Late Nights With YouTube
Rewinding to Eighties Indian rock
Why is it that radio sounds better at night? Radio, in the dark, sounds more like a friend; reaching out to you, embracing you. And it is happening to me now.
But, of course, Radio Flote is notional radio. It is something two musicians from Bangalore, Mahadevan Kalyanaraman and Sikanth Gopinath conjured up one fine day. Radio Flote handpicks music by independent Indian musicians and streams it to your phone. The Radio Flote app runs on Android and Apple phones; you can also access it on the net. The app has sent an old friend down the phone: Gary Lawyer. I can almost hear Gary talk to me on a sultry Bombay day, taking me back 25 years when we’d meet at the office of a magazine I worked at. Quite literally, the night is now on fire, alive with memories of a time 25 years ago that were at once exciting and confusing. I look for Gary Lawyer on YouTube. There is plenty of his music available, making it easy to find my way back by two and a half decades.Â
Every time I met Gary Lawyer, he was in a leather jacket, wavy hair in place, looking like a typical rockstar. He had this ”˜dude’ look about him, neutralized by the fact that his family ran a sandalwood business in the US. Did he really have a sandalwood business or was it just something I had heard? I never really bothered to check this out with Gary. It seemed such an odd thing, that perhaps I didn’t want to know the truth. I didn’t want to upset what seemed like a good tale.
Then there was Ronnie Desai: quite the opposite of Gary. Ronnie wore absurd floral shirts, looking like anything but a rockstar. I knew Ronnie better. He played rhythm in a band called People. Once in a while, they’d have a gig somewhere, some disc or night spot.
I remember designing a poster for one of the early concerts of People in Bombay. The concert was called “Rock Don’t Run.” Â It was in the middle of a torrential Bombay monsoon. The poster had a guitar and where the fretboard met the head stock was an umbrella. I wish I had kept one of those posters. It would have been quite a souvenir of the Eighties.
By 1985, Ron, as he is called by everyone, had recorded a solo album, Bedlam. It had Ron’s original compositions on it. We took that recording to CBS, who sat on it for ages. Then, one day, quite suddenly, in 1986, Bedlam was on vinyl. This was a time when Indian rock bands were still largely playing covers of The Beatles or Pink Floyd. Only a handful of musicians like Gary, Ron and Remo were doing their own stuff [if you don’t count an Atomic Forest or two].
I have most of Bedlam on my hard drive. But I couldn’t resist looking for it online.Â And guess what? The People [Babu Choudhary, Hosi Nanji, Ranjit Barot, Ronnie Desai] reunited in 2010 as the 4 Tune Kookies [Ron could never resist a pun] and redid one of the songs from Bedlam. The song is called “Bade Kompani.”
If you replace the word “dadagiri” at the start of the song with some choice Hindi expletives, you’ll get a better flavour of what was meant. The original did have some interesting expletives. But that was the 1980s, anything went. Today, we live in different times. Everyone is sensitive. Irreverence is not a virtue, not any more.Â
I couldn’t resist looking up People drummer Ranjit Barot, either. He is all over Bollywood and is with John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension. Ranjit released his own album, Bada Boom, in 2010.
In 10 minutes, 25 years roll by. What a journey it has been.
Disclosure: I find my name on Ronnie Desai’s album, Bedlam, listed as producer or some such thing. I am still unable to tell with certainty how my name got there.