Filed under: Tour Diary | Tags: 2010, bangalore, bedford river festival, folk rock band, kirsty almeida, live, london, lovebox, man like me, swarathma, tour diary, uk
With one festival down and two to go, we were just getting warmed up. Saturday dawned sneakily, under a camouflage of clouds and sprang upon the unsuspecting city of London like a torch in the face of a sleeping cadet. Victoria Park, the venue of the Lovebox Festival was a stone’s throw away, or so we were led to believe. Turned out you needed a Bofors Gun to launch the stone. So we took a bus and legged it to the gate where Artist Accreditation (a booth-bungalow, if you get my drift) handed us wrist bands and put us in touch with a very matter-of-fact liaison lady who set about her business with German efficiency. It was easily the biggest festival (or perhaps even venue) we’d ever played at. Dozens of stages, some big, some small, scores of little nooks where you could catch a drink, relax between gigs, mill around, grab food…
Our stage was the Gaymers Bandstand, a circular covered structure bang in the middle of two huge stages. There was a tree house nearby, complete with tables, chairs and service before you get your Tarzan fantasy going. As the show was in London we had a bunch of friends show up: Guy Ohringer drove down from Oxford, Rajeev and Nisha, Chini our hostess with a day off made it a real feel-good gig. The fun part was we managed to stop all the traffic of people going from one stage to another, and by the time we wrapped up a short high-energy set, we had a crowd that went from the bemused curious to outright applauders. Lovebox FTW!
The rest of the evening brought home the fact that even though the festival was small by UK standards, it seemed HUGE to us. 30,000 people, great lights, happy crowds and good music in the unlikeliest of stages. I loved Kirsty Almeida whose myspace profile says she is influenced by ladybirds, rainbows and other delights that are all around us but we never notice. It is refreshing to see an artist that quotes such delights as musical interests. There was Man Like Me doing a set in a small tent-stage that blew my socks off with their stage presence and coordinated stage moves. There’s so much we learnt in such a short span of time!
The last gig of the tour was at Bedford, at a festival by the river. This was a total village mela. Gazillions of rides, clowns, stilt-walkers, food and drink stalls, little flea-markets, and people milling around. They had a pretty decent stage where we were slated to play at 4pm but thanks to traffic and the general absence of correct directions we got there just in time. We had the unique experience of having to toss over our gear over a fence behind the backstage area in order to save time. I felt like I was an East German, about to play a concert in West Germany, looking furtively over my shoulder for the Stasi or border guards who would gun me down for escaping any moment. Nothing happened, of course. We did end up playing a fun show, a relatively quieter one. This was the only show where there were quite a few Indians, who looked equally bemused as the British.
That was it, a short sweet tour wrapped up. We loaded back in to the tour van and headed homewards setting our controls for the heart of the sun, or London town, whichever you prefer. The next day would be a day off before we caught our flight back to India. We spent it giving Chini’s house a makeover. After a week of housing the Swarathma brigade, it had taken a beating as you can imagine. So while Chini went to work, we set to work too. The vacuum cleaner made an appearance as did several brand of domestic cleaners. We toodled off to my uncle’s home, our host the last time we were in London. My aunt had prepared a massive spread of honest-to-goodness Indian food that we fell upon like a pack of wolves forced to eat the food of sheep for a week. Don’t get me wrong, the English breakfast is great and the Shepherd’s Pie and Fish and Chips are all up there. But then place a spread of desi khana cooked at home and what can I say, you should shield you face from the splattering. We collapsed soon after in a stupor that good food frequently brings upon you, rousing from it only at the strident honking of the cabbie who would take us to Heathrow.
It was a terrific trip. Much had been accomplished, many doors opened, and new friends made. It was time to head home. And there were broad smiles in our hearts.
[Concluded. For now.]
Filed under: Tour Diary | Tags: 2010, band, bangalore, india, indian folk rock, larmer tree festival, summer, swarathma, Tour, uk
I wonder what it is about a big city that winds people right up. I’ve seen it in the Bangalores, Mumbais and Delhis of the world, and I saw it in London too. There’s a strange mix of a constant state of wakefulness blended with an ever-present tiredness in everyone’s eyes. But the moment you travel outside the city, Nainital for example, or Guwahati (these being smaller towns we’ve played in) and the pace of life takes on a new life in the eyes of those who live there. More easy-going, less stressed, more liable to break into a smile, less liable to snap at you.
I was made acutely aware of this in our festival weekend where we started out in the country, returned to London and then went back out again all in three back-to-back shows. The Larmer Tree Festival out on the Wiltshire/Dorset border just outside the city of Salisbury was a distillation of the loveliest people in the whole of England, or so it seemed. The stage manager Pete had a weather beaten face, but one filled with lines he got from smiling at the world, or so it seemed. Angel in pink disguise Abi was like a 500W bulb of good vibes. The place was smack bang in the middle of the English countryside which, I have to say, is just achingly beautiful with meadows and fields that fall away with a base jumper’s abandon. To have a music festival in a setting like this is about the best ideas you could have.
This was also our first real festival, complete with campervans, kids racing around dressed like dracula, a cross section of ages lounging about soaking in the sun (yes, we brought it back, muhahah), and the most delicious aromas wafting about like they were checking the festival out too. The show, ah what can I say. Suffice it is to say that it took us aback. From the first 10 or 15 people who started swaying to over a hundred of them right in front of us, moving, grooving, singing along, and not understanding a thing was a life-affirming moment for us all. It was quite kickass to see the topis and masks in the crowd too. The CD tent made brisk business, and we did an impromptu signing session. Now these are scheduled things where the big artists come down and interact with fans. Neither the organizers nor us thought one might be needed for an unknown Indian band! How’s that for the power of music?
Things went a little wrong in the end though. Montry and I got a little carried away by the brilliant atmosphere of the place and time slowed down. Thanks to that, the whole band got late getting out of the place and we hit bad traffic entering London. To all Bangaloreans, we say this. WE HAVE IT EASY! Downtown London on Friday night is a mangled mass of egos in cars. Vijay Nair was the most rattled. Every six minutes he would turn around from the front of the van and shoot gamma ray burst dirty looks at me. Richly deserved too, alas. Mention must be made of our angel of mercy on the road Prashant Nair. A chip of the old Nair block, he was absolutely marvelous as our driver and tour manager rolled into one.
Coming up: Love in a Box, and a Riverside Festival.
Filed under: Tour Diary | Tags: airport, barnet, delhi, london, music stores, swarathma, Tour, uk
A first hand account of a bass player’s travels with a band in the UK. The only time the bass player is heard is now.
New Delhi airport baffles me. All those who fly in and out of the gateway to the capital regularly will know what I mean when I say that all airlines bring fly only to the outskirts of the city. Upon touching down at the extremities of the city, every aircraft begins a long and arduous drive through what seems to be peak hour traffic to the terminal which to all appearances is at the other end of the city. I swear I felt like I was back in Bangalore trying to negotiate old airport road at 7pm, except with aircraft and not vehicles. The day is not far when syrupy paperback sellers, trinket vendors and the guys who try to foist off sun-shades for your windows will make their appearance as you pause on the taxi-way waiting for traffic to clear. T3 we are told will make it all different, we’ll see.
The last time we were in London we were too excited to really notice the city. We were more like the sights from the window of the pickup van on the way to my cousin’s house. Chini is a doctor working at a hospital here in London and very graciously offered to host the whole band at her flat in East London. The last time around, we were split up and stayed apart which is always about half the amount of fun it is when we’re all together. As an example, even as I speak a battle rages on before me where Pavan and Montry are pummelling the crap out of each other for no apparent reason. The others stand around and bet on whoever they think will win. I suppose if you write serious music, it has to be offset somewhere. If they’re not too embarrassed by the video, they may even let me put up the video online.
We spent a delightful afternoon at a lovely little suburb of London called Barnet. Apart from the location (at the very edge of the tube map right under the ‘here lie dragons’ part) and that it takes about three years to get there on the tube, it was just perfect. Now we may not be authorities on London, none of us can speak eloquently of quaint little places or nice little cafes or even of places to see and do in the city with any confidence but Barnet we can tell you gladdens the heart. An unhurried pace of life is probably what took us. But what took us to Barnet, you ask? Indeed when we told most Londoners we went to Barnet they raised their eyebrows like two worms startled when they were about to kiss. Well, there’s a music store which held great promise but alas, we didn’t find what we were looking for. Except of course a terrific lunch at the Chipping Cafe; there’s something about inviting English cafes run by East Europeans. All the warm wooden furniture, the happy hand-painted menus and delicious aromas are rendered worthless by the icy stare behind the counter. “Ve do not zerve de tap vater’, barked the erstwhile Auschwitz guard when I requested for a glass of aqua. Which brings me to the price of bottled water – what do you spike it with here? Silver shavings? Why is it so frickin expensive?
Varun and I caught some of the exhibits at the British Museum, the loads of riches from around the world the noblemen on tour took back for their Raani ma as offerings. We couldn’t see it all of course, but gawking at a few thousand years of history did give us an idea of the smallness of our existence and how little we are in the scheme of things. In the end I succumbed and picked up a Rosetta stone paperweight. Not that I am inundated by paper flying away in a breeze, but it felt like a nice thing to have. Nothing like weighing your bills down by an edict issued in three languages.
When we return: having Susheela Raman and Talvin Singh at our gig!
Text: Jishnu Dasgupta, Pics: Swarathma, Artwork: Montry
Filed under: Tour Diary | Tags: experience, festivals, kingfisher, london, swarathma, Tour, uk
An international tour with Swarathma is a whole new animal. We’ve been abroad some four times before this, but every time there reigns chaos.
There are business travellers and there are business travellers like us. With eighteen pieces of checked in baggage, including but not limited to a horse torso bearing trunk, a horse head bearing carton, music CDs, masks, half a dozen guitars (or so it would seem) and a small sized percussion store that could power a small nation’s economy. Swarathma on tour is a frightening nightmare for airline check-in staff. They have been known to follow the band’s tour schedule on facebook and calling in sick on the date of travel. On the day of our flight to Delhi, our stop over en route to London, the poor hapless lady who bore the brunt of the baggage barrage was a rather sever looking Kingfisher airlines girl upon whom we descended with six trolley loads of maal. I get the feeling she was just about to leave for the day when she was confronted the prospect of through-checking in six ugly boys to Heathrow airport via Delhi. We could see her synapses frying and a small wisp of smoke curled up from under her ears. We smelt despair. Our careful monitoring of weight ensured that we were not overweight, which caused her acute disappointment. Score: Swarathma 1, Kingfisher 0.
Witnessing the entire brouhaha were Mumbai boys Tough on Tobacco, our brothers on the road, returning from a series of gigs in Bangalore. If you have not checked them out yet, do so now. Goats, we are told are Happy.
Cocooned in the comfort of the cabin, most of us tuned into the onboard entertainment channels. The inflight movie was Karthik Calling Karthik, something that movie buff Vasu Dixit was as deep into as a tantric yogi in his tapasya. But salvation was not to be for some glitch in the entertainment system made it all go haywire and before he knew it, the movie had begun all over again. It’s like eating your way into dessert and having to look at the menu again. Vasu was not amused, and summoned the stewardess, who was apologetic, but not without a ready explanation about why Vasu should think no more of the interruption. “The movie is very boring sir”, she drawled. “It is about this guy who imagines that he is calling himself, and later you realize he is a psycho who leaves himself voicemails.” There. No further need to watch a movie again. Ever. They should just print movie endings on the fancy menu cards.
When we got off the plane we realized to our shock and awe that our luggage which Wicked Witch had checked in through to London had somehow made its way to the baggage claim in the arrival lounge at Delhi. Inquiries revealed that since our London flight was ‘tomorrow’ they could not honour the through-checkin. Yes, there’s a classic airline WTF moment. Quite surprisingly Kingfisher ground crew at Delhi took matters into their own hands and before we knew it, we were walking out all smiles and gear-less. They took care of it. Swarathma 1, Kingfisher 1.
We trooped to the home of Satadru and Gauri, my classmates from XLRI who very graciously hosted us for the night. The real reason was that we didn’t want to miss the world cup finals, but don’t tell them. For those who might not know Satadru was also the vocalist for bodhiTree the XLRI band that I played bass for and the one which achieved some notoriety with the risqué songs you wouldn’t sing at bed-time.
Next Stop: London!
Filed under: Tour | Tags: arakali, chinmayi, soundpad, swarathma, Tour, uk, video
Swarathma’s adventures in the UK told to the background of our music. This video was shot mostly by Vasu and friends who would hold the camera while we were on stage. Shot in London, Oxford, Manchester, Cardiff and Brighton. Edited by Chinmayi Arakali.
Filed under: Tour | Tags: cardiff, guy, ohringer, oxford, records, soundpad, spillers, swarathma, Tour, uk
Day Six to Seven: Dreaming Spires, Soaring Turrets
When we woke up, there were meadows all around – it felt like we had escaped through a rabbit hole into the pastures of paradise. We looked around expectantly for cud-chewing bovines but there were none. Where were we really? The backyard of the hotel at Oxford we were using as day rooms – to freshen up, change, shower and shit before the next performance. For a complete list of hotels where we stayed check Vasu’s stash of Things Flicked from Hotels.
Here a digression is necessary to talk about Jishnu and his trekking days in Darjeeling. On one of his jaunts he met a fellow-hiker called Guy Ohringer, visiting India from the UK. In April-May 2003 they tramped all over the Singalila range, having themselves quite an adventure and you can read all
about it in the travelog here. Many years passed, six to be precise, and when he realized he was about to go to the UK, Jishnu and Guy got back in touch. By then Guy had travelled half the world and was pursuing a masters degree in Oxford University. Needless to say, a tearful reunion ensued. OK, maybe not tearful, but an emotional one for sure.
Guy was our guide in the walking tour across Oxford University – we saw some really beautiful buildings, chapels and even dining halls and student residences. Our guide kept up a constant flow of information on what was what – it was pretty good! The place has so much character and history that you can almost touch it in the air. “This is where
we have the parties with the scantily clad babes”, Guy said matter-of-factly pointing at a grassy knoll. Swarathma will be back for sure.
The next morning we awoke in Cardiff, the capital of Wales – the first thing that struck us was the Welsh language – it was everywhere, and we didn’t understand a word! Being an official language of Wales every signboard was in 2 languages, but try as we might we couldn’t see a correlation between them! We later learned about the Gaelic roots of the language – and the accent of the people was lovely.
Two highlights of the Cardiff trip: the photo-shoot at Cardiff Castle, an impressive medieval monument would never have seen six lads cavorting in
their Sunday best, and brief stop over at Spillers Records, the ‘oldest record store in the world’. The claims aside, we really enjoyed speaking to the owner (who runs the store along with his family). He offered to stock our CDs and wire us the money (alas we did not have enough) after listening to it. There was a unique ‘community feel’ to the store with listings of gigs, tickets at discounted rates and more part of the shop. We loved it.
Coming up: Rocking London Town!
Filed under: Tour | Tags: arc, brighton, diary, escape, festival, great, horatios, swarathma, Tour, uk
The Great Escape Festival is one of Europe’s largest new music festivals. In fact with the exception of a few really big bands (Kasabian, The Maccabees) who were indie to begin with, the festival is NOT about huge bands or big draws. It’s all about those bubbling under, bands with tremendous potential that are just starting to make waves. The city of Brighton turns out in numbers to host the festival and those that come to see it. In fact practically every watering hole becomes a venue for the festival. It felt really good to be a part of this, to amble along the streets, where every third person was in a band – with 300 bands in 50 venues it had to be true!
The Great Escape was also about the business of music, with industry professionals of all kinds coming together to see what they could do together. Jishnu along with Vijay Nair of OML were part of the panel discussion titled “India Focus” where the issues covered ranged from how the indie scene in India is different from the UK and the role Bollywood plays. It was quite an eye-opener for those present – and as for the rest of us back home, suffice it to say that there’s a surge of interest in music from India that is independent!
The first gig was at a club called The Arc on the sea front – and we were a little jittery. The first real show in the UK! It went off pretty well – we were the first act on the bill, and the crowds hadn’t come in then. But those that were there really got off. We loved it, and couldn’t believe it – we were PLAYING in the UK! And people stood and listened!
The next day’s gig was at Horatios – a lovely place bang on Brighton Pier itself. With producer John Leckie in the crowd we had another reason to perform! Surprisingly the gig went off super. We sold about 20 CDs, something that shocked us. There were people grooving, and even moving. One blogger describes us as “resplendent looking, hypnotic charming psych band” – quite a mouthful!
The third day at Brighton was a day off – after two gigs on two days and before another four. We met up with a band from Brighton called Long Tomb and jammed with a couple of them on the beach. BodhiTree guitar player Bharat who lives in the UK joined in as well – it was magic on that pebble beach.
Coming up: Dreaming Spires and Castles…
Filed under: Tour | Tags: brighton, bus, diary, faculty, fmm, Music, swarathma, Tour, uk, university, westminster
Here’s how the Soundpad album was to work with in the UK. The British Council hooked up with the music label FMM (which is based in the University of Westminster) to digitally release the album in the UK. Now the Uni took this chance of working with four bands noone had heard about and put them in the hands of the students of a whole bunch of departments (film and video, TV, journalism) and we were their guinea pigs next two days and conducted a wide array of experiments on us. Yes, the needle scars may heal but, the pain, the screams…
On a serious note, we had a great time. There were interviews, jams, and a full-fledged video shoot that was shot with multiple cameras in a state of the art studio. We also made some great friends – many of whom would come for the show in London later. They have a lovely campus, and we saw quite a lot of it in those two days. Their crew even had us loll about on the grass and jam – this is that ensued.
On the second day at the Uni someone came in and told me, “Hey, the buses are here” – now we’d heard that we’d be taking buses (caravans they told us) two bands to a bus and we’d be headed out on tour in them. Living, sleeping, waking, all in one bus. So I was expecting something a little bigger than a Volvo, but nothing could prepare me for what I was about to see.
Twin Decks. Lounge in the lower deck, with a TV, DVD player, PS2, fridge stacked with the good stuff, microwave, kettle, larder and loo. Upper deck with sleeping quarters, bunks with LCD screens, lounge at the back with another set of TV+Frig+PS2 in case you were feeling too lazy. The crux: before us the bus was used by Leonard Cohen!
That was also when we met Mark and Pete, our Tour Manager and Backline Tech respectively. There is much to be said about them, as we will in the coming posts. They put us through the grind in the tour that was to come up. And we loved every minute.
The bus ride from London to Brighton was spent mostly guffawing at how Mark would pronounce Kannada swear words. We hit Brighton, parked on the sea-side, hooked up power from a venue we were playing at and got wasted.
Coming up: Three lovely days by the sea side.
Filed under: Tour | Tags: british, council, diary, london, soundpad, swarathma, Tour, uk
Day Zero: Bangalore-Mumbai
It’s not a very long way from the jam pad to Bangalore International Airport, about 50 kilometers at best. It takes about an hour and a half, after you’ve weaved through traffic to get to the expressway. But in that time, all we could think about was how long a way it was from Swarathma’s humble beginnings. That we were actually in a cab, gear and all, headed to the UK for a tour! The stress of packing, visa application delays, health insurance and al the rest of it could not dull the shine at the edge of this moment – we were off!
Now you would agree with me that getting to the airport at 8pm for a 9.30pm flight uncharacteristically early for Swarathma. We’re used to catching our trains and planes by the skin of our teeth. So as we ambled into the check in counters of Air India we were smug. We might even get to choose our seats, we thought. That’s when we were accosted by Numbskull One. “Which flight sirrr?” she drawled rather nasally. AI for Mumbai we replied. “Sorry sirr, flight is closed”. Err, WHAT?! Indeed, the flight to Mumbai was rescheduled to 8.30pm. What, inform the passengers? What an absurd idea! So we joined a clutch of hapless passengers who were as nonplussed as us about whether they implemented Daylight Saving in India and didn’t inform us.
Fortunately there was another Indian Airlines flight to Mumbai and they put us on it, with our quarter of a ton of luggage. Phew. You should’ve seen the look on the face of the lady at check-in when we showed up with SIX carts of gear. Someday we will do an India TV style expose on the sheer magnitude of the Swarathma gear.
The flight from Mumbai to London was a Boeing 777 that was filled with the most rabid air hostesses who have ever flown. Indeed, hardened criminals from the Ladies Jails have been rehabilitated aboard Air India. Service with a bark and bite was their motto – Montry made the mistake of asking for something to drink and she almost reduced him to tears with her glare and stentorian response. “I’ll get it for you later!” she snapped, with a piercing glare that made us feel like school boys. Ah well, I’m sure she was having a bad day.
Day One: London Times!
We spend anxious moments at the luggage belt of every airport. “Will mine make it?” is the constant concern. The Klong Yaw (the tall Djembe you hear on ‘Let’s Go!’) didn’t make it to Singapore the first time and a search and rescue party had to be deployed when we made that trip last October. But this has to be said for Air India, all nineteen (yes!) pieces of luggage made it in nineteen pieces. Yes, there was a one-on-one correlation for each. So we stepped out into the bright sunlit London morning, quite taken by the chill. The sunnier it is, the colder it is, apparently.
We were struck by how the crew from FMM (the music label launching the Soundpad album in the UK) were prepared for us. One van took us and our personal effects to the hostel where we were staying and a cargo vehicle took our gear and would report straight to the venue on the day of the shoot or show! Some neat foresight there, I must say.
‘The Clink’ was the somewhat kitschy moniker of the hostel we were staying at. A no nonsense youth hostel, comfortable but basic in approach, and frequented by hordes of budget travellers. The chief feature of the bathroom (as a scalded Jishnu would find out next morning) was that the shower had a single temperature setting and would operate for 30 seconds only before you needed to push the shower button again! Neat way to save water and cost of fittings in one go.
Our rooms weren’t ready yet, so we headed out for some lunch and were taken under the wing by Tasneem Vahanvaty, Supreme Commander of the British Council India, the project’s mainstay and head girl of her school (OK, not the last bit). Over the months leading to the trip she’s coordinated, cajoled and castigated the four bands chosen by acclaimed producer John Leckie for this ambitious Indo-British project. She was there for all the sessions in Yash Raj Studios while we recorded our two tracks and it was great to see her again. She also knew everything there was to know about London.
So along we went, to King’s Cross Underground station and bought ourselves day passes and headed down to catch a train to Piccadilly Circus, en route to Trafalgar Square, first on the list of things to see. As we boarded the train (all seven through the same door) there was a strange beeping noise and the door slammed shut in the faces of Montry and Pavan who were left hapless on the platform. Swarathma is a bunch of farsighted guys, so we took a SIM card from India. We also had about 200 pounds a head. BOTH of the above were with Sanjeev, who was in the train. The boys outside had no money, no phones, and no idea where to go!
What could have resulted in disaster ended well, fortunately. Pavan heard me yell “Piccadilly Circus! Piccadilly Circus!” as we pulled away and caught the right train and some frantic searching later, the boys reunited. Tasneem, however, was not amused and made the duo prone to get lost stick with the rest of us like calves to a herd. As for the rest of the day – South Bank, check. Big Ben, check. London Eye, check (from outside). Westminster Abbey, check. Buckingham Palace, check.
As we headed back, it was 8pm and bright sunlight prevailed – a bit hard to get used to! Of course, it was past 2am in India so our eyes, reddened with sleep, would droop often. We headed back and spent the night in the clink.
Coming up: Westminster Uni & the Tour Bus of Dreamland.
Text: Jishnu Dasgupta. Images: Pavan Kumar
Too much has happened too fast for us to write, blog or tweet about it quick enough. Hence the hiatus. Fortunately enough pictures have been taken and enough videos have been shot to tell the whole tale.
And this is a tale waiting to be told. From almost missing the flight to getting in to the spring chill at Heathrow. From the wonderful folks at Westminster Uni to the thrill of the tour bus. From the windy pebble beaches of Brighton to the quiet streets of Oxford. From the pulse pounding energy of the the Barfly gig in London to the crazy photoshoot at Cardiff Castle. Its all coming up.
Watch the blog, and the latest Durathma strip!