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O.A.T - As I remember !

First, I am extremely sad about the fact that we have lost one of the finest singers. Second, I am sad what used to be the focal point of rock n roll, has turned into what it is today .

But is the legendary venue to be blamed or the venue administration and the organisers need to be held accountable ? This is not really a million dollar question. If any country is run by idiots, would one blame the country or the government in power running the country ?? Sharing my memories of the venue - O.A.T , as I remember. And my deepest condolences to KK's family.

My generation of musicians have grown up at the venue in Kolkata that has attracted a lot of attention lately. First, Open Air Theatre needless to say, was an open air auditorium. We would sit on the grass and smoked grass while Richie Havens performed.

It’s called Nazrul Manch but we all called it the ‘O.A.T’ back then……….a venue surrounded by huge lakes and trees.

PC Mukherjee of Shiva was amongst the key players who turned the venue into a concert arena. Before this, venues for rock n roll were the auditoriums of Hindi High School or La Martiniere School or the lawns of Dalhousie Institute. PC, the founder guitar player and manager of Shiva would ride his Yezdi in Calcutta heat and humidity and pitch for sponsors. I know this as I often would be the pillion rider.

Charms was launched during that time and supported PC and live concerts. Concerts would have the famous tagline “Charms is the spirit of freedom, Charms is the way you are” as the backdrop with cigarettes packed in the hip looking denim paper case. It began with single band concerts before PC planned to host a rock n roll festival. This was the first time we saw Rock Machine with Gary Lawyer and how Mahesh Tinaikar looked like a young Mike Jagger from a distance. Lou Majaw rocked the stage with a reggae version of Wonderful Tonight. That was also the first time we saw the Isaac brothers or the 13 AD from Cochin. When the second time the festival happened, we saw this young guy with fuzzy hair belting ‘Top of the Rock’. The band - Rock Machine (now known as Indus Creed) and the frontman - Uday Benegal.

Later, once the legendary band Wishbone Ash came to rock the hell out of the city. The concert opened with Ritchie Havens. Yes, the same Ritchie Havens who opened Woodstock ‘69.

Once, during a festival, a reggae band from Calcutta called Hellfire who were not invited came charging with their instruments and demanded to play. They did play finally to a cheering crowd with Cheena on Drums and Kingshuk on Bass.
That was the first time we heard of Roger Drego. The celebrity sound engineer from Mumbai.

Man, what sound !

The only time we had only heard serious PA systems before this was when Osibisa came to Calcutta to perform near the Tata Center. Later we read that the glass panes of Tata Center had cracked due to the powerful sound. I, personally, knew the rock crowd of my generation since I played the guitar besides being a roadie to senior bands much to the dislike of my family. In some concerts, Shiva used my keyboard as it had Hammond jazz organ kind of tones. Those days, it was a matter of pride to go around the city to put up concert posters for them. This gave me the privilege of always being in the front row or backstage or even at rehearsals at Park Lane. My classmate, my best friend and slide guitar player, Shankha Subhro Sen was instrumental in me playing an instrument. Before that I always dreamt of being a Captain in the merchant navy like my father. But the moment I picked up the guitar, everything changed. Year was 1980. With that, O.A.T played a huge part in my formative years.

Later, in the 90s, this venue saw bands like Eyes, Krozzwindz etc. When Tuki played, we were all jealous of how he could manage such a kick ass tone on his guitar which he still does. And when Neil played, we were left confused as he played with all his 5 fingers on his right hand while we were struggling with a plectrum to get some speed.

I also remember my dear childhood friend from school, Jayanta Das Gupta going up on stage to sing ‘Johnny Be Goode’ with Shiva. When he walked from backstage to the stage while the band announced his name, I must confess, I felt jealous standing backstage watching my friend perform.

Cactus broke the scene with the first Bangla rock band. This was while other Bangla Rock bands were gearing up to take on the scene. I, too, was setting up a Bangla rock band called ‘Mahakaal’ that never saw the light of the day and I had to migrate to Delhi. Before this, I would play with everybody who would bear my larger than life pompous good for nothing ego !!!!

Well, going back again a little in time, music was changing. Shiva began losing its charm. PC changed his iconic Gibson SG with a B.C. Rich. I remember when PC had broken the neck of the SG, my dear childhood friend and my neighbour, Raju or Nirmalya’s father, Mr. N. Mukherjee, who owned a music store and a manufacturing unit called Teacher’s Pet, had fixed it.

This was the time, when by these lakes lived a great drummer called Alokesh. He had put a band together called, The Colours.

In case, I have missed the point, all this was happening in and around O.A.T.

The Colours had an immediate impact. Alokesh and his band rocked the stage with Wham / George Micheal songs like ‘Wake me Up’. I remember Subhas Mondal, who played a Yamaha DX 7, would play brass and string sections on this. And this was so bloody new to us. And this was also the beginning of Keys taking over a lot of music production and live playing.

This was the era of Jojo who from a distance looked like Geogre Micheal and danced like him. From Blues Rock, the sound was shifting to mainstream Pop. And, I have to say this, the girls would just go mad when Jojo came on stage.

I remember how we would prepare a week before the concerts or the rock festivals as if we were performing. Very close to O.A.T. would be Narayan’s tea stall where all smokers and rockers of the city would gather overlooking the beautiful lakes and Anderson Swimming Club on the other side. The huge lakes by Southern Avenue were also a great place to date in the evening or take an early morning walk figuring out who to ask for a date in the evening.

Most of us played our first songs on this stage. But the peaceful Hippie aesthetics of the venue as it was in the 80s was destroyed when seating arrangements and roofing was done. Man how can one watch a rock concert seated on a bloody blue coloured plastic chair. All the stars, the moon and the stars were gone. To be replaced with ugly fibreglass sheets.

In the 90s, when I lost my father, I was only 25. Right from the crematorium, I went with my friends and drank the whole day. In the evening when all were tired and wanted to go home, I went to O.A.T. where the Dover Lane Music Conference was happening. Ustaad Zakir Hussain and Ustaad Amjad Ali Khan were playing.

Year 1994. 12th of January.

As I entered the O.A.T. gates, I bumped into an old school mate. He was a little taken aback as I was smelling of alcohol at a Hindustani classical Concert. And the moment he gathered that I had come straight from the crematorium after doing the last rites of my father, he just turned around and marched off. I have never seen him after that.

I attended the concert. Spoke to myself. Came to terms with my father’s death and went back home to an awfully worried family. Joe Stariani and who’s who all performed here over the years but by this time, I had migrated to Delhi. When after 11 years, I first went back to Kolkata for a brief visit, I was shattered to see the lakes, O.A.T. or Nazrul Mancha. It was not the same place where we grew up with some band playing Time by Pink Floyd on stage.

“And you run, and you run to catch up with the sun but it's sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way but you're older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death”

(disclaimer - images have been sourced from the internet. we dont have any claim on them. used as reference)

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