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,"
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
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
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.
"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
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
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
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
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 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 PanOnTheNet.com 2002. Published with permission from Panmedia Limited - © 2005 Panmedia Limited - All Rights Reserved
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