Okay so Belarus was hands down the most fun I have ever had traveling for a gig. I got to hang out with one of my very dearest friends (Essential Sue) and made some new ones (including Inga, who brought me out there and made it such a success), played with an unbelievably excellent band, taught a master class at the Belarus Academy of Music — my first! — drank lots of Soviet champagne, and had a string of amazing, mostly sold out gigs, playing for wonderful, appreciative audiences. What’s not to love? The picture is of my first concert at the Belarus State Theater — photographed by Yuri Dudinski from the US Embassy.
 
I almost didn’t make it. There was a blizzard in New York and the freeway to the airport was a long line of stationary red brake lights. Thank goodness for my amazing cab driver who, due to some nifty back street driving, put up with my pogo-ing up and down in the back seat, got us there only 15 minutes after the gate was due to close, and only TWICE said, “You should have left earlier!”
 
My friend Selene had managed to find a number at Aeroflot with a human being on the end. A stern human being. At Aeroflot. Who said there was NO WAY ON EARTH they would hold the gate and of course would not give me the number. But pleading tearfully for her to call the gate herself and tell them I was nearly there worked. When I arrived, I ran up to the gate with my arms and legs sticking up all over the place and they closed the gate behind me. Yikes. Thirty people were not so lucky and missed the plane. Then, of course, we ended up sitting on the tarmac for two hours waiting for permission to take off.

This made me late at the other end, where Bellavia (the national airline for Belarus) — after a phone call from Inga — actually held the plane on the tarmac for 20 minutes and sent a bus just for me to take me out to it. She’d told them we had all these sold out concerts that I couldn’t miss, which absolutely explained the mysterious extra special treatment I was getting — people scrabbling to help me carry my bags and being super nice … you know, like I was Elton John or something.  Here is a picture of Inga standing next to the poster she made for our first concert at the Belarus State Theater.

By the way, did I mention how ridiculously beautiful all the women in Belarus are?
 
 
The audiences everywhere were amazing. Many came over and told me that they had been moved to tears. One boy said: “Your music makes my heart sing with emotion!” And an older man turned to Inga in tears and told her: “She sings of the love I never met.” Profound. We got a standing ovation that night. The band, Appletea, was extraordinary — even though we were a septet and could have been an unholy mess. And there were so many young people there. I think maybe because the education system is so excellent so they are very sophisticated listeners. Here is a picture of the wonderful 17-year-old, Elisabeth, who speaks perfect English, which she learned from the Internet, sold my CDs and was generally indispensable! Note fab t-shirt which Inga had made.

That t-shirt has my face on it!

 

Speaking of young people, the students in the master class at the Belarus Academy of Music were fantastic. Not only did I hear some wonderful singers, but they were so deep. 

Workshop class at Belarus Academy
One young woman gave me a beautiful interpretation of the meaning of Summertime, when I asked her to tell me what the song was about to her. She not only talked about the horrors of being a slave but imagined how a slave mother would feel singing to her baby who was going to grow up to be a slave. But, of course, Russia has a tough history so it’s no wonder its people are so soulful. And there was so much raw talent in the room. It was very exciting to witness.
The next two nights — Sunday and Monday — we played at a little club called Graffiti, where the crowd was even younger and just as attentive — in spite of much Soviet champagne and vodka (“It is Russian tradition!”) and where it was so sold out the owner had to give us the second night for the overflow and still people couldn’t get in. I absolutely have to go back! Even the smoking was bearable!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Audience listening.
island video, minsk
Click the picture to watch the video on YouTube

The teeny club, Graffiti, was kind of like the 55 Bar, only a much younger clientele. And instead of wine and beer everyone was quaffing Soviet champagne (delicious!) and vodka. The tables in rows in front of you were where all the young people were sitting, looking super attentive and dreamy (okay, some of them were kissing!). And then at the back near the actual bar, where the videographer managed to squish herself in, was where the talking element sat. But it wasn’t too bad actually – from the stage, that is. Listening to the video, it isn’t ideal where the camera was. 

And here is some video of the second night — us doing The Island by Ivan Lins and the Bergmans. I think there are more videos to come. Also, I must chop the first concert video into separate tracks because I have that too and there is no talking. 

 
More please! Next stop … Moscow!

 

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