Tag Archives: Blues rock

Parvaaz at BFlat, Bangalore

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Parvaaz at Italia, Bangalore

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The Hindi-rock genre has been much maligned in the recent past. A large percentage of the output that’s clubbed (sometimes unfairly) under this sub-genre is the MTV-friendly dreck that you hear on your local radio station during peak-hour traffic. Enter Parvaaz – their official bio steers clear of the H-word and classifies them as “blues/psychedelic rock”. One listen to their music and you realize that Parvaaz are indeed a band that are deeply rooted in 70s Brit blues-rock, with the added twist of Hindi/Urdu/Kashmiri lyrics.

The venue – Italia – known more for its vegetarian Italian food (!) than its live music, provided the setting for an intimate, smoke-free gig. Parvaaz, joined by their new bassist Fidel D’Souza, started their set with a swirling, post-rock influenced jam which was the furthest they deviated from their signature blues sound during their set. The band quickly settled into their groove with ‘Itne Arse ke Bad’, a number that managed to sound psychedelic and dirty simultaneously. Set-highlight – Behosh’s riff had all the swagger of Mick Jagger in his pomp and a thumping bassline that was catchier than a rickroll. A feature of Parvaaz’s setlist was their uber-groovy bass lines ably performed by Fidel. Frontman Khalid Ahmed’s quiet demeanour betrayed him at one point when he mentioned that the feedback he often received was that he did not interact with the audience enough whilst on stage. Ironically that proved to be his only substantial interaction with the sparse 40-odd people seated at the venue.

Their set also featured their debut single ‘Dil Kush’ which starts off like all good debut songs should but then had the audacity to have an indulgent and out-of-place 3 minute drum-solo section in it. ‘Marika’ was another song featured that began with promise but then petered out and ran out of useful ideas before it reached its conclusion. The catchy ‘Azaadi’, about freedom and the lack of it in India, was the penultimate song of the gig and it finally got some heads-a-bobbing and lips-a-moving in the crowd. The wonderfully written ‘Ziyankaar Pt I’ was the fitting finale to this short concert. The song used a repetitive two-note bass line in the verse and some arpeggiated chords over it to build an eerie sense of guilt which perfectly complimented Khalid’s vocals on this track. Guitarist Kashif Iqbal was tight without being overly flashy and had a lovely guitar tone although certain chord patterns he used seemed to repeat in a few songs.

This fledgling band seems to have gone through quite a cycle during their short tenure in the music scene. From playing small-time college fests to winning the prestigious B-School of Rock at IIM-B earlier this year, they’ve come a long way. Vocalist Khalid is one of those talents that can effortlessly transition from a passionate Urdu couplet to a high-pitched, primal shriek. (Listen here at the 8.02 mark. yes that’s his voice!) 2012 probably has a lot in store for them. Only word of advice: fewer drum solos please.

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Blackstratblues at UB City – Bangalore Habba 2012

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We all have our favourite Zero song and mine was ‘Her’. I remember listening to the simple chord work and smooth vocal harmonies and falling in love with the sound back when I was in college and I remember thinking to myself, “Indian bands sound awesome!” Zero has been the benchmark for a band in my mind and to be able to see some of the original masterminds perform live was a treat I could not afford to pass up.

Bangalore Habba probably hit its zenith over the weekend when it featured one of the country’s ace guitarists Warren Mendonsa’s instrumental project Blackstratblues. Warren, alongside childhood buddies Sidd Coutto on Drums and Johan Pais on Bass, performed tracks from his two albumsNights in Shining Karma and The New Album.

The band was visibly pleased with the great looking venue; UB City’s amphitheater was adorned with two rows of LED parcans on trussrods, washing the stage with vivid colours. There was also a backline row of moving headlights that added to the crisp evening ambience. ‘Steppin Out’ was the first track for the evening, a blues rock standard that BSB usually opens a gig with. ‘The Happy Billi Song’ was up next – a feel-good track that Warren really opened up his playing with. It would seem another album is to be expected soon. The by-now grooving audience were treated to a slew of songs that will probably be featured in the next collection. ‘Untitled(1)’ aka ‘E maj Blues’, a warm, slow ballad was the first of the lot.

Blackstratblues at UB City - Bangalore Habba 2012

A cover of Billy Cobham’s ‘Stratus’ was really unexpected, mostly because I’d never heard this song before. A driving bassline with a busy 16 beat to keep the drummer busy let the guitars take over for a groovy jazz-rock track. It is always fun to watch a three-piece outfit create such a ruckus onstage, each maintaining their range, dynamics and yet not sounding like a competition for sonic space. ‘The Universe Has A Strange Sense Of Humor’ was up next – a very intimate and very personal sounding piece, which was quickly followed up with ‘Soar The Sky’ that was easy to listen to and wonderful to watch as it was being performed by the master himself. The highlight was the time meter switches from the solo feeding back into the main motif.

Johan dutifully maintained his elegant bass lines throughout the show and Sidd – a real beast behind the skins, he treated percussion lovers to a magnificent show. His energy was spilling all over the kit and even knocking over hapless drum mic stands that seemed to be in awe of his intensity and prowess.

Warren took a little time to talk about writing the songs in Auckland and how the overcast weather often inspires you to write songs sitting by yourself with a guitar, like ‘Ode To A Rainy Day’ – a beautiful ballad that opens up deep emotions with a minimalist texture that is intensely stirring.

Blackstratblues at UB City - Bangalore Habba 2012

His vocabulary seems to prefer “feel” over technicality and honesty over elitism. Warren’s guitar playing sounds more like an extension of his thoughts perfectly connected with a voice that is singing gloriously in his mind with overwhelming emotion and empathy. ‘Blues For Gary’ brought it all back to the legends who have wielded the strat before Warren – black or any other color for that matter. All of this just had to lead into one of the greatest pieces of music I’ve ever come across – ‘Anuva’s Sky’. All I can say is learning to play this song, will spawn an entire generation of soulful, patient and hardworking guitarists who, in my opinion, are of a dying (unborn?) breed.

The band was wildly cheered into an encore – their rendition of ‘Norwegian Wood’, and as if the night couldn’t get any better, the boys launched into three more ‘Untitled’ jam tracks that simply floored the last bunch of people who faithfully stayed on till the fitting finale.

It was a privilege to be able to watch the Blackstratblues albums performed live – although slightly tailored to suit the minimal performing format – the evening was all about  great hooks worked into catchy melodies, great tunes delivered humbly, with conviction and straight from the heart.

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Interview with The Ministry of Blues

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The Ministry of Blues (MoB) play a genre of music that originated in the 1900s, but combine it with a distinctly 21st-century flair. The band’s music is not the laid back, lonesome blues but a hard-hitting “we’re coming at you like a ton of bricks” blues played with finesse and a deft touch. Red Hot Blues Rock is what they call it! The MoB line-up includes Philipe (vocals & lead guitars), Vinoo (bass), Rauf (vocals & keyboard) and Deepak (drums).

WTS: Let’s start off with a bit of background information about MOB, how did it start and of course what made u call it The Ministry Of Blues?

Philipe: The three of us used to play together (Deepak, Rauf and Philipe) in a band called Aftermath. It sort of died around the same time that Ministry of Blues started. Not too much of a gap between the two. That was more of a hard rock band. Then we just got fed up of the music that we were playing, so we disbanded. Deepak came out with the idea of forming a blues rock band, nobody was playing blues rock then, we were the only band. Also Ministry Of Blues in short is MOB and it’s a genre of music that caters to the youngsters so we thought of calling it that.

Deepak: So we just thought of this name and everybody liked it immediately.

Rauf: I liked the whole MOB feel!

WTS: How has the band transformed in terms of members?

Philipe: That was for a very short period. The band formed when the other bassist (Sarat) left, he played for probably six months before he got transferred somewhere else. So the actual band started moving only after Vinoo joined.

WTS: How easy/difficult was it for you to make it big in the Bangalore music scene?

Deepak: Firstly, we don’t think we’ve made it big. We don’t take it so seriously. We just enjoy our music.

Philipe: People call us veterans, there’s a big difference between that and making it big!(laughs)

Vinoo: As long as we’re playing we’re happy.

Philipe: We’ve been there done that. I used to play in a band called Hammersmith, we had a whole lot of stuff going, my brother used to drive that band. We were Asia’s second act on MTV back then. What did we get out of it? Nothing. Rock machine went on for a short while and then they turned into Indus Creed. They had three albums after that. What happened after that? Nothing. Making it big is difficult unless you’re doing traditional Hindi music. You take Shankar Ehsaan Loy for example. Who are those guys? Ehsan was the guitarist of a band called Crosswinds, Loy was a hardcore keyboard player, now they have made it big after getting into Hindi music. For English music it will always be an issue. We don’t see it gaining equal popularity. Playing live, you can have a good day, have a good show, and the crowd has a blast. It ends there. Taking it beyond that and cutting out albums, making money out of it’s just not happening.

Deepak: People don’t make money out of albums. That audience is not there.

Vinoo: Many, many years ago, when I was in my teens I had decided that I’m not going to earn by playing music. It reminds me of things that I don’t want to do. I firmly believe that the only decent thing a musician can do is to play in front of people. Everything else is done to death. All this recording, being in albums and all that, it’s all done to death. The only thing that matters is that you play in front of people.

Deepak: That’s completely gone. In today’s world very few artistes/bands actually make albums and sell it, it’s the age of free downloads on the internet. Where is the money? The money is only in playing live.

Philipe: We are playing live but the market is not so big for English acts and guys playing Western music.

Vinoo: Take India’s largest band – Indian Ocean, they earn a large amount of money but they are making their money only through live performances. In fact their next album is being given out for free on the internet. I spoke to the guitar player, who’s an old friend of mine. I asked them why they are doing this, because I was very curious. He said “The record labels are the only ones who make money out of it, we get nothing out of it so we might as well give it for free.”

WTS: In a city that has a lot of rock and metal bands what is it like being a blues rock band?

Deepak: It’s nice. We enjoyed it, it’s something very different and new, and I think it’s still fresh, it still sounds good to people.

WTS: Ministry of blues only plays covers. Why won’t you play originals?

Vinoo: We haven’t got around to it. It’s not a priority.

Philipe: What we really like to do is take up covers and uncover covers. Most of our songs, I would say, are quite far from the originals.

Vinoo: They take quite a bit of work as well. Each song takes quite long! It takes a few days before we’re happy with it. There are a few songs we don’t play because we aren’t completely happy with it.

Philipe: Every college band says “Ok guys…Hi! Welcome to the show, we are going to do one of our own compositions”. We played in Vellore and the only criteria they gave the student unit, was to get a band that will not play their own material. The crowd doesn’t enjoy it! And also with this genre that we’ve picked up, it’s been done to death.

Deepak: In this genre there is a style, it’s a standard pattern of music so I’ll just be changing the lyrics. Now for example Eric Clapton, he recreates songs in his style. Its legendary that’s how blues rock is!

Vinoo: If you’ve heard him play ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’, he has put a reggae beat to it!

Deepak: I grew up listening to Santana’s ‘Black Magic Woman’, that’s not his song. It was done many years ago before Santana was born!

Philipe: That’s how music is, it’s what you bring into the whole thing. Otherwise it’s just an ego thing, “This is my own comp, I’ve got my own song!”

Ralf: Some of the numbers that we do were written in 1930s, nobody even knows about those artistes. We do it our way, not the way it has been done before. That’s how we like to do it. We don’t want to play a song like how it sounds on TV.

WTS: What are the criticism/compliments that you get from fans?

Deepak: Even now we hear from people that it was a good show or a bad show. There are fans who say you guys started out really dull. You should have done this song in the beginning. The song list is not changing as fast as it should. Because the guys come for all our shows and we’re not able to change that fast.

Philipe: I told him don’t come to the show, take a break! (laughs)

Deepak: This American comes up to me and says, “You play all kinds of blues, Texas blues etc. and the range is pretty wide.” It’s not just one kind of music we’re playing.

Philipe: Compliments, well for one, in the 30-35 years that I’ve been playing, touchwood, I’ve never been booed. Never. It’s just value for money. You may not like the music, but you will listen to it.

WTS: How long does your sound check generally last?

Deepak: Five minutes and we’re done.

Philipe: There was this time when we finished our sound check and the sound guy says “Are you guys a serious band? A five minute sound check? I’ve never done it in my life, you know.”

Deepak: It has taken so many years. If you’re professional enough you’ll understand what is the limitation of sound, and that it’s not going to get any better, hanging around there and keeping the audience waiting, it’s just not worth it.

Rauf: It all depends on the kind of instruments there are, how many members there are etc. For us, experience definitely comes in hand. With Philipe, the sound that comes on stage is so amazing, because of his experience, his tones etc are just perfect.

WTS: Each one of you seem to have fairly busy lives, how do you manage to find time to jam together?

Philipe: You can make time if you want to. And you have to make time for that. We have nasty working hours. Thank God we have five day weeks! Friday evening we drop what we’re doing and head out to this lovely little basement. It’s heaven. It’s got lovely speakers, an electronic drum kit that sounds like heaven, and the amps there are awesome, so the mikes are plugged in, and in about ten minutes we get started. I think we take longer opening the beer. (laughs) Fridays are mandatory. We jam every week unless we’re travelling. Tightness has to be worked at. Don’t forget that you’re out there, if you’re not good enough don’t go onstage. You have no right to be onstage if you’re not good enough.

Deepak: Keeping the band tight is something that can only come with practice. It’s like a plane flying , I don’t think you can go on if you cut your engines! (laughs)

WTS: How have you managed to stick together for so long?

Philipe: Friendship! Never has anything gotten to a nasty, personal level. Never, never. We don’t get personal. We have disagreements but not anything personal. We wouldn’t carry it home.

Deepak: In the music room there would be a lot of disagreements, but then we look at the bigger picture. If I get pissed off, I know that more than anything, I like playing with them. So it’s just about keeping your emotions off of it and enjoying what you’re doing.

Philipe: It’s like a lousy marriage (laughs) and we have thumb rules, if it’s getting out of hand just drop it. Then after a while it all gets back to normal. We make use of stuff you learn from marriage counseling. If you lose your temper with your husband, count to ten, take a walk in the park, things like that! (laughs)

Deepak: Another thing about this band, it’s very interesting. The other name we thought of was Seven Down.

Philipe: That’s because Vinoo is seven years older than me, I’m seven years older than Deepak and Deepak is seven years older than Ralf. Exactly.

Vinoo: That makes him (Ralf) 21 years younger than me!

Deepak: So they can’t fight. It’s like a father and son relationship. It’s not allowed. (laughs)

Ralf: (To Vinoo) Dad, where’s my pocket money? (laughs)

WTS: How would you describe your sound to someone who hasn’t been to any of your gigs?

Philipe: Aggressive blues rock. High on energy.

Deepak: We transform into animals onstage! (laughs)

WTS: Do you think people’s focus will ever shift to live performances from Bollywood?

Deepak: The good thing that’s happening is bands that are playing live are now associated with Bollywood. Take for example Kailash Kher’s band, I watch it on YouTube all the time. Superb! He’s a great singer. So, live music is coming up. Kailash Kher’s concerts have around 8000-10,000 people!

Philipe: But Hindi rock/pop will always rule. Anyone who is going to contest that is a clown. It’s never going to happen. You will never make that kind of money, never have that kind of crowd. The only time when you had such an audience was the early nineties.

Ralf: Then (sings) Video killed the radio star!

Deepak: Then the discotheques came in, the DJs came. In my opinion, there is too much out there, as far as entertainment is concerned. Online EPs, everything – we’re being bombarded with lots of entertainment. Even during gigs, after about five songs you can see the crowd getting a little restless. Our kind of music is one where you have to build that taste, acquire that taste. At least right now. The only thing that can be done is promoting the bands, and they should keep playing. It’s going to take time.

Philipe: But I think one of the main things that’s happening in terms of playing live is the live webcast. Motherjane did that. They had a live webcast when they were playing at Opus by the Creek.

WTS: Deepak, don’t you feel like overplaying sometimes?

Deepak: I overplay all the time. I’m the only one who does more than what’s required.

Vinoo: Actually all of us do.

Rauf: It also depends on how much alcohol we’ve had.

Philipe: He doesn’t drink by the way. Good boy! (points to Rauf)

Rauf: I’m more of an adrenaline junkie.

WTS: Have you guys had any embarrassing experiences while performing onstage?

Deepak: Oh a lot of them! All the time, at every show. Serious goof ups!(laughs)

Philipe: There was this crazy goof-up in this solo that we do. He just completely goofed up onstage (points to Deepak). I was cringing! I was up there thinking “I wanna die right now!” It was that bad! (laughs) and then we come back home, and we see mails from people in the audience which read “that piece by the drummer and the bass guitarist was superb!” (loud laughter)

Deepak: So when we goof up, we just look at each other and smile, and the way we cover up is also great.

Philipe: One thing we’ve learnt to do is smile and act like nothing happened when we know it’s a disaster!(laughs)

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