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On The Road

Almost Famous

So do you manage to keep your eyes on the road and hands upon the wheel, while on a tour of Europe with a "raga-rock" band that's managing to at least generate a, well, buzz? Dunno about that, but it'd definitely help to have chat-up lines ready...

Almost Famous

Continued from Baby I Can Drive Your Car

The drive from Stockholm to Borlange covers some of the prettiest stretches I have ever been on. Once I had travelled from Florence to Rome on a train and was mesmerised by the sight of many different shades of green on the Tuscany countryside. Topographically, Sweden looks a lot different. The lush green fields of this countryside with patches of extremely bright yellow mustard crop are spread over large tracts of land. You will find at least two-dozen lakes on the way. 

The setting is perfect for a Shah Rukh-Rani duet. Instead Donnie passes me the Orange Street's Dharma. I hadn't had a chance to hear them with undivided attention so far; and this was a good opportunity. The first song opens with a somewhat garbled sound track from Laloo's speeches from one of the confidence building tours of Indian delegation to Pakistan, earlier this year. Vajpayee and Musharaf too are heard mouthing some mumbo-jumbo but the sound track gets clearer everytime there is the mention of Indo-Pak friendship in the voice over. After which Baan raps the rest of the song. 

I tell myself that this is a good pitch to make, particularly in the Peace and Love festival, where the band will give its first performance. But will the audience, which has come for the rock festival, connect to our peace initiatives? We will have to wait and watch. 

The third track, more pia, impresses me the most. The band has achieved an original sound here. It is a fusion of sufi and hard rock. Khan liltingly sings Buleshah's sufi poetry which is cleverly juxtaposed with Baan's gravel voice. The rhythm too has something to it. Once before I had remarked to Amit Saigal, the producer of the album, after listening to the rough cut version of this song that this number is a poor man's Micheal Brooke-Nusrat Fateh Ali's Night Song album, but I revise my opinion now. The other significantly different sounding number is a trans-techno song where Khan's Hindustani classical alaap is imaginatively used.

We reach Borlange by afternoon. The weather here is cool with an intermittent drizzle. We are told that this is the coldest summer in Sweden since 1920. The Peace and Love festival is spread over four different performance stages, each in a big square of a huge market complex. Stage one is where the big boys are playing. We have missed Money Brother, Eldkvam, Border Daniel and Cre8 yesterday. But the big draw of today is Motor Head and Hanoi Rocks. 

Hanoi Rocks jam together for the first time after a gap of more than ten years and what a spectacle they put forth for the audience. Motor Head performs to a capacity crowd at around midnight. Even at one in the morning, there is broad daylight. Orange Street will perform tomorrow on stage two. Baan checks out the venue, which is just two blocks away from where the big daddies are playing. 

An audience of about 200 is present at a local-band's gig, who, by Baan's reckoning are playing very ordinary music. 'We will rock this place tomorrow' threatens Dara dismissing the band which is currently jamming. Well, we shall find out.

We are greeted by a wet and gloomy morning the next day. There is a strong wind blowing. At the band meeting before the show they discuss the sequence of the songs to be followed. There is some problem with the electric socket adapters for the guitars and the 808 mixer, which Dara sorts out with ingenuity. His father is in the business of making electrical transformers in Delhi, he tells me.

We reach the venue a couple of hours before the show to do the sound check. My heart sinks at the sight of just a few people hanging around the stage area. The nervous energy in the band is so high that none of them notice the emptiness around. An English band will play before Orange Street takes to stage. Some fifty odd gather around when the English band do their sound check and rise to about 100 when they begin their gig. Some signs of improvement, I tell myself. 

Orange Street has been allotted one hour for their concert, which starts to a moderate applause with the first number. The wind has stopped and some more have joined in the audience. By the end of song number two and three, the front rows have begun to sway to the music. Khan saab and Golu get a loud round of applause for their short solo pieces within the third song.

The 'Indian-sound' with Grunge, Electronica and Funk, which Orange Street is playing, gains acceptance with the audience. Plus the novelty value is working. The front rows go wild at The Wall remix of Orange Street, the only version number. This is something the crowd is familiar with and the song is an instant hit. I begin to sense a band-audience bonding now. The crowd has grown to 200.

But the energy levels of the crowd dissipate towards the end of the show. We ponder over the post-show meeting on the waning audience interest towards the end. Perhaps the gap between the songs was too much or maybe they should change the order of the songs they are performing? But the excitement is just too much to dampen the spirit.

Donnie and Ashwin had a group of young girls blowing kisses to them through the show. Drug, sex and rock and roll; the big night may just be round the corner. Post performance they have signed around fifty autographs while keeping an alert eye on the girls who were blowing kisses at them. 

I notice Ashwin stand in a boy-scout like attention position when the girls come to him. All he manages, by way of  what can be called chatting-up, is revealing his national identity. Donnie, with his Bandares-like looks, is ill-at-ease with the newly found stardom. Sorry, they will have to wait for another day to 'score' because the birds of their interest have fallen prey to other stars.

Our rock-stars have descended from the skies not fully formed, yet. Ashwin seeks my advice on how to convert an impulse-following into a lasting interest. At least lasting till the band stays to one post. I draw a complete blank on the subject. Married for thirteen years now, I have totally forgotten the art of wooing women or keeping their  interest sustained.

At the dinner, which is a special enclosure for all the performing artists at the festival (other than the biggies), everybody is talking about Orange Street as a surprise entry. There is certainly a buzz around the band. Some bands are keen to come to India and perform at the Great Indian Rock festival. I see a glint in Amit's eyes, he has smelt blood here. We party and drink ourselves silly all night. Tomorrow we are driving back to Stockholm for gigs at two places.

Our Swedish companion Hans' knowledge of Stockholm's roads come-in very handy. Thankfully he will be with us till Oslo and Tonsberg. My motor(ing) abilities on this insanely organised traffic movement have reached some sort of comfort level by now.

The weather here is extremely gloomy and wet. Both the scheduled gigs are cancelled due to uncertain weather. Bad news, but little could be done. We meet Steve Roney. Steve visited India in 1961 for the first time and many times thereafter. Musician, cultural czar, talent promoter and the father of Sweden's most famous film star, Shanti Roney. Steve runs an alternative cultural forum, Multi-Culti, which among many other cultural activities helps promote young artists. 

Multi-Culti has a cult status in Stockholm and is frequented by the intellectuals and the bums alike. Many success stories in the field of art, music and cinema began with Multi-Culti. Steve gets Baan and Khan saab a recording assignment with a studio to record for a world music album the studio is producing. Both make a tidy 1000 kroners.

I have better things in store for me. I don't get a hotel booking, Steve offers his son, the super stars Shanti Roney's apartment. Roney junior is holidaying in Copenhagan. The apartment is small yet very tasteful. There are bare necessities in Roney's worldly belongings in the one room tenement. What is evident though is the love for leather jackets and boots Roney has. There are some 20 of each neatly arranged in a row. I shamelessly try out one of the leather jackets.

For the first time in my life I sleep on a super-star's bed. This linen could be hiding many stories of high life, I tell myself philosophically. We drive 500 km south to reach Gothenburg only to find ourselves rained out yet again. Next stop is Oslo, Norway. Thank god, the weather is good here. We have begun to behave like the English. Rain means bad weather, while my wife and son keep telling me over the phone about a monsoon-starved Delhi. The band gets a good response at one of the Oslo clubs. Our official hosts in Norway, Rikksconsertene, do a splendid job in putting us up. We get good hotel rooms and plenty of eating and drinking choices, on the house.

Our next stop is the picturesque Tonsberg. Breath-takingly beautiful venue for a music festival. The Slottsfjell Festival is held on the meadows around an old Norwegian castle which is situated over a hillock and surrounded by lakes all around it. The band is slotted to play for an hour in the afternoon at the stage number two. Once again a good response considering the show is not at the prime time slot. Some people in the audience suggest more Indian elements in the band. There must certainly be something there for the band to note as this was the common refrain in Oslo as well...

Our Scandanavian sojourn has come to an end. Good man Hans will part ways with us as we head for Tallinn, Estonia followed by the UK tour. Well, the band may not have scored, as it were, but at least they got "Almost Famous" in Scandinavia.

to be continued

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