Bollywood re-imagined

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They love the movie songs of the 70s, but they also know how to make them shine in a whole new light. Alys Francis meets Bombay Royale

A little vintage Bollywood, a little surfer rock, 11-piece band Bombay Royal is like nothing you’ve heard before.

Their unique sound, born in the multicultural melting pot of Melbourne when the group got together in 2010, has propelled them into the spotlight relatively quickly.

They only released their debut album in 2012, but it shot to the top of the iTunes World Music Chart and they were soon being booked to play big festivals in Australia and New Zealand.

This July, they ticked off another box on the fast-track to stardom when they performed at the festival of all festivals: Glastonbury, in England.

We caught up with Shourov Bhattacharya, one of the band’s lead singers alongside Parvyn Kaur Singh, to find out how the band came to be and where it may be heading next.

How did the band get together?

It was mainly through the efforts of The Skipper (Andy Williamson). He had the idea of reviving the sounds of vintage Bollywood with a live band about three years ago, and he arranged a bunch of the old tunes and set about finding the right people to bring it to life.

How did your musical style develop?

Initially, we played covers of old classics from the 60s and 70s era of Bollywood. The style is a mash-up of Indian folk and classical, Western styles such as surf rock and cinematic music. We admire some of the great composers of that era such as RD Burman, Kalyandji-Anandji, Shanker Jaikishan etc. Of course we also have a lot of influence from other genres such as Afrobeat, jazz, blues etc.

How would you describe your music?

It’s music inspired by the sounds of vintage Bollywood, but very much updated with our own 21st century sound. Like nothing you’ve ever heard before!

What has the band’s career been like so far?

It’s been a wonderful ride so far. We’ve played a lot of festivals in Australia and New Zealand, but this is our first big tour overseas. There’s definitely been a learning curve for us as we worked out our own style and performance. A project like this is always going to be experimental and there have been hits and misses, both musically and performance-wise. But the trajectory has definitely been up and we’re thrilled to see people responding to our music.

What have been the highlights of your career?

Playing on the bill with big names such as Sean Kuti, Antibalas etc. Playing big festivals such as WOMAD and Glastonbury. Releasing our debut record You Me Bullets Love in 2012 and having it go to #1 in iTunes World Music.

What are the challenges you’ve faced?

Breaking through the language barrier (we sing mainly in Hindi, Bengali). Finding our own style and learning to communicate our story to the audience through our performance.

What was it like to play at Glastonbury?

It was fantastic. A real buzz. The crowd bought into it and loved it. Initially there is often the shock of the unfamiliar, but the crowd were really open and into it.

What were the most memorable things that happened during the festival?

It was a bit of a blur, to be honest. We did three performances in about 24 hours. Our backstage performance was definitely a fun highlight, getting to play to other artists and industry people.

You played live on the BBC, what was that like?

It was a crazy good time. We drove overnight from Belgium to get to the studio at 5am on a Sunday morning, shot the take and drove straight back to Europe. Lots of coffee drunk along the way. Definitely worth it though, it was a real fun gig.

How do people who are not familiar with Bollywood films and music react to your sound?

They react in different ways I guess. Not everyone is ready to buy into what we are doing, but there are many people who respond to the sound even though they may not understand the lyrics or the background to the music. It’s always a thrill to introduce new audiences to our sound.

Not all your members have Indian heritage, were you all fans of vintage Bollywood?

Not all of us, but The Skipper was obviously already a big fan. All the musicians love to groove though and we all have open minds. It didn’t take long for all of us to really fall in love with the music of that era.

Do you think Melbourne has had much influence on your style?

Definitely. We’re a product of Melbourne, no doubt about it. The scene in Melbourne is so eclectic and creative. I don’t think we could have formed our band anywhere else. And the audiences in Melbourne have accepted us and taken us into their hearts which is a real testament to their taste 🙂

Do you have any Bollywood stars who are fans?

We haven’t had a lot of contact with contemporary Bollywood, but there have been a couple of stars who have visited Melbourne and checked us out.

How have you been received in India?

Funnily enough India has not been a priority for us … even our album was only made available there very recently on iTunes. We’d love to take our project over there one day. We have plenty of fans who are of Indian heritage, but we do occasionally get Indian people berating us for not playing more covers (guess they think that we are a tribute band?). Like anywhere else, I think we’re finding a niche over in India now, people who like our re-imagining of the classic Bollywood sound.

The Bombay Royale are:

Parvyn Kaur Singh “The Mysterious Lady” (vocals)
Shourov Bhattacharya “The Tiger” (vocals)
Andy Williamson “The Skipper” (saxophone)
Bob Knob “The Boatswain” (bassist)
Tom Martin “The Railways Mogul” (guitar)
Matt Vehl “The Bandit Priest” (synths)
Julian Goyma “The Leaping Shaman” (drums)
Josh Bennett “The Jewel Thief” (sitar, tabla, dilruba and guitar)
Ed Fairlie “Chip Chase” (trumpet)
Declan Jones “Dr Electrico” (trumpet)
Ros Jones “The Kung-Fu Dentist” (trombone)

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