I don’t know how many readers of this column were listening to music in the 1976-79 period. I suspect the number will be rather small. Those were the three years that roughly spanned the time when I got out of school and got into college. Many of my friends and I were already avid listeners and collectors (not the easiest of activities to pursue in an unconnected world with limited choices). Most of us couldn’t afford good equipment either.
In that analog world, our ‘music system’ would often be just a mono cassette tape-recorder or, at best, locally made stereos – brands such as Sonodyne, Cosmic, Bush and HMV come to mind. High-end amplifiers and speakers that catered to well-heeled audiophiles were far out of our reach – in any case, you couldn’t buy them easily in India.
So recently, when a friend extolled the virtues of listening to music via a vintage amplifier and nudged me in the direction of one HS Sakhale in Mumbai, I impulsively went for it. A couple of weeks later after a quick electronic transaction between Mr Sakhale and me, the Akai AM 2600 stereo amplifier (DOB roughly 1976-79) showed up at my place.
It’s a 10-kg metal and wooden box with old-school knobs, switches and double VU needle meters. But after hooking it up to my much more recent era speakers, I’ve realised that I’ve struck old gold at around 60-plus watts per channel. My speakers, till now used to a sleek black fancy amplifier, are reacting with vim, delivering sounds that I never thought they were capable of – warmer, sharper and with greater tonal range. I wondered how a 40-year-old amp could sound so much better than contemporary ones.
Also watch: Eggs Over Easy - Across From Me
Then I read a CNET article about how makers of modern amps, unless they’re of the really costly ultra top-end variety, spend much of their resources on licensing fees and royalties to third-party purveyors of proprietary services (think Dolby, HDMI, Apple, Bluetooth, and so on) than they do on the sound quality. Also, in an environment where the home theatre (an abomination if you ask me) rules, the market for good quality ‘audio only’ equipment is minuscule, exclusive and very, very expensive.
Having taken the first two paragraphs of this piece to justify my middle-aged indulgence (actually, the Akai amp wasn’t that expensive), let’s get to the music I’ve been listening to on my new acquisition. Appropriately, it has been old. Anyone remember a short-lived genre known as pub rock? It was a bridge genre that was in vogue in Britain mainly in the 1970s – a rebellion against the excesses of progressive rock and the flashiness of glam rock.
True to its name, pub rock bands spurned big venues and chose small bars and pubs and I call the genre a bridge genre because it was quickly overwhelmed by British punk rock, which as we know was an even more rebellious, fierce and in-your-face sort of music. Interesting trivia about pub rock: it may have been begun in London’s Kentish Town by a sadly overlooked folk-rock band from, wait for it, New York!
Eggs Over Easy began as a duo in California before moving to New York and from there to London where a pub let them play for a few pounds a night.That may have set off a trend although it did not do much for the fortunes of Eggs Over Easy, which ultimately disbanded. I read about the duo, Jack O’Hara and Austin De Lone, in a delightful article in New Yorker recently, which described how the two men, now in their late sixties, have reunited and may be working on a compilation album.
A search for their music yielded a double album, Good ‘n’ Cheap, which has 36 songs, most of them recorded in the early 1970s. All laid-back tunes with happy, even funny lyrics. Many originals and many covers. Delhi boozers will enjoy the country standard I’m Gonna Put a Bar in My Car (And drive myself to drink); everyone will enjoy Horny Old Lady (especially the bit about the alien encounter); and those who’ve grown up listening to The Band, Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm, will marvel at the solidly-inspired Henry Morgan. Pub rock enjoyed a fleeting moment before punk arrived but Eggs Over Easy sadly had no brush with fame. Decades later, now there’s a chance more people will get to hear what the pioneers of a forgotten genre sounded like.
Tailpiece: I don’t know how to describe the music that Jeff the Brotherhood, a band comprising two brothers (none of them is named Jeff; they’re Jake and Jamin Orral) originally from Nashville, Tennessee, play. I heard one of their albums from 2015, Global Chakra Rhythms, and it sounded like the title: pure psychedelia. Their song titles don’t leave room for ambiguity. What do you expect Radiating fiber plane to sound like? Or, Deep Space Bound on the Edge of Reality? Stoner music, right? Right. Even the tame sounding Food and Wine Festival turned out to be an excursion into stoner haven.
Then, just to be sure, I sampled another of their 2015 albums, Wasted on the Dreams. It was a different sound altogether: delicious garage rock! Wait, there’s more. On Black Cherry Pie off the same album, a familiar sounding flutist appears and does a solo. Once. And then again. Guess who that is? Ian Anderson. Of Jethro Tull fame. I’m still scratching my head.
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From HT Brunch, August 14, 2016
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