For music lovers, of India (and definitely Kolkata), this book is like opening a cherished old album bursting with memories and melodies. Datta’s interviews and encounters with (hold your breath) Roger Waters, Mark Knopfler, Sting, George Harrison, Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock, Jethro Tull, Deep Purple, Keith Richards, Dizzy Gillespie, John McLaughlin along with our own homegrown favs like Sivamani, Amyt Datta, Louiz Banks, Dr L. Subramanian and also with Bangla’s leading artistes are filled chock-a-block inside.
Datta writes about those times when vinyl records ruled, (45s, 78s, 33&1/3rds), of VCR-recorded gigs, when interviews meant speaking to the musician either across the table or via a telephone conversation. It was “live”, unlike today’s cut-and-dry Internet-enabled email interactions. One would, or could, make a short 15-minute chat last up to an hour. (Ah, the good ol’ days… .) Maybe that’s why some of them come across truer, with spontaneous exclamations and funny remarks.
Generously laced with anecdotes, in some cases when Datta manages an almost impossible tryst with a particular musician, we too get carried by the tide of the moment. So he ends up discussing Jethro Tull’s longevity and its fans with Ian Anderson, who says, “People who like Jethro Tull tend to be passionate about it… a very loyal, strong kind of audience always stays with us… It would be true if Jimi Hendrix was alive… if Jim Morrison was alive”.
All along, Datta’s close-knit bond with Kolkata (then Calcutta) is etched in black-and-white, the roads (or narrow streets), the families and friends, adoring fans, all snugly fitting into the pages of this narration. Familiar with the various genres: pop, rock, jazz, et al, Datta could ask pertinent questions, often eliciting surprisingly candid answers. A memorable chat with Roger Waters (no less) where Datta asked how he related to Pink Floyd’s “angst-ridden songs” got the answer, “The songs are authentic.. I can still identify with those feelings”, and the heartbreaking statement, “Davis (Gilmore) and I haven’t spoken since 1985”.
Then there’s the description of the Rolling Stones’ concert in India, (Bangalore) in 2003 and a telephone conversation with Keith Richards, 24 hours before that took place, who said, “the band can’t wait to get to India… By the way, I love your carpets (!)” and “(the stage) is the only place where you don’t have to answer the phone… You are alone with the music.” That Mark Knopfler is a man of few words was evident when his answer as to why his songs were so short was, “I guess I have less to say.” Period.
“Calling Elvis” the opening song of the Dire Straits album of the 90s On Every Street (also the title of this compilation) has telling lyrics:
Well tell him I was calling Just to wish him well Let me leave my number Heartbreak hotel Oh love me tender Baby, dont be cruel Return to sender Treat me like a fool
Is anybody home?
When Sting, the ‘Englishman’, landed in India in 1988, Datta was present along with 50,000 screaming fans at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium but unfortunately didn’t get to meet him. In an email chat later, Sting shared his thoughts on his friendship with Mark Knopfler and that George Michael was one of his favourite singers. Datta also managed a coup of sorts, catching Carlos Santana before his concert in Bangalore. Despite being a senior musician, (he’s 75) Santana teams up with younger musicians like Lady Gaga, Adele and Justin Bieber because in his words, “You only need to choose the right song.”
Finally meeting him was a singular privilege, writes Datta. If you are a musician (young or old) living in Kolkata, it’s impossible that you haven’t yet paid a visit to one of its iconic “music” stores — Braganza & Co, run by Dicky and Tony, on Marquis Street. Even SD Burman, RD Burman and Satyajit Ray were regulars. Which brings us to our own city’s veteran musicians and their embryonic connect to music. Ace guitarist Amyt Datta’s reaction to anything and everything is the guitar.
“If I am angry I storm into my room and pick up the guitar. If I am happy, the joy pulls me to the guitar.” He has collaborated with several acclaimed musicians across the country and plays at gigs regularly. Sometime in the 80s, with maestro Latin percussionist and sibling Monojit ‘Kochu’ Datta, Amyt joined Airwave, a band fronted by Gyan Singh and his wife Jayshree on vocals and they toured and played in gigs across the country. Then tragedy struck, Gyan Singh passed away, Jayshree succumbed to cancer and Monojit’s untimely demise in 2017 was a bolt from the blue.
The tragedies left a huge void but Amyt soldiers on, continuing to mentor hopeful young guitarists at his classes. The chapter dedicated to Louiz Banks talks about his long fruitful journey into ‘jazz’. A pet subject quite evidently, Datta asks relevant questions and gets the right answers! Banks says, “Miles Davis remains my all-time favourite musician. His lyricism blows me away”… the many versions of the immortal “Stella by Starlight”, playing with Dizzy Gilespie at Dalhousie Institute in Calcutta, other influences like Thelonius Monk, meeting RD Burman at Blue Fox, and finally composing music for Bollywood.
Datta has also written about his connect with Bangla “folk rock” band Bhoomi’s musicians, how they began decades ago and their journey so far. If it’s Bangla folk music, can we forget Monida, Gautam Chattopadhyay, the original pioneer of this term? He was ahead of his time, undoubtedly, for his songs are still being churned out by both, amateur and professional musicians even today, almost three decades later. A fast-paced book, but naturally, when memories come alive, gushing along with rhapsodic pace, Calling Elvis will bring several musical greats with their iconic reverberating notes into our thoughts and minds. The one thing that mars this well-put-together compilation is the inferior quality of the photographs. When reminiscing about the good times, how can relive them if they remain so blurred?