Skinny Alley Wears Many Hats

“I got into the hotel business quite by default,” said Gyan Singh, owner of the Broadway Hotel in Kolkata, and the bass player of Kolkata-based band Skinny Alley, and its offshoot PINKNOISE.

“This hotel was started by my father in 1937, and eventually I joined the business along with my brother and my brother-in-law (who came in later).” In fact, he candidly admitted to not putting enough of an effort into the hotel over the years. “I was able to devote a lot of time to my music.” The USP of this hotel lies in its old-world charm, and its colonial vibe. He said, “People treat the hotel like a home with generations of them coming down and staying here,” pointing out that the “hotel has no affiliations to the other Broadway hotels in the country.”

Singh’s musical journey began as a child. He said, “There are different stages to a musical journey. I listened to a lot of music as a kid, and played in school and college bands. It was not serious, but more fun,” adding that, “you hit different plateaus as you develop into a musician.” His first plateau started in the 70s, when he formed the band with his wife, Jayashree (at the time, not his wife) and played in Kolkata and the Tea Garden Club Meets in the North East. Speaking about his second plateau in the early 90s, he said, “We (Jayshree, Amyt Datta and I) wrote our own music in 1992, and it was a conscious shift from doing covers earlier. Our first batch of songs had no particular direction; it was quite scattered and it had many influences.” 1996 saw the release of their first album, and post that they added musicians to their band to perform live. “Along the way,” he said, “our son, Jivraj was born, but he wasn’t interested in performing. It’s only in the last four years that he started playing the drums. With his kind of musical influences, he thinks of music as a design, like that of a soundscape.” His jamming sessions with Datta led to the birth of a new experimental sound, and a new group – PINKNOISE.

The name for their band Skinny Alley has no major story behind it. “It’s translated from Hindi called ‘Patli Galli’, and it sounded good to us, hence the name. Our songs reflect snapshots of everyday life and ordinary things. There is nothing metaphysical about it.” Talking about the changes in the music landscape, Singh believes that there’s a lot more original material out there, with younger kids writing their own music. People work much harder at their craft, while the listeners too have changed. He said, “They are more open to new sounds. In the past, they would only want to listen to something familiar.” On a personal note, he added that he started off as a guitarist, and then moved to being a bassist. “I started late in life, so I had to work that much harder, and that was a challenge.”

What does music mean to Singh, and he replied, “It means everything. Some people are driven by it. They eat, breathe and sleep music like Amyt Datta, and hence he is a great musician. For me, it has been a driving passion to the extent that my daytime work has taken a backseat. Someone once said, ‘You need to find a drudgery and a passion’, and I seemed to have found a balance,” adding that the “band meets everyday in the evenings at home between 6pm-9pm to jam. When I get the time to practice solo, I put in about 45 minutes to an hour.”

The differences between the first two albums lie in the kind of music that was there. “Our first album was more pop-rock oriented, and after the release of that, we lost interest in it. Our second album was more progressive, after which PINKNOISE started.” From covers and originals to Top 40s (music from different eras) Skinny Alley has performed at gigs to corporate dos. Singh matter-of-factly-states that Skinny Alley is the band that pays the bills “because people pay for less interesting things” he rues.

On defining the genre of PINKNOISE, he said, “It is difficult to peg it into a specific genre. It has elements of electronica, jazz, afro beat and punk. In fact, the term ‘genre’ has been made up by suits in the company to fit in.” An album tentatively titled ‘Dance of the Diaspora’ is in the works. It is aimed at Indians living abroad and the issues the face – be it cultural or social. “Each song in the set has a Tamil children’s rhyme. The song has a meaning within the context of the rhyme.”

Speaking of his musical influences, Singh said, “At the moment, an all-time band that I never tire of listening is Steely Dan. Other musicians include Miles Davis, Weather Report, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joni Mitchell and Radiohead to name a few.” On the Indian front, he enjoys Thermal and a Quarter, Teddy Boy Kill, Soulmate and Waterfront (now defunct band). “To my mind, Waterfront was one the path breaking brands as far as rock was concerned. They played their own music till the late 70s.”

Singh unwinds by keeping fit. He said, “I like to keep fit, so I run and do yoga. Occasionally, I watch a couple of films.”

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