When I was growing up during the sixties and seveties, music was am important source of entertainment, at least in Bandra. More particularly, western pop music. And Radio Ceylon was the main source of this music. Every morning as you walked through the leafy by-lanes or past houses in the East Indian villages called gothaans, your heard music from this radio station wafting in the morning air.
According to Corinne, who grew up in different parts of the country, Radio Ceylon that later became Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation was a popular source of entertainment even in those places too. And the request programs were by far the most popular with most of the those asking for a particular song seeming to live in places like Kazipet, Bitragunta and other Railway colonies.
All India Radio too had weekly request program, ‘Saturday Date’, but it did not command the same allegiance amongst listeners as Radio Ceylon. The announcers of the latter station or the disc jockeys as we would now call them, seemed to be on a first name basis with the listeners. In fact, if I recollect right, these announcers once visited India and traveled to some of the places mentioned earlier to meet the listeners.
In those days, the radiogram which was piece of furniture combining a radio and a record player with two large speaker occupied the pride of place in many the drawing rooms of many houses in Bandra. Since we only had an old Telefunkin radio and a record player that constantly went for repairs, for some reason, I associated the radiogram with affluence.
To increase business, many restaurants and cafés invested in a juke box. Such places would be packed with young adults who would listen to music over endless cups of chai (tea). But this phase did not last too long as stand alone record players, manufactured locally, hit the market.
There were two music shops in Bandra, ‘Twist’ (on Linking Road) and ‘Sweet Melody’ ( on 33rd Road – off Linking Road), which sold LPs and 45s. Sweet Melody still exists, but now sells TVs and other electronic equipment. These shops had little booths each containing a turntable and you were allowed to sit in there and preview the albums or singles. Like trying clothes today at some stores, you were only allowed to take only three or four records into the booth, at a time.
Given that music was an integral part of life in Bandra, it was not surprising that many youngsters got together to set up beat groups or bands. When these groups practiced passers-by were entertained, but I am not sure the neighbors felt the same!
These groups got an opportunity to showcase their talent at the annual Bandra Fair in the month of September. At the fair there were two places that had live entertainment, the WigWam that was run by the ex-students of St. Stanislaus High School and the September Garden run by the Mount Carmel Church. The former was designed as a Red Indian wigwam, complete with the mask of an Indian Chief hanging at the entrance.
The music bug bit at an early age. I remember when I was in school some of the seniors used to perform as a group for school functions. And the high point was the drum solo by a student named Paul Fishery. It was reserved as a finale and we always shouted for ‘one more’.
Paul later went on to be play with the ‘Juveniles’ that became the ‘Combustibles’, a leading Indian beat group in the sixties and seventies. And just down the road from where I lived and continue to live, another group of youngsters formed ‘The Friendship Clan’, which attained much popularity and regularly played at various beat shows and Catholic weddings.
Part of the reason for the proliferation of talent was the annual talent contests that the various churches in Bandra organised for the parishioners. Normally held during the monsoons, the contestants were classified age wise, with separate contests for classical and modern music. And again these categories were split into vocal and instrumental.
Somehow, the whole community appeared to be involved in these contests with the parish being divided into zones based on geography and competing against each other. If you didn’t have talent to sing or you didn’t play any instrument, you helped by ferrying small children to the pianist’s house for practice. Or did some other odd jobs to ensure that your zone did well.
In those days, ‘terrace parties’ were a regular feature in Bandra on weekends. Any party whether on a terrace or in the house meant music and dancing. Not just music played on the radiogram or turntable; invariably there was singing with someone strumming a guitar. At times, the guitar would be supplemented with a bass (base?), a home made contraption which produced a bass sound. It was made by taking a wooden crate and drilling a hole in the centre of one of the sides. Through this hole a thick rope would be passed and the rope was knotted inside the box. The other end of the rope would be attached to one end of a wooden pole in such a manner that when the pole was placed perpendicular on the box, the rope was taut.
I have not gone into who was a popular artiste or which song topped the local hit parade charts. Those are personal preferences and I am only attempting to highlight the importance of music to us in Bandra, when I was growing up during the sixties and seventies.
I am taking part in the Write Tribe Festival of Words 8th – 14th December 2013.
Do take a look at these links for more:
Bombay, It’s Ours
Sixties Mumbai Garage Rock Band Gets Vinyl Reissue – about The Combustibles
More about The Combustibles
Sample some Bombay Duck?