Narendra Kusnur's music musings …

Archive for the ‘Indian bands’ Category

A time for tributes


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.


Long live Indian Ocean!


WE managed to catch the gig purely by chance. On Saturday afternoon, my friend Parag Kamani and I had gone to the Palm Expo at Goregaon, primarily to attend the Indian Recording Arts awards. As luck would have it, Parag saw a board announcing a performance by popular band Indian Ocean at an event presented by Yamaha. It was to start any moment, and we rushed.

Almost an hour later, Indian Ocean began their concert with ‘Behney Do’, a song from their latest album ‘Tandanu’. The small venue was packed, stuffy and sweaty, but one was quite surprised at how well the young crowd knew this number and ‘Gar Ho Sakey’, despite the fact that they are barely a few weeks old. Over the next hour, older and familiar tunes ‘Bandhey’, ‘Jhini’, ‘Ma Rewa’ and ‘Kandisa’ mesmerised the audience.

One had always wanted to see the new Indian Ocean line-up, moreso after Nikhil Rao replaced extra-popular guitarist Susmit Sen, who quit last June. I had often seen the original line-up – vocalist-bassist Rahul Ram, Susmit, drummer Amit Kilam and vocalist-tabla player Asheem Chakravarti (who passed away in December 2009) – but had missed the few occasions when vocalist Himanshu Joshi and tabla player Tuheen Chakravarti had performed in Mumbai. And since I have been tripping on ‘Tandanu’ for a few weeks now, this event was an absolute delight.

In ‘Tandanu’, Indian Ocean have done something unique in that each number involves a collaboration with a well-known Indian artiste. Thus, the songs feature singers Shubha Mudgal and Shankar Mahadevan, singer-music director Vishal Dadlani, Mohan veena exponent Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, violinist Kumaresh, drummer Karsh Kale and kanjira player V Selvaganesh.

Each song is brilliant on its own, but if someone were to point a gun at me and ask me my three favourites, they would be ‘Charkha’ with Bhatt, ‘Longing’ with Kumaresh’ and ‘Gar Ho Sakey’ with Mudgal. Of late, ‘Behney Do’ has been growing on me – its main vocals are sort-of stuck in the head, moreso after hearing it live.

What’s interesting is that despite the variety of musicians, the band retains the original Indian Ocean flavour. The smart fusion of folk, semi-classical and rock is very much present, and so are some amazing instrumental solo passages. The recording by Shantanu Hudlikar and mixing by KJ Singh are first-rate.

Two thoughts came to mind while hearing the album. One is that the decision to tie up with other illustrious musicians seems to be an intelligent or even a safe move. If they had released an album on their own, old-time fans might have compared the earlier line-up with the new one. But with some well-known musicians, the entire attention has been diverted. Of course, it must be emphasised that vocalist Himanshu, guitarist Nikhil and tabla player Tuheen have all played brilliantly. Even at the show, they were in great form.

The other thought is about how these songs would be played live, considering they feature guest musicians who will not tour with them each time. With ‘Behney Do’, it was possible because the guest (Karsh Kale) was a drummer, and one didn’t have to change much in the melody lines. At the show, they also adapted ‘Gar Ho Sakey’ with Himanshu’s voice instead of Shubha Mudgal. It was a superb rendition.

However, as bassist-vocalist Rahul pointed out, they are still working on the others, though it would always be difficult to match Bhatt and Shankar Mahadevan. He felt the only song which seemed really difficult to adapt is ‘Longing’, moreso because it has such a gorgeous violin stretch by Kumaresh.

For a while, one may expect Indian Ocean to perform only two or three songs from the new album (in all probability ‘Behney Do’, ‘Gar Ho Sakey’ and maybe the Vishal Dadlani number ‘Roday’) at its shows. But the good thing is that the band has such a fantastic repertoire, and its back catalogue is filled with loads of great tunes.

In the end, a huge round of applause for Rahul and Amit for keeping the Indian Ocean brand alive. After Asheem’s demise and Susmit’s exit, the hardcore fans may have had doubts about the group’s future, especially since both were hughly talented musicians with a major fan following of their own. In similar circumstances, any other band may have fallen apart. But Indian Ocean decided to rock on, and ‘Tandanu’ is on par with all the great music they have created in the past. Long live Indian Ocean!

Majaw aa gaya


Artiste: Lou Majaw & Friends

Venue and date: Blue Frog Mumbai, May 31 2012

Genre: Rock, folk-rock

Rating: ****

FOR those who don’t follow Hindi, the headline is a pun on the sentence ‘Majaa aa gaya’, which means ‘We had fun’. Surely, those who attended Lou Majaw’s concert at Mumbai’s Blue Frog on May 31 returned home with a similar sentiment. As expected, the gig was brilliant, and what’s more, Majaw was performing in Mumbai after a long time.

Based in the north-east Indian city of Shillong, Majaw is one of India’s most-respected and talented rock musicians. He’s been on the scene since the mid-60s, and has gained a reputation of being a Dylan specialist, as his concerts are filled with the folk-rock hero’s songs. From 1972 onwards, he has held an annual festival to celebrate Dylan’s birthday on May 24, thus attracting a lot of Indian and international attention.

Now at 64-plus, Majaw exudes the energy of a 30-year-old. He always wears shorts and T-shirts, and with his long hair which has now thinned a bit and greyed, looks every bit a rock star. On stage, he moves like one too, swinging like a cross between Chuck Berry and Mick Jagger. When he sings or plays his guitar, you’re amazed that he’s self-taught.

On Thursday night, Majaw began with a few solo numbers, including the folk anthem ‘500 Miles’ and Pete Seeger’s ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’. Then, his band came along, and a majority of what followed was vintage Dylan. Over the next two hours — 10-minute break included —he played classic Dylan tracks like ‘Is Your Love In Vain?’, ‘License to Kill’, ‘Lay Lady Lay’, ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, ‘Blowing In The Wind’, ‘Forever Young’, ‘Knocking On Heaven’s Door’, ‘Just Like A Woman’, ‘It’s All Over Now Baby Blue’ and ‘Rainy Day Woman # 12 & 35’.

Accompanied by his tight lead guitar-bass-drums band, Majaw improvised on many songs, adding bluesier or peppier solos. Guitarist Barry was a treat to hear, and had some fantastic riffs through the show, including on some non-Dylan fare.

Having seen Majaw a few times in more open Bangalore venues, one felt the raised Blue Frog stage restricted his movements a bit — he couldn’t come into the crowd, like he’d have loved to do. Moreover, a fever may have prevented him from taking off his shirt in typical fashion.

The audience, too, was much lesser than one expected. It wasn’t spilling over the sides, as one witnessed when Indian Ocean, Advaita or Swarathma played at the same place. But that’s probably because those bands have younger audiences, who may not really be into Dylan or old-time Indian rock heroes. For whatever reasons, even the pre-event buzz seemed inadequate — the huge vinyl near the entrance mentioned all programmes of the week, except  this one.

The previous time Majaw was in Mumbai, he received the Jack Daniels-Rolling Stone India ‘Years Of Excellence’ award. For someone who’s been at the forefront of Indian rock music for over four decades, that was a well-deserved recognition. Hopefully, he’ll perform in the city regularly from now on. To return to the headline, Mumbai-ites would be definitely happy to say ‘Majaw aa gaya’ (Majaw has come) more often.

RATING: * Terrible; ** Hmmm… okay; *** Decent: **** Super; ***** Simply out of the world

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