THE air was nostalgic. On Saturday night, members of Santa Cruz’s Willingdon Catholic Gymkhana arrived with friends for a special double tribute, featuring songs of the Beatles and Cliff Richard. And since both the acts have been hugely popular in India, a large section of the crowd sang along and danced.
First to come on were The Awesome Foursome, which did the Beatles tribute. Comprising bassist/ vocalist Desmond Taylor, lead guitarist/ backing vocalist Barry Murray, rhythm guitarist/ vocalist Dicky Pereira and drummer Benny Soans, their selection included ‘Love me do’, ‘PS I love you’, ‘A hard day’s night’, ‘Day tripper’, ‘Drive my car’, ‘And I saw her standing there’, ‘I’ll follow the sun’ and ‘Rock and roll music’.
They took a while to settle in, as their attempt to replace the harmonica parts of ‘Love me do’ with a guitar seemed a bit odd. But slowly, the audience slowly got up and made it to the dance floor, specially on ‘And I saw her standing there’ and ‘Rock and roll music’. In structure, the voices were a shade different from the originals, but the members sang with an enthusiasm that pepped up the crowd. Yet, they were at best an average act, relying more on the popularity of the tunes than on musical prowess.
After guest singer Cyril filled in the gaps with his original songs, sadly taking more time than one wanted, the group The Cliff Richard Experience took over. With two members common from the Beatles tribute band, the line-up consisted of vocalist/ rhythm guitarist Desmond Taylor, lead guitarist/ backing vocalist Barry Murray, bassist/ vocalist Ryan Taylor and drummer Sylvester Chaves.
The musicians began with a few numbers by Cliff’s backing band The Shadows, with Barry Murray excelling on the parts originally played by guitarist Hank Marvin. On the Cliff songs, Desmond Taylor displayed a timbre very close to the India-born British star, and dazzled on the hits ‘Bachelor boy’, ‘Congratulations’, ‘Summer holiday’, ‘The young ones’, ‘Devil woman’, ‘Constantly’, ‘Travelling light’, ‘Living doll’ and ‘Goodbye Sam, hello Samantha’.
The evening began a little after 8 pm and went on till past 10.30. Naturally, the attendees, many of who were 50-plus, left with a song on their lips and a spring on their feet. The Beatles tribute was so-so, but the Cliff one was far better. Yet, as many people knew the songs, they had fun.
THE Beatles and Cliff nights weren’t the only tribute performances to take place in the recent past. In fact, more and more local bands have been specialising in such single-artiste homages. This is besides the foreign bands that keep coming off and on.
On April 30, there were two other gigs in Mumbai, and two more in Bangalore. All of them were by Indian bands. At the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Nariman Point, the music of ace Weather Report and solo bassist Jaco Pastorius was remembered by well-known Mumbai electric bassist Karl Peters, with accompaniment from guitarist Sanjay Divecha, keyboardist Karan Joseph and drummer Adrian D’Souza.
Nearby, at Irish House in Kala Ghoda, Mumbai band One Night Stand did a special set of Dire Straits numbers, at an event held to launch vocalist-guitarist Mark Knopfler’s latest Universal Music solo album ‘Tracker’. While guitarist and vocalist Sarosh Izedyar played the role of Knopfler, the band also included rhythm guitarist NS Padmanabhan, bassist Arvind Iyer, drummer Ramesh Krishnamurthy and keyboardist Sushil Gawandi. The set list included popular tracks like ‘Sultans of swing’, ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘Money for nothing’, ‘Down to the waterline’ and ‘Walk of life’.
On the same night, in Bangalore, north eastern band Girish and the Chronicles did a Led Zeppelin special at Vapour Pub, whereas MAD Orange Fireworks did a Pearl Jam set at Hard Rock Café.
MORE often than not, tribute nights end up being great fun, simply because most of the audience knows the songs by heart. Normally, a large section of attendees consists of those who are thoroughly familiar with the works of the original artiste.
Over the past few years, many Indian musicians have specialised in the works of specific artistes. Gary Lawyer has regularly done Jim Morrison and Elvis Presley nights, and each time, the response has been overwhelming. A few months before his death, Nandu Bhende did a memorable Beatles night. There have been Pink Floyd tributes by Mumbai’s Para Vayu and Delhi’s Think Floyd, whereas Mumbai’s Zedde has done Guns N’ Roses specials. One Night Stand has earlier done Iron Maiden and Deep Purple events.
Besides the Indian bands, one has seen many foreign acts do tributes of the Beatles, Eagles, Eric Clapton, Bee Gees and Abba. However, unlike most local performers, these bands actually specialise in a select artiste, and travel across the world not only singing their songs but also impersonating their stage mannerisms and looks.
A few factors determine the success of a tribute band. The first obviously is that the musicians should be able to retain the persona of the original artiste. If the singer’s timbre is very similar to the hit act, it’s always an advantage. This doesn’t, however, mean that one must blindly copy the earlier song. Sometimes, a completely different version of the same number helps. Here, half-hearted attempts simply won’t do.
The second thing is the selection of songs and their order of playing. Usually, tribute bands choose the most popular tunes, with the intention of attracting the maximum number of people in the crowd. But at times, it’s always good to throw in a surprise by choosing a rarer track.
Finally, of course, comes audience participation. Many in the crowd are invariably familiar with the originals, but because of that, some of them also tend to get critical, instead of simply having fun. At such tribute shows, if the primary purpose is simply to let loose without thinking too much about the intricacies, one can always enjoy oneself. The heartening thing is that most of the time, that’s what people come for and end up doing.