History Remembered

How an Indian man and his English wife introduced George Harrison to Ravi Shankar to create history

The Angadis founded the Asian Music Circle at their London home, and brought cultures together.

In June 1966, George Harrison’s fascination with the sitar reached its apotheosis when he met Ravi Shankar. The meeting between the Beatle and the sitarist occurred at Hampstead in London, at the home of the Angadis, Patricia (née Fell-Clark) and Ayana Deva, who was originally from Karnataka’s Belgaum district. In 1946, the couple had set up the Asian Music Circle, which functioned out of their home. It was Patricia’s family home, but for two decades and more, the Asian Music Circle served as the hub where musicians from India gathered. It was largely through the AMC’s remarkable efforts that these musicians were introduced to the West (mainly Britain, at first), and found opportunities to perform there.

Besides Ravi Shankar, the Angadis hosted and presented Ali Akbar Khan, Vilayat Khan, Alla Rakha, Chatur Lal and others. The AMC also had on board established artists such as the violinist Yehudi Menuhin, composer Benjamin Britten, ballet dancer Beryl Grey, all of which gave the AMC considerable respectability and enabled a wider reach.

An Indian in London

Ayana Deva Angadi, from Jakanur village in north Karnataka, had moved to London in 1924. One version states that he was there to prepare for the Indian Civil Service exam. But Angadi’s son, Shankara, cited in Ray Newman’s Abracadabra: The Complete Story of the Beatles’ Revolver, said his father had come to London to “complete the Maths degree” he had begun as a student at the University of Bombay.

Angadi instead drifted into radical Left circles, becoming first a Trotskyist and a member of CLR James’ Revolutionary Socialist League. In the 1930s and early 1940s – days of anti-Communist hysteria – Angadi used the pseudonym Raja Hansa to write pamphlets for the cause. As CLR James wrote, Raj Hansa was known to disrupt more serious Left meetings as he did once during a Communist Party of Great Britain meet, so as to force a discussion on the “Moscow Trials” – a euphemism for the farcical trials Stalin used to discredit and then murder opponents.

More details of Angadi’s life come from the obituaries following his death in 1993. Reginald Massey writing for The Observer reveals another of Angadi’s pseudonyms: Jaya Deva. Under this name, he wrote polemical books such as Japan’s Kampf in 1943, when Japan, as one of the Axis powers, was in the ascendant during WWII. Published by the Left-Wing publisher Victor Gollanz, it was dedicated to Patricia Fell-Clarke, the woman Angadi had met in 1939, and whom he married against her parents’ wishes in 1943.

Radical couple

Patricia Fell-Clarke was a decade younger than Ayana Angadi. Born in 1913, she was educated in a proper British upper-class fashion with governesses at home, at private schools, and finally at a finishing school in Europe. She was a fairly talented artist, and besides being one of the founding figures of the Asian Music Circle, in her later years she wrote novels and even taught drama and music in schools.

Angadi, who found politics more engaging, rarely held regular employment. This, and the other differences of class and race, earned for Fell-Clarke her family’s disapproval. When they married, no one from her family attended apart from an old childhood governess.

It was three years later that they set up the Asian Music Circle in their house, since Fell-Clarke’s family had come around to the marriage by then. The top floor served as their home and also the AMC’s base, and this was where their life’s mission over the next two-and-a-half decades would unfold. It was under AMC’s patronage that yoga guru BK Iyengar held his first sessions in the back garden.

Around 1965, George Harrison made the AMC’s acquaintance. He first encountered the sitar during the filming of Help (released in 1965). According to the writer Ray Newman, Harrison bought a relatively inexpensive sitar from an Indian store in London and used it to provide the underlying sitar monotone for Lennon’s Norwegian Wood in the album Rubber Soul.

It was while recording a song for this album at Abbey Road studios that one of the sitar’s strings broke and needed fixing. There are two versions as to what happened next. In one, the Indian embassy was roped in, and it suggested the AMC as a possible source for a string replacement. And in Newman’s book, it was the producer George Martin, who suggested the Circle, for he had reached out to the AMC and Angadi earlier while recording sessions for Peter Sellers in Goodness Gracious Me.

Fostering friendships

Harrison indeed found the necessary help in the AMC, and soon he became a regular there. The Angadis also received an invite to attend one of the Beatles’ recording sessions at Abbey Road, during which it is believed, Patricia Angadi sketched Harrison and Lennon. There isn’t any photo of the Angadis, apart from this one that shows them, with Harrison and Patti Boyd, his future wife. Patricia also sketched Patti and George in her home, as this photo shows.

In mid-1965, during the Beatles’ wildly successful tour of the US, Harrison and the other Beatles were introduced via David Crosby and Roger McGuinn (of The Byrds) to Ravi Shankar’s music. Around this time too, in Los Angeles, Don Ellis and Hari Har Rao had begun performing as part of the Hindustani Jazz Sextet. It is unlikely the two – Ellis and Harrison – met then. But Ellis of course would soon be familiar with the collaboration that would develop between Shankar and Harrison, as is revealed in Ellis’ memorable interview with Harrison in 1974, soon after the musicians toured California.

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But it was in June 1966, after the Beatles’ return from the US, that Harrison, with Paul McCartney in tow, attended a dinner at the Angadis’ residence, where Shankar was a special guest. It was their first meeting and the beginning of a friendship whose myth has only grown over the years. Though music historians believe another sitarist, whose name has been lost to history, was actually Harrison’s teacher, it was his friendship with Shankar that led him to experiment with Indian motifs – Hindu religion, meditation, and of course, the sitar in later albums, chiefly Revolver, that appeared in 1966.

End of an era

It was the single Love you to set to Hindustani classical music rhythms and played on the sitar on which Harrison’s interests were chiefly evident. Anil Bhagwat of the Asian Music Circle provided the tabla accompaniment and received credit in the album.

Musicians from the AMC appeared again on the Harrison-composed single, Within You, Without You in the 1967 album, Sgt Peppers’ Lonely Hearts Club Band. These musicians performing on the Indian instruments were not credited and remained anonymous for until they were tracked down in June 2017 by researchers from the University of Liverpool. As traced by Dr. Mike Jones, they were late Anna Joshi and the late Amrit Gajjar (dilruba); and Buddhadev Kansara (tanpura), and Natwar Soni (table) who are both in their 80s.

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The AMC didn’t last long soon after Ayana Angadi, in the early 1970s, took himself back to his hometown of Jakanur, where, as Reginald Massey writes in Azaadi: Stories and Histories of the Indian Subcontinent After Independence, he immersed himself in rural development projects. He died there in 1993.

Patricia Angadi remained in London with their four children. She also found new life as a novelist, writing her first work, The Governess, when she was 70. The Highly Flavoured Ladies (1987) earned kind reviews. Set in two households in the same house, but a century apart, the book evokes the kind of communal living Patricia Angadi followed in her own home. The Done Thing appeared soon after and was almost semi-autobiographical. It featured a repressed and subdued girl, almost Victorian in instincts, falling in love with an ostensible Indian sounding character and 20 years into the marriage, finding her real self and breaking free.

Patricia Angadi’s novels such as Playing for Real (1991) were described as “perceptive and well-written for the most part”, but they also contained “a lot of slush”. She died in 2001. Her memoirs that still remain unpublished must contain a wealth of material, especially those relating to the Asian Music Circle.

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