Who is Tubsy?
First all Tubsy is someone who is always late. Tubsy is essentially very Punjabi. Born in this country and raised in this country, but raised with a very Punjabi background. My parents were considerably older, to have had children. They were first hand immigrants so they spoke very little English. Having said that they spoke very little English at home, but when faced with English outside their home it’s amazing how they could hold their own. Back in the 60’s they just had to get on with it with learning the language. Tubsy is someone who is very loyal. I have a thing with loyalty. Also very patriotic. I was born in England and England has given a lot to my family. We should be loyal and grateful. I love Punjab. My farm. My tractor. I have 3 children. Amritpal who is 17, who has recently been head hunted by Cambridge ( yes you can be a dholki player’s son and do very well) Then there is my daughter Nimi (Nimratpal) who is ironically named after my first band. The Nimmana Group. Her name stands for Humility. She is my pride and joy and gets away with everything. She plays the violin, dhol and harmonium. Then there is my younger son named after my favourite actor, hero and god Dharmender. He is Tubsy two. He is a mini me. Hes a proper wrestler and loves life and always smiling. Also my wife Rajwinder works very hard chained to the till in her shop right now. She is from India, she has lot to do with my beliefs and i didn’t want to stray from her. In our house we speak Punjabi. I read and write Punjabi. I didn’t want something that wasn’t real and was going to fake the English. As i don’t fake the Punjabi. The dholki is the love of my life. Even my kids know that. That’s who i am.
What got you into music?
I was lucky both sides of my parents. My mum’s dad, my nanaji he was a Giani at the Gurdwara. My father was a professional, Pakhar Singh Kullar. A dhadhi. He played the dhad sarangi The sarangi what people forget was that it was part of the folk genre and it was used for motivational music in the war, to psych up the troops. It was there the Viceroy where they saw my dad, in the Second World War in the 1940’s. Where he was commissioned to play. He gave my dad’s band members and there were only 3 of them a voucher as soon as you could afford it this is your permanent residency in England. Now this is where i get the loyalty from, now we are farmers and he could of sold a couple of farms and paid for his ticket and come over. The other two guys couldn’t have done that. My dad didn’t leave them behind. He waited till the two could afford to come over. Then all 3 of them went together. To get a percentage of that from my dad is amazing. You don’t get that kind of loyalty anymore he could of started a new life and made money alone. But he didn’t he waited. My dad was the youngest he had 8 brothers. While the other 7 brothers worked in the farm he used to sneak off and do his music. My brother Sital he was one of the first dhol players in the country back in the 1960’s he started a band here in Birmingham called the “saathi’s” a lot of the well known singers back in the day were part of that bhangra group. There was one particular person called AS Kang he sang Giddha di Rani. They were in the group together. Also my brother played on that song. Also 99% of songs that come out now have used the Dholki loop from that song for music even Bollywood. I was there when he played there in Delhi. My brother was my idol i watched him play and i would think wow! When i was younger i was big, and they used to get me to do everything, jog, anything to make me burn calories. Then my brother had a brainwave and thought let me him take the bass out of the Dholki and it back fired and i did so quickly. This is where the love affair started. Everyone used to tell me to stop, id get beating’s, i’d get told off. But it didn’t stop me. I was hooked and this was part of the fun and i had to hide and do it and there is an extra buzz. Also an interesting fact it started off as exercise!
Why the Dholki? Can you play other instruments?
When i was 11 i played the tabla, dholki and dhol. I wanted to show the world about music. I used to love electro funk music. We used to have competitions about who had the best mixes on TDK tapes. In the house we had all the music instruments in the house, but i wasn’t allowed to listen to Punjabi music in the house. The lyrics were too explicit about taboo subjects. We didn’t have even have walkmans then also. We weren’t allowed them. I wanted to show people at school yeah i can read and write but i can do this as well. What we know as Nachda Sansaar we went to school together my music enthusiast’s as well. Also Peter Singh Virdee a big business tycoon, i used to teach him Dhol at school! Even my teacher Mr Ruck saw my talent and said that we need to channel it in the best way and correctly. With technique and theory. An embarrassing moment was for me was a teacher Mrs Latta needed a tabla player as she was teaching a group of girls sitar and my teacher Mr Ruck suggested me and it was Birmingham and i had to play with all Sitar players. I didn’t have a clue and they were playing proper classical music and i totally messed it up at Birmingham Town Hall. I had to get a tabla teacher from Coventry Kamaljit Singh and he had to teach me every Saturday. Those tabla classes shaped my hand. If people ask me now about technique i can hold my own.
You have played with so many Artists which must have been crazy, Which artist would you say was a memorable experience? Not favourite but memorable?
Well they all are memorable in their own unique way. There are two. But the first one was a band colleague, Jas Gill from Satrang. This was my first band. It sticks in my mind i was 14 years old i was in band my head grew my attitude stank. I thought i was the man. He grabbed me and pulled me to one side. “No one is dispensable” By that don’t think if we got rid of you no one will be able to do your job. I was so glad he told me that at 14 years old as it brought me back to earth.
The other is Lal Chand Yamla Jatt he was the guy who invented the tumbi and brought in tumbi in Punjabi music and he was touring in the UK. He knew my dad they performed at Jhalandar radio station equivalent to MTV in the UK. He recognised my playing and he liked the simple of the music and played straight with a groove that is Punjabi and a groove that comes from my heart. The love of Punjab. Combination of my upbringing and my love for Punjab. I don’t play for the sake of it i play with emotion. Lal Yamla Jatt sat me down and bearing in mind he ruled Punjabi music for the last 40 years. After all these years he said you are the first person who has done that i have played with a lot of people in India, Pakistan and in Bombay. He said don’t lose it. I was 16 at the time and for someone in the highest calibre to tell me this meant more. It was a long life lesson. I had a lot of appreciation and i wanted to keep doing this. He made a point not to go on stage without me and it was amazing.
What place has been the memorable to have had played at?
Bomas in Nairobi in Kenya and it means centre. It’s a high building and i’m scared of heights. I had to play dhol and all i kept seeing was high it was and there was a massive drop. There was 14,000 people in the stadium. There was 1500 outside the stadium. It was like a football stadium. That was the whole Punjabi population in Kenya at that time. It was Malkit Singh concert after Tutak Tutak Tutiya song came out and he was in his element. I was drinking back then and i came off the stage and i started to learn Swahili and i said “nipe bia baridi” which means give me a cold beer. I also drank half a bottle of barcardi. As back then i was drinking. This was my first major concert. Very memorable performance.
You have children and are married; Do they have any musical talents like yourself? Or aspire to be musicians?
Yes, 2 of my children have musical talents. Nimi plays violin and Harmonium. Dhamender is a natural talent of me. My eldest Amritpal plays Dhol but concentrating more on his education.
A lot of people are aware that you was battling alcoholism for a period of time, Can you briefly touch upon on it about how this started? How long have you been sober for?
Alcoholism doesn’t happen briefly. It started at home. I enjoyed the taste; i remember the glasses we had when i had the drink. I can remember sneaking it as well and i didn’t know it was wrong. All i knew it was hidden. I enjoyed the intoxication. It then developed. I started to revolve everything around alcohol. My existence was around alcohol everywhere i was there was alcohol. It was intertwined. Like today me and you are having a coffee. Before i’d be thinking let’s have a drink what’s the point in drinking coffee. That’s how i used to think. It took over my whole mind set this was before i became dependant. A lot of people were drinking but not excessively. Drinking at home was limited, only when people used to come to the house. If we hadn’t lay the alcohol out when people came over people would talk. Socially i used to go out for a few pints but then i used to go and get smashed at home but no one knew what was going on. I couldn’t stop.My friends just thought it was a few pints and nothing more. I had my own agenda.
Did you fall out it with family or friends during your battle?
I didn’t need too. One by one they left. I became a burden. I became a liability and i was falling around drunk and making a fool of myself. My dad stood by me. I firmly believe i am sober because of my dad. Yes he was rigid and he had his own rules and beliefs. He was an amazing person. But that was him. He never turned his back on me. My brothers and sisters were around. I wasn’t allowed to my own family functions. Me getting married was dad’s way of saying it will help and it did pay off. They couldn’t get me an arranged marriage as people knew i was a drunk. I got engaged 18 months before the wedding. I had to meet my in laws and I needed some dutch courage and after 45 minutes i was spread eagled! (laughing) I had to drink so much orange juice to sober up. Back in Inda they stated orange juice was the best thing to have. I’ve never drank so much orange juice in my life!! My cousin said he talk’s a lot as he’s from the UK. They couldn’t shut me up (laughing)
You stated that you couldn’t reach out to anyone in your time of need, why do you think that was?
In the early stages in my case i was on stage i was one of a few musicians at that time. I thought in my head if i approached anyone for help that they would recognise me, laugh at me or spread rumours about. Even when my dad or brothers used to talk about me they would disguise the problem. I couldn’t even say to my dad this is what’s going on, they would just all beat me up. They weren’t listening. As much as they cared and i don’t hold it against them the only thing they can do was lash out at me they didn’t know what else to do. I kept saying i couldn’t help it. I wasn’t evil being, things just came on top of me. My body couldn’t function without or breathe without it. It was living hell. Thinking about it now makes my stomach go funny. It was like being put through the ringer. Your arms being pulled. Your teeth being pulled out with pliers. I had anxiety. Heart beating fast. I felt like hitting someone. Killing yourself. I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. There is a saying god helps those who help’s themselves. I had that thrown at me hundreds of times. I was told to get a life. Or curl up and die somewhere. I thought i have tried to get a life. Maybe i should curl up and die somewhere. I tried to give up and i did for 3 months. Then rewarded myself with a drink and got back to square one. I didn’t stop because I wanted to I ended up in hospital every time. With gall stones, pancreatitis and other symptoms. When I was 21, one of the senior registrars at hospitals stated you won’t live to see your 22nd birthday. I was playing Russian roulette with my life. I was used to not getting any help I just thought it wouldn’t get me anywhere. It is a still taboo subject, but you can find ways to get help now. With the drink and drive campaigns. There is a lot more awareness now.
In your interview with AVS, There was one thing that struck out to me, that people would let you have sips of alcohol at a very young age as a reward for playing, Do you think that was normal? Do you think that is where your taste for alcohol had began? For me that isn’t normal.
Let me tell how this happened. It was my dad. But my dad wasn’t like that. I used to do solo’s playing and people would give me money for playing. It did happen it was my first taste. I mean hindsight yes its wrong but they didn’t know any better. But i still see it happen now. I see people with kids in their arms giving kids a drink. Touching their lips with alcohol.
Being married Tubsy did the alcohol have an impact on your marriage? The reason i ask is due to personal reasons myself, so it will be interesting to hear what you think. I have seen it for myself what alcohol can do to a person.
When i got married i was still drinking. Two days before my wedding i got bitten by a snake. My alcohol intake was less due to this. One of the guests brought me a rum bottle in the shower. They knew i needed it. My wedding wasn’t a big occasion. I was married in India. Before my ardass i was given a limco drink, but everyone else had a coke. I was thinking yeah it was my wedding but it was laced with alcohol. Even they knew i needed a drink. When i looked up the match maker had done it and done me a favour. I was limping due to the snake bite my turban was tied wonky. It was a huge mess. Me and you was talking about age earlier, the women there was whispering thinking my wife had married an old man. I had to walk myself into my reception no one wanted to do anything for me. My own cousins used to say yeah have a drink. People used to add fuel to the fire. Knowing full well that i couldn’t say no. It wasn’t easy.
Where was the turning point for you? Where enough was enough?
There was. I was in hospital in Ludihana, what we call here as A&E. Roughly every six minutes someone died. I was working out the probability when i was next. Everything was stacked against me. 8 people had died since i was there. The doctor said do you need anything, i said if you want to help get me out in 12 minutes, He didn’t get it. But i did. I eventually got out of there. Also a lot of eye opening things happened. I said to my brother there’s something wrong to my leg they just said you fell over. No one took me seriously. The doctor in India gave me an injection with water, and said if i needed a drink or whatever i can have it. Even the doctor knew i was a drunk. Everybody knew. In the end i was in hospital, there was no urgency if he didn’t die today it’s a matter of time.
The main turning point for me was when i got back to the UK, i fell into a coma and was in a coma for 19 days. While i was in the coma which i didn’t know at the time, i had a spiritual awakening, it is hard to explain but it was real to me. What i saw was real. I was on this bed sitting comfortable and going into this bright light. I don’t feel any anxiety or pain. I was at peace. As i was getting to this white light, i felt both my arms being pulled. On one side was my mum and the other side was my wife still in her wedding clothes. I kept saying let me go. But they wouldn’t let me go. Then my dad one side of his face was sad and the side was happy and i love my dad to bits and the more he smiled when i was coming towards him. The next thing i know i see my sister. Everyone was excited and i didn’t know why. I thought i had got married again (laughing) I saw a picture where i wasn’t breathing on my own and i was in hospital. But my family told me that they never told my dad i was in a coma for a while and when he did come and he touched me i twitched and i hadn’t moved previously. When my dad came it changed everything. Alcoholism is real. The emotional part of the story is that my Esophagus was damaged i had burnt holes in there. They had to perform an Endoscopy. The instruments were all covered in blood. I thought they were going to take my organs stupid as it was but that’s what i thought. I was on a stretcher and i said goodbye to my dad as i thought i was never going to see him again. The doctors thought i was finished. My dad had a great impact on me. My dad had 3 major heart attacks due to the distress. Also 2 bypass operations, when he had the last one i was what was called E6 it was a Rehab Clinic. My dad came to hospital after 2 days coming out of hospital himself. He had walked 45 minutes to come and see me to give me some food. They wouldn’t let him see me. He looked beat. I never swear or neither am an angry person but i kicked off. I ran out and gave him a big hug. I was getting food there but it wasn’t from him. No one will do that ever, but my dad did. That’s the extent who my dad was. I am grateful that for my sobriety when it came to my dad’s time i was sober and i was there. My dad was always there.
Do you ever get judged from your past being a drinker and possibly the mistakes you made back in the day? Do you think they follow you?
Yes i do. The mistakes i made do follow me. I have been called a hypocrite. I was accused recently that i was drinking again. That I’m in the music industry and there is no way being in the music industry you can’t not drink. If I’m not doing that i must being doing drugs. I can’t spend a day not being intoxicated! I have been sober 18 years now.
You have children do they know of you past? What do you tell them?
Yeah my kids know about my past i have told them. On a serious not there comes a time where you have to tell them. I want to prove scientifically it is hereditary. I sometimes look at my kids and think which one will it be? That’s quite sad but it’s true. My wife says “don’t turn out like your dad” (laughing) But in sobriety you have to take a day at a time. My kids have never seen me that way also. They never saw me as a drunk.
In your experiences is there anything you regret or would do differently?
The simple answer would be everything. In sobriety we have been told not to dwell in the past and not regret the past. One thing i will do differently is concentrate on my education and musically be more focused and realise my potential. I let people put me down and i started to believe it sometimes. I get these motivational texts but then you forget about it. I don’t take rejection well and if someone says you can’t do this then i don’t contest it im like okay then. I never say i can do it. I still am working on my character. I don’t judge people and i try and help.
You have gone to many events yourself, You are also raising awareness for alcohol in the Sikh community but also in general for while now. Why do you think it’s so important to make this a priority?
I am going to say something people won’t like. I think people are jumping on the bandwagon. People think they are experts and know what’s going on and happening. What we have to realise is the person who is the centre of this is the person who is suffering and someone who wants to get integrated into society and reunited with their children. Help them get back into their lives. We need to look at the community and address the issues. Let’s do this in a unison way. We are playing with lives. There is a common characteristic in addict’s and there is alot of positive such as me there is music, some others are in art. Or Paul Gascoigne who is in sports. There should be a system to help people. When you first meet an addict they will put up a wall they won’t want to speak to you. They will say “How do you know” Unless someone says let me tell you my story there is more of an impact and there is a bond and friendship blossoms. Unless you are going through the situation how would you know? You feels insecure and feel let down. God is their worst enemy. Unless you have been through what they have been through you just wouldn’t have a clue. I mean at the event i remember seeing a liver in a jar. Well i went to have an endoscopy this week and it says 20 years sober. They still have to put a camera down me as im still prone to liver, bowel and pancreatic cancer. Im still going through that from everyday to now it’s every 6 months. Unless people who do these events have someone who has been through this you can’t get that point across.
Is there any advice you would give to any one going through the same experiences as you?
Very simple advice. You don’t have to go through this alone. There is real people out there who want to help. There are anonymous organisations. People who won’t judge you. Real friendships. It’s worldwide in every city. You can get help. It is very important to get help.