Track By Track: The Bombay Royale
A story of espionage, excitement, extended dance sequences and the eternal power of true love – The Bombay Royale’s musical director and saxophonist ANDY WILLIAMSON (aka “The Skipper”) leads us through the band’s debut album ‘You Me Bullets Love’. The Melbourne outfit was originally conceived to revive obscure songs from Bollywood's golden era, but have since expanded their repertoire to include originals informed by surf-rock, spaghetti westerns, Ethio-jazz and disco.
‘Monkey Fight Snake’
This is the instrumental curtain raiser to our album. Imagine an epic title sequence with horse riding dacoits (bandits) thundering across a barren landscape and you’ll be getting close. One of the things we like about cinematic music is its narrative quality and the way that sections may dramatically change in feel or dynamics to suit the visual content. The middle of this tune moves through a dreamlike female vocal melody, then a Sergio Leone-style trumpet solo and then finally back to the original fanfare. It’s not meant to be subtle - it’s intended to give the listener a musical heads-up of what’s to follow.
‘You Me Bullets Love’
The title track of the album, originally a guitar melody composed by The Railways Mogul (Tom Martin) with vocal melody/lyrics added subsequently by The Tiger (Shourov Bhattacharya). The 1960s Bollywood sound was influenced heavily by surf guitar sounds, early Beatles and the soundtracks of both spaghetti westerns and James Bond films. Composers such as RD Burman and Anandji and Kalyanji drew on these influences and blended them with their own Indian musical heritage. The sound was brash, heavily western and quite controversial in India at the time.
‘You Me Bullets Love’ is one of three to four tracks on the album that both reference and pay homage to these sounds of the ’60’s. These tunes were almost always choreographed dance numbers, often involving scores of dancers in an exuberant “cabaret scene”. Musically this meant that they are often long compositions with extended instrumental sections and stops/starts which are synchronised with the dance moves. These features make them both musically interesting and heaps of fun.
The lyrics tell a tale of two star-crossed secret agents who have been sent on an undercover mission together. Will they stick to their brief and infiltrate the gang of international smugglers, or will their illicit love affair derail the mission? The Mysterious Lady seems ready to give in to temptation, but the Tiger tries, perhaps in vain, to do his duty and stay true to the cause.
‘Jaan Pehechan Ho’
The second cover on the album and thanks to the 2003 film Ghost World (and also the more recent Heineken advertisement which was released after we’d recorded it), this is one of the better known vintage Bollywood tunes in the West. We wanted to include one or two of the old tracks on the album to provide a musical reference point for the listener. This Shankar Jaikishan composition was one of the original inspirations for the band and the quintessence of the Bollywood sound we love.
‘Sote Sote Adhi Raat’
One of two covers on the album, this one by Sapan Jagmohan. As the 1970s progressed the Western influence on Bollywood shifted away from surf-rock and increasingly towards funk and disco beats. While this particular song is essentially a disco crowd pleaser, there is a depth to both the melody line and groove that give it real emotional power.
The track originally came from a 1983 Bollywood horror film Siskiyan and was sung by actress Salma Agha. Our version was recorded earlier than the rest of the album and was the A-side of a 45 single we pressed in 2011. The recording process for that single really helped us lay the foundations for the sound production of the album that followed. This essentially involved us recording the band live, using minimal overdubbing and bouncing many of the tracks through an old tape machine to give it a gritty analogue sound. We were also lucky to have access to some vintage Moog and Arp synthesisers that really gave a psychedelic edge to the sound.
‘The Perfect Plan’
Our only song in English with a melody composed by our very own Mysterious Lady, Parvyn Singh. The song was originally written with the idea of adapting an Indian melodic approach to fit an English lyric. A backbeat driven funk number we were really happy with how this one came up in the studio.
Written by our bass-wielding Boatswain, Mr Robert Douglas Sola (aka Bob Knob). The tune is one of five duets on the album and features our Jewel Thief (Josh Bennett) on the sitar. The vocal parts juxtapose The Mysterious Lady’s angelic soprano with a decidedly earthy counter melody from the Tiger, and the Bengali lyrics are wrapped in a rich layer of poetic imagery. Innocence versus Experience? Purity versus Temptation? Piety versus Corruption? You bet! Timeless themes that find expression in Shakespeare, opera and Bollywood.
‘Mahindra Death Ride’
This one was intended to take the listener on a “surf-a-delic” rollercoaster ride – from the edgy guitar riff and elephantine trumpet lines of the intro through to the triumphal march in the middle. (Visualise cheerleaders being shot from cannons and you’ll be on the right track.) The variation in feels and multiple instrumental themes makes it stylistically one of the closest to the original tunes of the 1960s, along with the teen pop lyrics and melody line.
Another love song - part Bollywood and part Ray Charles. The song was originally written by the Skipper and the Tiger but it was the Bandit Priest (Matty Vehl) who suggested the underlying time feel, inspired by the Ray Charles classic ‘I Say Yeah’. Despite this influence it’s a track that frequently gets mistaken for a 1960s cover when we perform it live, probably because of its romantic melody line, tempo changes and multiple instrumental themes.
Back in the 1970s no good Bollywood action tale was complete without its contingent of dacoits. They rob, steal and ride atop steam engines wielding old carbine rifles. Sometimes they are bad but more often than not there is also one with a heart of gold. They are society’s outcasts but they also represent freedom and endless possibility. This track tells a tale of forbidden love between a dacoit and a society girl. She knows that they can never be together, but she can’t help but be enthralled by his dark, rugged charisma. He sweet talks her into leaving the latch open on the window of her parent’s mansion … and although the other dacoits might steal away gold and silver, for him there is the greater prize of her love.
Musically speaking this track employs a heavy backbeat, stylistically tipping its hat to funk masters Anandji and Kalyanji, Bhangra and New York’s Budos Band.
‘Phone Baje Na’
Of all the tracks on the album this is probably the one that takes us stylistically furthest away from the musical beginnings of the band. Inspired as much by Persian pop and Ethio-funk as Bollywood it also heads in a musical direction we are keen to keep pursuing into the future. Its hypnotic tempo and spacious landscape make it a nice contrast to the fast adrenalin-fuelled surf tunes and we always love playing it live. While it is difficult to cite a similar Bollywood tune, the vocal melody and sargam section make it unmistakably Indian. Lyrics and melody were crafted by the Tiger (Shourov Bhattacharya) in Bengali. This song is about being in love despite yourself – when your head tells you one thing, but your body and soul another. The lovers wait by the phone, each waiting for the other to call, each wrestling with his or her emotions, yet both too proud to make the first move.