On the eve of the Reunion Bands’ concert, T5E correspondent Ananth had the opportunity to interview a few members of the original Beat-X band and the IIT Madras Reunion Band, some of whom went on to form the band ACID. They came back to entertain students and alumni alike at the recently held Mardi Gras evening in OAT.
In conversation: Allan Sathyadev (BT/AE/1973), who is now in California and Ranjan Kelly (BT/CE/1969), who is now in Canada.
First off, coming back to one’s alma mater surely brings back memories. What started off the idea for this reunion concert?
Allan: The whole idea began two years ago, when the Madras Music Association invited us for a concert on ’60s and ’70s music in the Museum Theatre in Chennai. We sang there as the “IIT Madras Reunion Band”. It turned out that the concert was sold-out — it was a huge success and we received good reviews. Based on the positive feedback we received, I thought — why don’t we do a concert in OAT?
So, you’ve been working on this for two years now?
Allan: Yes, two years. Nearly half a year after the MMA concert, George, one of the members of the IITM Alumni Association, encouraged me to go forward with the idea. Last year, I happened to be on a visit to Chennai. So I called George again, and asked if we could meet with some of the IIT students. He made it possible, and arranged for a meeting at the Alumni Association office with Suresh Mangala Durai, the general manager, and some students, including the incoming and outgoing secretaries. I made a pitch for the idea, and they said, “Let’s go for it!” After that, I also thought of getting other bands that had come up around the same time, and along with Ranjan, got Beat-X onboard.
How did Beat-X get started?
Ranjan: It all started with three guitar players — Alfred D’Souza, Ebby Sargunar (BT/EE/1969) and Mohit Goyal (BT/MT/1968) fooling around with their electric guitars in hostel. When the warden heard them, he suggested that they play at the hostel night, and they did just that, picking up, in the process, a guy who played the drums — Jimmy Jayaraman (BT/EE/1968). The group initially played rock songs along the likes of The Shadows and The Beatles amongst others. The next year, Ashley joined them on the tenor sax, and the band started playing more jazz. Beat-X was essentially an instrumental band and played jazz classics — Take Five, Desafinado — unlike the other bands in the city, which were more into rock. And that was how Beat-X began.
Then how did ACID come into the picture? Was there a gap in between ACID and Beat-X?
Ranjan: Well, Alfred, who kind of led the group, followed his father’s transfer to Chicago after his third year, and once he left, two of the guys were in their final years and had to focus on their studies. That was a year where there was a gap. I got together with Murlidharan (Murali) during that time and both of us sang as a duet. Then in the following year, Murali’s brother Kasturirangan (Kash) joined IIT and subsequently, they formed a duet.
I had remained close to the Beat-X members, especially Alfred. As he was leaving he said, “Keep the band together”, but it took close to a year to get everyone in. First I got together with another fresher Rashad Muhammed — a drummer, and then got the remaining Beat-X members (Ashley and Ebby) and we became ACID. Allan also joined us at this point. We played some of the Beat-X classics but were also a vocal band and sang Folk Rock by artists like Bob Dylan and Simon/Garfunkel. We did really well too, and after Ebby, Ashley and I graduated, Allan joined up with Murali and Kash, and they continued as a vocal trio — eventually teaming up with Vaidy and Edwin as the IIT Reunion Band.
What was the idea behind the names of the bands, Beat-X and ACID?
Ranjan: Well, it was kind of a pun on the words B. Tech and Beatles — that’s how Beat-X came in. ACID, well, Rashad and I were very much into the hippie culture happening in California. So we just thought, “Let’s call ourselves ACID; give us a bit of an edge”.
Where would you find such instruments in Chennai? Where they common among students?
Allan: Let me take this? Well, it was very difficult — it wasn’t very often that you came by acoustic guitars, and electric guitars were unheard of. Only one shop used to sell them — Violin Krafts, located somewhere in Purasalvakam. I bought my first guitar there. But to be honest, I made my first electric guitar by hand in insti, in the workshop, from scratch. What happened was that I took a piece of wood, cut it out and went to the workshop superintendent and told him, “I want to make a guitar”, and he seemed thrilled with the idea. He first asked me to go and make a drawing!
So I went back to my room, made a 3-D drawing and took it back to him. He was very impressed, and gave me full access to the workshop. All the guys there helped me in crafting it. I did it, but they were the ones who helped me with using the machines, cutting it and sanding it. For the fret board, I took it to Violin Krafts, and as for the paint, I took it to a furniture shop. I also got the strings done, and got an electric pickup from a few friends in Germany. We fixed it up — Rashad did the wiring completely by himself! Thanks to IIT, we all made our own instruments when we had to. Ebby also made several guitars for various classmates, including a beautiful bass guitar modelled on his Hoffner.
Where did you learn to play these instruments? Was there a school in Chennai which made this possible?
Allan: I learned to play at home. My mother had a Hawaiian guitar at home, which is not your regular guitar. I must have been around twelve or thirteen years old when I converted it. I changed the grid, lowered the strings and started fooling around with it. We were completely self-taught; teachers were hard to come by and expensive in those days. It just wasn’t possible — they only taught you classical music and none of the popular stuff. It was all self-taught and when I came to IIT, of course, it blossomed.
How did you get to know about bands like The Beatles, and The Shadows and their songs in the 60’s?
Ranjan: To give you some perspective, there was no television back then. But even when I was in school, all these radio channels like Australia One played songs by The Beatles and other bands. Voice of America would play jazz nightly. When our aunts and uncles went abroad, we would ask them to bring back these albums. They would come, and we would all listen to them. They would be passed from room to room, we would tape a song, and try and learn from it. It was like gold in those times.
Allan: We used to listen to the music and figure out how to play. Just with Start, Stop and Rewind — no books or YouTube. We just learned them ourselves, from the harmony to the various parts.
Ranjan: I learnt a lot of harmony from Alfred, because he was in a choir at the church, and went on to teach us all when we formed the band.
Did you ever get a chance to perform outside the institute?
Allan: Yes, we did. We played at Max-Mueller Bhavan regularly — the German cultural academy back then. In those days, there were a lot of German professors in IITM, so we had the chance to play at a lot of German parties organised by them. We also used to play at inter-collegiate events and in inter-university competitions.
Did you have any rivals?
Allan: The thing is, we were so different that no one could emulate what we did, as they were more instrumental. A lot of other college bands used to focus on pop music back then, and were more like rock bands. The Reunion band is more vocal, but the music hasn’t changed. Some of the songs we are doing tonight are the same ones we played back in 1971 and 1972, just with a tighter harmony.
After passing out, did you continue in the music scene? Any famous bands you became a part of?
Allan: A lot of us kept up the music. I sang for a couple of vocal bands when I went for graduation to San Diego. Murali has now joined a school to “re-learn” music, and is working with kids your age. We all kept up with music some way or the other, and of course stayed in touch with each other, and here we are.
Ranjan: After playing solo for a few years post-IIT, I became the resident DJ at a number of high profile dance clubs in Canada during the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Allan (to Ranjan): I like the setting of the grand piano by the sunset, it looks beautiful. It’s going to be a wonderful night man …