Queen's Hall

A definitive response

As an example of a concert hall built with a minimum of expense, Northcote told Johnstone about a theatre in a small community in Wales that had utilised, for its main structure, an abandoned airplane hangar. “…When I first arrived at the airport at Port of Spain,”wrote Northcote, “I had observed a number of unused hangars. I told the pressmen that what could be done in Port of Spain had already been done with great success in Wales some thirty years ago; in short, the rebuilding of one of these hangars on a central site, with the interior adapted so as to provide, at one end, a concert platform, and at the other end, a proscenium stage for dramatic performances.”5

Johnstone jumped at the idea, which seemed practical, inexpensive, and manageable. In September of 1950, May Johnstone, her husband, Robert Johnstone, and Dr Northcote, met with Colonial Office officials to discuss the hangar idea. By the end of the meeting, the Colonial Office was set to recommend that immediate action be taken in regards to the building of a concert hall, and in April of 1951, Johnstone and the Trinidad Music Association forwarded to the Government a full memorandum outlining a scheme for converting a hangar into a Concert Hall and Community Centre. By the time the 3rd Music Festival rolled around in 1952 – which, incidentally was a milestone year for the steelpan, since, due to May Johnstone’s insistence, for the first time, pan was included in the competition of the Festival – it had become abundantly clear to everyone that Trinidad needed a concert hall. During the two weeks of the festival, there was almost daily mention in the press of the need for a hall:

Trinidad Guardian, 24/2/52

“Concert Hall Need Pressing”
“With the approach of the third Trinidad and Tobago Music Festival, more than ever before is felt the need of a concert hall designed, not only to accommodate audiences of a considerable size but also to enable competitors to perform and to be heard without the aid of microphones and loud speakers. “While the Festival Committee is grateful for the use of the Globe Theatre, a number of competitors have expressed uneasiness about the possibility of having to perform there on account of the difficult acoustical properties experienced on previous occasions.”

In addition to the problems experienced by performers (both on stage and off), much to the dismay of would-be concert-goers, due to a shortage of seating at the Boy Scouts Headquarters, tickets for the final night of competition were sold out a full two weeks in advance. One reporter commented, “Davidson & Todd Ltd. are having quite a bit of trouble with members of the public, who refuse to believe that complete bookings for the night have been snapped up.”6 And every night patrons were being turned away at the gates: “Record crowds attended the Music Festival yesterday afternoon and last night,” reported the Guardian. “Last night’s attendance – 810 – was the biggest the festival has attracted at the boy scouts headquarters. The Hall is only made to hold 600. Hundreds of people were turned away at both afternoon and evening sessions yesterday.7

Galvanised into action by the undeniable popularity of the Music Festival, the growing demand for popular live forms of entertainment and the conviction and support of people such as Sydney Northcote, and Hubert Rance (the then Governor) May Johnstone continued to lobby Government for a definitive response to the TMA’s memorandum.

5 Ibid
6“Doctor Wins Festival Tenor Contest”, Trinidad Guardian, (13/3/1952).
7 “Hundreds Turned Away at Festival”, Trinidad Guardian,(16/3/1952).