The 60s band The Mustangs returns to rock the city after 40 years with a concert. Shonali Muthalaly reports
They may come from six cities, four countries and three continents. Their last gig might have been 40 years ago. Their average age might be 65. But, nevertheless, The Mustangs are back. And intend to rock this city.
The band, which sprung up in the 60s, drew followers from across the country with their feisty brand of music, incorporating surf, blues and rock. They even came out with the first Western LP in India, in association with HMV. When The Mustangs disbanded after four years, the team drifted apart. Then, an impromptu reunion followed by a jam session in Bangalore earlier this year threw up the big question. Could they recreate the magic? Well, next week, they intend to.
Over Skype, Haroon Mohamed discusses what made the band special. “Those were the days of Elvis Presley, Cliff Richards… and that's the kind of music we played. Our greatest influences were the Ventures, the Shadows.” He adds with a chuckle, “It was magic.”
Studying at the Madras Christian College (MCC), Haroon originally played bass guitar with college mates in a group called ‘The Thunderbirds'. The Mustangs crew found each other and the band was formed in 1965. “We just loved each other's music.” There was plenty of competition. “A lot of bands: IIT had The Eeatex; the Madras Medical College had The Medics, and Loyola, The Flamingos. Then there were the Anglo Indian bands, and they did some fabulous blues…”
The Mustang's first performance was at the YMCA, in a small cramped room, with an audience comprising mainly parents and their friends. “From there, word spread. People were saying, ‘These guys are good!'
They played at all the big venues of the 60s. “The Music Academy, MCC, Boat Club, and Abbotsbury (which was a dance hall)… We were popular because we had better musicians, a professional attitude, and we weren't prima donnas.”
He adds that their biggest hits were covers of popular songs. “Everything from the 60s… ‘Satisfaction' by the Rolling Stones was a big hit. So was ‘Wooly Bully' by a group called Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs. “Our only original composition was a song I composed for my girlfriend. It was called ‘Nina's Theme.'”
How successful was it? “Well, she married me,” Haroon chuckles. “And 40 years later, she's still with me. Writing a song is not a bad way to get a woman. It certainly beats expensive jewellery.”
When the band split up, Haroon says he stopped playing, as did most of the others. “I felt we were at the top of our game. To go back would be impossible.” He moved to Australia for a career in marketing and advertising, where he and Nina raised a family. “Three children and six grandchildren.”
The group, however, stayed in touch. Then the impromptu gig in Bangalore happened. “People who saw us loved us and said you've got to come back.”
Practising hasn't been easy. “We use Skype. We know our songs, know the keys,” says Haroon, adding wryly. “Though, at our age playing and getting our glasses on is a bit of a problem.”
Fortunately, enthusiasm is trumping age right now. “We're supposed to do two shows — one in Chennai and one in Bangalore. Now someone's suggested one more. So I told the band, ‘I'm sure you're going to be tired. Your back's hurting from the train journey. But they're thrilled. We're forgetting we're in our 60s. We think we're still 21!”
He concludes, “To us the big thing is coming home to Chennai where we started with the same enthusiasm we had then — without the whole rock star attitude. There's no Keith Richards here. Just The Mustangs.”
Derek Norris — saxophone and main vocals
George Cherian — guitar, violin, vocals
Christopher Ratnam (Kittu) — guitar and vocals
Anand Padmanabhan (Paddy) — percussion and drums
Haroon Mohamed — bass guitar, and "you don't want to hear me sing."
John Isaac: Vocals and guitar. Specialises in folk music: Johnny Cash, Jim Reeves
Shyam Sunder Damodar: Professional singer. Will be singing with the Mustangs.
Jan 8: Museum Theatre, Chennai (Madras).
Jan 12th: Dinner Dance in Bangalore. (Venue to be confirmed.)
Jan 15: Whitefield Club, Bangalore