Above: Wakey wakey campers! Reading Music Festival, 1976. After two years on tambourine, I had been promoted to chief drum-banger.
This year, on a sunny afternoon in August, I will be celebrating my 40th anniversary of kirtan. On the sunny afternoon of August 24th, 1974 I sat down with a group of Hare Krishna devotees and had my first ever kirtan experience. They’d camped up in a field and, like they do, let me sit with them and try to follow along with the words.There are only three words, so it wasn’t too hard to sing along, but you do have to remember to sing them in the right order.
At some point, just when I was becoming filled with all sorts of new feelings I couldn’t yet comprehend, someone handed me a tambourine.I’d been accepted, I felt, as part of the group and thought to myself: “I’m playing tambourine with the members of the Radha Krishna Temple – cool.” (Or whatever word like ‘cool’ was in vogue at the time)
So for the past 40 years I’ve been singing kirtan. I have to tell you something: it works. Yes, it doesn’t quite make sense, just repeating three words over and over again. And yes,it should have driven me to distraction by now. But it hasn’t. Quite the reverse.
In fact, kirtan has been the solace of my life, the undisputed mood-lifter, the peaceful sound and the sonic energizer – all at the same time. I have been in kirtans in fields and forests, up mountains, down streets on foot and up rivers in boats. I’ve sung kirtan on the telly, in the homes and halls of the great and good of the land, and ‘performed’ it at pop festivals. I’ve sung in the pouring rain and the scorching sun. Its been the soundtrack of my life and of many thousands who I’ve known.