A treasure trove of Combustibles memorabilia has been unearthed after a recent house move. “Lost” since 2009, years before the launch of the website, this collection of event programs and JS Magazines provides another fascinating look at the contemporary lifestyle in the Bombay rock ’n’ roll scene of the late 1960s–early 1970s. Intriguing in many ways, it also offers a quick insight into the intersection of music and culture (both western and Indian), sports (with a focus on cricket and soccer), and broader social issues unique to India.
A look at the numerous programs from concerts, dances and charity events at which The Combustibles performed illustrates the then-prevailing attraction of live rock music. The intersection between Bollywood and the contemporary rock scene at the time is also clear from the number of high-profile personalities who were regular guests of honor at different events (e.g. Shashi Kapoor illustrated below, but also others such as Zeenat Aman and Kabir Bedi).
Amongst the many high-profile events The Combustibles were an integral part of, and which the band remembers particularly well having performed on multiple occasions, was the always very well attended Navy Ball. A unique memory is a guest performance of the band from the US Navy destroyer, the USS HJ Ellison which was in port in Bombay on an official visit at the time of the Navy Ball on December 12th, 1970.
A regular element of the Bombay social scene during that time was the number of charity events and dances featuring orchestras led by Goody Seervai and Maurice Concessio, and rock bands including The Combustibles. The images in this post provide an interesting look at the range of events that featured western music, with sponsors such as: Young Christian Workers Sankli Street, Grant Medical College Student’s Association, Maneckji Cooper Association Trust School, British Women’s Association, Bombay Interline Club, AdLib (the Ninth Advertising Arts Ball), Maharashtra State Women’s Council and the St. Anne’s High School (Bandra).
“Beat Shows” and rock concerts were a staple of the time.
Xmas and New Year’s Eve dances were special and a big money maker too. For The Combustibles, featuring at the Bandra Gymkhana Xmas celebration was always a memorable gig, in the suburb that was the band’s home. New Year’s Eve at the Cooperage Football Ground, sponsored by the Time & Talents Club and drawing upwards of 6000 people, was probably the largest single crowd the band ever played for (December 31, 1970).
JS Magazine and The Combustibles were particular friends and the band owes a special debt of gratitude to the Stateman Group from Calcutta for their regular coverage of not only the band, but for its ability to cover a contemporary music and cultural scene while remaining grounded in what was essentially an Indian phenomenon.
The magazine’s coverage appealed to a wide range of readers. Sports was a regular topic, and the interview with then Indian Test wicketkeeper Farokh Engineer was representative of the JS approach. Of course, Farokh was a marquee advertising icon too – though probably paid far less than the major stars of today’s Indian cricket scene!
Of special interest is the interview with (and photograph of) then 33-year-old Ratan Tata, future Chairman of the Tata Group who is now 84! Ratan talks about what might appear today to be a minor topic but was then of critical importance to music lovers who were unable to obtain high quality audio equipment, i.e. his plans for the introduction of the “Novella Stereo” by the Tata company NELCO. Fortunately, this is one of the few Tata Group initiatives that are no longer remembered!
Finally, some of the advertising in JS reflects the contemporary and psychedelic imaging that is a reflection of the times. Worth noting is the reference to “Carnaby Colours” in the advert for Lakshmi Vishnu saris. It would be 45 years later that The Combustibles would be featured on the walls of the famous Indian restaurant in London, Dishoom Carnaby!