S.D. Batish

Musician on the Beatles' 'Help!'


Shiv Dayal Batish, multi-instrumentalist, singer and composer: born Patiala, India 14 December 1914; married 1937 Shanta Devi (née Mehra; three sons, two daughters); died Santa Cruz, California 29 July 2006.

The flower-powery Sixties generated many myths concerning Indian music and the West. The column inches devoted to touring headliners such as Ali Akbar Khan, Vilayat Khan, Ravi Shankar and their kind often overshadowed British-based Indian musicians. The Punjabi musician S.D. Batish was one of a band of exiles resident in Great Britain - like the violinist Homi Kanga, violinist-composer John Mayer, sitarist Diwan Motihar and percussionist Keshav Sathe - who variously shaped Britain's appreciation of Indian music. Batish's contribution embraced Indian folk, classical and popular music, music for the Beatles film Help! and gem-like settings of Shakespearean sonnet and song.

Batish arrived in England in 1964, with enough credentials for him to establish a musical toehold, finding work with the BBC Immigration Unit. He became a regular on radio and television, contributing the era-defining theme song "Nai Zindagi Naya Jivan" ("New Birth, New Life"), his own composition, to the BBC television show Apna Hi Ghar Samajhiye ("Make Yourself at Home"), a cornerstone of early South Asian programming. In parallel with this work, he gave concerts of folk and classical music, specialising in vichitra veena, a long-necked fretless lute.

In 1965, while living in Finsbury Park, north London, Sathe telephoned Batish to organise a session for Richard Lester's new Beatles film, Help!. Although Batish was used to studio work, this was a different league. "The studio session lasted a whole day," Batish recalled, with him playing vichitra veena and colleagues tabla, sitar and flute for the film's incidental music. The Beatles' subsequent LP included songs that had nothing to do with the film and omitted the incidental music.

Quite what they had done dawned slowly, Batish recollected:

At the BBC studio in Bush House our gang of four musicians met and talked about the whole episode. Working with the Beatles had not only earned us fame and popularity in the West, it had also brought us respect within our own Indian community.

As a postscript to the Help! session, George Harrison invited Batish to teach his wife Patti the relatively uncomplicated stringed dilruba.

Shiv Dayal Batish was the eldest of four children and advanced musically under the tuition of his guru, Hakim Chandan Ram Charan. His grounding in devotional song, folk drama and classical music led in 1934 to his being invited to go to Bombay to act. Minor roles notwithstanding, things did not pan out for him and he returned home to Patiala. By 1936 he was performing live on All India Radio and during this period began recording for His Master's Voice.

He returned to Bombay in 1939 to work with Z.A. Bokhari (or Bukhari), as did his fellow Punjab-based rhythmist-composer A.R. Qureshi (later to achieve international fame as Alla Rakha, Ravi Shankar's tabla player). Beginning in 1942, Batish worked as an assistant "music director" (composer-arranger) in Bombay, graduating to "music director" in his own name. Leading and rising playback singers like Asha Bhosle, Manna Dey, Geeta Dutt, Talat Mahmood, Lata Mangeshkar and Mohd Rafi sang his songs, while Batish sang playback himself for S.D. Burman, Madan Mohan and O.P. Nayyar. Over his career he sang, he once enumerated, in 40 or so films including Daasi ("Servitude", 1944), Kaise Kahun ("How to Say", 1945) and Barsaat ki Raat ("Rainy Night", 1948). In 1964 Batish moved to Britain.

In 1969 the Batish Family's North Indian Folk and Classical Music became the leading folk label Topic Records' sole venture into Indian music (remaining so until the recent Topic/ National Sound Archive projects). Produced by the folklorist and folksinger Bert Lloyd, one side was a mixture of Punjabi, Kashmiri, North-West Frontier and snake-charmer folk songs, on which Batish's wife, daughter Vijay Laxmi and sons Ashwin Kumar and Ravi Kumar assisted. The classical side comprised four ragas on sitar and vichitra veena.

The following year, the family emigrated to the United States where Batish established the Batish Institute of Music and Fine Arts in California. His US releases include The 72 Carnatic Melakartas (1997), Om Shanti Meditation on Dilruba (1985) and Raga Todi (1980, a raga that had figured on the Topic album).

Ken Hunt

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