A wet ‘Thiruvonam’ evening. Footpaths crammed with families gaping at twinkling lights, perched on trees. The city gleaming like a bride. And away from all the flurry, next to the closed Indian Coffee House at Spencer Junction, clustered on the steps near the parking lot, Nandu Leo, Calvin Miranda and John Martin sat discussing music and memories.
While the sudden rain pattered on to the parked cars and the concrete walkway, they remembered the rest of their friends, Freddie Pereira, Manu Dilip, Levin Madhavan and Justin Raj, who passed away in the span of two years. And as abrupt as the spell of rain, Nandu said, “Lets do a show as a tribute to these musicians!”
Martin, one of the founding members of the band ‘Gypsies’ who was just back from Dubai for the holidays, was more than eager. So one by one, they chipped some money off their wallets onto a handkerchief, and started chalking out the programme agenda.
The memorial concert, titled ‘Gig in the sky’, will be held on September 13 at Vylloppilli Samskrithi Bhavan. It will feature three bands, Aum, IX hrs, and the Gypies, all of which trace their roots to the Coffee House at Spencer Junction.
They have all been regulars at the Coffee House since 1975. “Back then, this was a ‘naalukettu’, now all that remains of those golden days are photographs,” says Calvin as he points to the wall where weather-beaten black and white pictures of the old building are hung, besides portraits of Mahatma and Indira Gandhi.
It was in July 1996 that the old Coffee House was demolished, paving way for the four-storeyed Anna’s Arcade. Even then, all these musicians got together and conducted a show at the Hassan Marikkar Hall. They have observed the historical moments of the Coffee House with pomp and show, just as they would celebrate their birthdays or weddings or mourn during funerals.
Some of the regulars flew away but those who remained in Thiruvananthapuram made it to the Coffee House every day. “The cream is gone, only the crumbs remain,” says Lynn Christian, another Coffee House regular, as he sips his coffee. From their words and reminiscences, Freddie Pereira seemed like a local cult musician. He could lay his hands and spawn music from almost any instrument. Nandu remembers how Freddie used to always say, “Rock and roll can never die.”
Justin and Freddie died in a car accident and Manu committed suicide. As the conversation continued, it was revealed that they faced a host of dilemmas, like most creative men.
When asked whether they ever had any female members in the band, Nandu jokes, “That is why we are all still together in harmony.”
Happily single, Calvin has all four meals from the Coffee House for over two decades now. “Like the infrastructure, much has changed over the years. Earlier, they even used to hand-roast the coffee beans here,” he recollects.
The smell of roasted beans is now a memory like the frequent hour-long jamming sessions. ‘Gig in the sky’ celebrates the decades-long cafe culture, and its epic musical finale. All that evolved over a cup of coffee.