mipac poster

Me in Red Square for the first time.
Me and Santi Debriano

Moscow was truly amazing! Despite my fear that the 1753 seats of the absurdly gigantic venue [the Moscow International Performing Arts Center] would actually only have TWO bums on them, the gig was one of the most fun of my life! “Do you think there will be anyone there?” I said, mournfully, to the presenter’s assistant in the dressing room, where I was putting on makeup JUST IN CASE anyone had come. And she laughed and said: “Oh yes!”

When I got out there, people filled all of downstairs and some of the side seats and Francis (my percussionist, who I had shipped in from Tokyo, who has better eyesight than I do — okay, what I mean is, isn’t too vain to wearhis glasses) said that the upper deck was pack-ed (it is two syllables when he says it, cos he is Brazilian) and that there were maybe 1500 people there. The booker and all his staff were hugging me in the break, having been perhaps almost as concerned as I had been BEFORE the gig that the scruff bag (me) who’d got off Aeroflot after the 9 hour flight from hell the previous day was going to be able to pull it off.

I had been terrified that the entire thing was going to be awful. The guys (and me) were exhausted and two of them had arrived on the day. And Aeroflot is indeed the worst airline I have ever flown (the man next to me groaned for the entire flight — I mean ACTUAL groaning cos he had forgotten his jacket and it was minus 10 in the cabin… which was also ominously creaking the whole way). But although between sets and before the gig the band members were semi comatose, on stage they were like those toys you press the bottom of and they collapse and then you release it and they spring upright. They were amazing. You would never in a million years think they had just landed. On Aeroflot!

And the audience was WILD! Cheering. shouting ‘Bravo’ mid songs, clapping at the opening bars of songs they knew (including White Room). I felt like they knew me already and I knew them. Whatever people say about Russians being cold … well they must have been lying. Someone else said the audience wouldn’t speak English. Another flagrant untruth. They were even laughing at my jokes (though someone told us afterwards that the people next to her kept nudging her to translate certain songs). And at the end we got a STANDING OVATION. From 1500 people. I felt like Elton John or someone (only with my own hair). And I was surprised how comfortable I felt. Then again, the hugest ham I know (me) comfortable in front of a 1500-strong cheering crowd, who got my jokes too? Duh!

Oh, and the POSTER outside!!! Santi saw it as we were driven to the venue and said “Jesus! Isn’t that you?” I took a pic (okay, several pics — for Mum, of course!).

But I wish I had brought more CDs. By the time Irina had got out into the foyer, they had already sold out of the only 60 I had brought (imagining I would be carrying home 58, since I’d been expecting only two bums on seats). And the next day in the hotel a couple, who had been at the gig the night before, saw me in the foyer and bought two that I’d forgotten to give the presenter and the woman was kissing my photo and was nearly in tears telling me (in Russian) how much she had enjoyed the gig (an expressive people!).

Me and Francis on the subway escalator


Otherwise, I am having a bit of a difficult time not speaking Russian. The subways (Greco-Roman temples outside and unbelievably beautiful — like the Met or the National Gallery or something — on the inside) are swarming with non-English speaking (how dare they?) Russians who, not realizing I am, in Russia, a massive big star of Elton John proportions (only with my own hair), are impatient with my plaintive: “Er… can you point on this map here to where we actually are now?” — perhaps because they don’t quite believe I can’t see that for myself. (I am a directional dyslexic). In fact, the reason I am an expert on the subway stations here is because I have seen them all by now, having been to the end of most of the lines before realizing, oh, I must have missed my stop. And since I can’t speak Russian and say: “Don’t you realize I am Elton John?” I am being shouted at a lot by subway staff because it turns out there are distinct exits and entrances and I can’t read which is which (yikes!). And I went to bed hungry last night cos no one in the hotel speaks English and the room service menu is in Russian. Sigh.

This is on stage at MIPAC
It’s all the more difficult because the written language bears a striking resemblance to Double Dutch (which I also don’t read), with letters back to front and upside down and words with NUMBERS in them (I am not kidding!). Plus, unhelpfully, the subway stations only have the name written on the wall ONCE, so if you miss that once, you have no idea which station you are at. Okay, I admit, not that I would have known even if I could have seen it, but you might. Luckily, there have been a few kind, hand-holding types who have been able to direct me in the right place, since I clicked that the thing to do was show them a picture of where I wanted to go in my guidebook! (a picture is worth a thousand words — especially words that have upside down letters and numbers in them).

My room at the Four Seasons hotel!

I did manage to score a night at the Ritz Carlton, on the back of writing an article for British ELLE on Moscow. I will tell you that I woke up the next day and I literally looked ten years younger. The bed was amazing. HAPPY THANKSGIVING! Or, as we say in Russia…. RRY [upside down R] 3XX FLJXCVB-ING!

 


LETTER FROM TOKYO 1

July 2007 So … Does anyone out there know whether Mercury or some other planet of vital importance is in retrograde? First I spent the flight over sitting next to two unaccompanied children with very small bladders. I had the aisle seat. (Need I say more?) They could also sleep in any position (which meant me spending much of the flight with a small foot in my face).

But they were sweet when they were awake (and not needing to pee). They engaged me in conversation about elephants and robots (who doesn’t love robots?) and other things that I think more adults should talk about. And they were very sympathetic when I described my deprived childhood (Mum would not let me have an elephant for my birthday when I was four. Some cock and bull excuse about the garden not being big enough!). By the way, for those of you who know my mum, she was on top form when I saw her in London this time. She didn’t mention the dress not being red — though, as we hugged hello, she did whisper in my ear, “Stand up straight, darling!” Mums! Got to love them! (Or else!)

Back at Tokyo airport the woman at immigration wouldn’t let me through cos, knowing I was being picked up, I hadn’t written down the address I was going to. I made up a hotel — as advised by a very nice woman who was on her way to … the Ritz Carlton! Of course I didn’t look like I could possibly be the type to be staying there, being somewhat crumpled and baggy eyed with a foot shaped dent on the side of my head. But I wrote it down and she let me through anyway, thank goodness.

Then, after waiting patiently by the only moving baggage carousel for miles until there were no bags on it (this took some time), I was a bit concerned when my luggage was not forthcoming. “Oh this is the Texas plane baggage!” they explained. “Your bag is over by the counter.” Phew! However, it turned out, no one had seen my OTHER bag. Yes, THAT bag. The one with the microphone and music and shoes in it. The one with my ice pack — which would have been very useful right now cos — guess what? — I just put my back out! (stress-induced). The one with all my makeup in it! Yes. THAT bag that STILL hasn’t arrived and which Newark (who I blame entirely, since everyone at Narita was adorable) seems to know nothing about. As I walked out I noticed I was the last person to leave the airport.

At the hotel (no, I am not staying at the RC) I fell asleep with no dinner and woke up at 2 am and began literally counting the minutes (3000 or maybe 300, I’m not very good at sums!) until 7 when breakfast was served. At dead on 7 I ran to the dining room where I found a buffet breakfast of … er … soup, shredded lettuce, some sort of roll with currants in it and (thank God!) toast! And (more groveling thanks) coffee! Okay, weak coffee. “People! This coffee is weak!” (Of course I didn’t say that, but don’t they realize a New Yorker is staying at their establishment!). I know, I know. You’d think a girl would be grateful for anything after waiting FIVE HOURS to eat.

You would be wrong.

But it could have been worse. It could have been my friend’s journey from hell which was a catalogue of disasters culminating in being trapped at the airport (due to thunderstorms) for three hours with no AC or food or drink and mournfully looking out of the window to see another waiting plane on the runway struck by lightning and burst into flames! On second thoughts …no … actually culminating in getting home to discover she had forgotten her door key! So you see why I’m wondering about Mercury retrograde.

But the good news is that, while shopping for ice packs, I noticed that shampoo is indeed available for under five dollars!Contrary to all reports that it would set me back $100 a bottle.


July 2007 – LETTER FROM TOKYO 2 [DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER]
I only just got Internet hooked up to my PC at home, which is why you haven’t heard from me before. And yes (those who asked) I did feel the earthquake. The entire house rattled and swayed from side to side. Bit scary. More scary, though, is the fact that the nuclear power plant at the site of the earthquake’s epicenter is in danger of blowing up.

Meanwhile, Tokyo is a fascinating mix of extremes. Tiny little back streets are overshadowed by Blade Runner-esque skyscrapers. Run down wooden shacks are sandwiched between posh apartment buildings. Neon-illuminated boulevards hide dark, quiet side streets where you might come across a cool bar or an all night pet store for drunken impulse puppy-buying — Paris Hilton-sized dogs are de regeur. This little chap tempted me every night on the way home from work.

And the super-strict Japanese work ethic is offset by after work drinking binges which means that at 2am, I am invariably stepping over dark suited businessmen, still impeccably dressed, slumped on the ground in a drunken stupor, or lying beside a little mound of vomit. Or a group of teens will rush by carrying friends in their arms.

Meanwhile …Performing to strangers is a bit strange anyway, but it’s something else entirely performing to desperately rich strangers who are not particularly listening because, to them, 25,000 yen ($25) is a small fry table charge in comparison to the $18,000 (yes, eighteen thousand dollar) MARTINI on the menu. Here are Philip and me. You have to dress in cocktail attire “at all times”! The one time I accidentally went to help the guys set up, wearing a white, strapless summer dress and sandals, I was told off. This dress got the thumbs up from S., the lady in charge of training all the waitstaff.

The “Diamonds Are Forever Martini” contains a one carat diamond, which — assuming the recipient hasn’t choked on it already — is whipped away by the hotel (hopefully after you have finished your drink!) to be set into an engagement ring. I was given the sheet music yesterday because apparently someone is proposing to his girlfriend next month and I have to sing the song at some point during the proceedings.
If you don’t know the lyrics: “…they won’t leave in the night, there’s no fear that they might desert me. Nothing hides in the heart to hurt me…unlike men the diamonds linger (rhymes with finger). Hold one up and then caress it, touch it stroke it and undress it(!). Men are mere mortals who are not worth going to the grave for. (refrain:) I don’t need love. For what good will love do me. Diamonds never lie to me. For when love’s gone, they’ll linger on.” Er… hello?

Meanwhile…. on my FIRST day off in Tokyo (I worked seven nights straight, but now have Sundays free), my new girlfriend Inaia (another singer who lives upstairs) showed me around Tokyo. Of course I can’t remember how to get to any of these places without someone holding my hand and leading me there, and I can’t remember the names (so I couldn’t even ask the way) but she took me to an amazing park called Yoyogi, the entrance to which was crowded with high schoolers dressed as Bo Peep meets Goth, and where I saw my first rabbit on a leash. But the sight to see is the dancing Elvises.

Brylcreemed, slicked back hair, black leather jackets, white tee shirts (or bare chested — phoar!!), faded jeans, and shoes so old and tattered they are wrapped in duct tape, to show that they have been dancing a long time. Kind of like the Dancing Princesses in Hans Christian Anderson. Apparently the duct tape is a mark of pride. The dancing is … well, it’s kind of like the twist meets cowboy dancing with the odd bit of hip hop chucked in. It gave me a squeezy feeling in my heart and I couldn’t decide if it was bad or baaaaaaad. In the end I decided it was baaaaaaaaaaad (i.e., good), because they are very serious about it and it feels so innocent (and they are all very handsome and some are bare-chested — phoar!!). They just want to be looked at — for free! In fact, even the (few) homeless people here don’t panhandle.

Elvis impersonators aside, Japanese people dress so stylishly. Everything they wear looks like couture (mind you, I am living in a very posh part) — i.e., as if there is only ONE of these items in the entire whole world (except for school girls, who all wear plaid miniskirts, white shirts and ties). At the traffic lights everyone obediently stands ON THE SIDEWALK (gasp!) until the green light comes on. I started out impatiently stand in the middle of the road New York style, until I realised that (gasp!) traffic didn’t EXPECT to find people standing in the middle of the road New York style at Tokyo traffic lights.

As for WALKING on the sidewalk. Maybe because Japanese people don’t need to be on red alert for street crime or something (I can’t tell you how many enormously fat wallets I see poking out of men’s back pockets), they appear to have no sense of space and one person can mysteriously take up the entire sidewalk, going at snail’s pace, probably emailing on their cell phone at the same time. It’s kind of tortoise meets hare (me being the hare).

Otherwise, Tokyo is the perfect city with plenty of affordable shampoo. And it is safe. I don’t lock my door when I am home. We leave the front door wide open all the time. And I walk home alone from work at 12.30 am and sometimes at 4 am (if I have gone out with Inaia after work) and feel totally safe. There is something wonderful and liberating — especially as a woman — about looking at a dark alley at 4 am, and not thinking twice about taking the short cut that way home. Okay, you think TWICE. But only because you’ve been living in New York a bit too long.

I live in, Azabu Juban, which is UBER cool. And so quiet, even though a 20 minute walk only from midtown. There is very little traffic — aside from bicycles — which makes it super quiet, with just the odd mother with child on child seat, or granny holding umbrella swishing by. The swishing sound would be due to the rainy season, by the way. Every damn day!! And it is so HOT. People warned me, I did not listen! I washed my clothes the other day and it took them THREE FULL DAYS to dry because the air is so humid. Here is a picture of the outside of my house.


Being already a directional dyslexic makes it a bit hard to find my way around. I felt a bit better when my friend Anna told me that, in order to protect the Imperial Palace, the city was actually designed for people to get lost. Not having street names doesn’t help, of course. Everyone uses maps. Just like in Lost in Translation.

But aside from missing you, I could be very happy here. Oh, hang on, except for having to sing to strangers ignoring me most nights, aside from the odd request — like Danny Boy (gaaaargh! and no I didn’t). Then again, a man in lizard skin winkle pickers the other night gave us a $100 tip!

I just picked up my alien card. For ages, I had been calling it something I can’t spell or pronounce now, which it was pointed out to me the other day was kind of like saying “I’ve come for my Honky Card.” Bit embarrassing. Then again, languages are not my strong point. Those of you who know that I kept saying “voila” instead of “au revoir” when I first went to Paris, will not be surprised to hear that when I was in Akihabara recently I kept saying Akihabara instead of Arigato (thank you) and that when I am VERY flustered I say Arigato instead of Konichiwa (hallo). No one seems to mind. Maybe because I bow a lot. Bowing is cool!
However, no amount of bowing could fix ‘The Elevator Incident’ which happened to me the other night when I was all froo frooed up in my black net over violet dress and got into the elevator at B3 just as a young man in a chef’s hat burst out of it. As the doors closed on me I realized he had left behind THE most appalling well … shall we say, emission … and the elevator goes express after the first floor so I had ahead of me 45 floors of coughing and choking to endure,
But then, just when I was thinking it couldn’t get any worse, a man got in at the first floor and… Well, there was I, (all gussied up, which somehow makes it worse) COMPLETELY ALONE in the elevator and there was this terrible smell and … well, what would you think? Of course I mimed “Goodness, what is that terrible smell?” with lots of flapping of my hand in front of my face, and screwing up of my nose. And he, of course, joined in (Tokyoites are very polite). But he was obviously thinking to himself “arigato/konichiwa/akihabara” (which would be my Japanese for, “First one smelt it dealt it!”).
Naturally I now see him ALL THE TIME, and my musicians, Philip and Francis, are both agreed (judging by the expression on his face whenever we see him) that he clearly thinks it was me. Now I merely have to say the words “elevator incident” to Philip and Francis to totally crack them up, which makes me feel very witty. By the way, the picture on Letter from Tokyo 1 of this blog is of Philip’s cat.
The music is getting easier. It really helps when one of YOU comes — as has happened 5 times (if you count Reiko coming twice and Anna and Alan coming at least twice, and Raj coming with a huge posse — THANK YOU). And I realize that people ARE listening, just very discreetly (i.e., while talking among themselves and swigging champagne and martinis). Here, by the way, is a picture Raj took of the most important drink in the house — sans diamond, of course. That’s me on the stool in the background.

And I am learning so many new songs. Wichita Lineman, for one, which Philip and I agree we both deemed horrendously cheesy when we were kids but which now seems cool. This is the first sign of aging, I think. Nostalgia for the stuff we sneered at in our youth. And I wrote a whole new arrangement of Eleanor Rigby, which Francis, the percussionist (who also is an amazing singer), does fantastic backing vocals on. As for the standards… some of them are fantastic! Who knew? We have FUN.
Akihabara! (Trans.: I can’t wait to see you next month!)

This is Francis, who also sang so beautifully!

I got back from Seoul, via Tokyo, yesterday. 20 hours of traveling! Blimey! But it was surprisingly easy. I got the best plane seats without an upgrade (though Continental needs to work on the food situation!). And there were no children with their feet in my face — though I did miss the interesting conversations about elephants and robots — so I arrived sans foot-shaped dent on side of head!

I didn’t mind leaving Tokyo in the end. It was hard hard work and only one day off a week with tons of stuff that I had to do during the day isn’t enough! But I did make some lovely new friends and eat some good food and I got to write a SIX THINGS TO DO IN TOKYO guide for British ELLE for the December issue (so if you go, and want a quick guide, let me know). And I did some Karaoke where, according to the TV screen, I used up 3.1 calories singing “The Crying Game.” Here is a picture of the screen in our individual booth.

Karaoke Bar
Speaking of songs, I got to sing “Diamonds are Forever” for TWO couples in the same week! That’s the $15,000 drink I told you about! Actually, I think I said it was $18,000 and I’m still not sure, sums not being my best subject. The first man bought one for his mistress. They didn’t dress up. They slunk in (as befits one buying an overpriced martini for an “other woman”) and hid in a corner of the bar. “No fuss,” said the man, who apparently only wanted to be “the first” to buy it (kind of says it all, doesn’t it!). They just clinked glasses very casually and it looked like she said something along the lines of: “Thanks for the snack!” (a la B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone” where it rhymes with “I gave you seven children, and now you want to give them back!”) and then, after glugging it down, they left, not even holding hands. Perhaps he had done something very, very wrong, and this was the rich beyond wildest dreams equivalent to a normal person’s bunch of flowers apology.
Meanwhile, the other couple …. Well, the husband bought it for their 25th wedding anniversary (that also kind of says it all, in a good way). They came with friends. Friends who may even have been at their wedding. They both looked amazing. The hotel hired a handsome young flamenco guitarist from Barcelona to play with me and I was wearing a got-the-thumbs-up-from-S. jade green silk dress (gets tiring dressing up ALL the time but that night was worth it!) and we were sneaked in to the restaurant next door via the kitchen to do the acoustic rendition of “Diamonds Are Forever” that we had worked out that afternoon.
The husband was beside himself with excitement at having arranged the surprise — MONTHS in advance. And the wife did an AMAZING acting job of pretending she had no idea. In fact, maybe she really didn’t know. Anyway, she did a lot of excellent gasping and furrowing of brow in confusion faces and was crying within seconds of the song starting, before she even knew about the diamond. Then they whisked the drink over (served by TWO young waiters) and plopped the diamond into it (more gasping and eye dabbing) and all their friends applauded, and so did we. Later I overheard the staff describing what had happened to the few staff that had not managed to find a hiding place from which to witness the proceedings themselves. It was quite possibly the most romantic thing I’ve ever seen up close. Surprisingly not corny at all!
Otherwise, no mafia came in during my time there. So no massive tips of diamond-like proportions. But I do have ALL MY FINGERS. And I had an amazing time in Seoul, including a trip to an island where (i) I climbed up a massive mountain with my son (pulling me up the hill by hand — okay, yes, “dragged up” might be a better description) to see a Buddha carved into the rock, (ii) got propositioned by one of the workers (who, very disappointingly, turned out not be a monk, as I should have realized when his question was translated to me as, “Is she a virgin?” — which is how they ask if you are single over there, apparently), and (iii) drank a cup of tea made of pine leaves that was even better than PG Tips.

Korean rock
I also went to my son’s university and took pictures of his office, where one of his students said how young I look — thus securing for herself an A+ on her next essay. I went to the Samsung Museum of Art, where my daughter-in-law is a conservator, and looked at ancient pots that looked like modern art. I was profusely thanked by my daughter-in-law’s parents and sister for giving birth to my son — which I assume means, after six years of marriage, that they don’t have any plans to give him back.Actually, I have to admit, he is pretty cool. I was laden with gifts from the entire family, including his wife’s sister’s mother-in-law, who is a famous Korean artist. And I was invited to live with my children. All fantastic! However, I also discovered the TV show Lost on DVD. An evil addiction along the lines of those IKEA double chocolate biscuits I once warned you about. I know some of you ignored that warning! Oh, and I had a Korean body scrub which would DEFINITELY become an addiction if I lived there. Talk about deep clean! Eek!

 

Yes I am returned! The Edinburgh Jazz Festival was superb and sold out (as I think I already said somewhere). But I wish I had taken some pictures. This is the problem with not having family in the audience – though, of course, the benefit is you don’t have embarrassing scenes like my mum reading aloud from my book – er, that would be LOUD – to her entire table, or parents busting in through the doors shouting ostentatiously: “Excuse me! Excuse me! We are here to see our DAUGHTER, the singer!” My dad (bit of an attention seeker) has even perfected a sort of Royal Wave for when I acknowledge him in the crowd, which – God forfend! – I forget to do. Early in my career, he even once pounced upon the stage but was, thankfully, wrestled to the ground by my brother as he reached for the mic.

I spent most of the rest of my trip doing social things – including attending my niece’s wedding at which I was reminded of what it was actually like to spend a prolonged period of time with my ex-mother-in-law (who makes my own mother seem shy and retiring, even – almost – discreet).
For the curious among you (cough!), below is a photo taken at said wedding by my son of me and my ex. Somehow we are great friends (his three-year-old calls me Aunty – poor confused darling!), even though he has a swimming pool nestling in the acreage of his back garden (as my mother-in-law was very eager to show me within seconds of greeting me – she had pictures!) and I live in penury in Harlem wishing I had a back garden to look at (and maybe a window to look at it through). But then, I’m the musician around here, even if he does resemble one — Eric Clapton, right?
Meanwhile, my journey home was insane! The line to get through security snaked through the entire Heathrow airport and into the parking lot! By the time I got to the end there was no time to even buy duty free (naturally this is the only reason I have not brought all of you gifts of wine and incense). And the list of things you can and cannot take is bonkers. For example, you can’t take moisturizer or cosmetics but you can take massive big knitting needles. I foolishly admitted to having a lipstick in my purse (I mean you can’t lie can you, even though I think I would have got away with it) which meant the confiscation of my precious TWENTY-FIVE DOLLAR lipstick (I know, I know … bought during some kind of mental blackout). Annoyingly, I didn’t have a knitting needle with me to stab the girl who confiscated it. Or my glasses case (also forbidden) to assault and batter her with. I mean, it’s no wonder that poor deranged woman the other day tried to hijack a plane with a pot of Vaseline. – although thank goodness some brave person managed to overpower and wrest it from her before anything terrible happened!

Ekaterinburg Philharmonic audience

December 11, 2008 I finally arrived in Moscow. The Siberian tour was wonderful and I sold out of CDs and met lots of wonderful, soulful Russians. Okay, so the food wasn’t ideal. But everything else was amazing. We even went to a Scottish jazz pub (see picture of me standing between two hunky Russians in kilts). They even had a flag! Though there seemed to be a bit of confusion because it was actually the Welsh flag. I felt kind of sad as I said goodbye to everyone last night. We were traveling with another two bands who were opening for us. A certain bond happens when you travel en masse on the overnight trains in Siberia.

But although the cab ride from the airport to the hotel today took longer than it did to fly in from Siberia I am THRILLED to report that this hotel is POSH! Already had room service (expense be damned!) and am planning to avail self of the gym and maybe even the sauna later. Yes a gym and sauna and beauty spa are on the premises. I even have internet (free). There is wood. Real wood furniture. Two bedside tables — though a single bed. And a bath WITH A PLUG so I can actually have a bath. Luxury beyond imagining. As for my fellow musicians … Richie, Oleg and Daniel were heading off for another overnight train trip and the St Petersburg musicians were taking a 36-hour (this is not a typo) train trip back home. I thought of them all as I walked up the massive corridor here towards my room. I’m afraid I started laughing. Aloud. All alone. Not at my fellow musicians, enduring more travel horror (as if!), but with JOY! Pure joy! It’s the contrast, you see!

A nice glass of red wine later, I am feeling more like “La Souter” — as they called me in the Italian newspapers in Palermo. Although I must confess that playing at Philharmonic Halls throughout Russia does make you feel pretty grand. When I walked through the foyer to get dinner, the crowd that was still there after the concert burst into spontaneous applause as I passed by, waving and smiling in a queen-like fashion (having been instructed at the start of the tour by Daniel to act more “like a star!” As you can imagine the Queen of Ham doesn’t need to be told things like this twice!). Little did they (or I) know that dinner was going to be shredded boiled egg on mayonnaise and grated carrot on top of bread followed by spaghetti with no sauce, cos I don’t eat pork, which meant I missed out on the giant slab of pork that was served up with it. Or was that why they were applauding. 

But I had lovely emails today from people who said they witnessed people in tears at my performance (nothing like hunger to make you sing with feeling!). And I scored the massive poster outside with my picture on it. It is now all folded up in my suitcase, weighing more than everything else combined. Next up is the gig in Moscow club on Friday followed by a surprise Russian TV appearance on Saturday. Eek! I think I’m scared, but am hoping “La Souter” shows up for that one. And then it’s back to London and then HOME HOME HOME! I can’t WAIT! I hope you will be able to see us in January. Then I go to Korea for three weeks, and then back for February (save the date for Valentine’s Day at Cornelia Street — FANTASTIC food! — and also on Feb 25 at the Kitano, as well as 55 on Friday, Feb 13!) Meanwhile, more pictures from the tour.siberia 2 023 siberia 2 027 siberia 004 siberia 014 siberia 039

Here I am in Omsk, Siberia, the most civilised of the cities so far — at least hotel-wise. The wallpaper is completely stuck to the wall, the fabric seats of the chairs are unstained, the formica furniture has only one bobbly bit on the bedside table, there IS a bedside table, I can switch the light off and on from the bed (as opposed to switch it off at the entrance and light my way back to bed with the screen light of my cell phone). The bed has a quilt (as opposed to a strange sleeping bag style sheet you have to climb into with a crackly bri-nylon coverlet on top of it), the main light bulb didn’t explode when i flicked the switch, and I have INTERNET!

However, all the hotels (even this one) have this kind of low on provisions vibe. Like, the loo paper is always just about to run out and when it does it is replaced with more loo paper that is just about to run out. And when I asked for coffee at breakfast, the waittress brought five small packets of instant coffee to replenish the entire buffet. And speaking of food. Let’s just say it is everything everyone promised it would be. My first breakfast was a kind of ommelette, except someone had forgotten to whisk the eggs, so it was actually four fried eggs stuck together with bits of Spam chopped up in it. And no, I didn’t eat it. And the bread all tastes like someone forgot to wrap it up after it was baked — which would have been some time the previous week, judging by its hardness!

But Omsk is good. And last night I had the best sushi ever on earth in a very posh restaurant — although at about midnight, billowing smoke was piped on to a disco floor and two young women wearing big floaty tops, black platform boots and … er .. thongs (yes, they had forgotten to put on their skirts) came out and started doing a sort of porn dance — presumably hired to entice people on to the dance floor.

But the hotels are at least hotels. After some of the gigs we don’t stay in hotels. Instead we ride the train through snowy Siberia, which was a terribly thrilling concept. But then they turned out to be overnight sleepers with SHARED compartments. The first train we took from Surgut to Tyunem took 16 hours. And getting on and off train platforms involves dragging big heavy bags up and down stairs. Many stairs. Many, icy, snow-laden stairs. The trains are kind of beautiful. Or, at least, they were once. Actual carpet runners in the halls, a little rug between the shared (four bunks per cabin) compartments. Curtains. Sort of like in the movie Some Like It Hot. Then again, … maybe not like that. Maybe more like Escape from Colditz on wheels.

After fighting vainly to open a window (the words “…need …. air … now ….” racing around my oxygen-starved mind), until we were sternly informed “it is not possible open window!”, I slumped back on my bunk opposite my fellow American Richie [Goods] and said: “I’m trying very hard to think of any situation at all when a train like this would be fun. But I can’t.” However, the overnight train on Thursday was significantly better — aside from the huge naked man in one of the windows, who was staring at us as we arrived, swaithed only in cigarette smoke, and actually scratching his belly. Somehow the word “ominously” feels like it should go into that sentence somewhere, perhaps before the word scratching. Richie said the train only seemed better because we had lowered our expectations.

BUT … the gigs have been fantastic, the crowds are warm (last night we got a standing O) and I’ve already totally sold out of CDs after three of the gigs ( (four more to go). I only brought 100, though, which is a bit annoying, but what can you do! I’ve been kicking myself but, I think, really, I couldn’t have coped with carrying them anyway (those stairs!). The band is great and we’ve been doing some interesting stuff. So I am having fun. Palermo was fantastic too. Both nights absolutely packed. Great band. And it is absolutely the most beautiful venue I have ever seen. Though the Siberian Philharmonic Halls we are performing in are pretty amazing too (will put up some of those pictures this week). London was also fun. And sold out. But, so far, Siberia is the most … er … interesting place I have ever performed. I am actually coming back to Russia (Samara) in March! Watch this space.

But next up: Omsk (second night tonight, followed by train ride to), Ekaterinburg (8th and 9th) and Moscow (12th), and then I will be back home in New York by Christmas. I will be at the 55 bar with my FULL ENTIRE BAND (except for Victor) on January 9. Plus, I think you can come and hear us at the APAP conference, too, on January 11. If you want to cheer us on there, we’d love to have you. All the info is below. By the way, my Venus CD [Night of Key Largo] comes out in Japan on my mother’s birthday, December 17!