Tribute To Mr. Bradley

by Andy Narell

December 19, 2005

Global - Bradley gone. What do you say about composers when they’re gone? I’m not much for speeches. But I was a fan and we were casual friends. Like everybody else I just want to throw in my two cents, say goodbye.

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Clive Bradley

As far as I know Bradley couldn’t play pan at all, had never even bothered to learn. But it was obvious that the guy had the feeling for steelband music. He understood orchestration and what makes a steelband swing. The thing I always loved about his music was its straightforwardness - elegant, simply stated. Like he had enough respect for his ideas to let them stand on their own. Less is more. Make the music sweet. Don’t f*** it up with too many notes, runs, and showing off. Let the other guys over-arrange. Bradley believed in the basics - melody, harmony, bass line, groove. He had a disdain for unnecessary complexity and confidence in his ability to make good music. He also had some brilliant ideas, and it was that restraint and control that set you up for them - for those moments of real excitement, where he signed his name to the music.

I’ve always felt uncomfortable with the word ‘arranger’ as it applied to guys like Bradley. A guy who can take a verse and chorus and spin out a 10 minute piece of theme and variation that hangs together and tells a story is more a composer than arranger. And Bradley epitomized that. His music was informed by a knowledge of melody, harmony, counterpoint, rhythm, and structure which were all there but never for their own sake. He knew how to use thematic material, and he wasn’t afraid to take a side road to another place, or take his cue from the words. Ultimately it was the story that mattered, and I loved his stories.

Clive Bradley
Clive Bradley

Let’s face it - the guy was a helluva showman. He had that swagger, the body language that said “Even I can’t believe how good this sounds. How do I do it?” But it was like he was winking at you at the same time, letting you in on the joke. And I thought his ‘conducting’ was brilliant, though I believe it has been mostly misunderstood and badly copied. I’m not sure when he started doing it, but I was there in 1999 when he brought the house down with ‘In My House.’ Now anybody who’s ever played Panorama knows that hardly anybody in the band could see Bradley conducting and they weren’t paying any attention anyway. What was clear was that Bradley was conducting the crowd, particularly the supporters of Desperadoes. Thanks to his performance, the crowd eruption at the climactic moment of the piece was as well executed as the music onstage. I was staring in admiration at this brilliant display and a friend leaned into my ear and said - ‘You see Andy, Carnival is theater, and THAT is theater.’ And that was Bradley - great music, bacchanal, and theater all in one package.

Everybody knew that Bradley was heavy into drugs, and perhaps it’s a sad footnote to his accomplishments. I really don’t know what to say about it. The guy was what...sixty-nine when he passed? Older than my dad was when he went, and my dad had lived what you’d call a healthy lifestyle. Maybe Bradley would have lived longer, maybe not. Maybe he could have accomplished a great deal more, maybe not. Drug use and abuse is so common in music and the arts that we tend to take it for granted, look the other way. Maybe it’s best that we remember him for the music, for his intelligence, for how he entertained us. For all the times he rearranged the music on the track and pulled it off. For the moments when the music was so colorful, so sweet, it made you happy to be alive and listening to a big steelband. Bradley the magician. That’s how I’d like to remember him.

Once described as having a “quiet, low-keyed personality” in a New York Times opera review, Jan was known to his friends and family as a talker. He could find something in common with every postal carrier, grocery clerk, ticket taker, or train conductor. He delighted in telling stories about his army band days, his travels, and his family. He was also forever collecting: old time radio episodes (on reel-to-reel tape, then cassette, then eventually CD and digital formats), movies (both Hollywood and home), frog figurines (Michigan J. Frog being a particular favorite), and the latest technology (including everything from a 3D television to an electronic baby grand piano).


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