Guthrie Govan tour: How two Indian musicians became the UK guitar virtuoso's bandmates

Anurag Tagat

Feb,12 2017 10:19 29 IST

Late last year, Mumbai-based Mohini Dey, long called a bass prodigy ever since she showed off her chops as early as when she was 10 years old, listened to the solo work of Guthrie Govan, thanks to her guitarist sister. About two weeks later, she received a mail from his management asking if she’d like to play bass for the UK veteran jazz/prog guitarist’s upcoming India tour. She says over the phone, “I said, ‘Yeah sure, why not?’ After hearing that, my sister said, ‘Oh no! I’m jealous.’”

Govan, the master of strings with his own instrumental jazz/rock band The Aristocrats and contributor to the music of prog veteran Steven Wilson and more recently, part of renowned composer Hans Zimmer’s live act, is in India between 13-24 February for a seven-city tour.

Dey, along with seasoned drummer Gino Banks, are joining Govan. She says, “I’ve never been a part of a band like this. This is more slightly inclined towards the metal side, which is interesting for me, because I get to do something new. That’s why I said yes.” Banks, who has collaborated with instrumentalists across the world on jazz and fusion projects, also refers to Govan’s repertoire — including the drummer’s favourite song “Erotic Cakes” from the 2006 album of the same name — as “metallish”. Banks adds, “I rarely get to do (this). It’s progressive rock/metal kind of fusion. Usually, it’s a jazz fusion or Indian classical fusion. I don’t get to do it often and especially with Guthrie, and hopefully we’ll get to do more.”

(Clockwise from above left) Guthrie Govan, Gino Banks, Mohini Dey

(Clockwise from above left) Guthrie Govan, Gino Banks, Mohini Dey

Banks has collaborated with Govan on his first Indian “adventure,” as the guitarist refers to his 2010 trip to perform in Mumbai. Govan says, “The first person to tell me about Mohini was Ranjit Barot, who spoke most highly of her playing when I met him after a John McLaughlin show last year… and then Steve Vai was raving about her abilities during my Aristocratic stint on the G3 tour. If you can’t trust guys like that, who can you trust?!”

With Dey also following Govan for his shows in Japan, Banks says the plans to have an Indian backing band came together when the tour itself was on the anvil in September. The drummer adds, “The Aristocrats came down and we had a special lunch, and we spoke about a possibility of playing again, and his manager mentioned there were plans to come down in February and work as a rhythm section.”

There’s prep on for all three, but there will only be one rehearsal before the band kickstarts the tour in Bengaluru on 14 February. Govan says, “I’ll do my best to absorb as much of India as I can during my time there but, realistically, I don’t think there will be a huge amount of time for sight-seeing — or indeed rehearsing!” Banks notes that Govan always seems to be open to improvisation, like all great jazz guitarists and it’ll be interesting to see how the songs (mostly off Erotic Cakes) will evolve from show to show.

In addition to club shows, the big change from Govan’s last visit is that there’s no real auditorium show. Instead, they’re playing a couple of college festivals at NIT Silchar and IISER in Mohali. Govan recalls how, back during his university days, he played in a jazz-funk band which was regularly hired for what he calls “the UK equivalent” of college gigs. He adds with a smile, “Something tells me that the vibe of a ‘college festival’ in India might be somewhat little livelier and crazier. I certainly hope so.”

Banks rightly notes, “The college crowd, no matter what you play, they’re pretty excited to be there. I remember as soon as you start soundchecking they’ll be staring. I’m sure most of them would have heard of Guthrie, and those who haven’t will just be in shock with the playing and music.”

Govan, Dey and Banks are an interesting combination in that they’re adding their own voices to some already startling brand of instrumental rock, something that’s not so much about showing off skills as it is about entertainment and pushing limits. Dey adds, ”I don’t see it as something big, because he’s also a musician and human being at the end of the day, like us. An incredible musician, of course, so we’re there to complement him in terms of musicality.”

Banks on the other hand, hopes that this is the first of many collaborations that encourage Indian musicians to reach out across the world and not just their respective indie scene. Govan, almost as an aside, says of the tour, “As someone who very much admires the whole Indian classical tradition, I’m secretly hoping that I’ll be able to learn a thing or two from having bandmates who have grown up surrounded by that stuff!”

Guthrie Govan’s complete India tour schedule is available here.