It was a privilege to attend one of the most unheralded concerts to take place in Colombo in recent times. Amidst the plethora of ads for ‘this gala, that happening and the other extravaganza’ you may think that you missed the publicity.
But no, there had been no ads, there were some articles instead – and a ‘lot of word of mouth’. Pity, Colombo because many of you missed out on a completely different show, by a band that has always had class and of course, supreme musical ability.
The reference is made to the maiden concert by the group Flame that took the stage on 11 November at the Bishop’s College Auditorium.
Flame’s musical journey began in the late ’80s at the Taj hotel lobby. How well some of you may remember those days, if you were a regular at the lobby on a Friday night. Then, you may have listened to “some of the sweetest music heard in Sri Lanka” to quote drum guru Aruna Siriwardene’s words in the concert souvenir – how right he is.
Flame was unique then; a three piece acoustic driven aggregation that brought the timeless classics of Simon and Garfunkel and the Eagles (among others) to an eager audience. Over the years Flame grew – their numbers grew too – and the music fleshed out until today, they are a seven member outfit playing a very different brand of music, which speaks to this evolution and where the band is placed now, in the Sri Lankan and international entertainment firmaments.
And so to the concert on the 11th. 22 years of history seem to flash back in the blink of an eye as two founder members Naushad Rassool and Rienzi Pereira took the stage joined by Primal Liyanage to reprise Flame’s beginnings – three guys seated on bar stools. The mellow and soul filling tones of a single acoustic guitar heralded ‘The Sound of Silence’ – the Simon and Garfunkel classic – beautifully sung by Naushad and Primal. This followed by a Don McLean staple ‘Vincent’ – a solo by Naushad.
A point to note – the official compere for the night Viran Corea made just two introductions for the whole show – the rest of the time, the members of the band interspersed the songs with much talk and banter as they introduced themselves, the songs and their guest artistes with a candour that was a revelation to the average concert-goer, used to the well rehearsed ‘read from or memorised from script’ stuff usually heard.
Everything that was said on stage that night came from the heart – and the greatest thing is – the audience knew it!
Classic hit followed classic hit – a Simon and Garfunkel medley including ‘Scarborough Fair’ and ‘The Boxer’ (who doesn’t know and love those songs?) the Eagles’ ‘ Desperado’, a Beatles medley, the Sutherland Brothers’ classic ‘When the Train Comes’, Billy Joel’s ‘Piano Man’, James Taylor’s ‘Every day’, a fabulous country set with songs from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Linda Rondstat’s ‘When will I be Loved’, the more contemporary ‘I Hope you Dance’ by Leann Womack and more.
The show was themed ‘The Journey’ and it proved to be so as the musical content moved easily from the early days of a trio to the fuller sounds of a full band as evidenced by songs like ‘You’re the One that I Want’ from Grease.
Another great touch was the appearance on stage of several past members in cameo performances that really brought back such great memories – people like Suranga Fonseka, Siraj Saboor, Lenny Vittachchi, pianist Rafi Buksh and guitarist Ranjan Josiah (who remained on stage as co-guitarist with Primal and Rienzi).
An even greater and cuter touch was the finale, when Naushad invited on stage ‘the younger, upcoming generation’ consisting of the children of band members and friends. Young Ramith Herath took centre stage, clutching a guitar twice his size; he was joined by drummer Niroshan De Silva’s son Nigel at the piano, Naushad’s daughters Hayati and Tehani and bassist Joe Lappen’s daughter Jessie. We were treated to a more than accomplished version of the Beatles’ ‘Let it Be’ by the kids who were later joined by the whole band. This segued into the chorus of ‘Hey Jude’.
What a show!
Once can go on and on about the value an audience gets from this band – apart from the excellent musicianship a couple of factors struck me more forcibly; Flame is blessed with a vocal line up to die for! There’s Naushad, Primal, Chris De Alwis, Joe Lappen and the rose amongst them all, Anne Jayamanne. Then, musically, they possess the formidable guitar talents of Primal and Rienzi who cover acoustic and electric bases brilliantly, whilst keyboardist Nishantha De Abrew ups the ante here.
It can be said that the lights and the sound were really good – hat’s off to the guys! A wee word about the sound when the full band kicked in. Some in the audience found the ‘decibel jump’ a little hot… others didn’t – so, is that a negative? No, just food for thought.
The band’s roll call needs mention. Flame comprises: Naushad Rassool (vocals/occasional guitar), Rienzi Pereira (guitars), Primal Liyanage (vocals/guitars), Chris de Alwis (vocals/guitar), Joe Lappen (vocals/bass), Niroshan De Silva (drums), Nishantha De Abrew (keyboards/vocals) and Anne Jayamanne (vocals).
Well done Flame for a brilliant concert.