Remembering Clive Bradley

by Dalton Narine

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Dalton Narine

Dalton Narine

When Clive Bradley passed away on 26 November, 2005, he carried with him more music than he devoted to his life. He also left us with an uproarious humor, as if his new world would be even more electric, and his raucous, clucking laughter, a robust cackle, runs a line of symmetry through the center of his eyes. I still hear it, so I see it too.

It’s as if Bradley’s never been gone. Still up the hill, now way beyond yonder where he’d devised and concocted his music. Indeed, to Bradley, a geometric soul, less is still more.

Parse that.

Clive Bradley
The late Clive Bradley at WST facilities

“In My House,” for sure, is still being built with angles and curved eaves that break the harsh lines in a calculated manner. It’s why socially unconventional artistic people and the areas they frequent up there, kinda surf around Port of Spain’s big time Bohemia waiting for Brados to strike up the band. I, too, miss him. We had so many long, rich years of togetherness.

When I went up the hill to interview this Desperadoes’ arranger, Clive Bradley, two days before the 2004 Panorama finals, such legendary a Bohemian was walking up to a couple of panists hanging around the panyard, and I thought about Calvary right then and there.

Will they crucify him down there on the recycled wooden stage set up in the Cyclops’ eye — yes, the Savannah, the maco-vision of Port of Spain? And, no, the hangers-on The Book of Nicodemus describes as the repentant or good thief Dismas and the other thief named Gestas, who mocks Jesus?

Don’t believe your eyes.

Perhaps, they’ve got a bet going on whether Bradley will finish the final seven minutes of the Mighty Shadow’s Ruso. Well, hell, why worry? If Braddos sez is so, ain’t it so?

“We’re eight points behind,” he reminds. “They (the leaders) are eight points ahead. That’s the difference.”

Bradley cackles with laughter, shifting the brim of his hat.

Bradley resumes his cackling.

“I’ve got more intricate stuff,” he says.

This time, he cackles with glee.

“So intricate, they tend to help the maturity of the arrangement.”

Bradley’s cackle builds up, louder and louder.

“You like that, eh? The maturity of the arrangement. Harmony and structure you never hear before.

Bradley’s emotion becomes more exaggerated now. He cackles away to himself, regardless.

Harmony and structure people outside this small patch of Bohemia called the Panyard never hear before? When Brados plays you like that, he’s in fine form.

So, will they bring back karma to him just for releasing Shadow’s ‘Whap Cocoyea’? And will they ensnare him with witchcraft, not for the music, but for the antics of the cocoyea broom posse that no doubt would be moved to rake and sweep the big yard in its face — this, the most colourful and musical band to perform in any Panorama, puffing its chest and blowing away the dust of brooms fashioned from the spines of coconut leaves?

Truth to tell, Bradley has never been an Obeah Man or our very own Messiah. And Despers’ aficionados don’t carry Calvary crosses as some people are wont to believe. Their religion is bent on confidence.

Listen to Bradley speak candidly about his choice of tune, his wariness to push the music to a realm far, far from The Hill to an area of the soul only he knows well; and, in his televised interview with me, hear him talk also about iron men. Then see for yourself how literate and outspoken, well, not that, but how inventive and experimental an arranger he was.”

WST notes - Always thought-provoking, educational and interesting, here is an introspective from Master arranger Clive Bradley on his approach to the creation of one of his most interesting music arrangements for Desperadoes Steel Orchestra before Trinidad and Tobago’s National steelband Panorama music competition. The piece is Shadow’s “Whap Cocoyea” and the year is 2004. Award-winning journalist Dalton Narine again captures a precious moment and history for the steelpan music fraternity as Master Bradley briefly shared on the creative visions and methodology in play for the musical selection.

   Clive Bradley - a special Dalton Narine interview - 2004

Allow me to bring along Gaston Maloney, a dear musician friend of mine, for over the years most of our conversations would play on Brados and the Radoes’ beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion.

We’re both hung up on Johannes Brahms, the classical music guru of Clive Bradley’s works. Not so fast, Brahms was born in 1833 in Hamburg, Germany, though Brados might have seen himself orchestrating Brahms’ symphonies.

Never happen.

Bradley, who arranged for brass bands as well, was a one-of-a-kind steelpan arranger. A very talented musician, he was not one for safety nets.

Bradley’s music satisfied as an incomplete melodic line, a combination of all the elements together. As with nature and seeds Bradley planted lots of seeds for future growth, so he could feel out the possibilities that lie in them. Hear why in his music’s restatement of the theme. They even exploit the notes to the hilt with strong rhythm.

 “I liken Brahms symphonies to monuments. He only wrote four. Number one and four are my favorites. Listen to the first movement of No. 4, there is a “sweet logical lyricism” in the structure. You can hear the parts being built block by block per se.”

DALTON: I play Brahms’ Fourth at least once a week. Likewise Bradley’s eloquent works. We’ve been pitting Brahms’ rich, symphonic structures against those of Bradley’s, which he sometimes bring sensuality and purity in his harmonics across the realm of Despers’ steel drums.

Listen to Brados’ music one more time and understand why noise is, well, so different from music, eh, boy?

Back in the day, Bradley himself could have explained the full history of humanity’s harmonic development. He didn’t have to think about it. He damn well knew, and tutored Panorama with so many of his lessons.

I liken Bradley’s music to Genius. It’s no wonder Bradley likened his ideal trajectory to the best musicians in the business.

GASTON: Bradley’s arrangements were musical, melodic pieces not meant to show how many notes can be stuffed around a melody or how fast the panist could play. I have always maintained that he benefited from not being a panist and moreso not a Pan soloist. His palette was orchestral and harmonic.

Check his intro to Shadows “Yuh looking for horn” then the unhurried passages that follow. These are serious musical gems or Brahms-like monuments, pure musical genius displayed. We do not know what we had. Most people hear music superficially and mainly think in terms of tempo and “danceability”.

This is evidenced today-- deep bass, plenty drumming and repetitive inane melodies with nonsensical lyrics. I have digressed somewhat but it shows where or why the Bradleys and the likes of Brahms etc., today are under-appreciated.

GASTON: I never had a conversation with Bradley except for one brief encounter on the Hill. He was putting in a piece and as he sauntered by me, I said, “the Judges not ready for that.”

“I know,” Bradley said.

GASTON: That was Brados. It was about musical integrity.

When Steel Talks captured Desperadoes Steel Orchestra preparing for the 2004 Trinidad & Tobago national panorama competition in their yard up on the hill - Laventille, Port of Spain. The selection is calypsonian Shadow’s “Whap Cocoyea,” as arranged by the late master arranger Clive Bradley. This is a ‘Cool-Down’ version below.

   Desperadoes Steel Orchestra - “Whap Cocoyea” - Cool-Down Version


Dalton Narine
About the author, Dalton Narine

Dalton Narine is a Belmont-born Trinidadian who dabbled in the arts and wrote about Trinidad & Tobago culture. He spent the other half of his career as a filmmaker and TV broadcaster during T&T’s annual Carnival. Narine is an avid collector of calypsos by The Mighty Shadow, a singer, he says, who had a knack for telling stories on himself and his own country that, at last, has embraced him.

contact Dalton Narine at:

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