High Notes On Park Street
My recent visits to Kolkata, the hometown I left long before they changed its name from Calcutta, haven’t really been pleasant ones, partly because of the none-too-happy personal reasons for which I have to visit the city. But also because the city I go back to, albeit infrequently, is just not the place that used to be home for nearly the first 30 years of my life – and I’m not referring to its re-christening alone. I have fond memories of Calcutta and many of the reasons why I like the kind of music that I do has to do with being exposed – through friends, bands and simply because of easy availability – to a heck of a lot of great music while I was growing up in that city.
So it was a pleasant surprise that on my most recent trip to my hometown, I re-discovered what I can only describe as an oasis of music that had all the promise to make my visits, at least in part, happier. I’m referring, of course, to the smallish club in Kolkata’s Park Hotel, called, appropriately, Someplace Else. Begun as a traditional, English-style pub, Someplace Else started hosting live gigs by local rock and blues bands around the late 1990s during which I did have a chance to get there a couple of times and see a few bands and musicians – including a couple of the city’s old legendary rockers from the 1970s – play.
This time, at the suggestion of a friend, I dropped by at Someplace Else again and was pleased on two counts. First, to see that they have bands playing nearly every night and that some of those old, legendary rockers from Kolkata (such as drummer Nondon Bagchi, whose band, Hip Pocket, incidentally, began the trend of turning the pub into a nightly gig venue) are still playing and going great guns. Second (and this was perhaps more gratifying), I saw many new, young and hugely enthusiastic bands and musicians play. One of them was called Pseudonym.
It was a Wednesday night and by the time Pseudonym came on, it was nearly midnight. Hip Pocket (with Bagchi on drums, Sumith Ramachandran on guitar, Mainak Nag Chowdhury on bass, Dominic Saldanah on keyboards and Ben Wesley on vocals) had just finished their gig comprising, primarily, old classic rock covers – think Rolling Stones, The Who, Doors and The Beatles – all very competently done, particularly the vocals. Then, after the weeknight crowd had thinned and the average age of those who hung around moved significantly southward, the five-member band got on the stage. The female singer seemed young enough to be denied entry into any bar or pub let alone be served liquor. Her mates – on guitars, bass and drums – didn’t seem much older. Another wannabe band, I thought to myself and decided that I would stay till my half-full mug of tap beer was finished.
How wrong I was. Pseudonym are a band that did mainly covers that night but with a finesse that
surprised me. The young singer – Suyasha Sengupta – handled Nirvana (Come As You Are), Radiohead (Creep), Green Day (American Idiot) and even Red Hot Chili Peppers (Dani California) with extraordinary ease, the right dose of angst and, when required, melancholia. This, I made a mental note, was a band that could go places. Chatting with the band after their set, I learnt that Pseudonym was formed in 2006 and that most of the band members were either still in or just out of college. Their choice of tunes to cover put them in what many people call the “alternative” genre (I’ve never understood that nomenclature – alternative to what?). Rajan Bhaumik, Pseudonym’s drummer, told me that the band tried to steer clear of clichéd music. From a list of gigs they’ve played, I find they are quite prolific and seem to be regulars at Someplace Else. It’s a pity though that Pseudonym haven’t debuted anywhere outside Kolkata. For venues in Delhi or Mumbai, they could be a good band to book.
Earlier that evening, Someplace Else’s manager Gautam Singh handed me a delightful book on the club that the Park has put together – it traces the founding of the club and how it turned into a thriving, and, probably, Kolkata’s only, live rock venue. The Park’s head of events and public relations, Hem Dhillon, also told me about the Open Mic that Someplace Else regularly holds so that new bands can showcase their music.
Those of my vintage who grew up in the Calcutta of the 1960s and ’70s will remember how Park Street (where The Park has become an iconic landmark) was a live band mecca with nightly gigs – jazz, R&B and soul – at many of the restaurants and bars. Someplace Else keeps alive those old memories (with a fresh contemporary tweak) of Park Street. Sadly, it is the only one of its kind that remains on that street.