Do you remember Saturday Date? That All India Radio show, popular from the ’60s until well into the ’90s, that played mailed-in requests from Bombay folks who wanted to hear easy-listening pop that everyone simply called English numbers? The 10pm weekend hour was a double treat – a rare chance to hear contemporary Western music and dedicate a song to a loved one.

In the lockdown, one Mumbai cover band has given the long-forgotten format a 2020 revival. For Reena & Lindsay’s Saturday Date, requests pour in as Facebook posts. The set-list is determinedly retro — think Jim Reeves, Dolly Parton and stuff your uncle hums. But their weekly gigs on Facebook Live, beamed via mobile phone, with a living room sofa in the background, have become something of a weekend staple for thousands of fans around the world.

“We started in May with hour-long gigs like the radio show,” says Reena Vaz, 42. “But people loved the idea and requests kept coming in. On Facebook, listeners can also see what others have picked and keep adding new songs.” An average of 500 requests are made every week. And what started as an hour-long show at 10pm now extends past midnight.

 Sample their sound here:

Lindsay Pitter, 50, Vaz’s partner and the other half of the cover band, says the secret lies in the playlist. “We play the music that the radio show would have aired, we even play bits of the signature title tune,” he says. “Christians loved that show. Their children grew up with these songs playing at home, and the community has spread around the world — some families, now in five different countries, coordinate on WhatsApp so they can all watch together.” Comments on the Facebook page have people saying they clear out Saturday-night chores to hear the band, or make a party of it with drinks and terrace barbecue.

Nostalgia fans are tuning in from The Netherlands, Greece, Italy, Korea, and Malaysia. “I think it’s also because no radio channels really play this kind of music any more,” Vaz says.

In a typical gig, Reena & Lindsay croon their way from The Bellamy Brothers and Kenny Rogers to the ’80s’ power ballads and ‘90s’ boy band harmonies.

Ricardo Pereira, 42, a Mumbai-based travel service provider, has been watching the duo live for years. He’s now a regular at their Saturday Date. “It’s a great selection of songs and Reena and Lindsay have a nice sense of humour between their renditions,” he says. “It’s not quite like a live show, where the crowd would be dancing too, but it’s amazing to see the comments flying in as thousands more fans tune in.”

Promo posters for the gigs remind listeners and fans of a simpler era of radio-era song request shows.
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Image courtesy Reena & Lindsay
)

The duo’s chemistry comes through too. Their professional and personal partnership goes back 20 years, to when they broke from a six-piece band to perform covers together. They’ve played parties, wedding receptions, hotel lounges and events and, before the pandemic, were typically booked for four to six nights a week.

“There were 24 gigs in February alone,” Vaz says. “I was so exhausted, I just wanted to do nothing for one month.”

The lockdown made them both regret that wish. It also gave Pitter the idea of playing virtually from home. “Even though we’re at home and the gig is free, we treat it like every other show,” he says. They dress in their stage outfits. Vaz puts on make-up and slips into heels, even though they’re never in the frame.

The free gig has led to paid virtual engagements too, and offers to play to new audiences in Goa, Singapore and Uganda when it’s safer to travel. It’s also being monetised by Facebook’s Stars initiative, which allows users to shower stars, priced at one cent each, on popular performers. Foreign viewers have been especially benevolent. “They’ve rained stars down like the Milky Way,” Pitter says.

Even when the pandemic ends, they say, neither is willing to give up Saturday Date. “We’ll move it to a different day, perhaps play a Sunday brunch so people in different time zones can tune in comfortably,” Pitter says. “It’s unbelievable how far and wide the show has reached. Someday, I’m going to write a book about it.”

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