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           Date: 12.02.05

It's Another Day

Trinidad - It's Saturday morning again, and very much like last Saturday exactly one week ago, it's another surreal atmosphere. I'd worked through the night, and as dawn broke, we got the call that Clive Bradley had just passed away at hospital.  The rest of that day was spent in a kind of denial, that this really wasn't happening, that having worked through the night, I had fallen asleep, and was having a bad dream.

But, like this morning, it  was very much a reality.  It is no dream.  And like last week, I am feeling disoriented.  Why?  After the wake on Thursday night at Desperadoes panyard in Laventille, followed on Friday morning by the 10 o'clock service at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception celebrating Bradley's life, supposedly the finality was to be his burial at the cemetery in Diego Martin, Trinidad, where his mother also rests.  But there is at this point, no closure.  Because the dreamlike state is still surrounding me; where I still say 'this didn't happen.'

I was not able to put my thoughts down prior to this.  I suppose my refusal to face facts head-on played a large role, and not doing so may have held me further back along the journey, to begin dealing with the reality of Bradley's death before.

If this is reading like a personal piece, then that's because it is, and there are no apologies here.  My relationship with Bradley was a short, but very intense one.  It started back in 2001 when I was first introduced to him as arranger for New York's Pantonic Steel Orchestra.  From that point on, I was privileged to be on professionally close terms with this giant of a genius. 

When he was slated to come to New York for the summers to arrange music for the panorama season, there was always an air of tangible expectancy, of anticipation, as people would be calling and asking 'Brads here yet?'  You knew the pan season was underway.  From the time he set foot on US soil, When Steel Talks could start making arrangements to interview Bradley.  When I saw him, it would be warm and familiar greetings, followed by his usual banter from the time he saw my camera emerge, whereby he would feign aggravated exasperation while laughing, "Oh God, you and that camera again?" 

But I knew how he loved that  attention, and I enjoyed giving him that which was within my power - though just a miniscule part of the honor that should have been his due, nationally and internationally, from those who had the power to make it happen during his lifetime.  I called him for his 69th birthday a few weeks ago, and also told him we put up a pictorial tribute to him.   As usual, he made me promise to get those pictures to him.  I really wish he had stuck around to make me get around to honoring the promise as always.

The summer of 2003 was a fantastic time for Clive Bradley, Pantonic Steel Orchestra, and When Steel Talks/Basement Recordings.  For that summer in New York, together we celebrated this master musician, arranger, and personage for the full six-week period leading up to the Panorama competition.  Pantonic would go on to win with Bradley's arrangement of the now-immortal 'Trini To The Bone.'

In Pantonic's panyard, situated for that year  at Volume II, Veronica Place in Brooklyn, New  York, pictures of Bradley, and Pantonic adorned the yard.  The music master was ever so happy about the 'fuss' made that year, as visitors came to the panyard, and gazed around in amazement.  In addition to the pictures suspended throughout the yard, Pantonic had decided to hang them from the top of their racks as well.  So there was a total immersion of who Clive Bradley was, and in Pantonic, who were the personification of Bradley's musical and masterful interpretations and compositions.

For that entire summer,  as accolades were paid to Clive Bradley, he reveled in the attention, especially that of the Pantonic players, many of them who he affectionately referred to as 'his kids.' As he had 'bounced some of them on his knee' when they were barely able to walk - while their fathers and sometimes mothers, played in the steel orchestras - so now was he doing again to these kidsown offspring.  Bradley literally arranged in many cases for three generations of musicians in these orchestras, and if we include Desperadoes in Trinidad, we would probably find four generations in some cases.

With Pantonic Steel Orchestra, Bradley always said time and time again, that they kept him young.  He made sure that they enjoyed the music he gave them, changing the material when necessary to ensure that it blew them away, giving them the opportunity to pour what seemed to be their very souls into their performance of his musical arrangements.

 

In 2003, indeed, Bradley was a star for the New York panorama season, and Pantonic Steel Orchestra made very sure that the arranger knew how much he was revered and how much he meant to them not only professionally, but personally.  The band's yearbook was a hot item among the band members, not only because it was a first for them, but because just about everyone of them got Bradley to autograph their books.  There were also pictures of Bradley given out, so some made sure that these were autographed as well.  Those items to them were valuable then, but now, are priceless.  Those signed books and pictures were jealously and fiercely guarded before, but now one can be sure that many will be securely locked away, period.

Pantonic Steel Orchestra made sure they let Bradley know that they did not merely appreciate him, but loved him.   It is not an exaggeration to say that many of them openly worshipped the ground that their arranger walked on.  Many a time after Bradley had imparted sections of the arrangements, those 'kids' were amazed and excited, and would be walking around and discussing among themselves about how fantastic this and that section was.  The band also made it abundantly clear that if ever they went on tour, Bradley was going with them, not left behind.  When he was in New York, responsibilities fell to different members of the band, to pick him up from his apartment, to bring him to the panyard to arrange, to get him food and drink, and generally look after him, etc. 

How the president of Pantonic Steel Orchestra, Glenda Gamory, looked out for, and cared for Clive Bradley, not only as her band's arranger - but for Clive Bradley, the man - is the subject of one candid interview itself - if I can ever get her to consent to sit down on-camera for one.  She is an intensely private, quiet but devoted individual, and always protected Bradley, not only from himself, but from the naysayers, who always smelt blood, for one reason or another.  People paid a lot lip service when it came to Clive Bradley, but Glenda Gamory put her money where her mouth was - literally.  In the early years of Pantonic Steel Orchestra, made up of mainly teenage youngsters, Glenda personally recruited Bradley for her steel orchestra.  This was at a time when many were laughing and disparaging at the mention of his name, and openly said he was all washed-up, among other things. To say that Glenda was openly laughed and jeered at, is being kind.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Glenda Gamory and Bradley go way back, to her days growing up in Laventille, Trinidad.  Her faith in, support, and knowledge of Clive Bradley were not misplaced.

Bradley went on to enshrine Pantonic Steel Orchestra as a musical institution in North America, leading these young but extremely dynamic and talented musicians against the veteran steel orchestras in the region.  Along this journey - with Bradley's musical marvels, Pantonic has garnered five Panorama championship titles, and one second place in seven short consecutive years, including 2005.  Bradley had a true champion in Glenda Gamory.  But more importantly - he had a friend.

For me, it has been a fantastic musical experience to be in Bradley's musical midst.  And I know I was extremely fortunate that he was so open with me, any and every time I approached him.  He was always extremely accommodating.  I could call on him anytime, certainly when he was here in New York, and also when he returned to Trinidad, for a quick chat or interaction to share with the global pan community.  My last formal interview with Clive Bradley was in October this year, after his winning arrangement for Desperadoes Steel Orchestra's performance of Natasha Wilson's One Day, for the Pan Fiesta competition.  We spoke of quite a few things, but I would remember him chuckling and telling me "I could get used to that! [the winning streak]."  When asked about Desperadoes plans for the 2006 Panorama season, he had said philosophically "I don't know - nobody's talking; it's like the calm before the storm."  Now, things will remain calm, at least for Bradley.  When the storm brews and hits, he would already have been in a more tranquil place.

Earlier on in this year, before he came up to New York for the panorama season and in one of our telephone interviews, Bradley began talking about life in Laventille, and the social depression of the area, and what the lifeline of Desperadoes the Orchestra, this musical phenomenon, meant to the village.  Especially during the panorama season, the life flowed back into the veins of the area as a life-giving blood transfusion.  Bradley was as always, on point, and an excellent observer of his time and surroundings.  Bradley took care to describe the first-hand social experiences he had around the periods that the steel orchestra was active.  Sometime in the near future, that segment of our chat will be revisited, and an article will be forthcoming.  Again, this was one of the conversations we meant to explore further.  Now I will have to settle for just how far we got.

One of my greatest regrets is that Clive Bradley passed away before he returned to New York for a guest lecture and workshop at the University of Connecticut.  We anticipated that this would have been but the beginning of his lecture circuit.  He had been scheduled to return to the USA in November, but had postponed it, intending to reschedule in the coming months.  Like many thousands of young people, those students and instructors will now never have the opportunity such as we did, to experience the wit, and phenomenal musical knowledge and insight, and brilliance of this man, Clive Bradley.

The sun is now up, and it is another day.  But for me, it is the first of many without the physical presence of Mr. Bradley on this earth, not being just a phone call or a touch away.

C. Phillips, Basement Press Corp.
2005 When Steel Talks - All Rights Reserved


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