Saturday, January 29, 2011

SHIMLA BEAT 70/71

Simla Beat 70/71 is a collection of tracks from the All-India Simla Beat Contest, which was organized in the late-1960s by the India Tobacco Company. In an attempt to reach the youth market, the India Tobacco company billed itself as "the oldest cigarette company with a young heart" and tried to attach its brand name to rock music.
The contest was first held in 1968 and became an annual event thereafter. As the contest grew, a subsidiary of EMI released the LP Simla Beat 70, which collected the winning tracks from the 1970 contest, and followed the next year with Simla Beat 71. A label ill-advisedly named Ten Little Indians reissued Simla Beat 70/71 as a double-LP in 1997, and Normal Records released this as a double-CD in 1999.
Normal Records did a nice job of packaging the CD re-issue of Simla Beat 70/71, but for some reason they chose not to add any information about the significance of the All-India Simla Beat Contest. This is more than a little disappointing, as the original liner notes are not very informative, being more or less a commercial for the company that staged the event.
From the information available, however, it's clear that this was a major event in Indian rock & roll. All in all, 13 bands representing nine Indian cities are featured on these discs, and the music on Simla Beat 70/71 is surprisingly Western sounding. Anyone expecting sitars and tabla drums is in for a shock, as most of the tracks feature a guitar-bass-drums-vocals lineup, and a number of the tracks are covers of American songs.
Simla Beat 70 contains two Creedence Clearwater Revival covers ("Sinister Purpose" by the Dinosaurs, who were from Bangalore, and "Born on the Bayou" by the X'Lents, who were from Ahmedabad—presumably they weren't singing about the bayou in Ahmedabad!). Simla Beat 71 included a couple of blues covers, Skip James's "I'm So Glad" is covered by the Velvette Fogg and Howlin' Wolf's "Killing Floor", performed by the Hipnotic Eye. More than likely the Indian bands who recorded these songs had only heard the versions recorded by popular rock artists.
Cream included "I'm So Glad" on the 1966 album Fresh and "Killing Floor" was the debut single of the Electric Flag in 1968, not to mention that Jimi Hendrix had performed this song at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Other songs on Simla Beat 70/71 make specific reference to psychedelia (the X'Lents recorded a track called "Psychedelia" and the Brood of Vipers perform "Psychedelic Web"). Psychedelic titles and band names aside, these tracks by and large are straightforward garage rock. This is not a criticism, as the tracks here are inspired recordings with a refreshing guitar-bass-drums-vocals simplicity.
Having said that, easily the best track in this collection is the most "eastern" sounding one, "Simla Beat Theme" by the Fentones. "Simla Beat Theme" is a hipnotic instrumental track that increases in tempo and in intensity over four transcendent minutes. It's ironic that the Fentones achieved that "eastern" sound with a guitar-bass-drums arrangement that so many British and American bands were trying to achieve by adding a sitar to their sound.
All in all, Simla Beat 70/71 is a good collection. The main criticism of the music here is that the Indian bands were perhaps trying to sound too American, but Simla Beat 70/71 is a fascinating release that is definitely worth searching for.     
Tracklist:
01 - Confusion - Voice from the inner soul.mp3
02 - Dinosaurs - You can't beat it.mp3
03 - X'lents - Psychedelia.mp3
04 - Genuine spares - Proper stranger.mp3
05 - Dinosaurs - Sinister purpose.mp3
06 - Great bear - Mist.mp3
07 - X'lents - Born on the bayou.mp3
08 - Innerlight - Baby baby please.mp3
09 - The fentones - Simla beat theme.mp3
10 - Nomads - Nothing is the same.mp3
11 - Hypnotic eye - killing floor.mp3
12 - Velvette fog - I'm so glad.mp3
13 - Black beats - The mod trade.mp3
14 - Brood of vipers - Psychedelic web.mp3
15 - Hypnotic eye - Aimless lady.mp3
16 - Pat farrell - Brand new baby.mp3
17 - The conductors - She said so.mp3
18 - Soul Generation - I can't see you.mp3
19 - The couriers - Feelings.mp3
20 - Changing tymes - You make it hard.mp3

2 comments:

  1. I had a two cd compilation of the 70 and 71 contests put out by a European company. They had no sleevenotes and the cds had not been remastered. I felt the compilation had been purely served. Perhaps helped further the stereotype that Indian bands were half assed.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I had a two cd compilation of the 70 and 71 contests put out by a European company. They had no sleevenotes and the cds had not been remastered. I felt the compilation had been purely served. Perhaps helped further the stereotype that Indian bands were half assed.

    ReplyDelete