Remembering Indian Gigs In the Old Days With The Combustibles

Remembering Indian Gigs In the Old Days With The Combustibles

We have a secret gig vault. A magical wrought-iron cabinet, produced entirely by our imaginations and our rather relentless chasing down of old school musical legends from the subcontinent no doubt. But since we have it, let’s add a few more embellishments.
It rests on a fluffy, turquoise cloud in the belly of a magical dragon who rests upon it. Her silver-capped teeth are known for its jagged ends, perfect for gnawing through the flesh of any wonton approacher who dares to seek what’s inside the purple scaled skin. Unless of course, you happen to know the magical tune that lulls her to sleep. We happened to know it. Sung by a 1960s/70s local Indian Rock Band, The Combustibles’ song ‘Some Peace of Mind’ managed to get us access to a barrage of retrospective photos of the burgeoning local rock scene in Mumbai over 3 decades ago.

They recently captured our imaginations by being chosen for vinyl reissue thanks to a chance discovery by a UK label head. Scroll down to see the visual treats we have lined up for you and learn some remarkably interesting facts about what gigs were like back in the day. 

Tickets to the parties were only Rs. 6 and your seating position depended entirely on how many chocolate wrappers you managed to collect.

Nissim Ezekiel, the band’s rhythm guitarist since 1969 thanks to a repurposing of their lineup, was one of the lucky few to have actually witnessed what many considered to be Mumbai’s greatest Urban Legend. He caught Jimmy Page and Robert Plant unleash their inner beast live at a small but legendary city discotheque called Slip Disc.

There was no terrible dearth of venues. Local bands back in the day could find musical platforms in venues that organized navy balls, band competitions and more during the week while the weekend saw crazy clubs like Blow Up at Taj Mahal Hotel, Hell at Hilltop Hotel in Worli, Talk Of The Town (now Pizza By The Bay), Blue Nile at The Ambassador Hotel and Juhu’s Sun N’ Sand take centre stage. “Shanmukhananda Hall (Sion) was our favourite venue though--it had the best acoustics and would always be full to capacity with multiple events. And it could seat as many as 3,000 to 3,500 people,” says Ezekiel.  

And it wasn’t just Mumbai. The Combustibles were no strangers to neighbouring urban playgrounds either from Ahmedabad, Kolkatta and Pune to Baroda and even Kathmandu. “The band held contracts with Trincas in Kolkata and Kathmandu’s Saoltee hotel,” says George Taylor,  bass guitarist and co-founder of  the band along with his brother Lionel who played lead guitar.  

The money was actually decent enough to allow them to have their fun for a fair bit of time. 6 nights-a-week contracts with clubs in hotels would earn them anywhere between Rs. 3500 to a little over Rs. 4000. Plus the winnings from band competitions that happened throughout the year (usually in the range of Rs. 2-3000) made their wallets just a little plumper.

One of their most magical moments was undoubtedly the ‘Magical Mystery Tour.’ 
“Sponsored by JS Magazine in May of 1970, it involved a group of ten Englishmen who were driving from London to Australia on a bright red London double-decker bus. When it reached Bombay, a major event was organized with The Combustibles playing at The Bullock Cart near the Old Bombay University Campus, then boarding the bus for a ride through the city and then finally ending about 15 miles away with a concert a hotel on the famous Juhu Beach. For the Combustibles, waving out to puzzled Bombay-wallahs from the upper deck of the bus, this was the first and last time they participated in anything resembling a ticker-tape parade!”

Images: Courtesy George Taylor

If you enjoyed reading this, we suggest you also read: