The steelband on board the cable ship Electra.

Back in the 1950s, communication between the UK and the colonies was through submarine cables and wireless networks. Cable and Wireless Ltd managed the underwater cables and there were 11 cables that all started from Porthcurno Cove in Cornwall. By the mid-50s, the company also had 11 maintenance ships for the cables that were constantly at sea checking these cables. Among them was the Electra which was a repurposed World War Two craft that worked in the Caribbean. The workers on board started their own steelband.

The steelband on board was discussed in a British hobby magazine called Meccano.

A 1955 issue noted that West Indian workers on the Electra had formed a unique steelband put together from the limited items available to make instruments on board. It included “a billy can, an oil drum, a crowbar, a paint can, a cigarette tin filled with steel oddments, and a rope thimble which serves as a triangle.”

Clearly even among early steelbands, this one must have had a unique sound! What tunes were they playing? Calypsos? Mostly Trinidadians in the band? We’ll likely never know.

There was a photo with the article that appears to date from 1951. It was more recently featured in My Cornwall magazine in 2020 because the photo was featured in a local Cornwall exhibit, celebrating 150 years of the cable industry.