It is obvious that Subhash Kamath is greatly inspired by John Lennon. It’s not only the gems that he churned out as a Beatle and thereafter but also the glasses that rested on his prominent nose that seem to have caught Kamath’s fancy. Though he wears a relatively staid pair of spectacles to work, he puts on the Lennon pair when he plays rhythm guitar.
Kamath is the CEO of BBH India, a creative agency with an enviable roster of clients. When he is not briefing his team or worried about billings, the 50-year-old is thinking about music, and once back home, quietly strums his guitar. His passion for music led him to be a part of a band called Wanted Yesterday that plays at Mumbai’s Blue Frog, a night club that plays host to live music events.
For Kamath, listening to and playing music is a serious stress buster. “It just gives me a chance to break away from what I do,” he says. Kamath’s earliest memory is of singing as a Class IV student in Kolkata; the song was My heart is beating from Julie. A couple of years later, he managed to watch ABBA: The Movie and listen to bands like Boney M. By the time Kamath was in high school, he had formed a small band that was competing in festivals. “We were playing songs by Simon & Garfunkel and The Beatles,” he says quite nostalgically. A big influence in these early years was his father, who listened to classical music of the likes of Bhimsen Joshi and Hindi songs by KL Saigal.
Being in college was tremendously liberating for the guitarist, as it was all about music, quiz, cricket and dumb charades. “College started at 6 am and we were done by 9 am. I was involved in a lot of extracurricular stuff and a little bit of studies,” laughs Kamath. His band performed at festivals at faraway destinations like IIT Madras, but all that suddenly took a backseat after he stepped into the world of advertising in 1986. “I played nothing for two decades. It was only work during that phase. The good part was that advertising still offered me a chance to be in touch with music, thanks to jingles.”
It was the Young Achievers event in 2008 hosted by the Advertising Club in Mumbai that brought him back to playing music. “It was a battle of bands between those who were under 30 and the older ones like us. We beat the youngsters hollow. My band featured two other advertising professionals, Rajeev Raja and Prabhakar Mundkur. Over 20 minutes, we played songs by Ray Charles, Bob Dylan and a Kerala boat song. And that was what led to my return to music.”
After playing for events organised by media outfits or even a reunion of ex-Mudra employees, the band got a break at Blue Frog. “It is an audience that knows its music and they come only to listen to it,” says Kamath. Wanted Yesterday, now a six-member band, does about four gigs each year at Blue Frog. Typically, it is a 90-minute performance with 15-17 cover versions of Eric Clapton, The Beatles, BB King and Jethro Tull, Rolling Stones and Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Given their frenetic work schedules, playing live calls for some serious practice, which is never easy. “The performance require at least 3-4 rehearsals and that is not possible when you are travelling,” points out Kamath. If rehearsals are a constraint, he makes the most of his evenings after work. “I am usually on the internet with my headphones. Thanks to technology, one can karaoke online today. I practice for at least 30 minutes thrice or four times a week, when I keep listening to a song constantly and eventually pick up the chords,” he adds.
He makes it a point to devote at least an hour for music during the weekends. “I have three guitars at home and they are put to very good use,” grins Kamath. All said and done, the joy of playing live in front of an audience that loves their music is the ultimate kick.
If playing music is underway, the next step is writing music. “The craving started two years ago, when I wanted to write my own songs. That should be the next step and I am working towards it,” he says.