t be the group it is if it weren’t for the people. They don’t care if you’re good or bad – they encourage everyone to have a go and if anyone is stuck on any part, there’ always someone there to help. I actually really don’t like performing in front on crowds – I’d much rather behind a camera or enjoying the music. But with this group, everyone is so welcoming and supportive, that it’s just fun playing with them, dispite being up there in front of an audience. UFO is a brilliant inclusive experience focused around the wonderful medium of musical instruments which music having such a strong cultural history. With a strong history and identity – it’s one that, in my experience, welcomes you into the culture through the music rather then excludes you because you might not be from the same heritage.”

-UFO Player

“UFO provide a special sort of magic when it comes to carnival and it is an amazing achievement. As a long-standing member of the band, I am taking a sabbatical while studying so it’s my first experience of UFO magic from the street side of the truck… and the sense of welcome, community, inclusion and joy in the spirit of Carnival are as evident listening and watching as they are playing. It’s so wonderful to see that the investment – in time, effort, practice & love – made by the band do really spill out into the crowd! It is tangible. 

Also, the significance of the truck dressing cannot be underplayed. It has always been an important part of UFO, connecting the visual appearance with the sound of the pans, however the very prominent message of community support, and celebration of that community, has been even more significant following the devastation of Grenfell. The joyful combination of the sound of pan with the visual delight of the decorations is so appreciated by the crowd! “

-UFO player – currently taking a break from playing –  who saw the band on the road at Carnival



“Five years ago, I was running a Water Station at Ealing Half Marathon and playing beside us were UFO Steelband. I found myself grinning and jigging around for 3 hours. I just loved the sound! I asked if I could join their band. So in my late 50’s, I  learnt to play a musical instrument. As part of this project, I get a thrill when I see others have the same reaction as I did that first time and subsequently come and join our band. It’s so thrilling now to play and look up to lots of happy faces, smiling, dancing and saying ‘thank you’ with a thumbs up, when you catch their eye. I enjoy spreading the joy playing pan gives me. It’s been so very visible at all of the gigs we’ve played during this project. Playing pan is so joyous for band members and seeing really sick patients really light up, and flagging runners visibly reenergise before our eyes, is just so very rewarding.”

-UFO Player


Photos in this blog

Just to add…. Many of the photos on this blog have been taken by players, volunteers, audience members and friends. But some of the outstanding ones – especially those from Portobello Green Festival and Notting Hill Carnival  – were taken by photographer Jolly Thompson  – thank  you Jolly for bringing your artistic eye to capture the moments so beautifully!