Simply The Blues, Mumbai & Bangalore, India - October 2014
Simply The Blues Festival, 25 & 26 October 2014
Mick writes: India, apparently, is some distance from Surrey. However, flying out by Turkish Airlines via Istanbul turned out to be a better experience than expected - I was happy to see that they'd been voted the world's best airline this year. Certainly the food and service was good and there was an excellent entertainment centre provided for each seat, including music with.. a blues selection! Enjoying Robert Johnson and a glass of whisky while 39,000 feet over Iran was a surreal experience.
Mumbai turned out to be warm but not unpleasantly so. Anyway we didn't experience much of the outdoors, being met by our promoter Anil and whisked off in air conditioned comfort to our five star Sofitel hotel. Here some of the realities of modern India became apparent. Before even entering the hotel compound the cars were checked by sniffer dog and a mirror underneath looked for any unpleasant devices. Then there was full airport style security before entering the hotel itself. Once installed in our palatial rooms we had a few hours sleep before the fun began..
First up was an interview at the hotel for the Mumbai Mirror. I was met by a bunch of friendly young people who appeared to be deeply interested in my story. They were easy to talk to, and at one point we all had a laugh when I realised that here I was in India and I'd just said to them "I'm not a Guru"! I think they already knew that.
In the evening a meet and greet press conference was arranged at a local music school. Again a lot of eager young faces were before me as I preached the gospel according to Mick. Although at one point I had stiff opposition from the mosque next door calling for prayers, which was itself fighting with a thunderous racket from the Diwali fireworks going off all around us. Mr Sharley helped by making irreverent comments from the back of the room - Ed stayed wisely quiet. We ended with an impromptu jam, which was great, Ed showing off his rhythm guitar skills, and Chris on percussion and crayons.
And, although you don't really need to know this, we were then whisked off once again for my first ever real Indian meal. If you haven't experienced it yourself you might be interested to know that it was not so far from what we know in Britain, featuring dishes such as Biryani and Rogan josh, but lots of variety, and awfully nice!
Saturday is gig day, but first - TV! We had been invited to appear on "Miss Malini's World" - a hot new show for young people in the Mumbai area. I shouldn't give too much away, the show doesn't air for a couple of weeks, but it featured an interview and some jamming. All good fun.
And on to our show at Saint Andrew's Auditorium, down in the heart of Bandra, a vibrant and busy part of the huge city of Mumbai. Memorable sights I remember from our drives around the town included beggars living underneath the flyover, the slums piled up in random heaps here and there, and a girl leading a large ape around on a string. I asked if we'd see an elephant and was told "No, elephants have been banned. They caused too much obstruction". That was a shame.
However we did see the homes of Bollywood stars with crowds waiting outside hoping for a glimpse of film royalty. And at one point we stopped for a photo by the Arabian Sea where we were hit by a wall of hot fug and iffy smells. Down on the beach wild dogs waded in pools and hunted through rubbish, while house crows and black kites flew overhead. It looked a bit like Clacton, but it wasn't.
The Saint Andrews Auditorium is a big modern theatre not much different from the one they have in Guildford, Surrey, where I recently watched Robert Cray perform. The PA and crew were excellent, and there on the stage was.. a Marshall Amp and 4 X 12 Speakers! Oh Joy. After a soundcheck and a five star meal back at the hotel, we were ready for the show.
First up were Big Bang Blues, from New Delhi. They put on a great show including a version of Albert King's "The Hunter". As I said to Chris, it took me back to watching Free at the Marquee in 1969. And in time.. it was our turn.
The crowd were great, and gave us a warm welcome. We rocked into some old favourites and the first fifty minutes flew by.
Then, of course, the Clarke Gremlins had to hit. After thirty years, one of the machine head tuning pegs on my slide guitar decided that tonight was the night. It had had enough and decided to die on me. The top string went out of tune and would not go up or down. So I couldn't even easily get it off and out of the way. It was just there - sounding horrible if I accidentally hit it. And at the exact same time the battery gave out in my plectrum roadie's tuner.. so I had two out of tune guitars!
Yes I could have stopped - retuned myself and done some running repairs on the guitar, but at this point we were two thirds of the way through the set and we'd got up a head of steam. Not the time for mucking about. So we ploughed on, a little out of tune and with all the slide numbers hastily re-arranged for five string guitar. But I have to say it wasn't too bad and the crowd seemed to like the idea that the show must go on. And it happened that I had been offered another instrument to play that night, a Mumbai made Cipriano Cigar Box guitar. So with G tuning and a capo on the second fret, I finished the evening with that.. Shake That Boogie! After a lively Walking (to Mumbai) Blues encore the show was over. More TV interviews! This time for the festival's own Youtube channel. It was then that I was given the sad news of the death of Jack Bruce.. a legend of British blues rock. But this was no time to be maudlin - there were photos to be taken and autographs to sign. Everyone happy and back to the hotel to pack for an early start in the morning.
Up at seven and straight off to the airport for our "Jet Airways" flight to Bangalore, in the south of India. Lots of fun. Well, lots of queues, lots of delays. However, Chris was delighted to find that his boarding card had re-christened him "Sharley, Christ" which gave us all no end of pleasure and amusement. Always good to have him along on a flight. We finally got airborn and I was able to look down from my window seat over a green and pleasant India - a patchwork of fields not unlike England. On landing we found there to be a tropical feel to the air, and we enjoyed a long and colourful ride into town, past palm trees and temples, busy shopping areas and government buildings.
Our new hotel was a regular old three star.. ah this was more like it. Now we felt at home. But even here people were exceptionally friendly and helpful. It was impossible to pick up your own bag without someone leaping out of the shadows to help. And when I asked the receptionist for an extra room key I was met by that wonderful Indian wobbly shake of the head, a big smile and an emphatic "oh yes". Great stuff. Lunch was served up on the third floor with a team of attentive waiters supplying the local delicacies, and our promoter Anil guiding us through the intricacies of South Indian dining.
The show this night was at the Toit Brew House - a microbrewery pub in a funky wooden type building which reminded me a bit of the old Greyhound in Fulham Palace Road, where Killing Floor and SALT had some great times many years ago. In other words it was built around balconies on several levels with the band in the middle, but in this case on the first floor, which was slightly odd, but no problem.
I decided to pull out the blues repertoire, which included Arthur Crudup's "Mean Ole Frisco", Elmore's "Happy Home" and Rocking Jimmy Byfield's "Little Rachel" which turned into an extended funky jam. Good stuff. I'd spent some time restringing the faulty Strat as a regular five string guitar, so everything was working properly tonight, and the Fender amp which was supplied sounded great. Once again the Cigar Box guitar came out and we rocked out a not bad version of "Woodsman" and "Shake That Boogie" to close the set.
After the show some pub grub was supplied and we met some locals, including Ravi, an Indian satellite radio blues DJ - can't be too many of them. And I was delighted when someone approached me with the exclamation "I LOVE Ramdango"!. Apparently he'd been enjoying my Ramdango album on the OK Listen site in India - good to know that my music was already getting around the sub-continent.
The following day we had a bit of sight seeing and shopping around town before heading home. Memorable sights included the cows wandering the streets and sleeping on the traffic islands with traffic roaring past on either side, a farmer on his cart being pulled by an ox, families riding four on a bike, colours and smells and friendly people. After a little shopping.. (my Ganesh, the elephant-headed god of wisdom and learning now sits proudly on my desk at home) we went back to our friend Lillian's apartment for a cup of good Indian tea. Thanks for the hospitality Lillian.
We drove back to the airport through rush hour traffic - there is a lot of it in Bangalore at the best of times - and a sudden cloudburst which brought the numerous motorbikes to a halt as drivers and girlfriends sought cover. Just three flights and we were home.. couldn't have taken us more than.. 25, 26 hours? Pff.. It's only rock'n'roll..
Many thanks to our promoter Anil Mehta of Starkonnect in Mumbai for his professional organisation and great generosity. Our love and best wishes to Joyce.
Thanks also to Alvito Falcon for some great photos, and to all the crews, drivers and hotel staff who were unfailingly helpful and friendly throughout the trip.
A personal thanks to Chris Sharley and Eddie Masters - fine musicians and total professionals. I'm not worthy. And last but not least to my plectrum roadie Linda for always rising to the challenge - still my rock'n'roll girl.