Article 37

Rock On

The "Velvette Fogg" days...

(Published in Times of India, Pune on 16th March, 2002)

I ts been two years since I uploaded my website (http://nandu_bhende.tripod.com) and it is truly intriguing to see the number of page views it attracts. Occasionally, I receive mail from some of these visitors and there can be quite a few surprises. Recently, I received mail from a stranger in Singapore. A journalist of Indian descent, Joseph C. Pereira, wanted to interview me about the 'happening' days in Bombay during the sixties and the seventies. He was doing an article for a rather oddly titled American magazine "Ugly Things", dedicated to the glorious days of the Sixties. A cursory glance at the website of this cult magazine gave me a clear indication of their focus and I was more than willing to share my experiences with this man from Singapore. Here is a brief preview, just for my Puneite friends.

Back in the early 70s, as a young teenager who had just joined college, life was like a roller coaster ride. Sex, Drugs and Rock n' Roll was the magic mantra in those flower power days. After girls, music was my paramount interest and I desperately wanted to be involved in its creation. Although I had no idea how to go about doing it, I was blessed to have been born at a time when it was at it's creative best. The numerous beat shows in Bombay at that time, with bands like the Reaction, The Jets, Beat 4, The Savages etc. had got me hooked and I was ripe to join the Rockers of the world.

It was on the very first day of college, as I climbed the stairs to get to my new class that fate dealt its first hand. Another new student asked me for directions to the same class and I asked him to join me. This was how I was to meet this young man who would go on to make such a big difference in my professional life. Prakash Bijlani, who played guitar, was an avid music freak. He was already an experienced musician as he had formed a group when he was in school in Bishops, Pune. He was very keen to form a band in college and within a few days of our meeting, I was recruited to be it's new member. It wasn't too clear what role I was to play but it did seem then that my enthusiasm and long hair were enough qualifications!

We used to go zooming down in my car with the system playing loud and pretending to be Rock stars. I used to sing along with the music and Prakash decided that I was not too bad as a singer. It was then decided that I could share the lead vocal chair along with him. To be fair, I had already done some singing as a school kid, along with my sister, when I sang for the Youth program "Wonderland" on All India Radio. We used to sing Cliff Richard and Beatles songs with piano accompaniment from the staff pianist, Hubert. I could also keep the beat rather well and as there seemed to be no drummer in sight, Prakash decided that I should be the drummer too. Visions of the Dave Clark Five were shooting through my brains as we set off on yet another drive down Marine Drive. Prakash also had a music-loving neighbor, Babloo (Shyam Lulla), who used to learn the violin. We thought he would be ideal for the Bass guitar chair and Babloo was soon drafted into the squad. We now had the beginnings of a band, Prakash on lead/vocals, Babloo on Bass guitar, Dick, a foreign student from our college on rhythm/vocals and yours truly on Drums/vocals.

It was around this time that my cousin, Nissim arrived from the States with a Fender electric guitar and an Ampeg reverb amplifier in tow. He became an instant hero in our eyes and we started frequenting the rehearsals that the band he was putting together were having at his place. This was the first time that we met semi professional musicians with some experience. These were exciting times as we actually talked to people who had performed shows and owned their own equipment. We had already picked up a lot our selves but here we got an opportunity to get guidance from experienced hands. My cousin, Nissim, was a great help, as not only did he have the best equipment, he also had the best music!

In those days, good music equipment was rare to find. A good guitar, a foreign amplifier, a wah wah pedal were worth their weight in gold in India. I remember asking the sound systems guys in the city for a reverb and nobody had heard about such a thing! To make western music in such trying times was indeed a miracle but there was no way that we were going to be stopped. I sometimes marvel at myself at the determination with which we went about getting this done and I must admit that Prakash was an incredible help. Together, we seemed to surmount all the hurdles that presented themselves at regular intervals.

We spent our days struggling with the task of making music that could sound decent. It was then that Dick, our rhythm guitar player, finally decided that he had had enough of us and quit! Here was yet another crisis that was threatening to destroy our dreams when a miracle took place. My cousin Nissim got an offer to join one of Bombay's best bands "The Combustibles" and we managed to convince his former guitar player, Willy Libera, to join us. Not only was he better experienced than all of us, he also came up with a show for our band to play! The New Years' Eve Ball at the Sachivalaya Gymkhana was to become the day when the "Velvette Fogg" burst on the scenes for the very first time. After that fateful day on 1st January 1970, life for me would never to be the same again!

Rock on!

Nandu Bhende











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