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Meet musician, band leader, panist and Trinidad cultural icon, Clarence Curvan

Clarence Curvan

Clarence Curvan was one of the top Trinidadian musicians / bandleaders to emerge from the Caribbean in the nineteen sixties.

As the post war generation came of age, a fresh new sound of music emerged in Trinidad, and the Clarence Curvan Orchestra, featuring Clarence on drums was at the forefront of that musical revolution.

 

Clarence Curvan was born in Port of Spain, and grew up on St Vincent street a stone's throw from the Old Brigade calypso tent, separated from the tent  by a galvanized iron fence. 

According to Clarence, he grew up with calypso in his bones, since from the age of six he would peek through a hole in the fence at the activities in the nearby calypso tent.

Through the hole he managed to experience performances by many legendary calypsonians, including icons like Lord and Lady Iere,Sir Galba, Spoiler, Spitfire,Growler, Lion, Attila the Hun, and many others.

When he grew older, he got his parent's permission to visit the calypso tent, and was mesmerized by the singers and musicians. This  sparked his interest in music, and as a result, he started playing the piano, but soon became interested in percussion.

 

In the late fifties, the Cyril Diaz orchestra was the main backup band for calypsonians, and Clarence gladly accepted  a request by Cyril Diaz( and the Mighty Sparrow) to join the band's rhythm section.

In 1960, Clarence started his own band, and by the time he released his first record which was a guitar driven version of Chet Atkin's "Teensville", the band had established itself as one of the top bands in the land.

His band introduced several young musicians who were to become legends of the Trinidad music scene, including Beverly Griffith, Roy Cape, Ron Berridge, Conrad Little and others. 

However, of all the musicians that he played with, he had the most praise for the talents of guitarist Freddie Harris, who according to Clarence, seemed to be born with a special gift.

He remembers some of Freddie's guitar solos to this day.

 

His first dozen releases all topped the local music charts, and his "610 Saga" set the record for  topping the NBS radio chart for the longest time .He also backed up calypso performances and  recordings, and worked with singers such as Power, Shadow, Nap Hepburn,Brynner, Pancho and many others.

 

Not surprisingly, Clarence was also involved with the steelbands.

 He played bass with Starland Steel Orchestra, and, ever the leader, he soon became the band's captain.

Unfortunately he had to give up the steelband, when leading two bands became too much of a chore.

 

In the mid sixties, the music changed, and so did the band's membership. Clarence changed direction, and his band became the first sponsored dance band in T&T, when Fernandes (Vat 19) sponsored his band, and he received a contract to play at the Choy Aming Penthouse in Port of Spain.

 

One of his new members was the late legendary pan arranger Clive Bradley. Bradley replaced Beverly Griffith as keyboardist and arranger, and his arrangements took the band to a new, more soulful direction, since one of the duties of the newly reconstituted band was backing up visiting American soul and pop artists, like Percy Sledge. and others.

 

In 1969, Clarence accepted an offer to take his band to the Bahamas, where because of his expertise in the soul music genre, his band  supported visiting soul singers like Clarence Carter,Johnny Taylor, Tyrone Davis, Betty Wright, and many others.

 

As a testament to Clarence's musical versatility,he was pleasantly surprised to find that one of his recordings was currently getting airplay in Germany, where it was recently re-released  as part of a compilation album celebrating American Funk music of the late sixties and early seventies.
The tune, "Feeling Nice" is the featured tune on the CD "Feeling Nice Vol.1" which was released in June of this year on the Tramp Germany label.

 

For all his musical accomplishments, Clarence remains humble and accessible, and is effusive in his praises to former band mates like Ron Berridge, Beverly Griffith and Roy Cape, with whom he has personal relationships to this day.

 

 

Clarence Curvan moved to New York in 1970, and he continues to be involved with music and culture.

He has traveled the world as an unofficial Trinidad cultural ambassador, judging calypso and steelband competitions from Europe to the US to the Caribbean.

 

Thank you, Clarence Curvan for your music and for your contributions to our Caribbean culture..

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Comment by Jimmy Carver on October 29, 2011 at 2:18pm

Yeah,I remember Clarence from  the early Sixties...I think it was in 1961 around the Trinidad independence....I played on a Saturday morning show at Radio Trinidad called "Hi Teens" with Clarence and the band backing up a lady named Bonny Critchlow....Wow

 

Comment by Glenroy R Joseph on October 26, 2011 at 11:43am

You're right, Ron. We were the youths when you guys came on the scene.

Some were Fitz Vaugh Bryan fans, Some were Dutchy Brothers fans and some (like myself) loved Joey lewis.

Soon, however, we were all following the Clarence Curvan Orchestra.

Comment by Ron Berridge on October 25, 2011 at 11:29pm
Nice Clarence, humble and sincere! But what about your young partying energetic followers?
Comment by Rum-Pan on October 25, 2011 at 4:10pm
Grand Maestro! Great Story...............
Comment by Joel Augustin on October 25, 2011 at 10:28am
Thanks for the music Clarence. I still have a solid collection of your music (from Teensville to Tropicale) which I frequently play 
Comment by smokey burke on October 25, 2011 at 8:13am
Clarence Curvan Orchestra was one of my fave bands in the 60s with me as a hopeful musician/entertainer; for some reason I always thought he was the guitarist!! My fave tune was Minuet in G. Hope I got that right!!

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