The India Diaries

Dear all,

I have returned from India and am sat in the wonderful Grog and Gruel in Fortwilliam. I was hoping to keep you all regularly updated in India but my laptop refused to connect to the wifi and I have chronicled elsewhere the pain in the posteria of trying to update this blog on my phone. So here are my diary entries from my time in India, I hope you enjoy them.

Very best wishes,


On Plane From Mumbai to Kolkata:


Well we’re on the way to Kolkata finally. By the time we get there it’ll be over 24 hours between leaving home and arriving with barely a wink of sleep. It’s felt like such an adventure already even before we’ve started what we came to do.


So observations about India already? People at airports expect to be tipped! All manner of customs people, luggage assistants, they all expect a tip. But generally everyone seems very friendly…apart from immigration staff. But they never are. Also, I hope to god the food improves from the quite disastrous ‘cheese burger’ I had at Mumbai airport. My understanding of a cheese burger was always that it involved cheese as an accompaniment to a meat or perhaps a veggie equivalent. So imagine my surprise when it was in fact a singularly dodgy tasting bit of bread with quite hideous plastic melted cheese inside. And nothing else.


Most striking was the bus journey from where we arrived in Mumbai to where we departed, looking out the window and seeing for the first time in my life, shanty towns. It was an illuminating experience and made me anxious to see more and uncomfortable at the same time. Particularly interesting was every home made from scrap was topped with a satellite dish.


Very tired, but excited about what’s to come and pleased we all seem to get on really well already. I’m missing Sarah already, but feeling her support.




Sitting in hotel foyer pre-first meeting:


It’s fifteen minutes til we all start the process of collaborating! No music to start with I don’t think, just introductions. The car journey from the airport to the hotel was truly an experience to behold. It started with chaos and got more chaotic as it went on! Lanes, speed limits, caution – none of that. Loosely, you drive on the left but when you want to go past you just beep and do it! The number of seemingly near misses with cyclists, people, cars and god knows what else was very scary to a non-native but actually in a funny way it got less scary because it became apparent it wasn’t aggressive or angry driving. That’s just the way they drive and everyone seems to get that. It’s just alien to us.


What we drove through was very striking. Much of the area we went through was more akin to a 24-hour outdoor market. I’d have been scared walking alone out there and a rush of intimidation came over me last night at what a different world we’re in. But come the end, I know I’ll be grateful to have experienced such an incredibly different world first hand.


The people seem to me friendly and helpful but sort of no-nonsense and quietly scary! Everything is chaotic, utterly chaotic! I can’t deny it I’m scared and uneasy but I don’t intend to waste the experience and as this is the kind of trip I would never do otherwise, it’s important to make the most of it.


The musical prospect is very exciting and I relish that.



In hotel room at 4.30:


Well I feel happy at the moment! We had a session today of just finding out what each other does and chatting over an amazing lunch. The fish curry was sublime as was everything else. I feel more at ease knowing that we’re basically spending more time at this complex soaking up all the music. I’d have been quite intimidated out on the streets but I’m sure that’s just my pesky caution.


The musicians are lovely, obviously incredibly passionate about what they do and the British council ( India ) reps are very friendly and obviously so glad to have us here. I have discovered what we drove through to here was the ‘interior’, an area with no infrastructure and not ‘the city’ at all which explains my previous log a little.


I’m feeling that like all places, India has such a variation of characters and my previous entries of trying to pigeon hole just show my nerves and anxiety at travelling to new places. There are many who are welcoming, some who are not so much. There is definitely a protocol of if someone offers to do something for you, they’ll be offended if you don’t let them.


Anyway must dash we’re off to a festival



First day of planning – morning:


So finally we get to hear everyone today or at least start. I’m very excited, but inevitably nervous as well. The festival was very enjoyable hearing a Afro-Indian fusion band and unexpectedly a heavyish Indian rock band! The atmosphere was great and I enjoyed the drive as we saw a bit of the city which was typically fascinating. I noted the sight of huge, impressive buildings interspersed with obviously poorer areas with makeshift looking stalls. The festival also gave me the chance to buy a few gifts for Sarah which was nice. All in all, it was a good bonding session making this perhaps a tad more comfortable today. I again noted people’s desire to help. In truth, sometimes you just want to get on with it yourself but there’s a certain look of distaste if you don’t allow them to. I guess it highlights he difference in cultures but it’s not a problem, just a tad awkward at times.


Anyway best go and do some work!



End of day of music making:


So a day over. It’s terrifically exciting playing with these astonishing musicians. First up was Moni, a singer with intense passion for his work. He devotes himself to collecting thousands of songs local to him and ensuring they don’t die. He told me a very full story of the music and I felt privileged and enjoyed playing with them. The session with Hannah and Suhail was fun. Suhail was intrigued by banjo funk after I mentioned it last night so we ended up composing funky tune together!


The real success for me was with Georgia and Suhail in the afternoon. Three great items came together really quite easily and were wonderfully different; fusions of bluegrass, Welsh and Indian! Suhail is a wonderful musician and terrific to work with while Georgia is a great discovery as she was the only Brit with whom I wasn’t musically acquainted.


A lovely evening was had too, with yet more sumptuous curry, games of pool with Neil and a nice little drinky to finish! I am very lucky to be here.




Pre-Share on Tuesday:


Today has been so enlightening, fun and challenging all in great ways. The first session particularly so I guess. Shahid is a wonderful singer with an imposing personality and a friendly smile. He sang a lovely song and it sat very well with myself and Waqeel and it was magical. Waqeel then sang a song which was equally beautiful but I could not seem to get the hang of the rhythm for a long time which was uncomfortable for me but I persevered and it paid off in the end I think. Waqeel has an immense voice and the most endearing and gentle of personalities. He is so sensitive and passionate about music. I then tried playing a tune of my own, based in an Arabic mode, and the difference in cultures was again apparent as I very much expected the tune, solo, solo, back to tune idea but we didn’t click as that is not seemingly their way. But then I played an Appalachian song and again, magic ensued with stunning vocal solos from both.


I’ve worked with Patsy twice today and she is as wonderful a musician as I thought from hearing her on record, and then some. She is so empathetic and her cheery demeanour just makes it all the better. Shafique on the dohl is a virtuoso and Patsy, he and I enjoyed learning each other’s protocols on cues, stops and rhythms. I even sang a snatch of a Bengali song I remembered from a gig in London a few years ago and that was nerve wracking in the extreme but enjoyable!


The musicians are very different. Suhail is similar to me in that to him music is music – he’s not terribly into ‘genre’ as such and is eager to try playing anything and seeing what happens. Moni and Shahid were much more protective of their material and perhaps less willing to bend, but this is not a criticism at all and in fact it if anything heightens the feeling of their music.


Shame on me for not mentioning more of Hannah or Georgia. The former I have known for a long time and is incredibly talented and easy going with a great work ethic. Georgia is such wonderful company and a fabulous talent though modest with it. It is an incredible joy to be here and I feel blessed. I miss Sarah and familiarity of home; I feel very far away but I love this experience so much.




End of Wednesday:




Today was the first day of essentially being left to our own devices rather than on a schedule of groupings. In some ways this was a welcome release but in others it presented the odd problem. It was great to return to the items started in the first couple of days got further work and arrangement. I really am so pleased to be exploring my sitar influenced banjo sound in the type of music in which it belongs! It is testing me greatly but I feel this is what I’ve been working towards.




Having said that I’ve also really enjoyed working on British material such as Patsy’s Scottish tunes and Georgia’s Welsh songs as well.




New highlights today were a stunning song with Waqeel which has a great funky rhythm and allows him to show his stunning vocal range. I also learned an amazing Indian tune from Suhail which is an absolute beast on the banjo but entirely worth the effort! Hannah reminded me how fiendishly good she is at learning things by ear when we were doing this tune. What was very interesting was that a lot of the melody could quite easily have been a British folk tune but played on the sarangi inevitably made it sound a little more Indian!




I suppose the difficulty of today was making sure no-one was left out. There seemed to be a little disillusionment among a couple of musicians which was a shame, though perhaps slightly inevitable when you put so many musicians in one place! Hopefully this feeling won’t last and people will be reassured because everyone has such fabulous talent and so much to give personally.








Post-Kolkata Trip




What a day! We finally got to venture out in the afternoon to Kolkata itself. More on that shortly for there is much to tell, but firstly a quite amazing musical experience to kick off the day. We were joined today by Turab, a sitar player from Pakistan. I mentioned in my log yesterday about the thrill and fear of trying out my sitar-banjo style in this environment-well today it really did come out! Turab and I played a raga which was a simply amazing experience for me. It wasn’t without difficulties. The structure was not something I was massively familiar with and language barriers made it a little difficult to make it clear. But the magic moments were magic indeed.




The afternoon saw a much anticipated trip into Kolkata itself, much needed after spending so long at this resort. It was an experience to remember and so fascinating. It began with the usual bonkers car journey and Georgia getting bitten in a difficult region. Then we had a look at the river and heard a boat song from a man who clearly quite enjoyed the attention from us tourists!




We then encountered a street market with the loudest and fastest talking man I’ve ever seen trying to sell scarf-like things. Bravely Neil, Patsy and I wandered off to explore but before that I was oddly asked to pose for a photo alone and then with the chap who took it. I have no idea who this chap was or what on earth he wanted to photograph me for but Georgia reckoned he thought I was James Blunt. I wasn’t.




Anyway wander off we did and encountered the rather more negative images of the trip. A boy tugging at us holding out his hands for money was excruciating and later on the sight of a 60 year old man sitting on a main road because that’s where he lives was equally harrowing. The stubbornness and insistence was very notable, refusing to give up until we actually were a fair distance away.




Then came the indoor market. Upon arrival we were accosted by a singularly irritating man who insisted on telling us where to go, following and directing and curt instructions to go away were pointless. I subsequently learned this is common practice in trying to steer us to stalls run by family members. All the same, it wasn’t exactly comfortable being followed a few steps behind wherever we went.




I was astonished by the forceful selling of stall holders. Everyone immediately and insistently went into their sales pitches and there was a distinct sense of desperation which was uncomfortable in all honesty. I also learned that white tourists are targeted for this.




However, I certainly wouldn’t want to paint a negative picture of the trip. We came across lots of smiley characters too and a couple even wished Patsy a happy valentines day! I managed to buy some things for Sarah and my parents. It was great to see a totally different culture and way of living and I am so pleased to have done so. My visit will live long in the memory.








Saturday night




Well I missed a day as the dreaded upset tummy struck last night and hit me hard this morning along with a headache and fever. Dashed unpleasant but feeling a tad better now.




Anyway to catch up, yesterday was an odd day in some ways with a few tensions in the air. I had a productive day rehearsing plenty of things and it was great doing Moni’s song all together this morning. It was interesting playing with Turab again as well-it was easier to understand each other this time and I realised it was not, as I had thought, a case of him instructing and saying what was ‘right’, again this was a communication issue and the discussion was much more open.




Sadly, a couple of people felt low today and it was upsetting to hear the low feelings experienced but hopefully they’re reassured. Again, regardless of the cultural differences ten musicians in one place is a good breeding ground for trouble! I can only say that I have grown fond of each and every musician here and I so admire all their unique talents.




Happily, much good feeling was restored last night as we all learnt John Ball, a cracking English song I have long loved and there was a wonderful feeling of togetherness and joy as we sang together, helped also by the sentiments of unity in the song.




Sadly illness intervened today and I spent time in both morning and afternoon in bed but still managed to rehearse some stuff and join in the full run through of the gig at 5.




I’m feeling a little better and hopefully a good sleep will see me right for tomorrow. We’re nearing the end and I really feel I’ve grown as a musician and a person and will be sad to leave the other musicians knowing it may be a while til we meet again. However, I am ready again for the familiarity of the UK and of course Sarah!








On the way back




Well what a day that was to finish off! Feeling singularly cheesed off in the afternoon at sitting around waiting for people who should have been ready to be ready, I’d never have guessed how magical the gig would be.




Somehow, the sticks of wood managed to form a slightly precarious cover for stage and audience and it looked great. The musicians excelled themselves and produced a sterling performance which was rapturously received. Purely speaking personally I was thrilled at the round of applause for my solo in the raga!




It was a wonderful end to an amazing week and I am genuinely sad to be leaving everyone. I feel enriched musically and personally and I have so many new friends.




Not a bad idea this India trip…