Kerala's popular musician Roy George was behind the keyboard when S P Balasubrahmanyam enthralled audiences in umpteen concerts in India and abroad, starting from 2000.
This memoir sheds light on SPB's uncanny knack to energise musicians, his down-to-earth approach and his empathy towards fellow beings.
'Music relieves tension, then why are you worried?'
I first shared the stage with SPB in 2000 at a concert in Chennai. That time, I was a member of the Thej Band based in Kozhikode (The band was led by famous guitarist and music composer Tej Mervin). The opportunity gave me both excitement and a lot of tension. Excited because it was a rare opportunity to play keyboard for a legend in Indian music. Tensed because of the thought that whether I could do it. As I could not bear the tension, I went straight to SPB and opened up my mind during the rehearsal. "Sir, I am very much tense because I am going to play you for the first time."
His innocent smile and reply soothed my nerves and boosted my confidence. "People listen to music to overcome tension. Music relieves tension. Then why are you worried? Relax, you could do it."
The show went off really well. And I did not make even a single mistake, all thanks to SPB sir. It was the beginning of a long association.
Thorough knowledge about each song
What surprised me was SPB sir’s thorough understanding of the minute details of each song, including notes and BGM. I never saw him making a mistake on stage.
If the musicians missed some notes in between, he would ask politely after rehearsing the song: "Did we miss that particular note?" Upon re-check, we would realise that we had actually missed it. Those were huge learning experiences for me.
A source of huge inspiration
SPB has a special affection for musicians. When he was there, we all felt like members of his extended family. He is the best motivator I have ever come across with in my life.
And he never hesitated to applaud talented musicians. If he noticed that an artiste had played a difficult note with ease, he would pause his song and ask the musician to play it again. Later, he would tell the audience how difficult it was to play that piece of music on the flow and how they recorded it. He would then request them to give the musician a big round of applause. Those were huge morale boosters for the musicians.
Apart from this, he would spend much of his time with musicians during foreign trips. The sweet memories of our London trip are still fresh in my mind. He was with us all the time and he cracked many jokes while the rest of the playback singers spent their time privately.
A sympathetic human being
SPB had an uncanny knack in understanding people's emotions. And I was witness to an incident in Kuwait early 2000. SPB was in the hotel lobby, obliging requests for photographs and autographs from the fans. Away from the crowd, in a corner, there stood a hotel cleaning staff. He was watching SPB closely. He hailed from Tamil Nadu and his body language indicated that he wanted to take a photograph with SPB, but was afraid to approach him. After the fans dispersed, SPB went straight to the person, held him tightly and posed for a photo with him. SPB was a kind soul and he never wanted people to feel sad. May his soul rest in peace.