The Summer of ’69 was not just a song – it was an entire musical experience for the band Savages, writes Prabhakar Mundkur
Four weary young men alighted from the Calcutta Mail at Howrah. The six-week contract at Trincas in the summer of ’69 was somehow the icing on the cake for the band called the Savages, having scored many victories across the country entertaining people with their music. They didn’t know it yet, but it was going to be the experience of a lifetime. I remember later reminiscing that this was perhaps the equivalent of playing at the Caesar’s Palace of that time.
As they made their way towards Park Street with their audio equipment, they caught their first glimpses of old Calcutta. In those days the amplifiers and the speakers were quite heavy. The amps were only made out of tubes, something that would become obsolescent forever, except for a handful of audiophiles around the world who believed that you couldn’t get the same sound with the transistor. On reaching Trincas, they were asked to park their equipment at the stage and proceed to their living quarters on Free School Street.
The thought of spending the night at the flat they were allotted somehow irked the four young men who came from decent middle-class families, complete with their rigid middle-class morals. So they decided to sleep the night at Eden Gardens and inform Mr Joshua, one of the partners at Trincas along with Mr Puri, that they wished to return to Mumbai if they had to stay on Free School Street. As it happened there was a certain indignity around the players of music in the ’60s and the flat at Free School Street was the assigned residence for bands that came out of Mumbai and other cities. Mr Joshua was quick to understand our predicament and, quickly recognising that we were not a run-of-the-mill band, placed us in a flat right below his house on 87 Park Street, opposite the St Xavier’s College. The flat was air-conditioned and the Savages couldn’t have asked for a better residence for the rest of the 6 weeks in Calcutta. They were greeted by Mr Joshua himself who would visit us in the morning often with some cold litchis.
The Savages then formed a part of what was called Cabaret Time at Trincas which lasted from 7.30 pm to 11.30 pm in the evening. Cabaret was a form of theatrical entertainment featuring music, song, dance, recitation or drama in a pub, casino or hotel. Even today, striptease, burlesque, drag shows or a solo vocalist with a piano are often advertised as cabarets. There is usually a master of ceremonies or an MC. The entertainment done by the ensemble is often oriented towards adult audiences who drink and eat at their tables during the show, rather than dance.
Cabaret Time when we were at Trincas included a jazz band, Ben Ryder who sang romantic songs in the Englebert Humperdinck and Tom Jones genre (I think his favourite was Please Release Me), Sam the Sham, a magician who had learnt from one of the great masters, Gogia Pasha or P C Sorcar (I can’t quite remember), and of course Holly White (Francis Fraser) who did the strip tease. This was in many ways the climax of the evening. As Holly took off his clothing piece by piece, the men in the audience would go “Ooh” and “Aah”. The final coup de grace was when he was about to take off the final piece of clothing and he would turn around just in time, so that his bare back would be exposed while the spotlight shone on him momentarily before turning the entire restaurant into darkness.
It was not long before we enthralled all of Calcutta. Our signature opening tune was The Savage by the Shadows. It was a great show opener. Our repertoire included the soul genre, Midnight Hour by Wilson Pickett, Manfred Mann’s Do Was Diddy Diddy, Steppenwolf’s Born to be Wild and many others. We were later to realise that Calcutta was ahead of Mumbai musically. People were already listening to Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin in their homes. Listening to this music was going to overhaul the Savages repertoire in the future because of the deep impression it created on our minds.
When the Savages finally left Calcutta, the audience were in tears. We did our last show with lumps in our throats. It had been an enriching experience that was going to leave an indelible imprint both on our individual lives and our music. Our last song at our last show was ‘So Long, Farewell’.
We cried and Calcutta cried. We will never forget Trincas and Calcutta.