Tjinder Singh stares into the middle-distance. All he sees are fans of his band. Jammed into the low confines of a one-time jazz venue, they can't see him. When this gig was booked, it must have seemed an expansive space for . That was before "Brimful of Asha" became the most exhilarating Number One in years, and everything changed. The album it's from, When I was born for the 7th time, had helped, one of the few sparks in last year's musical gloom, a smooth yet never settled ride through every life-affirming sound Singh had heard, from bhangra to hip-hop - music from the better times in his head. But the weeks surrounding "Asha"'s astonishing ascent seem to have taken their toll.
Interviewed while touring American stadiums with Oasis, Singh sounded as if the effort of achieving success had drained him of the will to sustain it. The insurrectionist spirit of his band's beginnings, burning effigies of rumoured racist Morrissey in 1992, seemed gone. Reports on this tour's start suggested no spark. And how does anyone deal with becoming a pop star overnight, anyway? So Tjinder Singh stares at the crowd, and the crowd stare at the space where they think he must be, and the trial begins.
At first, the rumours seem true. Singh doesn't move, he merely seems numbed. Only the band spread at his sides, playing Indian classical instruments and wired-up electronics, give the crowd something to miss. Tracks from When I was born for the 7th time are played accurately, "Brimful of Asha" passes with pleased applause, no more. "Norwegian Wood", translated slyly back to its Indian roots, inspires requests for more Beatles songs.
But as one song follows the next, the album's spell begins to be cast. Its stitching of sitars and beats from bhangra and techno, Singh's swaying from English to Indian lyrics, becomes one sound, seeping into moving, happy bodies. And, as the pressure fades, dare much more. They start a song which becomes a mantra, and then consumes surely half the gig, unstopping. Singh sings Indian words, shifting every few minutes. His band change beats the same way, layer textures, slip genres, but keep the song the same, keep you moving hypnotically. Singh walks off after a while. The band continue for some time. Then they follow. In a set that lasted no more than an hour, they've given us something special.
Afterwards, past 1 am, Singh can be seen still in the half-emptied venue, grinning beautifully as people come up to talk, or get his autograph. He's passed the test he's been set, behaved gracefully to everyone he's met. He'll make a fine pop star yet.
will be performing
at London ULU tonight
and Thursday, and appearing
at Shepherd's Bush Empire in
London on March 12.Reuse content