Label: Mobile Suit Corporation
Year of Release: 1982
Back in the early nineties, we were all told that the sudden deluge of pop stars from Asian backgrounds was an entirely new phenomenon. While it's true to say that the sudden arrival of Cornershop, Apache Indian and Asian Dub Foundation felt like a huge sea change, successful Asian influenced pop, performed by someone from that background, was actually nothing new. Sheila Chandra of Monsoon (previously an actress on "Grange Hill") had actually already broken down the barriers in the early eighties, a fact which seemed to have become largely forgotten.
The first single "Ever So Lonely" was released on the minor Indipop label initially, and was a surprise number twelve hit when it was reissued through Phonogram in 1982. It was a seriously unusual record in a year where the British charts seemed to have their arms wide open for the unexpected. Propelled along by a hypnotic rhythm and Indian melodies - albeit Indian melodies performed by Western musicians - it was almost like a slice of late sixties psychedelia being given a rather more authentic Eastern edge.
Follow-up "Shakti (The Meaning Of Within)" only just missed out on a Top 40 place, and was followed up with this, a Beatles cover. One has to wonder whose idea it was, but the finger of suspicion points at the record company. "Tomorrow Never Knows" is a Beatles track which has never been improved upon or really developed across the various cover versions its spawned (Danielle Dax, Brian Eno, Junior Parker, and er, sixties flop act Mirage have all had a stab at it). The original was a staggeringly forward-thinking piece of work with its studio effects and astoundingly persuasive drumming, to the extent that I actually believe the stories about nineties club DJs spinning it and being asked by their Ravy Davy punters "What was that wicked tune?!" It's the sound of The Beatles hive mind using the studio in the ways that sample-heads and drum loop fanatics would later rediscover. All the subsequent covers of it have actually been somewhat reductive - taking the frenzied activity of the original and simplifying it to something calmer, taking it away from peculiar proto-techno/big beat and into the psychedelic chill-out room. And I've never been wholly convinced by that approach, unfortunately. Half of its appeal lies in its mania.
Still, Monsoon's cover of this has a feel and attitude of its own, and is far from the worst example. It's probably most notable for also featuring Bill Nelson, David Balfe out of Teardrop Explodes on keyboards, and Merrick out of Adam and the Ants. Chandra's vocals are wonderful as ever, and drop a large dollop of innocence into the mix. None of this was enough to turn it into a hit, though, and at this point the tide went out on Monsoon's success.
Much more interesting to me is the B-side "Indian Princess", a mournful sitar and tabla infused ballad with tinkling piano lines which is genuinely touching. I can't see the single having been more successful if the sides had been swapped, but it's a shame the track had to be buried nonetheless.
Following the release of their LP "Third Eye" in 1983, Monsoon quietly disappeared. Sheila Chandra wandered off to have a hugely acclaimed solo career which included numerous releases on Peter Gabriel's Real World label, until her work was rudely cut short by the development of Burning Mouth Syndrome in 2010. This medical condition has rendered her mute, and therefore unable to continue performing or recording - obviously we can only hope for some sort of recovery very soon.