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           Date: 12.02.05

‘Brads’ May Have Had
The Last Laugh... again

Laventille, Trinidad - It was after three AM on Saturday December 2, as the last of us straggled out of Desperadoes panyard in Laventille, high up on the hill, with the lights of Port-of-Spain and environs ablaze down below.  That particular lighted scene is normal every night on the hill.  But on this occasion, it was another set of lights which commanded attention, and demanded and received respectful acknowledgement.  These were candles, continuing to flicker fiercely in the evening breeze for hours before, daring anyone to consider even for a moment, that they were any less brilliant than their commercial counterparts down below.  After all, were they not a representation of the brilliance of the man whom all those present acknowledged that “there could be only one!” - the legendary arranger, and musician, Master Clive Bradley?

This was at the end of a gathering so numerous that the crowds spilled out onto the road at times, the scene reminiscent of the panorama season, close to competition nights.  There were crowds seated in the bleachers on one side of the pan theater, others up on the steps, some standing around talking and taking in the music of the Ice Water Pan Ensemble, just one of the steelbands gathered to pay their respects in musical tributes. Others who were members of the Desperadoes enclave, hung out in the back, some misty-eyed from entertaining obviously one-too-many Bradley memories.  Some people occupied a couple benches and tables, some playing cards as they kept the ‘wake’ in the pan community.   And then there were those who stayed slightly apart from the rest, with the steelpan music and only their thoughts for company, while looking on contemplatively at the entire scene, thoroughly soaked in the Bradleyesque atmosphere.

After Ice Water Pan Ensemble, the proceedings took a unique turn with the strident and unmistakable sounds of the ‘Pan Round the Neck’ band from Laventille. Invoking the spirits of the ancestors, the band descended on the panyard, complete with candle bearer who led the way.  They entered the yard without missing a beat, pausing for a few minutes at the entrance, as if spiritually clearing the way for the forefathers to come in and be welcome for the evening.  The band, their followers and many onlookers eventually played and danced straight through to the back of the Desperadoes pan theatre, to complete their musical libations to both those who had gone before, and the new Ancestor who had joined their ranks - Clive Bradley. 

There were several words used to described the master throughout, including ‘genius,’ ‘always approachable,’ ‘humble,’ ‘one and only,’ and ‘the chosen one’ to name but a few.  But these were in conversation as this was primarily a meeting of music in celebration of the late master.  Among those present and who had flown into Trinidad for the service celebrating the steelpan arranger’s life - many family members and friends, including his former wife, sisters, children and pan musicians from Pantonic and D’Radoes steel orchestras, including the former’s president, Glenda Gamory.  

Trinidad All Stars, Invaders Steel Orchestra, Phase II Pan Groove and Desperadoes all paid tribute in the only fitting way - they played their hearts out.  From about 10:20 PM, All Stars went through several selections which elicited many ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ from the crowd, while others danced away; they wrapped up about 11:05 PM, then the youthful and spirited Invaders Steel Orchestra took over, and more comments were directed their way, such as “Yuh cooking, boy!”  Several people commented that “Bradley must be smiling!”

Phase II took center stage next, with a performance, like the other bands before them, befitting the honor of being in the presence and memory of the master, Clive Bradley.  The response to Phase II, headlined by Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, bordered on the spiritual, especially when the band led by Boogsie’s customized ‘Michael, row the boat ashore’ to “BRADLEY, row the boat ashore.”  Singing lustily and clapping, with the cellos and bass pans continuing the melody line, Phase II was joined in song and praise by practically everyone present.  That was just one of the occasions where the crowd was especially receptive.  Others were when Boogsie himself was in the spotlight, and again when both he and the world-renowned soloist and also champion arranger for Desperadoes, Robert Greenidge - engaged in an impromptu ‘pan-shootout.’

Egged on by some insistent members of the crowd, Greenidge was literally drawn out, and into Phase II, then positioned in front of the pans, next to Boogsie.  What happened next was an experience that one had to be there to understand.  An awesome play-off between the two pan maestros ensued while the crowd cheered, with some people almost swooning as Robert played with and against Boogsie.  One man was heard to say:  “after seeing those two play, I ain’t playing no pan again!”  Other comments on a similar level of praise were voiced by many.

Desperadoes closed off the tribute, beginning with Africa and continuing with many a favorite, especially Bradley’s memorable arrangements including The Jammer, Rebecca, Ordinary People, Don’t Leave Me This Way, and more.  Both Robert and his brother Roger Greenidge joined them to crowd’s delight.

As Clive Bradley’s wit, compositions and musical arrangements commanded attention when he lived among us, the ritualistic homage paid to Bradley this night ensured that he was on the lips of all present at the Desperadoes panyard at any given moment, whether you casually respected, unreservedly admired, or worshipped and therefore emulated every musical nuance ever attributed to the Bradley musical genius.

So many of us looked at the outpourings that have continued to come in from around the world, and also from the immediate pan communities in Trinidad and Tobago and New York.  Of course, it has also been noted by those who worked with this musical maestro and loved him best, that if only this type of recognition and tribute had been arranged and forthcoming in Bradley’s honor while he was still in this life.  But in the same breadth and being realistic, many others acknowledged, sometimes it was only the death of someone that brings out the efforts of all.  Many of the people present would not have been present if such an event had been organized.  There would have been scheduling conflicts, choices made, apologies and still yet, disregard by others. 

The blunt truth is that for Clive Bradley, it had to go down this way.  In an ironic way, he still triumphs.  His passing brought together many who loved him, but were always genuinely unavailable, as well as those who were not that complimentary, and barely hid their contempt while he was alive, and would not have bothered to attend at all other than for an event with such finality - Bradley’s death.   But his legacy left after his passing demanded that many take notice, and pay respect.  Whatever the reason, the people at least, got together for this musical legend.  And the common denominator for all was the man himself, Clive Bradley, and his music.

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

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