Solo Guitar Tour India November 2010
Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Hyderabad
What a Trip – unbelievable. On the 4th day we sat together as one of us broke the silence with the remark: „Have we really been on the road for only four days? It seems like it’s been months already.“ This is actually the best description of one of the funniest, most outrageous, most stressful and most moving trips I’ve ever had.
But one by one and from the start: Jagadeesh, a promoter, consultant, musician, and whatever else, who has already organized several shows for Agog in India in 2008, approached me a little more than a year ago looking for some acoustic guitarists for a tour in India. After some research, I presented him with three excellent musicians from different guitar styles – folk, blues / singer / songwriter and flamenco. The field of jazz appeared to be my duty. Things took their course, sound files and emails were exchanged, dates were checked, etc. However, the tour which was planned for February 2010 was unfortunately canceled 10 days in advance. Of course all of us were furious, visas have been bought, some of us had been vaccinated and most of all the period was kept free, other lucrative concerts having been canceled. Okay, that´s it, I thought feeling extremely dissapointed, and dissaociated myself with a heavy heart from the project. But – surprise – the organizing team led by Jagadeesh was stubborn and tough, so that a second date was found – and when I finally sat in the Air India aircraft Delhi bound I started to believe slowly that it could really happen this time!
For me it was the third tour in India. When I left the Mumbai Airport for the first time in 2008 and took a cab, overwhelmed by the chaos of motor rickshaws, taxis, pedestrians and cars hopelessly jammed toghether in left-hand traffic, it took me a while to cope with the desperately poor people, families with children and babies, who live and sleep on the streets in front of the monumental skyscrapers, insurance, bank and office buildings. It’s just a different world from Europe, of course you know it before, but its really something else to see it with your own eyes. The immense differences between rich and poor, in such a confined space together are startling. And above all the vast number of people, people, and more people. But this time was I in India at all? In a way not and in a different way very much. A week on the road, five concerts on five consecutive days in five major cities – Delhi, Pune, Bangalore, Mumbai and Hyderabad with an average of two hours of sleep a night and two hours during the day. The rest of the time: taxis from the airport, waiting in the airport and waiting on the plane. The concerts took place in the hotels where we stayed (and what hotels! From one 5 star hotel to the next, if only we could have enjoyed them extensively!). And then interviews (Media Interactions as they call them, often in the form of a mobile phone pressed against the ear talking to a journalist with a funny and difficult to understand Indian- English accent from the next one or two cities for a press announcement of the concert). Then soundcheck (a good sound can be difficult in India sometimes, oh yes …), and finally performing and then smiling, giving autographs, shaking hands and of course – food. The food in India is incredible. Okay, the gastrointestinal tract may revolt a bit in the beginning, but the tastes, smells, spices!
A few of the most original questions in the interviews: „How do you like Bollywood movies?“ „What would you say to the Indian people if you would have only 5 minutes more to live?“ „How long is the second last tune of your show?“ Bizarre!
For me it was a new experience being on tour not with a band but with a group of other guitarists. Each of us played a small solo set. There were a few duo performances mixed in, and finally of course the grand finale with four guitars. The colleagues: Dylan Fowler, the elegant gentleman from Wales, who interpretes Welsh folklore and music from the Balkans incredibly finely and delicately. His guitar is tuned very low in a particular way, and in his best moments you forget completely that you are listening to a guitar. You lose yourself in a sort of overall vibration. Eric Morel Vaarzon, flamenco guitarist, although he is Dutch occurs to me to be more Spanish than any Spaniard I know. Very direct in his way, he announces bluntly his opinion, but also spreads a good mood and always hugs and kisses everyone he knows for longer than 60 seconds. Musically a true master of his subject, who studied with the famous Paco Pena and has played with Spanish gypsies for a long time. And finally, Dave Goodman, a gifted finger picker with a strong blues background, singer / songwriter who writes great songs and is a wonderful singer. He was our „sweeper“ who rocked the house at the end of the concert with his animating stage show. Also a skilled player and multi-faceted improviser. I had the honor of interpreting some standards and a couple of my original compositions in a short solo set. Certainly not the easiest for the audience to digest, but the crowd was highly interested, focused and open. Right and left of the stage were two large screens on which a video artist projected live pictures from stage and computer animations and collages.Very tasteful, never pushy and always appropriate to the music, fascinating. The piece for my son, „Mr. A Is Busy Today“ has always been a huge success, the Indian audience apparently loved the story behind it – I wrote the piece on the first day that my son Anton went to kindergarden, because this was the first time that I had had time to sit down to play and compose in long time. The video artist knew nothing about it, but for this piece he immediately projected nostalgic childhood shots in 50’s sepia-style on the screens. Crazy!
Besides Jagadeesh and Srini, a small, bustling, crazy Indian who organized the logistics and went to the airport at night to check the tickets and was permanently on his iPhone, we had in the crew of course the charming Hazel Keech, who presented and announced us at all the concerts. As a model, actress and dancer, this 23 year old woman is truly a beauty, especially as she conjured a new elegant outfit out of her tiny suitcase every night. She is also a very intelligent and sincere person to talk to. As the daughter of a London father and an Indian mother, she grew up in London and decided a few years ago to try her chances in India although she hadn’t visited India very often before and previously couldn´t speak Hindi (or any other of the many Indian languages) – is quite brave to say the least. It was so nice of her to take us four (relatively) old guys in Mumbai by the hand and organize an excursion to a street market. Without her we wouldn´t have experienced anything else in India outside of concert halls, hotels, taxis and airports and would have probably returned with empty hands to our families. As for jewelry and clothing, India is a unique paradise with so many things that are beautiful and relatively cheap by European standards. Fortunately, my wife has dark hair and a dark complexion, so that the Indian dresses and blouses always look exceptionally good on her – hence my souvenirs are always a big success.
In India there are very strict laws regarding alcohol. Liquor advertisements on TV and radio and print media are prohibited. Therefore, the liquor companies are looking for other ways to promote their products. Our tour was organized by the whisky brand „Black Dog“. The whole stage was covered with Black Dog labels and at the entrance there were stands where whisky and other drinks were served. At the end of each concert there was a raffle of whisky bottles and other presents, including a black guitar with the autographs of the artists! This felt a bit absurd, but what the heck! People come to our concerts and they appreciate our music and if they buy a bottle or two of whisky, everyone is happy. The concerts were not public and the audience was invited by personal letter. The slogan was „Let the world wait“ and „Black Dog Easy Evenings“. Considering the fact that we were picked up every morning after two hours of sleep at 4:30, Dave said very aptly: „They should call it Black Dog Easy Evenings and Hard Mornings.“
Of course, the Indian audience has a very different background and a completely different socialization than the audiences in Europe. Sometimes it´s hard during the concert to get a feel for how the music reaches the people. I try to imagine what it’s like if Indian musicians present their music in Europe. When we hear Indian music, we can certainly enjoy the sounds, the movements, the developments and the energy, but we lack the background of connotations to place the music in its historical or social references. We remain to some extent on the outside. The surface of the music, we can not really get past , at least not if we haven´t worked intensively with Indian music for years. Probably it´s the same for the Indian audience with our music. Moreover, the „Applause“ culture in many Asian countries is much less developed than in the West, so this can be somehow irritating for the artist. At the end there were always standing ovations, despite the weak clapping. I think that curiosity is one of the main motivations of the audience.
One evening I was somehow obsessed by the question for what kind of people we were playing. After the concert, I tried to talk to many different people from the audience. Unfortunately, I was immediately occupied by a somewhat self-indulgent guy in his mid-fifties who couldn´t stop to tell me that we were quite good, yes, but that Eric Clapton is much better. Aha! The conversation developed in a rather one-sided way to my detriment. It was hard to get rid of him and somehow the situation had a slightly negative influence on my mood. If that is the average cultural level of the visitors, why then do the whole thing, I thought. A few minutes later a wonderfully intelligent and nice looking elderly Indian gentleman in a suit and metal-rimmed glasses came up to me and involved me immediately in such an insider-specialist-jazz conversation that I really didn´t know what was happening and I just couldn´t believe it. When he asked for a CD of mine, I showed him the duo CD with my wife Martina Gassmann. On the question if there are standards are on the CD, I replied: „Not really, rather original pieces.“ He took a very brief look at the (very small printed) list of songs on the CD and said immediately, „You don´t know what love is“ and „Answer Me, My Love“. He had spotted in a split second the two standards among all the original songs, and then he promptly bought the CD. What am I trying to say with these stories? The background of the visitors to our concerts alternates probably within the whole range between the Clapton-weirdo and the sympathetic jazz specialists and any attempt to simplify it or to recognize a trend is a hopeless simplification of reality. Everything is extreme, that is India, too.
We four guitarists, Jaggi, Hazel and the whole crew, in this week bonded together. We were treated like pop stars and in the end each of us was given a wonderful carved Ganesha statue (the God with the human body and elephant head) as a present from the Indian crew. We could hardly separate from each other and as soon as we were back home, sentimental and melancholic emails were sent back and forth. I can not say exactly what it was, but somehow the intensity of this week brought us closer in high speed. And once again India had this effect: You return as a slightly different person than as the one you were before you departed. It´s good to cultivate and nurture this feeling in everyday life a little.
I just have to think of Jaggi, who, in the most abstruse situations (eg when the aircraft to Hyderabad wasn´t allowed to land because of fog and was redirected to another airport 600 km away) remained completely calm and fatalistic and said with this typical ambiguous Indian head wiggle: „Could be worse.“ I am grateful that the music and my instrument provide me with such beautiful and irreplaceable experiences regularly.