British country singer David Bradley’s improbable journey from Kazakhstan to Nashville30 april 2015, 14:18
The story of David Bradley’s rise to the cusp of country-music fame sounds like it was concocted by a promoter on steroids.
The most intriguing parts are the connections with Kazakhstan, including a concert that drew 22,000 people and a love story with a Kazakh girl that inspired his first single.
David started singing with a pick-up oil workers’ band at the Karachaganak petroleum complex in northwestern Kazakhstan, recorded the first album of the songs he’d written in Siberia and mixed the recording in London’s famed Abbey Road.David Bradley got his start singing while a mechanical engineer at the Karachaganak petroleum complex in northwestern Kazakhstan. Photo courtesy of David Bradley.
Then he met a New York City music executive who pointed him toward the capital of country music, Nashville. His first single, “Hard Time Movin’ On,” hit Number 28 on the U.S. country chart – the best showing ever for a British singer. Although it wasn’t even officially released in Britain, a lot of Brits heard about it and bought it as well.
David, who grew up in Sunderland, England, had no music producer on the album he recorded in Siberia, so it wasn’t released commercially.
He is pumped these days because Toronto-based European label FOD Records is making his first commercial release in Europe– an album called “Loving Out Loud” – on May 28.
You can check out David’s music on his website, www.davidbradleymusic.com. You can also follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/davidbradleymusic and on Twitter at twitter.com/dbradleymusic.
David told me he poured his heart into “Hard Time Movin’ On” because it captured what he was feeling about breaking up with his longtime girlfriend, a Kazakh working in London.
“Kazakh women really grow on you,” said David, who was in Kazakhstan four years.
David’s path toward a country-music career started when he was a boy. His father, Brian, a mechanical engineer, worked on a series of petroleum jobs overseas after the decline of ship building in northeast England.
When he returned periodically to see his family, his father would bring back music CDs that he’d bought to relieve the monotony of oil-field isolation. Those albums included the music of country stars such as Willie Nelson and Kenny Rogers, which David took a liking to.
When David graduated from Liverpool University with a mechanical engineering degree in 1999, he decided to follow his father by working for petroleum companies overseas.
His first job was in Trinidad in the West Indies, but he quickly found himself at the petroleum-production complex in Karachaganak, one of the world’s largest gas-condensate fields.
David said most of the foreign workers developed an after-work routine of going to a bar. Although he wasn’t against taking a nip, he found making music a better way to spend an evening. So he and other workers decided to form a band, with David singing and playing guitar.
He also became fluent in Russian so he could take advantage of petroleum-job opportunities across the former Soviet Union.
Shortly after Kazakhstan became independent in 1991, the government asked a partnership of the Italian company Agip – now known as Eni – and British Gas to develop Karachaganak, which had never come close to reaching its production potential during Soviet times. Chevron and Russia’s Lukoil became part of the Karachaganak Petroleum Operating consortium in 1997.
The consortium, which would add KazMunaiGas as a partner in 2010, decided to mark the first decade of its existence by holding a party in 2003 for the residents of Aksai, the city of 36,000 where the oil field is located. It asked David’s band to head the entertainment.
Deciding to do everything first class, the consortium hired a Moscow sound and light company to bring in and erect a stage in the middle of Aksai.Fans in Aksai begin thronging around the stage for David Bradley’s band’s performance a couple of hours before the nighttime show. Photo courtesy of David Bradley.
“We didn’t know how many people would come,” David said. “As it turned out, it was 22,000” -- more than half the town.
The spectators were wired, screaming, shouting and boogieing. The instant the band finished its last number, the party organizers set off a huge fireworks display. The crowd went into pandemonium mode.
Stunned at the rabid crowd, the other band members told David as they were leaving the stage: “Dude, there’s something there – you should do this for a living.”
In addition to singing, David was writing songs in Karachaganak. “I had these songs in my head and heart, and I just had to get them out,” he said.Fans whoop it up as David Bradley’s band performs at a Karachaganak anniversary show in Aksai, Kazakhstan, in 2003. Photo courtesy of David Bradley.
After leaving Kazakhstan in 2003, he decided to record the songs. As a petroleum-industry gypsy, he didn’t know when he’d get the chance, however. As it turned out, it would be his very next stop – Russian Siberia.
When David got to Tyumen, a city of 680,000, he asked someone he met if there were any bands in the city.
“I’ve got a band,” the man replied. He asked David to join the group, and the newcomer added country to the band’s mainstays of jazz and funk.
Still thinking about how he could get his songs recorded, David was flabbergasted to learn that his new friend had a recording studio.
“Sometimes in life you get road signs,” he said. “I met a great bunch of guys, they had their own recording studio, and it’s Russia, so the cost of recording was minimal.”David Bradley talks with young fans at the concert in Aksai. Photo courtesy of David Bradley.
The recording had good sound but it was in analogue format – the studio had yet to catch the new digital wave. So David took the recording to London to have it mixed and converted to digital.
The only place in the city that could do that, he learned, was Abbey Road, the studio that had become world renowned for recording the Beatles.
David remembers telling the studio receptionist he wanted to do a recording.
“Who’s the label?” she asked.
“Me,” he answered.
“Who’s the artist?” she wanted to know.
“Me,” he said.
The receptionist was skeptical. “It’s going to be expensive,” she said. “This is Abbey Road, you know.”
“I have the money,” David said.
It turned out that the magic of Abbey Road would rub off on him, too.
While he was recording some vocals in London he became friends with Ian Shaw, a music producer.
Ian loved the album. “This is really American-sounding,” he said. “You need to get it to someone in America. I know a woman who is working with Julian Lennon (John Lennon’s son) in the States.”
David found himself flying to New York to meet Judy Libow, a music executive who was vice president of Promotions at Atlantic Records for 17 years.
“You came all the way to New York just to talk with me?” she asked, impressed.
She was the real deal, David said. The stars she worked with included Foreigner, Phil Collins, AC/DC, Robert Plant and Crosby, Stills and Nash.
“She listened to the album and loved it,” he said. “She flew to Nashville at her own expense to talk with music producers about it. They all said, ‘Get him here.’”
David was in London, ready to head for a petroleum-engineering job in the Caspian Sea off Azerbaijan, when Judy called. “If you’re serious about this, you should move to Nashville,” she told him.
He and the Kazakh girlfriend he’d been with in London for some time agreed that he needed to go to Nashville. They also knew, sadly, that that would be the end of the relationship. David loved her, so it hurt.
He was still feeling the pain when he walked into a Nashville club that was having a songwriter’s night.
He heard a man named Rivers Rutherford sing a song Rutherford had written called “Hard Time Movin’ On.” The lyrics struck home – they described exactly the pain David was feeling from losing his love. “I was thinking, ‘That’s my song,’” he said.David Bradley’s first album, “Loving Out Loud,” will be released in Europe on May 28. Photo courtesy of David Bradley.
Rivers agreed to let him record the piece. It became a hit in the United States and Britain in 2010. American legend Rodney Crowell sang the background vocals on the record.
The success of “Hard Time Movin’ On” led to David going on an American concert and radio-station tour.
“I’ve been pretty much touring ever since,” he said. In fact, he told me, he visited every one of America’s 320 country stations in 2010 and 2011. “That’s 130,000 miles of driving in all.”
The radio-station appearances involved disc jockeys playing his songs and talking to him about his music and his life.
David flew back to Britain for some concerts this spring, then resumed his U.S. tour, which will continue through July.
Meanwhile, he’s counting the days until his first album debuts May 28. “I’m excited to get this new music out,” he said.
David is philosophical about whether he’s going to be a country-music star. “If it happens, it happens,” he said.
But don’t bet against him. You can’t help but think that it’s more than lucky breaks that have taken him from Kazakhstan, to Siberia, to Abbey Road and on to Nashville.
It looks like somebody up there is looking out for him. Somebody who wants him to hit it bigtime.