12th April 2007: 12 noon
I walk in and Bertie says he's feeling sleepy! Pre-show nerves I suppose. He wants to know if the sound is all organised. I assure him it has been, but a twinge of suspicion hits me. I'll call Moses the sound guy later and confirm. I call Mel to find he's just left his school so he's not going to be at Bertie's before 1 pm. And then Murphy's Law has to happen: if something can go wrong, it will. Potla, the guy who's recording the concert calls me to say that the PA system hasn't yet arrived, when it should have half an hour ago! I call Moses who assures me his guys left for Princeton a half-hour earlier.
This is Calcutta. You go with the flow. No point getting all worked up. Fuzz calls. He's desperately getting some last-minute shopping done and asks me to let him know when we leave Bertie's so that he can meet us on time for the sound check. Bertie offers me coffee, tea, Sprite and lunch in quick succession. Sensibly, I opt for lunch. He's quite a fab cook too. Rice, dal - thick and tasty the way I like it, mince curry spiced just right, and some vegetable pickle he made as well. Burp! We joke about opening 'Bertie's Food & Music' - "Ladies and gentlemen, the cook will now sing you a song!"
Bertie's getting restive now. He wants to load the guitars into the waiting hired cars. I suggest we wait for a call from Potla telling us that the PA's reached.
Bertie suggests I call Moses. I do, and find Moses has switched off! I smoke an after-lunch cigarette and call Mel. He says he's close by. We laugh. Mel's close by could be quite a few kilometres away. Arjun, Bertie's colleague, organises the loading in the cars. Mel arrives. He actually was close by!
Potla calls. The PA's arrived. We heave a collective sigh of relief. We will only be 2 hours late with the sound check! Finally we depart at about 2 pm. I let Fuzz know. This is one-way turnaround time for traffic in the city and as usual, its organised chaos! Taking a slightly roundabout route via Park Circus we go over the Gariahat flyover and are at Princeton by 2.30. Fuzz soon arrives and they set up, plug in, and get ready to check the sound.
The first few moments are always tense. If it's not something wrong with the cable, its the quality of sound, or a weird hum and crackle out of the speakers. Mel's guitar, which he loves because, as he says, "The touch is like makkhan", is playing up. The unwanted buzz is from his axe and it keeps losing its tuning. But then it all begins to come together. The necessary tweaks, adjustments, controls are made and they decide to do a full run-through as their sound check. I'm walking around all over the place looking for the 'sweet sound' point between the PA speakers. I find it. It's just in front of the bar!
We walk out to the lobby to find a storm brewing. As the firangs love to say: a sudden, tropical storm. Chotu Rawat, the man who manages Princeton wants us to start at 9 pm. His reasoning is that it's the middle of the week, a Thursday, plus the thundershower will obviously delay others. Bertie is happy with the thunderstorm. He's been wanting a maximum of 150 people and I tell him there is no guarantee for this. All indications point to a full-house, jam-packed to beyond capacity.
Family and close friends start trooping in. Then Bertie's students, current and ex-, dribble in before the deluge. Tubby Desai, with the band LUSH who are slated to play after BM&F, wants us to start and finally we do at 8.45pm. It's not a full-house but the place is teeming with people not willing to miss this one-night only comeback concert of Bertie, Mel & Fuzz.
The chemistry is still there. They sound so good. The small, unnoticeable things go awry but that's part of the game, and all said and done, the evening has been won! They open with a Bertie original 'Motor Car Blues', followed by Bertie's original 'Moonlight Lady" from '79. Mel does his gospel blues, 'Have You Been Loved'. They keep seguing into song after brilliantly played song. The crowd is going crazy. Gently. This isn't a rock concert. Its a music concert that's very different. Three guitars and voices that sound so full, never requiring percussion or keys at any level, and yet somehow rocks, funks, grooves and soothes simultaneously.
And that's what the younger generations don't comprehend. How does one play a guitar without gadgets, at least with the barest minimum like Mel does? Yet gets that clean, sweet, undistorted sound? How did Fuzz slap that bass without pushing a pedal? How did Bertie sing without electronic effects being added to his voice? Well, the answers to those questions are simple. They began to play music at a time when gadgets were almost non-existent. So that required they master the techniques without microprocessor help. Which meant hours and hours of finger-bleeding practice, sleepless nights till you got that right note, and the willingness to do music that needs skill and artistry rather than digitalised gadgetry. I think it's why the music from the 60s and 70s is still so greatly appreciated by all, and younger bands today keep covering songs from that era. It is why songs were considered poetry, and not lyrics.
I'm amazed at people coming up and thanking me for putting up the show. Strange. Shouldn't they thank the musicians for playing together again?
Jayshree of Skinny Alley/Pink Noise fame said "it was magic... as usual". "Great show, man!" was the copybook reaction though from the general janata. Yes, thank you. Now we can only hope it will happen again. Extraneous circumstances will seriously affect the possibility of another show like this.
Distances, both physical and not. Timings which don't clash. Regular income earnings which will. Sponsors who will express interest but will not pay. Life is fucked but why should musicians get screwed all the time? Fuck the pretend well-wishers! And the so-called music lovers who want free shows too. A bit of well-placed arrogance is always effective.
I'm glad I did the 1979 show with my own resources and I'm gladder I did this one similarly, without depending on external financial help. One complete, fulsome dickhead, who calls himself Mampi, and who does a supposedly "interesting" program of "world music" on a Bangla TV channel offered me free editing of the video shoot I arranged for this show, in exchange for televising my show on his show! And he would not pay. Free editing! What does he think? Everyone's a beggar like his Bengali self? Really, Bongs will never get past their supreme mediocrity. They can only dwell on their glorious past of Tagore, Bose and Ray. They don't realise that because those three (among others) went way past mediocre and petit bourgeois longings, they became innovators and pioneers in their fields, which were not merely due to their natural talents and skills.
Oh, by the way, did you know that Bertie, Mel and Fuzz are from the Anglo-Indian community? The community Calcuttans call "tesuwas" - a derogatory term for an intentionally marginalised section of people? The community that Indians in general look down upon? And what do non-Anglo-Indians do today?
The same thing that AIs did many years ago. They escape to foreign shores and climes for a better, more fulfilling life. So, one makes fun of, denigrates the few AIs still remaining in India. Ones who want to make the best of what they have on offer in this country. Which is a whole lot. Like a lot of us.
We Indians are some of the most racist, sexist people on the planet.
For photos of the concert, link here.