This was 1997. Twelve years hence, the strobe lights and disco balls have made a quiet exit for other venues and Someplace Else (which hosts bands six days a week) is the first name you take when you think of live music in Kolkata. And for almost a decade now, also the last.
In sharp contrast to the sixties and a greater part of the seventies, when the whole of Park Street came alive to music with sun down, music lovers in the city today religiously troop into just one destination for their live dose of rock, jazz or blues. Music, it seems, have shrunk to just one haven in the city — SPE.
“There seems to be a lack of vision here. When a venue invests in a band, it is fair to expect profits. But then they also have to realize that the cash registers don’t start ringing overnight. You have to give things some time… and not drive the band up the wall for money,” says Monojit Dutta of the Orient Express. Something that SPE has always refrained from. “They have always believed in the band, in music and let things take their own course. The pub has become a part of an average Kolkatan’s routine not in a day,” adds Dutta. It’s the same lack of tenacity that stares back at you from the decades-old live-music tradition in the city, feels Jayanta Dasgupta of the Saturday Night Blues. “The tradition of live music anywhere else in the country is not even a shadow of the one we cherish in Kolkata. But unlike SPE, other venues here, and in other cities, seem to have little commitment to music. If it’s not big business, they’d either give up or thrust their choice of music on you,” says Dasgupta.
Numbers, be it in currency or in people, seems to be playing spoilsport for the live music scene in the city. “Not many organisations promote English music today the way Someplace has for some time,” says Jayashree Singh of Skinny Alley. Followers of rock, or jazz in the city, who would actually take the pains to come for a live gig, listen to original English music by local bands, are a handful. “Then, when you host a band, you have to persistently promote it to draw crowds,” adds Singh. And finally, there’s the feeling of being at home, of being one big family that has held musicians, patrons and SPE together. “We are like a family in here,” says Dasgupta. Agrees Rajarshi Burman of Insomnia. “The ambience, the people, all add up to the charm of SPE. You have to give things time for such an understanding to take shape. I wish a few other places gave it a shot. Music in the city would have a different definition then,” he says. Is anybody listening?