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The Indian Rock stars of the 70’s – Simla Beat Contest.

“Beat, man, beat.”


Imperial Tobacco Company (I.T.C.) hosted the annual Simla Beat Contest, named after Simla Cigarettes, from the mid-’60s to the ’72 (exact years unknown), which featured a competition between several Indian beat groups from across India. The company also released a Shimla Beat compilation album every year, which included songs from some of the 1960s’ most talented bands.

The bands

Savage was the first Indian band to release a full-length album of Western rock music.

Human Bondage is a Bangalore-based rock and roll band formed in the 1970s. They were widely regarded as India’s best and tightest rock band. It was one of the most popular bands and is also considered a forerunner of the raga rock movement. The band split up in 1976.

The Combustibles rose to prominence on the Bombay rock scene due to their participation in the famed Shimla Beat Battle of Bands competitions and a nationwide tour from 1968 to 1969. The Combustibles performed well in the Shimla Beat Contests of 1968 and 1969. However, that didn’t result in an L.P. recording as in the 1970s and 1971 competitions.

The Black Beats was one of the Shillong, India, bands that competed in the Shimla Beat Contest in 1971.

Madras-based Frustration Amalgamated was the winner of the fifth All India Simla Beat Contest, held in 1972 in the Shanmukhananda hall, Bombay. After they disbanded, I remember watching their frontman Shyam Sundar sing at a restaurant called the Bamboo Hut, off Mount Road (now called Anna Salai) in Madras (Chennai) in probably late 60’s to mid 70’s. One of the often-requested songs was “I Married a Female Wrestler,” sung initially by Earnest Ignatius, an Anglo-Indian Goan. Apparently, the song was written by George Fegrado. Click here to see the video of George’s wife’s interview.

Says Shyam Sundar, the frontman of the band, “I was the lead singer from the Frustrations Amalgamated from Madras, which won the All India Shimla Beat Contest Award in 1972 at Shanmukhananda Hall, Bombay. That year, we won the Best Group Award, the Best Singer Award, and the Best Own Composition Award! Jaya Bhaduri gave us the awards to us. On winning the Shimla Beat Contest, we did a recording at the Royal Gems studio, but nothing came out of it.
Manu (Manohar Roberts, our lead guitarist) is in Chennai and still plays a mean lead guitar and is still in music. Ramji, our drummer, was with the Abhaswaram and is in Chennai, still very much into music. Dumbu, our bass guitarist, is in the U.S.A., and we are trying to get into contact again. Lawrence, our rhythm guitarist, is in Singapore and, I believe, still in music.”

Shyam relocated to Bangalore, had a group called the West Wind, and sang with his keyboard accompaniments and MIDIs, along with a good guitarist, Dominic. He passed away in Bengaluru on November 12th, 2021. Before relocating to Bangalore, he played at the Casino Bar in Cochin while working for a fertilizer company, F.A.C.T. I remember his wife, Hema, who used to be there for every one of his performances, used to help since Shyam had some difficulty walking.

The Mustangs were a Madras (now Chennai) rock band formed in 1965 and broke up four years later. They were one of India’s most popular groups from 1965 to 1968. They began with mostly instrumental surf songs before gradually incorporating vocals. They drew fans from all over the country with their aggressive brand of music, which included surf, blues, and rock. They all performed at Madras colleges in front of mostly Madras school and college students. They even released the first Western L.P. in India in collaboration with H.M.V.

In 1968, they released two 45 R.P.M. records for H.M.V. The first album featured ‘Escape’ and ‘Theme from the movie – Gonks Go Beat,’ while the second was an extended play with ‘Love Is Blue & Lies,’ ‘Nina’s Theme,’ and ‘Summer Wine.’

Derek, George, Kittu, Paddy, and Haroon reunited for a 45-year reunion jam session in Madras (Chennai) and Bangalore in January 2010. Their average age then was around 65! Moral of the story: it’s never too late to jam!

It was Sukumar Nambiar’s idea to form the band. Madhukar was to play lead guitar and harmony vocals and had a musical ear for picking up basic chords and simple lead solos, so he was self-taught.The idea of forming a band happened while listening to records at Suku’s father’s house. Suku’s father, M.N. Nambiar, was a successful and well-known actor with the funds and could cover the expenses.

Mohan Nambiar, Sukumar’s younger brother, played the drums. They were always having difficulty finding a dedicated bass player. The band even had a guy from Singapore who was so desperate to be in the Voodoos that he lied and said he was importing the latest Vox amps and other gear, similar to what The Beatles used. Patrice Dedeyn was the bassist who stayed with them the most extended (son of the then French consular in India.) Rajan Joshua, a ‘dummy-rhythm’ guitarist, was probably the first in a band. Initially, he also sort of forced his way into the band. He’d play even if his guitar wasn’t plugged in. It happened at a Loyola College annual event when there was no outlet for his amp to plug into.

Move to Bombay – Atomic Forest
After finishing high school and college, he relocated to Bombay and began working as an Art Director for advertising firms such as Interpub and Lintas, India.
While continuing to work in advertising, Madhukar led Atomic Forest, one of India’s premier Rock and Roll bands, as their male vocalist in 1972, alongside Neel Chattodpadyaya on lead guitar, Keith Kanga on bass guitar, and Valentine Lobo on drums.
Atomic Forest appeared at The Sneha Yatra Festival, also known as ‘The Indian Woodstock’) and were regulars at prominent Mumbai clubs and discos such as Slip Disc,[8] Blow Up at The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, and Hell at Hotel Hilltop.

Says Madhukar
I joined the original Atomic Forest in 1971. I did attempt to put a few bands before that. “Burning Ice” was one of them. One gig with “Burning Ice” was hilarious, looking back. We were picked by J.S. magazine (Junior Statesman) to perform at their promotional event. Our part was to sit in the back of an open pick-up truck and sing all the way from Nariman Point to Juhu beach. There were no amps or mikes, just acoustic guitars. Man! And I sang like people were listening to me all along the busy roads of Bombay city. Eventually, we reached Juhu beach and were welcomed by the producer at a thatched-roof shack; the fireplace was dying out, and there were no throngs of fans like we were promised, for which he apologized. These initial efforts to hold bands together were unsuccessful because we had no way of sustaining ourselves. He had to get jobs to survive, which were very low-paying too.

Following his departure from Atomic Forest, he began performing solo as a spot singer at 5-star hotels in India, as well as overseas at Oberoi Lanka and then hotels in South East Asia en route to the United States. Madhukar performed in front of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in Mumbai. He also sang jingles for commercials, including one for Close-Up toothpaste, which was shown in all Indian movie theaters for eight years.

Remember this ad?

Rockers from India that became superstars
Some of the other rockers at the time became well-known and successful. Farrokh Bulsara, a Panchgani schoolboy who formed The Hectics with his classmates, was the most successful. Later, he would be known as Freddie Mercury, and his voice would be regarded as one of the greatest in rock and roll.

There was Biddu (Appaiah), a Bangalore native who founded the band Trojans and eventually made his way to London. He established himself as a notable songwriter and producer when his composition Kung Fu Fighting was performed by Jamaican singer Carl Douglas and became one of the best-selling singles of all time in 1974. Regrettably, he is better known as an Indipop producer for his song Aap Jaisa Koi Mere.

Then there was Ramesh Shotham, drummer of the 1971 band Human Bondage, who went on to learn the thavil, a Tamil Nadu temple music drum, and become a sought-after World Music percussionist.

Those were the days, my friend!

Cited Sources

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