A Rock’N’Roll Home – In Russia !

This month, wanna take time out from advising you about the great Russian bands here, to tell you about an iconic venue here in Moscow:

There is a history here in Moscow of attempts to set up regular, permanent rock’n’roll venues. One of the greatest of these was the Rock’n’Roll Pub in south east Moscow. Founded by Mikhail Palitskiy, it was started shortly after I moved to Moscow in 2004, to live and work here. What a venue ! At weekends it sort of became my second home, a real outpost of rock’n’roll culture here in Russia. The best Russian bands used to come and play. As I mentioned in a previous article, in my opinion the greatest of these was Stressor. They used to come up from their home town of Tula, south of Moscow, to perform there on a regular basis: Those were nights to remember ! The décor of the place was also pure rock’n’roll. For example, all the framed photos and graphics on the walls were of icons like Gene Vincent, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Burnette, etc. There were even some Teddy Boy graphics on the walls, thanks to material I had given to Mikhail !

Unfortunately it didn’t last. The venue owners, believing they could make more money by adopting different musical styles, changed the culture and ethos of the place and the Rock’n’Roll pub was no more. Mikhail tried again at another venue, the Grease Club in central Moscow – “grease” referring to our rock’n’roll hair styles ! It had a good 2 years of life with a rockin’ culture, similar to the Rock’n’Roll pub. But again the owners decided to switch to another style of club and Grease, like the Pub, after a gallant life died a sorely lamented death. But a big Thankyou to all those Russian rock’n’rollers who supported these clubs, which gave us such wonderful times; above all to Mikhail, without whom it would never have happened.

This leads us on to the main topic of this article: the Rock’n’Roll events at the Esse Jazz Café in Moscow. The café is one of the most famous in the city for live jazz music. Both local and international jazz performers appear nightly at the venue. But now the café has also become a real home for regular rock’n’roll events, especially live music.

In many of my previous articles for this magazine, I’ve reported on concerts held at the Café and the venue has established itself as one of the premier locations for r’n’r in the city. I talked to the owner, Grant Khandzhyan, and asked him how the establishment and development of rock’n’roll at the club came about. I also tried to find (even with the assistance of his wife, Tamara !) some juicy stories about Grant, that I could share with you in this article. Alas, Grant is the original “Mr Straight Arrow”, squeaky clean with no skeletons in his cupboard. What a shame !

Q: What was the date of the first rock’n’roll concert at New Esse ?
A: The first rock’n’roll concert took place at the Esse Café in central Moscow, shortly after it opened its doors to the public in August 2011. While the first dance classes at our other Esse Café in east Moscow, if I am not mistaken, celebrated their 6th anniversary at Esse in February of this year. As I remember, the first rockin’ bands to play at the Cafe were Vladimir Pankratov and Real Hot BBQ, followed by The Raw Cats.

Q: What was yours and Grant’s inspiration for setting up this rock’n’roll Project ?
A: Richard Hume !

Q: How long have you been into rock’n’roll ? What were the main reasons for your getting into it ?
A: Always loved the music. And the short answer would be- to prove that rock’n’roll is alive over here ! The longer one is, many circumstances coincided: I met Richard several years ago and realised that there is a community in Moscow that adores this music. All these things inspired me to start this Project at our venue.

Q: Who are your favourite rock’n’roll legends (thinking here about people like Elvis, etc.) ?
A: Apart from the great Elvis, I would name Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard.

Q: Who are your favourite Russian rock’n’roll groups ?
A: “The Secret” – a beat quartet, “Bravo” and ” Neschastny Sluchai” were my favourite bands in 80’s. I still enjoy listening to them every now and then.

Q: Why is the Café such a great venue for rock’n’roll concerts ?
A: Convenient location, close to the metro, a cosy, yet professional scene. A hall that can be fully transformed into a dance floor (we usually remove the chairs and tables for the period of these concerts). And also the audiences, comprising all the age ranges, find it more attractive to visit such places, different from the noisy, down-market and packed pubs. Although we’ve often had noisy and packed parties, too !

Thankyou Grant, for actively helping and supporting our great rock’n’roll Culture ! A Big Thanks also to his wife Tamara, who has also been active in her powerful support of Rock’n’Roll in Russia. To find out more, you can visit the Café’s web-site at www.jazzesse.ru

And finally, Grant and Tamara’s support of rock’n’roll is one of genuine sacrifice. As the owner of the Café, Grant makes much more money from his jazz concerts. But he runs rock’n’roll events, for considerably less money, all in the cause of supporting rock’n’roll in Russia. Nice one, mate !

All the photos were taken at the rock’n’roll events at the café. The sixth photo is one of all the staff who work at the café – Grant is the one behind the piano in the light coloured shirt on the right.
Richard Hume