Lost in their overcoats. How I love that line.
An old friend, Abu, came over to see me some time ago. It was a very long time ago. 1971. I was 13. We were already old friends by then. I’d known him since early January 1966.
We still meet. We’ve kept in touch. We have dinner every now and then, especially when other school friends come through London. That happens a few times a year. Wherever we meet, whenever we meet, it’s like a gathering of the clans.
Minoo rolls into town every now and then, all the way from Tennessee. Vishnu from Singapore. Asani from New York. Vir from Dusseldorf. Ashok from the West Coast. Nishat from Calcutta.
And when one of them passes by, a small number of us gather. Pesi. Abu. Sumit. Shiel. Me.
Old friends. We will have known each other for fifty years next month. And we’re still in touch. Some sixty, seventy of us, going through our various rites of passage. Some of us are grandfathers now. Well, at least one of us. Me.
We’re in touch in many ways. Some via email. Some via Facebook. Some even via new-fangled things like Whatsapp. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that the tools help us meet regularly IRL. And we roll back time and laugh and reminisce and break bread together.
Where was I? Oh yes, Abu dropped by, in 1971. Came to our flat in Moira Street. Our home. The place I lived in from the age of 11 till I was 23. An open-door establishment where the average guest count must have been five. (Actually that’s not accurate. They weren’t guests. They lived there. Along with about twenty others. Most of the time there were only four or five of them in occupation. But sometimes they were all there. Accompanied, of course, by the other “permanent” residents of the flat. My parents. My siblings. Me. My cousins.)
So Abu came along, carrying goodies. One of his family members had just come back from the UK. With two new albums. Two. New. Albums. Albums that hadn’t been released in India as yet. (An aside. The family then staying one floor below were the Menons. The father, Bhaskar Menon, was on the verge of becoming “the first Chairman and CEO of EMI Music worldwide”. At the time he was running Gramophone Company of India, in Dum Dum, the plant that was responsible for pressing about a third of the music I grew up listening to. And yes, it’s the same Dum Dum that gave its name to the expanding bullet).
Back to Abu (whom I called Shaf, not Abu. All the males in his family turned out to be called Abu. At which point I realised that the name everyone used for him wasn’t his name, it was some sort of title.)
Abu and the two albums. One of which was Bookends. Which gave me the chance to listen to Old Friends for the first time. If you haven’t heard it, go Google it and correct that omission now.
Listening to it this morning, I was reminded of the ways in which I “discovered” music in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s. What I thought I’d do is to spend a little time writing about some other old friends, some songs that have meant a lot to me over the years, songs that not everyone would have heard, songs that some of you may find worthwhile.
Here we go.
Today I Killed A Man. Originally a Cook-Greenaway song, covered by many people since. Brought to my attention by Bertie Da Silva, another old friend, someone I last saw in May. He’s now Dean of Arts at the college I went to, a great musician, a great guitarist. After listening to Bertie’s wonderful rendition (must have been sometime in 1976) I went to the record shop in Lindsay St, just off New Market, and bought what I thought was “the” single, a White Plains cover.
Oh mama, mama I’m so cold/I feel that I am quickly growing old/I hope that you are thinking of your son/’cause tomorrow morning I’ll be twenty-one.
Time For The Leaving. A fabulous song by a vastly underrated group. Magna Carta. How did I come by this? Oh yes. The man behind the counter at the record shop on Lindsay St, a place I spent inordinate amounts of time. He used to be very kind to me and not throw away the posters he received for new releases; every now and then, he’d give me a few, telling me what he thought of their music while he did so. And so it was with Magna Carta. He gave me an LP cover sized poster, I think it was a Polydor release, in red and black. Told me about the group. Played Time for the Leaving as well as Airport Song. I was hooked. Still am.
and the yesterday face/a picture with moustache
looks down to the ground from the mantelpiece
this is my world alone
the blue cotton dress and the man on the cross on the wall
Long Chain On. Peter, Paul and Mary. A Jimmie Driftwood story song done beautifully by PP&M. My uncle Mohan stayed with us for a while in the mid 1960s and introduced me to In The Wind, the seminal PP&M album. And Long Chain On is one of the best tracks. Along with all the others. It’s that kind of album.
Though he was tired and hungry/A bright light came over his face/He bowed his head in the moonlight/he said a beautiful Grace.
Sometimes In Winter. Blood Sweat and Tears. The incredible voice of Steve Katz given some airtime for once. How came I by this? Friend Gyan Singh, who was to marry my cousin. Gyan, who sadly passed away a few years ago. He had a little stash of brilliant albums he brought over for me to listen to, including some Mayall and some BST.
Sometimes in winter/I gaze into the streets and walk through snow and city sleet/Behind your room.
Prison Song. Graham Nash. From his second solo album, Wild Tales. One of my uncle Mohan’s friends managed to find a Taiwanese import, a flimsy knockoff version of the album and parked it with us for a while. We devoured it. Amazing.
Kids in Texas smoking grass/Ten year sentence come to pass/Misdemeanor in Ann Arbor/Ask the judges why.
The best of the festive season to all of you.