Clive Bradley - The man who helped shape the musical direction of Panorama (1982)

by Knolly Moses

Provided with the expressed permission of: the Author

Clive Bradley

Clive Bradley

Trinidad & Tobago, W.I.

PANMEDIA FEATURES):- His preferred drink is rum and coke, though he sips a beer in the pan tent this particular night. Standing a slight five feet three inches in sandals, he peers through round, brown glasses. Cigarette smoke punctuates every word of his flat, nearly monotone voice. And while he engages in lively repartee with band members, he does not tolerate skylarking. "You are losing concentration," he warns an embarrassed double second pan player.

It's now abundantly clear that Clive Bradley takes his music seriously. At 46, he is the only winner of four Panorama championships and believes he was robbed of three others. Perhaps as much as anyone else, Bradley is responsible for Desperadoes supremacy among steelbands today.

Yet, there is no arrogance, no boastfulness, just the quiet confidence from a competitive edge secured. "When you have been doing this as long as I have," he tells a writer in Brooklyn, New York, "you figure out the formula". But 14 years after Desperadoes lured him up "the Hill" to arrange "Mr. Walker," steelband music may lose his abundant talent to high technology.

A month ago, Bradley graduated from New York's Technical Careers Institute where he studied computer design and digital technology. The creative promises of this technology in the recording studio excites his musician mind. Wider career choices and the promises of a long elusive lucrative career now seem possible. "I have never been committed to one career path," says Bradley.

At various times, Bradley has been a shoemaker helper, a projects worker (before it found the fashionable DEWD acronym), an accounting clerk, an advertising copywriter and a radio show host. Teaching however, is what he did longest and the job that shaped his personality most." My grandmother always believed teaching was the most respectable profession," he says.

Music was another story: no more than a scrunting sideline. But Bradley was a hot new musician with plenty of ideas. "Clive was always respected as a professional," says Janice Ford, a promotions officer at the Trinidad and Tobago Tourist Board in New York. As a singer with the then popular Esquires Now Combo in the early 1970's, she worked with Bradley when he was the band's arranger. "He was always clear about what he was doing," Ford remembers.

Had Bradley not been around in the early 1970's, many Trinidad entertainers would have been scrunting for hits. He boosted Mighty Duke into calypso stardom as his arranger for the four years Duke won the calypso crown. As a dance band, Esquires exploded under Bradley's direction, and he kept Kitchener in constant contention for Road March honours.

Bradley's search for excellence began at an early age. He topped his class in mathematics at Diego Martin Boys R.C., and won a Simplex Time Recorder scholarship to Fatima. When he left the hallowed Mucurapo hails, Bradley returned to his old elementary school as a teacher before heading off to Teacher's Training College (TTC). Later TTC hired him as an instructor, an unheard of honour for someone without a bachelor's degree.

Given his professional background, it's no surprise that some people may have looked askance when Bradley first trekked up "the Hill". "I never thought of myself as part of the Desperadoes community", Bradley admits. "I was always hired to do a job. That was all. I have never played a pan in my life," Bradley told the "Guardian". I am not sure I know how to hold the sticks". (He sometimes uses a melodica when he arranges).

The relationship began in 1968, the year Harmonites swept Port-of-Spain clean with Kitchener's "Wrecker". Beverley Griffith had emigrated to the United States. Poor Rudolph Charles was in a quandary. Fortunately Roy Cape, a musician friend of Bradley came to the rescue. "Rudolph, this is the man you need," Bradley remembers Cape bragging.

It was a marriage made for Panorama. Cape could not have introduced him to a band better poised for his talent. Despers could boast of a level-headed leadership, tested talent and, equally important, a spending sponsor, the West Indian Tobacco Company. Despers is also the most community-rooted steelband - notice how all Laventille "comes down" for Panorama. Despers had found the only man capable of taking them beyond the unchallengeable excellence that Beverley Griffith had bequeathed the band.

Like Griffith, Bradley had played with small combos and large brass bands. "I cut my teeth on jazz," he say. His first serious "gig" as a musician was with Choy Aming's band. In the early 1960's Choy Aming - now a successful nightclub owner in Bermuda - often toured the country with an entire revue. In that kind of group the keyboard man was, as Rastas would say, "crooshal". Bradley benefitted from the experience. "It was not a bad place to start ," he says. After he left Choy Aming's band Bradley fell into the company of musicians like Johnny Gomez, Clarence Curvan and much later, Andre Tanker.

His first effort with steelband was commendable, though not stirring. The following year (1969), he committed to pan an evocative rendition of Sparrow's "Sa, Sa, Yea". It was impressive but probably failed to win because of the inherent weakness of combining styles. Beverley Griffith had arranged half of the tune while the band members stayed behind in New York, depleting Rudolph Charles's pool of skilled Panorama players.

The dawn of the seventies was as ominous for Bradley as it was for the country as a whole. He snatched Panorama '70 with Lord Kitchener's sweetness and fitted finely the logic of Bradley's arrangement. "It was the clearest winner I ever had," he says convincingly.

Rating some of his past Panorama tunes, Bradley says, "Pan in Harmony is the sweetest". He is too modest to describe it in the same words but the Kitchener composition was a tour de force in Panorama winners. Bradley sprinted away with "Crawford" the following year (1976). He thought his original arrangement of Kitchener's "Fever" was too repetitive. "It needed too much editing for Panorama". Blue Boy's "Rebecca" easily has "the absolute best spirit of Carnival," says Bradley. Essentially, you had four lines to take through eight minutes, so there was plenty room to work it tastefully.

Still, he has come a long way from the $400 he earned arranging "Mr. Walker" in 1968. For those who think that seems reasonable, consider that arranging the Panorama tune is a three-month exercise. Last year, however, Despers paid Bradley $25,000 for his winning rendition of "Rebecca". That kind of reward is encouraging but not quite convincing. For artists like Bradley, work thins out in the next nine months. "It has reached the point when I have to distinguish between a groove and a rut," says Bradley. "If I can't make a living from my music I don't need to do it.

When Despers began playing on Panorama night 1982, people actually booed. But when the chrome tenors hummed through the first few bars of "Party Tonight," the crowd fell silent. The melody settled in the cool Savannah night air like the marijuana smoke that preceded it. Though arguments will probably persist well into Bradley's retirement, for a few minutes that night everyone was seduced by Despers, and Bradley's arrangement. It was also the first time he had arranged one of his own compositions (lyrics by Lord Nelson) for Panorama.

Desperadoes Steel Orchestra - “Party Tonight” arranged by Clive Bradley

"He is a true musical mind," says Hue Loy, one of the founders of Solo Harmonites and now head of the Panorama committee in New York. "Bradley's arrangements flow so smoothly that you are in and out of various parts of the tune before you know it". Bradley can also count Slinger Francisco (the Mighty Sparrow) among his admirers, though they worked together only briefly. Says Sparrow, "I am convinced he is one of our great talents in music.

Much of Bradley's musical influence is drawn from his listening habits. The music he enjoys most is "middle of the road," for its wide range of instrumentalisation. "It teaches you how to handle moods, tone and tempo," says Bradley. He also listens to big band jazz frequently because, he says, its orchestration most closely resembles steelband music. Quincy Jones (who, incidentally, arranged last year's top album "Thriller" for Michael Jackson) is Bradley's favorite arranger. "He is adventurous, and always willing to use different textures".

Bradley's most recent work has been with New York-based calypsonian, Lord Nelson. He has used Nelson's inimitable style to experiment with "a new mood" for soca. Nelson's 1983 album, for instance, produced what is probably the only post-Carnival soca hit last year. "Mih Lover" was still packing dance floors in December.

What is distinctive about that and other tunes on the same album, like "Do That Do Again" and "We Like It", is a kind of mellowness that soca has been lacking up to now, to go beyond Road March and Carnival. "Economically and culturally, it is sheer stupidity to create music solely for a season," Bradley argues.

From the North Stand to Members Box Bradley can elicit on Panorama night a response more powerful than T&TEC generators. He brings to the Savannah an emotive, gutsy groove. Bradley's style avoids the flimsy flashes and chronically cheap chords that imprison the tempo. "If you let up you lose your listener," he warns.

For his introductions he usually borrows a few notes from the verse and extends them to a line. "Certain keys sound better than others," says Bradley, "so I look in the meat of the tenor pan for a bright key to start the tune". From that line he then creates a phrase that's utilized throughout the tune. With that phrase he can return to the verse and chorus at unexpected half notes. Incredibly, everything flows.

Sometimes he buries a line or phrase in the background pans for several bars. Slowly, and most often imperceptibly, it creeps or even bounces, to the fore and the main melody line. Now and again he crosses the high and low pans in counter point. Then, somewhere, they meet at the same note and key to carry the tune, with a quick flourish, to a crescendo. It's that logic again. He leads you to a finale that's so closely connected in phrasing to the introduction that it is a natural response to want to hear the tune all over again.

Bradley's eventual departure from Despers may not be such a bad thing. Though he calls Panorama "a ridiculous exercise" and says steelbands are too cumbersome and not economical to record, he insists that as an art form "it has everywhere to go because it has gone nowhere".

Not surprisingly, his unfulfilled ambitions sound like possible solutions to the status quo. "I would like to work with other arrangers," he says, it benefits everyone to spread the talent around". For sentimental reasons he would like to arrange at least once for invaders. He also believes he can bring out the untapped potential of Carib Tokyo. "They have never shown people what they really can do," he observes.

Bradley, too, some people might say, has held his potential in check. He was very slow to follow the Ray Holman, Boogsie Sharp and Earl Rodney lead in composing the Panorama tune. "I was not entirely against the idea," he admits, "but I thought that move was the first step to separate the steelband from the calypsonians. And that was not the signal I personally wanted to send".

He was a lot more pointed about other signals, however. "We need to alter the format and tempo of soca if we want to attract an international audience," says Bradley. "We also need more professionals involved in all phases of our music industry. We must market and package the music more efficiently", he advised.

Whatever spice soca now needs to break out of the Caribbean completely, Bradley is certainly in a position to give. For an entire decade and now well into another he helped shape the musical direction of Panorama, and calypso. The competitive thriller Panorama has become is a tribute to his ability.

What Bradley brought to Panorama, by way of Despers, is certainly no less than what Sparrow or Kitchener gave to calypso or what Ellie Mannette and Bertie Marshal lent to the steelband. Clive Bradley gave substance to an important cultural institution. The challenge now is to institutionalize that contribution; to preserve and reward it. Talent of such magnitude deserves no less.

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Knolly Moses
Knolly Moses

Knolly Moses is CEO of Panmedia Limited, a company engaged in content development and other Internet related activities, communication and advertising. Prior to Panmedia, he worked in Jamaica as a writer and media consultant. He has worked as an editor at Newsweek, Emerge and Black Enterprise magazines.

This interview was done in 1982.  Previously published on 2002.  Published with permission from Panmedia Limited - © 2005 Panmedia Limited  - All Rights Reserved



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