LUKE LEIGHFIELD RUSSIA TOUR DIARY - MARCH 2010
(The accompanying Russian tour photos are on my Flickr account.)
Thursday 11th // MSPRKT // Moscow
The day had finally come for me to return to Russia. This would be my third time over there, and this time I was being joined by Tom ‘powerhouse’ Mayo on drums, and Carl ‘metal’ Dawkins on bass. We woke up at 6 a.m. at Carl’s parents’ house in Slough, which is a convenient fifteen-minute drive from Heathrow Airport. Nice. I had raspberry jam on toast for breakfast, and Carl wore his trench coat that makes him look like a member of Rammstein. The trench coat had an RRP of £900 but Carl got it on sale. He claims that it’s bulletproof. I have my doubts. Carl’s mum drove us to the airport in her Volvo. Volvos are notorious for being the safest cars on the road so I felt reassured and confident.
I was a bit nervous about checking in because Carl was attempting to take his awesome customised five-string badass Warwick bass (with his own logo on the neck) into the cabin with us, rather than putting it in the hold. I’d tried to email Transaero (our sketchy Russian airline) to organise things beforehand, but in true evasive Russian style they’d ignored my email, so we turned up with a view to utilising Carl’s extreme blagging skills. Anyway, we played the “charming British boys going to Moscow to play some pop concerts, ooh isn’t it exciting and can we give you a postcard with our name on it? Oh, are you famous? No, not really. Oh I bet you are!” card and it all seemed to go fine. We basically charmed the whole of Heathrow Airport. I’m considering booking a show there because we have a lot of fans within the airport staff now, especially at baggage control.
I got frisked, like every time I fly anywhere. I think I got shot once and didn’t realise, and the bullet is lodged in my back. Anyway, it made me laugh like it always does. I think the friskers think that I enjoy it. Annoyingly I’d already put on my musk back at Carl’s house, which meant I couldn’t try out some new scents in duty free. Otherwise I’d have just smelt like a huge mass of different pungent odours. I’ll remember that for the journey back. We finally boarded at 9.30, but didn’t take off for ages.
When we got on the plane we continued to make headway charming the entirety of Heathrow Airport’s staff. However, we couldn’t seem to crack the obligatory camp male air hostess (air host? Whatever the male version of air hostess is) who was really cold, and also a total hard-ass guy called Michael. He was telling people off for all kinds of stuff. It was like Jack Bauer in air hostess-but-male form. He told Carl and Tom off for listening to their iPods. I didn’t get told off because I know the drill. We were sitting in the most important aisle of the plane because we had the exit door by us. Michael gave us cards explaining what we had to do in the event of a crash, and he said that we should move if we weren’t up to the task. We’re three strapping young lads, so of course we were up to it. In the event of a crash, Tom had to rip the door off and throw it in the aisle, much like the Incredible Hulk. We read those cards. We read them good. Tom got pretty excited about potentially ripping the door off and kept practising exactly how he would do it.
Anyway, as the four-hour flight progressed we made some serious progress with Michael, and eventually he found out that we were massive rock stars. He told us that he’d had The Answer on one of his flights the other week. I explained that we were like The Answer but way better, and promptly gave him a postcard with my sexy face on it. Five minutes later he walked back up to us with a beaming smile on his face, and told me that he lived in Evesham, twenty minutes from where I live. Naturally a strong, potentially life-long bond occurred instantly, and for the rest of the trip it was, “Boys, anything you need, just ask.” Yes, Michael. Good man. He advised us on whether to have the all-day breakfast or the vegetarian lasagne (naturally I didn’t go for the veggie option, but Tom did because he’s recently decided that he’s veggie again, even though he had tuna for lunch two days ago and desperately wanted some of those hot dogs in a tin. Vegetarians that eat fish can do one. Weak vegetarians) and generally provided for all of our needs. He truly is a great man. I only hope that we get him on our return flight.
We arrived in Moscow at a disappointingly warm 5 degrees, after all the effort we’d put in to wrap up warm and look like members of Rammstein. After bricking it massively about having to get through customs with our visas, we were finally through, with our bags, and saying hello to my friends Denis and Luke. It was good to be back. We caught a bus into Moscow because the airport was on the outskirts, then caught the metro the rest of the way, after being accosted by a crazy beggar lady who just wouldn’t leave us alone. She kept thrusting her baby in our faces and wouldn’t leave until Luke gave her some money. Tom saw loads of druggies sitting around in the metro and didn’t like it. Moscow is big and awesome.
When we got to the venue we were meant to soundcheck, but we didn’t have any cymbals for the drums, nor did I have a keyboard, so we sat it out for a bit. Eventually all the stuff came. I had one of those little Yamaha keyboards to play that you may have made in your music lessons at secondary school. You know, the ones with the “DJ!” button as well as “Dictionary!” Yeah, I had to play one of those. It also had no sustain pedal. This might not mean a lot to you, but to the pianists out there it will mean a lot. So, I usually play a full-length keyboard with a sustain pedal and fully weighted keys. Today, I was playing a kiddie keyboard with no sustain pedal, and about twelve notes. It’s like giving Tom a bass drum, snare drum, and then a few extra coffee jars for toms. And foil for cymbals. Or saying, “hey Carl, why not play tuba today instead of bass?” So yeah, the keyboard situation was less than enjoyable, but everything else was great because Russia is the best ever. Soundcheck was okay, all things considered, and I got to catch up with all my Russian friends. Tom and Carl loved the Russian girls.
If you read my previous tour blogs from Russia, you might have heard me talk about a band called Komnata. They’re a Russian band that opened some of my shows before in Moscow, and they used to have a female singer who made them sound slightly like Paramore. She’s not in the band anymore and now they just sound like a pop band. It’s good. They rocked out. We played afterwards for about an hour, but there were loads of songs that we couldn’t play because the keyboard was a bit prohibitive. My friend Kirill described the set as being, “like sex with a supermodel. It was so awesome and great and so fast, but I wish it could have lasted longer.” I took the sex with a supermodel thing to be a big compliment. I apologised for making our musical intercourse so rapid. We hung out for a while, Tom and Carl hit the beer, then a group of us headed back to my promoter Vetal’s new flat in the centre of Moscow. He has a cat and it is great. I ate some crazy Russian cakes then went to bed early because I was super tired. Tom and I shared a bed and we were only wearing boxers, so occasionally there was skin on skin touching and it was all terribly exciting.
Friday 12th // Squat Cafe // Moscow
Tom and I woke up at a respectable 11-ish because we’d gone to bed before everyone else. I wrote yesterday’s blog in bed, then left the room to discover that the girls were awake and cooking in the kitchen, JUST LIKE THEY SHOULD BE. I put in my order for a tomato omelette and it was game on. The next few hours were occupied with showering, watching Family Guy and American Dad in badly overdubbed Russian (with the English still audible underneath for some reason), reading Rob Bell’s ‘Jesus Wants to Save Christians’ for the third time (the past two times I’ve given up because of Bell’s painfully. Broken. Down. Sentences.) and hanging out with Vetal’s cat.
When we eventually left the flat, we headed into the centre of Moscow to see the obligatory sight of Red Square. It’s still big, red and square. We tried to have a photo taken with a guy dressed up as Lenin but he asked for too much money so we just snapped him in the background AND THERE WAS NOTHING HE COULD DO ABOUT IT. Luke said that there are loads of crazy old Russian guys who dress up as Russian icons in full uniform and hang out in the bars with tourists, getting them to buy them drinks, so that they are all constantly appallingly drunk. Tom also went up to someone dressed up as Homer Simpson and tried to put his arm around him for a photo but got denied. We engaged in the Russian tradition of throwing a coin over your back when you’re at the centre point of Moscow and there were old Russian ladies picking up the coins off the floor. And we ate pizza.
After seeing the sights, we headed over to Vetal’s new second-hand shop. We tried on loads of great clothes, and Luke bought a jumper that has pictures of dogs on it and inexplicably says, ‘Dog Songs Dog Songs’ across the middle. None of us have any idea what the jumper is about. I also found a pair of Sainsbury’s staff trousers hanging up. I have no idea how they got from the UK to Moscow. After looking at every single item of clothing in the shop, we headed back to Vetal’s flat to eat the Russian equivalent of Pot Noodle. I ate loads. Everyone had a nap but I know that daytime napping always seems like a good idea, but always makes you feel worse, so I persevered with my book instead. After a couple of hours everyone woke up and said that they had headaches. I felt pretty good. And smug.
We headed to the venue at 9ish because tonight was a late show. There was an even bigger debacle than last night with the keyboard which can be summarised thus: we had a new keyboard coming which was big and good; it turned out we had to pay for it and couldn’t afford it; we tried to find another keyboard; we couldn’t get another keyboard; Denis went in a taxi to get Vetal’s keyboard from the flat; we had no power lead for the keyboard; we tried to use the support band’s power lead but it didn’t work; Denis went out to buy a power lead and none of them worked; Denis then went out to buy batteries for the keyboard; the batteries worked, we didn’t soundcheck, and the keyboard was still absolutely terrible. So that was cool. The support band was called Old Wave. They were great guys and they leant us loads of their gear which was dead nice of them.
Somehow there were even more great people at the gig than last night and we all had an unbelievable amount of fun, despite the tragic, tragic keyboard. We met so many ace people, and everyone was dancing along when we eventually played at 2.30 a.m! I think that’s the latest show that I’ve ever played in my life. I wasn’t planning on drinking beer, but there were these amazing pint glasses with glass human arms for handles that just looked incredible, so I felt compelled to drink the beer held within the glass. There was a lot of hugging and we were toasting each other and saying ‘cheers’ roughly every two minutes. I think that’s the Russian way. It was basically an incredibly fun night, finished off with massive shots of vodka (finally) and we left the venue at 6 a.m.
When we got back to Vetal’s flat, Carl, Luke, Tom and I played cock or ball for a standard lad-tastic end to an evening. Luke tried to introduce us to the Russian equivalent of cock or ball, called nipple or bum, but it just wasn’t as challenging to be honest. Tom and I bedded down together for a romantic close to the evening.
Saturday 13th // FM Club // Moscow
The day started predictably late after our 7.00 finish the night before. I woke up, did some blogging, and eventually it became 6.00 and we left for tonight’s gig. The venue was weirdly posh and had bouncers in slick suits. The toilets were awesome and had TV screens within the mirrors, which were activated when you walked in and started playing cigarette adverts. This crazy old rocker guy in leather and denim soundchecked the crappy keyboard and absolutely tore it up with some jazz licks. I felt pretty inadequate. When the support band eventually arrived, we borrowed all their stuff and did a soundcheck.
After soundcheck we ventured to a nearby mall (Russian speak) and ate our first meal of the day, finally, at 8.00. My mother would be ashamed. It was some weird meat pancake with liver in it. It was better than expected. 8/10. Some more of our Russki friends came and joined us and we all headed back to the venue together. The support band were an odd mix of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine and Alanis Morissette. When they sounded like Rage it was just about listenable, but they had this girl singer (hence the Alanis comparison) who managed to bark over everything and ruin any pleasant musical happenings. The drummer also had his cymbals really high and far apart like a total fanny. They were a textbook example of how good musicians do not make a good band. No amount of slap bass in the world could save them.
I think we played pretty well bearing in mind the keyboard situation, and it was a nice musical end to our time in Russia. We packed up and walked back to Vetal’s place to get rid of our gear, and Carl mistakenly thought that we were staying there for the evening. Mistake, Carl. We freshened up and headed out to a club that Vetal was DJing at, stopping on the way to get a beer on the street from this massive stall thing that Carl described as a tuck shop. It was probably the best tuck shop ever. It was just a massive shed thing full of beer. I forced down a cold-but-not-cold-enough beer and we headed into the club. After watching some dire live band, Vetal eventually got to DJ. He played Weezer - Hash Pipe followed by Bon Jovi - Livin’ On a Prayer. That’s great DJing. The beer was something stupid like £5 a pint though, so we kept having to go around the corner to buy dodgy street beer.
However, all the drama happened on the way home. It all kicked off. There was a group of ten of us buying some beer and food and stuff, and these two guys started kicking off about something with one of our friends. We didn’t know what was going on because all the drama was in Russian. All of a sudden, this little chav guy started squaring up to people and being super aggressive. Meanwhile, his fat friend was trying to talk to other people and pacify the situation. The whole thing was a bit weird because there were only two of them and ten of us, and I don’t think those odds would go down very well in England. Also, they didn’t even appear to be drunk. Anyway, we tried to leave and go home and the little guy started throwing punches and it all kicked off. We were confused because we didn’t understand why a group of our friends didn’t just grab him and give him a good kicking, which they were more than capable of doing. When it all eventually calmed down after lots of holding people back and probably the Russian equivalent of “leave it mate, he ain’t fackin’ worth it!” Luke explained that the reason why we didn’t lay them out was because they were trying to start a fight so that they could call up their friends and have some all out warfare. Apparently it’s because they were immigrants from Chechnya who were still annoyed about the war. Had we started to fight them, a group of them would probably have emerged in a car with guns and stuff. That would have been rubbish.
So these dirty chavs followed us all the way back to the gate of Vetal’s flat and we managed to beat them inside and lock the gate. Tom took great delight in hurling insults at them in English. We stayed up drinking beer for a while, casting the occasional glance out of the window to see if the chavs were still there. Apparently it’s quite common for them to start beef with people then return later in the evening to cause more trouble. A heartening thought. Thankfully they didn’t come, and we headed to bed at 6.30ish. Despite not being at all involved in the fight, I managed to cut my knuckle open. No idea how.
Sunday 14th // day off // Moscow
We rose late but with heavy anticipation for the day ahead because it was tattoo day. Luke had spoken to one of his friends who could get us free tattoos because we were British and very cool. Carl wanted one on his leg that said ‘Comfortably Numb’ mixed with a hammer and sickle to remind him of all his druggie comedowns and his time in Russia. I decided that the time had finally come for me to get my first tattoo, and Luke and I decided that I should get my name in Russian along with Russia 2010 in the form of a stamp on a passport. I was going to get it on my right gun so that all the chicks see it when I’m flexing my hunky arms.
So we took this epic journey to the tattoo place via Moscow centre where I got some amazing pizza. It was seriously good pizza. The tattoo place was reassuringly un-sketchy and looked like it would most likely use clean needles and not give us AIDS. Carl went first and didn’t cry or anything. He took it like a man. Afterwards, we started drawing up my design but whatever we did we couldn’t get it to look quite right. After half an hour of trying to get it to look rad we had to give up, and I’ve arranged it so that I can get the design done in England and get it tattooed when I next come back to Russia. It’s sad that I couldn’t leave Russia as a tattooed man, but I wasn’t really up for a totally dodgy tattoo. Summer 2010, though. It’s going to happen.
We left the tattoo place at 7ish and headed back to Vetal’s to cook some pasta. Resources were limited so I ended up eating dry pasta with dry bread. Nice. We drank beer though and that was great. And we drank more beer. And then we went to bed.
Monday 15th // going home // Moscow > Heathrow > Slough > Redditch > Upton-upon-Severn
Woke up late and mostly felt sad about having to go home. Kirill came around to say goodbye and we had an emotional kiss. He is probably the gayest straight guy I know and he allegedly has five girlfriends. I am in awe. We will miss him. Vetal had gone to work, so it was left to Denis, Luke and Nat Riddle to take us to our bus to the airport. We packed our stolen beer glasses as carefully as we could into our luggage, then left for the metro, which took us to our minibus, which would take us to the airport. Appropriately, as we were saying goodbye it started snowing hard for the first time in our trip. Luke said that it was good weather when we were there, but that Russia was crying for us as we left. I think he was right.
Carl had some minor difficulties getting the airport people to let him take his bass on, but it all got sorted in the end. He also managed to smuggle 900 cigarettes back. Not bad going. The flight attendants took a shine to us again (understandably) and Carl and Tom rinsed the free drinks. Tom got all giggly drinking whiskey and coke. I wondered why he was finding Gavin and Stacey quite so funny. It is funny, but he found it really funny. I watched ‘Up in the Air’ on the flight. It was pretty good, maybe 7/10. Not as good as I expected though. And we caught a bit of the new Michael Moore film. That looked a lot better.
Carl’s mum picked us up from Heathrow, then we went to Carl’s house in Slough to get my car. Tom and I set off for his house in Redditch but made a much-needed stop at Beaconsfield services for McDonald’s. I tried that new CBO thing. It didn’t really have a lot of ‘O’ in it, and it was basically a crappy McChicken Premiere thing but apart from that it was good. I got home at midnight, but sort of 3.00 in the morning because our bodies were on Russian time.
Thank you so much to Vetal, Denis and Luke for booking the shows and looking after us so well, and to all the great people we met out there who made the tour so fun. See you soon, Russia. Da, tovarisch.