Up to the mid-seventies, the music scene in Karachi revolved around nightclubs and dance evenings. From engagements to weddings and mid-summer dances to New Year’s Eve balls, Karachi was swinging and rocking and rolling. The wonderful part about this was that the music was provided by live bands. Every single one of them.
NYE was a particularly busy time, with not just the big hotels hosting events but everybody and his brother vying to ‘ring in the new year’, with a party of his own. A few of the embassies (Karachi was then the capital), all the private clubs, and some wealthy individuals also did their bit to add to the festivity.
In the earlier days, the bands were traditional ‘combos’ consisting of pianos, drums, double bass and clarinets or saxophones. The style was jazz or ‘swing’ and band members wore smartly turned out ‘uniforms’ – either full black with ties or dinner jackets. Foreign and local ensembles had innocuous names such a Pat Blake’s Orchestra, Stephen Eros Orchestra, Francisco and His Boys, and Soc Penalosa and his Filipino Orchestra. There were also the Rhythm Quintet, the Moonglows and the Drifters.
By the sixties, electric guitars, and later, the electronic keyboards appeared. This coincided with music moving more to rock and pop but still being primarily for dancing. The use of amplifiers for the electric equipment added much volume to the occasion, upping the overall experience. That changed the scene at the venues that catered to the non-cabaret nightlife.
The local bands that were big in the late sixties till the early seventies, played six nights a week at some of the major spots including the Talismen (007 at Beach Luxury), the In-Crowd (Discotheque, hotel Metropole), and the Keynotes (Nasreen Room, IHC). The Samar at the Metropole usually offered foreign acts and one particularly popular band were the Singapore-based October Cherries. They did amazing covers of popular songs and endeared themselves to the clientele.
Another stand-out artist was the buxom Australian beauty Wilma Reading, whose singing and outfits captivated like nothing else. The odd thing about the discotheque was the live band (discos play records) dominating, with the recorded music getting 15-minute slots each hour.
Other venues to have bands – yes, there were many of them – included the Four Aces (opposite the Central Hotel), the Village (on the corner of Metropole), Mehran Hotel, the Midway House (at the airport) and even the Grand Hotel in Malir (weekends only). These were the regular gigs aspiring musicians worked towards and along the way, got to play at all the other events when available.
Hotels outdid each other to advertise their performing artists and events with the Intercontinental Hotel and Metropole leading the way. ‘Fashion 70’, a luncheon show; ‘Formula 2’, a duo from Australia; ‘Los 5 Ches’, a Spanish orchestra at the Beach Luxury; Palace Hotel’s Le Gourmet had ‘5 Pellicani’, billed as ‘Europe’s most popular orchestra.’ Of course, no one really was concerned by the claims of international standing, but it all added to the mystique of an alluring evening.
All in all, it was a great time to be young or old, wealthy or not so, to have fun in Karachi. You could always find music to suit your taste and pocket. Hmm, nostalgia, you are so sweet and heartbreaking at the same time. Don’t you wish you were there?
Leon Menezes is a former member of the band, The In-Crowd, and currently professor-of-practice.
First published in THE DAWN OF ADVERTISING IN PAKISTAN (1947-2017), a Special Report published by DAWN on March 31, 2018.