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Clive Bradley - A Musical Wizardry

by - Collins Jackman - A When Steel Talks Special


New York - Most people would argue–and there is much certitude to it–that Clive Bradley was a master steelband arranger, a top class musician, and an illuminating teacher. But while he was all of these, he was a person of much complexity and this aspect of Clive Bradley’s personality was brilliantly articulated in his music. What made his musical sensibilities interesting and complex was his ability to take very simple melodies or motifs and superimpose on them a symphonic opus that would always leave many standing in awe. Bradley was the kind of artist who could see the beauty in something that would generally be considered by others to be, low-brow, tawdry and insignificant. He was, in many ways, a humanist, resurrecting from the olden days, musical riffs, motifs and presenting them to his contemporary audiences with a modern twist that made these antiquated concepts and styles simple, relevant, appealing and hip. His music and his approach to it was the epitome of the idea that “there’s complexity in simplicity”.

When the world famous Witco Desperadoes Steel Orchestra, Nutones, Metro and Pantonic Metro Steel Orchestras come to one’s mind, Clive Bradley usually follows; and many would argue that the music he had arranged for these bands and the Panorama victories resulting thereof have compelled many to deify him. Many have even addressed him as “Maestro”.

But although Bradley did create some majestical and provocative musical arrangements for these bands, there are arrangements that he had created for other steelbands that have, to a certain extent, been overlooked. Steelband arrangements such as “Sugar for Pan”, “Pan in Danger”, “No Wuk for Carnival” arranged for the Carib Tokyo Steel Orchestra, “She Want me to Sing in She Party”, “Sailing” and “Somebody”, arranged for the defunct Fertrin Pandemonium Steel Orchestra, “Calypso Coup”, “Rant and Rave”, and “Iron Man”, arranged for Starlift, Solo Harmonites, and Siparia Deltones, respectively, as well as others arranged by Bradley are panorama arrangements that will definitely cause one to be overtaken by a sense of sweetness, unorthodoxy and in many respects, out right rebellion–arrangements that can persuasively be argued as classics. Bradley understood what the masses wanted, but at the same time, he, with much deft, gave them what my father would call “food for thought” in terms of his musical imagination.

Bradley was also a man of controversy and it, I believed, had centered around his sense of free-spiritedness and independence, which he conveyed in his music. During his eleven-year hiatus from Witco Desperadoes, many of his critics and foes were of the belief that he would never be able to win Panorama in Trinidad without Desperadoes, and during that period, many of his arrangements did not fair well albeit, in my opinion, many of them were and still are musical gems. But his victory in 1998 with Nutones playing David Rudder’s “High Mas” was a great vindication for his reputation, and I was so proud of Bradley when I received the news of his triumph. I knew, at that moment, that Bradley had made a comeback.

To come to the end of my tribute to him, Bradley was, has been and continues to be a great source of inspiration to me. He understood the rules of music, but what made him a genius was his ability to manipulate them and even outright break them. Knowing how to break the rules is a convolution that Bradley was able to decipher, and over which he had command mastery.

I will miss him dearly; we all in the pan fraternity will miss him dearly and, it is my hope that his legacy and his contributions to the steelband art form will not be shelved to collect dust, or his legacy treated as a “cultural decoration,” but, instead, will live through each of us and for generations to come.

Pax vobiscum, Clive Bradley.

Collins Jackman is the resident arranger for New York Nutones.  Collins has performed with Nutones, Metro, Pantonic, Despers USA and D'Radoes...

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