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British Council Soundpad: Live in Mumbai

By Bhanuj Kappal | December 16, 2009

Split Magazine: SoundpadDate: December 12, 2009 | Venue: Bandra Fort Amphitheater, Mumbai

The indie scene definitely owes a huge debt to Nick Drake. As I sat and watched a couple of rising stars from the West London indie folk revival scene at the Bandra Amphitheater, I couldn’t help but wonder what Nick Drake would have thought of all the artists he has inspired. Considering his depression and his subsequent overdose on anti-depressants stemmed from the failure of his music career, I’d like to think he’s happy at the way things have turned out. But enough digression. I was at the Amphitheater to see Mercury Prize nominee Laura Marling and British bluegrass band Mumford & Sons, here on a cultural exchange trip organized by the British Council. But first, there were the Indian opening acts.

Due to a frustrating miscalculation regarding the traffic in suburban Mumbai, something I have never been able to predict successfully, I reached the venue too late and ended up missing the first act. I walked in midway through Nik Frey a.k.a. Nikhil D’Souza’s set. Nikhil put up a decent performance, and he has a great voice, but the songs are still very generic. I can imagine the thousands of kids all over the world sitting in their bedrooms and writing the same songs, essentially just a tribute to the influence of their favourite singer-songwriters. After a couple of songs that I can’t even recall anymore, Nik left the stage for an unforgettable set by scene veteran Sidd Coutto. Unfortunately, I don’t mean that in a good way. In between some embarrassing attempts at humour and audience interaction, he delivered a painfully amateurish set. Maybe I just didn’t get the rasta-gone-wrong vibe, but I think Sidd needs to put a lot more effort in if he wants to succeed as a singer-songwriter. It’s not as easy as it looks. Pete Roe, along for the ride with the British bands, decided to join in the fun and played a couple of songs as well. The contrast between his set and the previous two was striking. This was also when I started ruminating on Nick Drake, whose influence was obvious. But Pete Roe was no Nick Drake clone, performing well-crafted tunes to an audience who listened in pin drop silence. “The Devil’s Dance Floor”, his second song, was a definite highlight of the night.

Split Magazine: SoundpadNow, I should tell you that I hadn’t heard of any of these artists before this gig, so all I had to go on was a couple of YouTube videos. Trust me, those do no justice to the real thing. Watching Laura Marling live was an experience to treasure. She played a few songs off her debut album ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’, as well as a couple of new tunes. She looks and sounds fragile and delicate, but there is a hidden reservoir of strength behind her gawky charm. She’s been hailed as the Joni Mitchell of the folk revival scene, but her voice should draw as many comparisons with Regina Spektor. The highlight of the set was “No Hope in the Air”, a poignant, emotional song that somehow combines both hope and despair. The audience was spellbound and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few tears were shed as well. I should put in a couple of good words about the venue as well. The Bandra Amphitheater gave this gig a sense of intimacy that most venues would be hard put to match, and the light breeze and the sound of the rustling leaves only added to the ephemeral atmosphere of the set.

The final band of the night was Mumford & Sons, comprising of Marcus Mumford, Country Winston, Ben Lovett, and Ted Dwane. Boasting some brilliant harmonies and a multi-talented frontman, these four friends from London played some of the best bluegrass-inspired music I’ve heard. The basic formula is the same, Marcus starting off with his voice and guitars, slowly building up to a crescendo where the rest of the band joins in, with vocal harmonies, banjo et al. Playing as an incredibly tight unit, the band went through a number of songs from their debut album ‘Sigh No More’. Their music is an uplifting blend of bluegrass and folk and the songwriting invites inevitable references to the Arcade Fire. Standout tracks were “Roll Away Your Stone”, and the refreshingly candid “Little Lion Man”. A few technical hiccups also led to some amusing and endearingly awkward stage banter. The band ended the set by inviting Laura and Pete Roe up for a couple of songs, ending with a rollicking cover of “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show that got me jumping to my feet. The sight of seven talented singers harmonising on stage and then proceeding to rock the fuck out with a banjo and a double bass was just incredible.

And then it was over. If any of you reading this were there, and had a video camera, please send us your recordings. Also, a word to the British Council: thank you, and more like this please.


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