It’s been over fifty years now – his fingers have plucked the bass guitar, while his deep sonorous voice has kept pace with lead singers. Noel Martin is seventy today and Park Street recognises him as the most senior performing pop musician, who is hardly ever absent from his perch between 9 pm and 11.30 pm at Trincas.
Hence, after completing fifty-six years of existence last June; the Trincas management decided to felicitate Noel. This is perhaps the first time that a musician was publicly feted for seniority. Naturally, hardcore Trincas fans and fellow musicians were thrilled. They were not just happy for Noel; but also for the fact that the felicitation also acknowledged the passion, the professionalism and the hard work put in by all his fellow musicians, that have made Trincas what it is today.
Noel Martin with his bass guitar (topyaps.com)
Park Street and Trincas
After the tea room of Mr Trinca got converted into a licensed nightclub in 1959, run jointly by Om Prakash Puri and Ellis Joshua, Trincas simply set Park Street on fire with sensations like Eve, Molly, Jenny, Linda, Brenda, Usha Uthup, Vivian Hanson, Benny Rozario and Flora. Noel came to Trincas in the sixties and played with almost all of them. Trincas till today remains a unique place where English pop music still rules the roost at dinner hours. It’s almost like taking a quick step into time and experiencing the swinging sixties first hand.
Trincas during the sixties (left) and today (thetelegrapgindia.com)
Noel jumped into music very early. He was inspired by none other than the world-acclaimed musician and composer, Arthur Gracias. He started out playing bass guitar at the Great Eastern Hotel. Two years later, Park Street beckoned. The Flintstones rolled into Trincas, and Noel rolled in with them along with his booming bass guitar and baritone voice that would set the house on fire for years to come.
Noel and the other musicians who play at Trincas have one very unique aspect to their credit. They are versatile. Catering to a range of audiences with multiple tastes in music, they play a lot of varied genres of music. Hence, they have had to dig deep into the roots of many different styles and techniques in order to churn out quality music. This is why the likes of Noel Martin are so revered and respected.
The Flintstones (Rhett Ma/Facebook)
He bears living testimony to the breed of musicians the city has produced over the sixties, seventies and eighties. Kolkata has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to its milieu’s thirst for live music. The audiences in the city have always been more sophisticated listeners. Their appreciation for a live band goes far beyond foot-thumping and head-banging. They also appreciate finer aspects like the delayed timing of swing rhythm or the variance in the guitar tones that are patched for different songs.
Sheer hard work and grit is what it took for Noel to evolve into the advanced bass player that he is today. Most musicians prefer to master a style or genre and play within a fixed field. Noel, however, after his long and tenacious career is well-equipped to play popish Celine Dion tunes as well as raunchy CCR ones and everything in between. If one walks into Trincas for dinner or drinks and requests a song, chances are that Noel will dish it out.
One among veterans
During his days with the Flintstones, he jammed alongside Eddy Rynjah and Rhett May. Since then, bands have come and bands have gone. Noel, too, has punctuated his stints with stops at Blue Fox, where he played with Carlton Kitto, and Mocambo, where he was a part of the electrifying psychedelics. However, Trincas and its trademark ambience, that the likes of Usha Uthup and Nondon Bagchi swear by, has remained Noel's most comforting shelter forever.
Carlton Kitto (lifeismusic.in)
Noel regularly accompanied Usha Uthup, who remembers him as a person who had a natural rhythm in his body and a way with his guitar that made a singer want to sing. She recalls how she was a new singer in a saree, completely foreign to the Trincas locale, and how Noel simply put her at ease. Nondon Bagchi also has only praises for Noel. He said that music was worship for Noel and it still is.
Usha Uthup and Noel Martin (GottaDoIndia/YouTube)
Noel plays with such harmony behind the lead singer, something that can be counted as a rare gift, according to Nondon. Being a veteran drummer himself, Nondon has jammed with Noel often. Together the two of them have put together rollicking rhythm sections for a number of musicians in the past. He is happy that Noel will finally be recognised for the relentless work that he has put in.
Nondon Bagchi (harmonyindia.org)
Kolkata is gradually losing its original brand of musicians who played English pop music, and the likes of Noel are becoming rare. People like him were pioneers of a trend which shaped a major aspect of modern Kolkatan culture for more than five decades. Not only do they deserve to be recognised but the younger generations deserve to know their stories too. Aspiring musicians should be able to draw inspiration and learning from them so that they can preserve this characteristic trend that is unique to Kolkata.
Seventy and still singing
Noel is currently part of a band called Sweet Agitation which perfoms at Trincas. He plays bass along with Cornel Bloud (Vocals), Candice Gray (Vocals) Gavin Keys (guitars), Dibayan Banerjee (keyboard) and Nigel Gomez (drums).
Today, perhaps the best-loved of all the songs that Noel sings is his own rendition of 'Black Magic Woman', the Fleetwood Mac tune popularised into a timeless classic by Carlos Santana. Sitting in his modest drawing room deep inside Wellesley 2nd Bye Lane, Noel sings away, while twanging away his bass, by way of practice. When asked about his work and his felicitation, this is what Noel had to say:
"I am lucky to have played and jammed with several generations of music-makers on Park Street. The scintillating sixties are no more, when so many corporate head offices were here and the place buzzed with young upwardly mobile professionals who looked only for Western pop. So we re-created Frank Sinatra, Cliff Richards, Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, Neil Diamond, Harry Belafonte and Bruce Springsteen. The patrons reciprocated with equal verve. Today, tastes have changed and so Hindi and Bengali music are played in the evening tea-time hours. It is only after 9 pm that we come in to play for the dinner clientele that still comes here for Western pop alone."
The management that run Trincas today feels it is because of musicians like Noel that Trincas still remains a class apart. They believe that as Trincas moves from strength to strength, it is a duty on their part to give the glorious music-makers of Trincas the credit they deserve. Noel, being the most senior, naturally came first on the list.
Trincas on Park Street, Kolkata (Flickr)
Written by Daniel Johns for Team M3.tv
Lead image: Sweet Agitation performing (GottaDoIndia/YouTube)