Did You Ever Know Clive Bradley?

by - T. John - When Steel Talks - Special


The legendary Clive Bradley
The legendary Clive Bradley

New York, USA - Did you ever know Clive Bradley? Did you ever meet Clive Bradley? Did you ever talk to Clive Bradley? Did you ever dance, sing or listen to the music of Clive Bradley?

As I write this I think to myself what a bummer. How dare Mr. Bradley make me write this. How dare he not live to one hundred and two? How dare Mr. Bradley be so selfish and die and rob us of more years of his musical genius, his wit, charm, brilliance, genius and compassion for the people who loved him so much.

Clive Bradley is one of the most recognized figures in steelpan music history. Moreover, he is one of the central figures in the modern steelpan movement. He brought a legitimacy and legacy to the steelpan music movement as no other before him or since. Indeed, Clive Bradley was much more than a great music arranger, more than a great music mind. Mr. Bradley was an intellectual that had the ability to speak the language of the masses through his music. Bradley understood pan and what it meant in the bigger social context. He was the people's arranger with a legendary ability to tell their story through music.

Clive Bradley meant many things to different people. For me Mr. Bradley was by far and foremost a teacher. I cannot think of anytime that I spent around him that I didn't learn something about life or music from observing him or talking with him. He taught me how to pay attention to detail and to listen. Moreover, he taught me the difference between hearing something and listening to something. Hearing was simply a physical response, but listening required observation, thought, intellect, feeling, spirit, an understanding and a connection to life. Mr. Bradley was both a natural and social scientist. I remember a few years ago him telling me he was reading these math and physics books for fun and kept them at the foot of his bed. I've repeated this to many people who are always astounded. Definitely a complex and technical individual. However, it was his ability to keep things so embarrassingly simple that made him a master arranger comparable to none. Having said that - he once gave the frontline of a steelband I was in two notes to execute with a peculiar phrasing that had the whole section discombobulated for the whole night.

I was fortunate to have been able to interact with Mr. Bradley on multiple levels. In the mid 80's I played under Bradley with Metro Steel Orchestra. In addition he was an instrumental influence in my approach as a producer and engineer to capturing and recording live steelband performances for Basement Recordings. He understood the tones, sounds, colors, and personalities of each class of steelpan instruments and how they impacted on the human psyche in different music keys and modes. Moreover he understood the human interface - the pan player. He understood the physical limitations, tendencies and psychology of the panman. He once said to me that "women were physically better suited for playing certain pans" because they were more limber than men in general and could perform certain movements easier. He also would joke that women had a better temperament to taking instructions without creating issues, than men.

Mr. Bradley was a master story teller who used rhythm, harmony, sound, timing and tradition like few musicians ever have, or could. He brought us back to our roots and past, musically and spiritually, while at the same time moving forward. As players he challenged us and pacified us simultaneously. As fans he filled us with anticipation every time he and one of his bands took the stage, as we knew something magnificent was about to happen.

He understood how to invest in the future. On many occasion to the delight of three- and four year-olds, I watched Mr. Bradley entertain, humor and give his full and undivided attention to these future Bradleyites who would someday take the stage performing another winning Bradley panorama classic. He was as comfortable in full discussion with a child as he was in full debate with a college professor.

Bradley is already a mythical figure whose musical deeds and accomplishments will rightfully grow to epic proportions. Bradley was a rock star that was comfortable in the limelight, and equally comfortable being by himself as I witnessed this past New York panorama season.

Among the many hats Mr. Bradley has worn are producer and audio engineer. Nothing was as satisfying as getting that smile of approval from Bradley as he listened after the capturing of one of his bands, and then presenting him with the finished product. For me this was the ultimate. We had captured another of his masterpieces to his satisfaction. Furthermore we were presenting Bradley's masterpieces to the world the way he envisioned and heard them, and how he wanted them heard by others.

Mr. Bradley taught that it was okay to be confident as long as you displayed extreme humility. He also taught us that being educated or the best was not a license to abuse others who were not as fortunate as you. And that striving for excellence was not a choice, but a way of life.

The world is a better place because of Clive Bradley. His music will live through the ages. Few have touched people so deeply as Clive Bradley.

T. John is an engineer, musician and member of the Basement Recordings Staff. John has performed with Metro and Despers USA steel orchestras.

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