Hello again from Russia ! This month we are gonna continue the exciting story of a legendary Russian rock’n’roll band. Over the last three years, they have established themselves as one of the greatest bands in Russia. We began their story last month and this month Katya Romanova, lead singer and keyboards with the group, will continue to tell us more, along with fellow band members Natalya (lead guitar), Sergey (bass guitar and support vocals) and Alexander (drums). You can see some photos of the group in action, at some of the concerts I booked them for.
The guys continue their story by telling us to what extent they were influenced by other Russian rock’n’roll groups, when they first started playing:
Natalya: The record “The Bremen Town Musicians” was very impressive and had a big impact on me.
Sergey: My influencer is the band Grazhdanskaya Oborona, if you mean Russian music.
Katerina: Oddly enough, I never liked the music of Russian rock’n’roll bands. For some reason, it has never touched me to the heart. If any Russian music really influenced me, it is Russian folklore. It is real, authentic. I studied many such expedition records; I myself went to collect old songs of old villagers. I enjoyed learning these songs and performing them. This music touched my heart, influenced me and I really liked it.
The band members also discussed the most significant events in their personal rock’n’roll histories:
Natalya: My 50th birthday, July 7, 2017. They didn’t bring me a birthday cake in the form of a huge guitar, because the manufacturer couldn’t make it and had eaten all the blooper variants needed for it ! But I was presented with more than 50 bouquets of flowers. And then exactly at 22:00 all the numerous guests and musicians were kicked out of the venue !
Sergey: My most memorable concert was in the Square in the city of Saratov – more than 20 thousand people.
Alexander: I hope I have not played my best concert yet, so it is still to come !
And now Katerina will continue the story of Old Time Rock’n’Roll. Over to you, Katya:
My most special gig was at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. It was like a little miracle ! After all, this is an incredibly iconic place; this is where The Beatles started and then many world-famous rock musicians performed there. Myself, Akim Vedenin and two other musicians had gone to the UK as tourists, not to perform as a band or anything. We came to see the country, museums, architectural landmarks, London and Liverpool; normal tourists, nothing more. But we met a local Liverpool musician in the city, Tony Coburn and so suddenly we got a concert at the Cavern Club with Tony. He gave us instruments because we hadn’t even a bass and keyboards with us. Tony was already down to play at the Cavern. Suddenly he suggested, don’t we want to assemble a band with him for one evening and play this concert at the Cavern Club together ? It was strange to ask – of course we wanted to ! So, the miracle happened: We were on the stage of that same Cavern Club. The evening was unforgettable; the audience acclaimed us very well.
Old Time Rock’n’Roll often play at Richard Hume’s wonderful dance events; one day, one of these concerts turned out to be a kind of “comedy apocalypse”. That evening our drummer Alexander couldn’t come and was replaced by our friend Nikolay Denisov. At concerts I play the synthesizer while singing – I usually dance a little behind the keys. But this time, something went wrong: When I threw up a dancing leg with a habitual movement, a shoe suddenly jumped off it and flew across the entire hall over the heads of the dancing audience. Moreover, the shoe had a heavy and sharp heel. So, I’m standing on the stage, I can’t catch up with the shoe and helplessly observe its long and picturesque flight. I continued to sing, simultaneously trying to teleport the shoe away from the dancing heads. I think that the shoe obeyed me: it flew amazingly filigree between all the dancers and landed at the opposite wall of the hall. It did not meet with a single head and we did not have to call an ambulance to the party. While I, unexpectedly finding myself in the role of Cinderella who had lost her shoe, remained standing on one high heel. I had to finish the song in the pose of a heron !
However, it was just the beginning of that crazy evening. When we were playing “Twist and Shout” I suddenly found out that no one was singing backing vocals. I started screaming lead vocals even more insistently, trying to wake up the “sleeping backing vocalists”. However, it did not help. Finally, I turned away from the microphone to look behind me. I saw something there that I never expected to see. The cymbals had fallen on drummer Kolya along with heavy iron racks from the drum set. And he, trying to get out from under the rubble, continued to regularly hit the drum barrel and hit from where he could reach it from such a position. At this time, Natalya, as a lifeguard, tried to free Kolya, but the cymbals fell back on him again and again. And while we were all confused, trying to figure out what to do, we forgpt how we were able to play the song to the end !
When the drums were restored, the “crash” concert seemed to go according to plan. We were sure that nothing more unusual would happen. But, as soon as we played the last note of the last song, the final chord of the concert was the epic fall of Sergey’s music stand from the stage into the hall. By that moment, the audience was already ready for something like this and someone even enthusiastically caught the music stand in the hall. It was the logical crash final of the crash concert!
If I had to name an individual in the history of Russian rock’n’roll that I particularly admire, for their contribution to the rockin’ scene here in Russia, I would probably name the female singer Zemfira. The greatest musical influence on me ? Of course without a doubt the music of the Beatles. And yet, when I was very young, I was very impressed with the early works of Suzi Quatro, probably I even took her as an example to follow in those days. One of my all-time rock’n’roll heroes is Little Richard. My all-time favourite song is “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles.
One of the most significant events in recent Russian music history took place on May 24, 2003: Paul McCartney’s legendary concert took place in Red Square in Moscow. This was Paul’s first visit to Russia and the first concert by a Western musician in Red Square. McCartney was welcomed at the highest level, as heads of state are welcomed. Tickets for the concert were sold out in a moment. The Red Square was as crowded as it can be (it is still not clear exactly how many people squeezed into the Square, estimates vary from 20 to 50 thousand people). Some of those who were not able to get in to watch the concert telephoned friends who were in the Red Square audience. These friends kept their mobiles on for the entire concert, so their absent friends could listen to the show. The event was covered in the media far beyond Russia, and the recording of the concert was watched in a huge number of countries. Some local politicians very strongly opposed the event, considering such audacity on Red Square unacceptable. In general, it was something very special and it was perceived as a great breakthrough culturally in Russia.
But it was also a big breakthrough for me personally – after all, it was the very first big concert that I got to in my life. Moreover, it was not easy to get in: At the age of 14, I had no job or my own money and my parents were not at all eager to buy me an expensive ticket and or let me go in the crowd at a rock concert. There were family quarrels, tears, a feeling of impotence that I would not be able to attend the concert of my dreams. Crazy plans were even born in my 14-year-old head; like secretly sneaking onto the roof of GUM and hiding [Richard’s note – the GUM is a tall building close to Red Square], then watching the concert from there. Finally, my parents agreed to buy me the cheapest tickets, on the condition that I go with my Dad. And so for me the miracle happened ! McCartney, despite his mature age, really let his heart out, rocking for 3 hours. He performed 37 songs, including the Beatles’ incorruptible “Back in USSR” – twice, for an encore. It was obvious he had long been waiting for the moment to perform it in Moscow. The crowd was raging and a general enthusiasm was in the air.
Here’s what’s amazing to realise: I didn’t even suspect then that my future close friends, my future beloved men, future fellow musicians, future friends were standing around me on the square. I didn’t know any of them and they were just strangers in the crowd for me that day. But then, years later, they gradually came into my life and we remembered how each of us was at that concert. In general, for many of them it was something special. And I will never forget that feeling of universal happiness and boundless childish delight that filled every cell of my body !
Outside of rock’n’roll, my other main passions and hobbies are popular science lectures, folklore and rats (i.e. as pets). Well yes, this is my hobby set !
Thankyou so much Katya and to your fellow band members. Next month, I’ll have another rock’n’roll story for you from Russia. Don’t touch that dial.
Hi once more from good old Russia ! This month we are gonna tell the story of one of the greatest rock’n’roll bands in Russia. It’s a group that has a three year history, although the history of its individual stars goes back much much further.
The band in question is “Old Time Rock’n’Roll”. I have booked them many times for the concerts I organise in Moscow. Every time they have gone down a storm with the audience. Some of the photos you can see were taken at them. Quite simply, they are a brilliant band with a real rock’n’roll feel. Plus, they’re stage performance also significantly adds to their great sound. They have a huge following in Russia.
Regular readers of this column with a real good memory will remember 3 great articles that were written and published during 2018 and 2019 by Natalya Terekhova, the lead guitarist with the band and a legendary figure in Russian rock’n’roll. In them Natalya gave a history of her famous rock’n’roll life. In this article, the lead singer Katerina Romanova will tell us her own rock’n’roll story as well as the history of Old Time Rock’n’Roll, with the help of her fellow band members. Over to you, Katerina:
I remember very well the first time I saw Natalya. I was very young then, I didn’t perform myself, but I already loved rock’n’roll and went to concerts. It happened in 2004: I came to a small concert in a small hall of a small club in Moscow. That evening several bands performed in turn in that tiny club. All the musicians were simply dressed, very casual. But – Natalya wasn’t ! She suddenly went on stage with her band Magic and shocked everyone. She wore an incredibly bright stage costume, decorated with lots of sequins, fringe, with some large chains, bright makeup, spectacular cleavage and mini. “Damn, who the hell is this?!” I thought. She was so out of the crowd that it seemed as if she was cut out from another fragment of reality, as in a photo collage and pasted here. I should say that the rest of the women from her band were dressed quite simply. I wasn’t acquainted with Natasha then, but I remembered her well, it was hard to forget !
The second time I met Natalya was in 2012, at the Lady Rock festival in Moscow. There were cover bands performing rock classics and the festival’s selection criterion was that of Girl Bands. Natalya performed there with the same Magic band and I performed with the Rocking Sun group, where I was the only Girl in fact. This meeting with Natalya got off to a rocky start. I mean that I seemed to her to be arrogant or something (in fact I was terribly insecure), and she seemed to me too drunk to go on stage (although she was very probably sober !) One way or another, it never occurred to us then that we would communicate later. It was a great surprise when, after another two years, a woman I didn’t know well wrote to me: “Katya, Hello! Natalya Terekhova advised me to contact you. The fact is that we are assembling a female cover band, and we need a cool keyboard player. Natalya says you’d be Great !”
That group was not successful for us, but almost immediately afterwards Natalya called me to her group Magic. A great shock for me was that Magic rehearsed in the attic of a children’s school building and had been doing so for years ! I joined them first as a keyboardist and then as a vocalist. We played mostly classic rock from the 1970s and 1980s. We had several years of fun, concerts and tours. However, in 2018, Natalya and I had creative differences and I left the band.
She continued to perform with Magic and I joined “All My Secrets”, whose leader is Sergey Etzel. All My Secrets mainly performed Russian-language music (but not exclusively); our programme also included Sergey’s own compositions.
In 2020 I got the idea to “go back to the roots” and assemble a new band; I wanted to play my favourite rock’n’roll classics. I realised that I definitely wanted Natalya in the line-up. It was not easy for me to call her, because we had parted with conflict. However, I called her. And that call became the beginning of Old Time Rock’n’Roll. Our first drummer was Oleg Bankovsky and I called up Sergey Etzel from All My Secrets as the second vocalist and bass player. A year later, a wonderful drummer Alexander Popov, also from All My Secrets, joined us. Then the puzzle came together perfectly !
Our repertoire contains many Little Richard songs, like Long Tall Sally, Lucille, Tutti Frutti, Rip it Up, etc. We also play many Elvis Presley songs such as That’s Alright Mama, All Shook Up and Hound Dog. We add other rock’n’roll “standards” to the program, for example Great Balls of Fire (Jerry Lee Lewis), Maybelline (Chuck Berry), C’mon Everybody (Eddie Cochran)
La Bamba (Ritchie Valens) and many, many more. Sometimes we play a programme that is broader in the musical genre sense, composing it from songs of completely different eras and styles. These songs are the blow-offs from such mixed programmes, such as “I Feel Good” (James Brown), I will Survive (Gloria Gaynor), Highway to Hell (AC/DC), Runaway (Del Shannon) and Imagine (John Lennon). These are just a small number of examples.
Thankyou, Katya ! Old Time Rock’n’Roll is a 4-piece, comprised as follows:
Katerina Romanova – lead singer and keyboards, Natalya Terekhova – lead guitar, Sergey Etzel – bass guitar and support vocals and Alexander Popov – Drummer. Here are their stories of how music entered their lives:
Sergey: I didn’t start with classic rock’n’roll. In the late 1980s, I listened to Skid Row, Ozzy and Bon Jovi. Most of all, I liked Cinderella and their front man Tom Keifer. But one day, in 1990, I saw a clip from Guns N Roses on MTV. I liked everything in it. I remember especially the bass player Duff McKagan. That’s when I decided to continue my musical activity in a different way. I now ask myself why on earth did I continue, from the age of 7 right up to 15, attending piano classes at music school ! I didn’t show up for the final exam. I didn’t like it all. I just bunked off that damn exam, that’s all. I thought – to hell with that music.
As soon as I fell for Guns N Roses, I decided to continue my music activities. But in a different way. The first group was assembled in college. I started performing in 1993. But it was not bass guitar at once. Singing and playing the bass guitar then did not work well for me. I picked up the bass again in the early 2000s.
Alexander: At the age of 12, I heard Nirvana and all hell broke loose in my mind ! We assembled a band at school, and then at college, I also performed with other different guys. Then, from about 2000 until now, rock’n’roll !
Katerina: When I was 3, my Dad brought home a video cassette of the Beatles’ music videos. These included “Help!” and “A Hard Day’s Night”. But firstly, Dad himself was not a Beatles fan (he just bought a lot of different cassettes then), and secondly, he did not plan to show the Beatles to a three-year-old child at all.
And the little me rushed about with a new doll and did not pay attention to anything else. But when I ran into the room where the film “A Hard Day’s Night” was on the screen, absolutely everything changed for me at that moment. This was the episode where McCartney sings “And I Love Her”. A three-year-old child threw aside her favourite doll, sat down in front of the screen and as if spellbound watched the film to the end without a single movement. Then I asked my Dad to play this tape for me again and again, then asked him to buy something else by the Beatles. And so, at the age of three, my conscious love for music began !
I also made my older sister help me to play songs “by ear” on the piano. Then there was a music school and a music college.
Therefore, when I was 16 years old, I found out that there is a Beatles.ru website, where older fans communicate. I didn’t have the internet then and I didn’t even know which way to approach the computer and how to turn it on. But still, in some internet cafe, with great difficulty I went to the site and the first thing I saw was an announcement that they were looking for a singing keyboard player in a Wings tribute band – a Girl to perform the parts of Linda McCartney. Well, of course I couldn’t not help myself and wrote to them. That’s how I got into my first band. Then I performed in many different rockin’ projects where we played music ranging from Elvis to AC/DC. The Doors and Led Zeppelin tribute bands can probably be called the brightest and most unusual of these bands for me.
Natalya: I have always been attracted to the sound of an over-driven guitar and music where you can hear such a sound. Therefore, I became interested in heavy music from a very school age. Basically, it was heavy metal. Nevertheless, I listened to different genres of music. I was interested in playing in other styles. I had a kind of leisure interest to play “A Spruce Was Born in the Forest” and “Hello Dolly” with jazz chords. As soon as I succeeded, I abandoned all that jazz. I then came to believe that all good music is rock’n’roll. As even Lemmy from Motorhead said, “It’s all rock’n’roll. So let’s get back to rock’n’roll !” For many years, I performed in bands with original material. I didn’t sincerely understand then, “why play some other person’s song if it has already been played?” When I was 32 years old (in 1999) – I formed one of the very first Russian Girls’ bands, Magic, with non-proprietary rock’n’roll material and other good people’s songs in English. Bands like Magic are commonly referred to as cover bands. However, the concept of “cover” means that we remake the song, changing something. And Magic tried to copy the best original musicians as accurately as possible, even if it was a whole symphony orchestra and three guitars ! But we nevertheless agreed to be called a cover band. In our programme, there were not many real rock’n’rollers. We didn’t have a thematic goal. We learned songs exclusively that we personally liked – from The Beatles, Lulu, Linda Ronstadt to ZZ Top, Status Quo and the Scorpions. Then one day Richard Hume showed up at our concert and things changed !
Thankyou Natalya ! And Thanks Guys for your great stories. Next month the story of Old Time Rock’n’Roll will continue. Stay tuned !
Hi again from Moscow, Russia ! This month we’re gonna provide you the third of a triology, telling you all about a very rare rock’n’roll event – and it’s taking place in Russia. Let me once again briefly give you the background to this story, before I hand over, as I did last month, to Vadim Shapovalov, for him to tell you more about this exciting Teddy Boy Project.
Vadim is a professional sculptor and has created an Art Project dedicated to the culture of the Teddy Boy. With the aid of his friend Sergey Shakhov he has created an exhibition of Teddy Boy mini-scuptures. You can see some of them here in the photos. Vadim is also the lead singer with the famous Russian band “Stone Faces”. Last month Vadim also told us about his own personal rock’n’roll story and we got up to point where he founded the group “Severe Silent Scoundrels” in the early 1990s. This rock’n’roll band was a wild and frenzied one. Vadim will tell you more – over to you, Sergey:
Musically, the Severe Silent Scoundrels were rock’n’roll, although we had our own term for our style – “electro-boogie-woogie”. The artistic journey of the Severe Silent Scoundrels went close to alcohol and drugs and the performances were absolutely wild. For example at one of our concerts, before we started playing, we were pushed off the stage because of our behaviour. At a festival in Bryansk, during our performance the audience went into such a frenzy that they began to smash up things in the concert hall. The first three rows of seats were completely broken ! As a result, the organisers of the concert, instead of paying the musicians who had performed their promised fee, deducted an amount to pay for the repair of the premises and only paid the musicians what was left over.
In the mid-1990s, our rock’n’roll lifestyle landed two of the four Scoundrels straight to jail. As a result, we two survivors, me and my buddy Ignat, reformed the line-up and I had to sing and play the double bass. I can’t say that I succeeded in playing the double bass very well ! However, we played until the end of the 1990s and even recorded an EP.
Then for about a year I gave up music, but in the end I realised I couldn’t live without it. Since I had been fond of psychobilly for a long time, I began to look for musicians to realise my aspirations. And I found them. On 1st April 2000 a new band called Stone Faces gave their first concert at a party of the “Orel Butchers football firm” (a football supporters’ club who supported the local Orel team) and from that moment, with some interruptions, we have been making our own brand of rock’n’roll. I have performed both with Russian psycho-bands and with foreign style masters; Surf Rats, Long Tall Texans, Milwaukee Wildmen, Sir Psycho And His Monsters. In 2015, my family and I moved to Moscow from Orel and so a new line-up was assembled. We continue to perform and write new songs. In April, we started a recording session and will shortly be releasing either a EP, CD or vinyl.
I have had many funny stories related to music in my life. I can recall the performance of my first punk band at a student festival in 1990, at the Institute where I studied. The second number of our programme was a song called “I don’t give a f***”, with a similar refrain repeated many times. After the performance of this song, they cut off the sound and kicked us off the stage. I remember the reaction of the audience: half of the audience shouted “get off the stage!” whilst the other half – “shut up, let the guys play!” It was a real antagonism within the audience; in terms of intensity, I had not seen anything like it ! Since it was still in the time of the USSR, this performance backfired on me, by the fact that I was expelled from the Komsomol organisation (the majority of young people were its members in those days and it was a very important communist party organisation for the youth to belong to). And that wasn’t enough for the Komsomol members, so they began to demand my expulsion from the Institute. I was saved by my fellow students who were on the same course as myself. There were 5 groups on my faculty course, each of about 10-12 people. They sent a collective letter to the Dean’s office of our faculty, in which they asked the Dean not to expel me from the institute, promising to take me “on bail” i.e. keep an eye on me !
Another funny episode is the trip of the Severe Silent Scoundrels on tour to Lithuania in 1992. So many adventures there which would be enough for a whole book. In short, here is one story: We did not arrive in time to perform – the festival ended just before our arrival. We were lodged and settled in the basement under a menagerie (in our country the word menagerie means something like a small zoo where the animals are not in enclosures but in cages. I remember a peacock yelled a lot in a bad voice !) The organisers said that they would still arrange a concert for us. A couple of days later we had a conflict with them and we were pushed out of lodgings. Since they didn’t pay us any money as we didn’t perform, we had to get from Vilnius to our native Orel – about 900 km – by commuter trains. If you could avoid the train controllers, you didn’t have to pay. We got home in this way on a journey which lasted for more than three days, getting food by shoplifting. I must say, we did not starve !
And another story is connected to our classic rock’n’roll style, which was our main genre at that time. I think it was 1989. My friend Slava, nicknamed Plokhish (Baddie – the name is taken from a famous character in Soviet literature) and I looked into a thrift store window (a Soviet version of a second hand shop) and saw there real creepers [Richard’s note – Teddy Boys will know these shoes of course, which we used to call “brothel creepers”] or, as we called them, “semolina shoes” ! They were clearly made and customised by some crafty Russian shoemaker. They differed in design from the classic creepers, but the main element – a thick corrugated sole – made a strong impression on us. They cost 6 roubles, not so expensive in those days and Slava quickly bought them. I should have been happy for him, but I snapped my cap (Russian expression), because those shoes were too small for me, otherwise I would have bought them from Plokhish for a larger sum. Then it was Slava’s turn to snap his cap – having changed into his new shoes, he walked a couple of kilometers in these creepers and the soles crumbled into dust ! Whether it was some kind of faux rubber, or simply they were too old, the soles fell apart and Slava was not able to restore the shoes in any shoe workshop. He was so sad ! Now Slava is an Orthodox priest; a bit of a change from his earlier days, when he used to wear a worn leather jacket with an inscription in white paint on the back – “God save the KGB” !
Of the Russian performers, I respect the Mean Traitors the most – I believe that they influenced not only Russian, but also the entire world of rock’n’roll and psychobilly in particular. Prior to the release of their “From Psychobilly Land” CD, psychobilly had neither such crazy speed nor such original rhythm structure. Even the sound production of their guitarist and leader Stas Bogorad had its own specific features. Piercing hysterical vocals are another original feature of theirs. As for the Russian-speaking rock’n’roll music writers, here I want to pay tribute to Mike Naumenko and Zoopark – their influence on Russian rock’n’roll is unconditional. Mike’s lyrics are simple, witty and vital – what more do you need for a rock lyric? Richard, do you remember our discussion about Sham 69 via email? [Richard’s note – I do ! Sham 69 were a brilliant band especially in the 1970s – wild, raucous and authentic] Why did I remember this? Here is Jimmy Pursey’s (Sham 69’s lead singer) text: “Is this me or is this you ? Look in the mirror, Who do you see ? Do you see you ? Or do you see me ?” And here is the text of Mike Naumenko: “I’m an ordinary guy, I’m simple as can be. I’m just like him. I’m just like you. I don’t see the point in talking to me, It’s exactly the same as talking to you.” Different languages, but the meaning is the same ! This means that in different countries sub-cultural people think alike !
One of my first strongest musical influences was Jerry Lee Lewis, whom I have already mentioned. I should say that in the second half of the 1980s, when I first saw Jerry Lee on TV, the attitude towards rock’n’roll among the Soviet authorities became more condescending, perhaps as if they were some kind of retro. At that time, the Soviet zealots of culture had more serious enemies, punk and heavy metal and perhaps in contrast to them, the Soviet media tried to mould rock’n’roll into some impotent entertainment. There was a cliché – “oldie but goodie rock’n’roll”, that gave birth to some hack music, stylised as rock’n’roll. So Jerry Lee appearing on Soviet TV made it clear that rock’n’roll is not so goodie and not so oldie and that it is able to out-do fashionable but half-dead trends. It was amazing for me how blood-pumping an ordinary piano can sound when someone knocks the c**p out of it ! Before that, the piano seemed such a boring instrument to me !
If we talk about the heroes of rock’n’roll, then of course the 1950s are the best period. There is a whole alley of heroes and they had not only their music, but also amazing lives ! Nevertheless, my favourite is of course Jerry Lee Lewis – the living manifestation of musical rebellion, which is rock’n’roll. My all time favourite record is his Great Balls of Fire. Lemmy Kilmister, Iggy Pop – these people, like Jerry Lee, personified the music they played; they were always honest with the listeners. At the same time they remained bright individuals in music; they were innovators. We still say – “this is Iggy style” or “this is Lemmy style”. In addition, I consider the Cramps to be the last rock heroes. Maybe someone will be scared off by their appearance, but listen to their music more closely and it will become clear that this is real rock’n’roll, rooted straight into the 50s and maybe even deeper. And this couple – Lux Interior and Poison Ivy – just lived rock’n’roll.
I confess, I have never thought about such things as the future of Russian rock’n’roll. I think that as soon as we start to gather in a circle, frown our foreheads and reflect on the fate of rock’n’roll – this is where rock’n’roll will end ! For me, it is a great way to have fun, perhaps the best way. That’s what I do – have fun in varying degrees of activity. And if I manage to leave some kind of memory about myself, whether it will be musical recordings or sculptures – that’s Great.
I consider the collapse of the USSR to be the most significant event in the history of Russian rock’n’roll. After that, the authorities ceased to control creativity, and it became possible to “see and be seen” abroad.
My main interests outside of rock’n’roll are my work and my Family. I also have a 1964 Moskvich car (an iconic classic car from the Soviet era), which I customised into a style from the late 1940s / early 1950s (similar to the Fords and Mercurys from that time) with the help of friends. I invested a lot of time and money in it and now, this Spring, I drove it out of the garage for the first time !
Excellent Stuff ! Thankyou, Vadim. Stay tuned for more great rock’n’roll stories – from Russia – next month !
Hello again from Moscow ! This month we’re gonna continue the story of a very rare rock’n’roll project. Last month I told you about an Art Project dedicated to the culture of the Teddy Boy. Let me remind you briefly the background:
Vadim Shapovalov and Sergey Shakhov are part of the famous Russian psychobilly band “Stone Faces”. Vadim is lead singer and songwriter with the band. Sergey is not a band member of the Stone Faces, but is involved in the promoting of the group, especially logos and artwork for their music albums. But their musical passions extend beyond psychobilly. Together they have produced an art collection of Teddy Boy miniature sculptures. Last month you saw some of the photos from this display and this month you can see some more. It really is a fantastic collection of rock’n’roll mini-sculptures. As I advised last month, it came to pass as the result of the collaboration between Vadim and Sergey and their specialisms. Vadim is a professional sculptor and one of Sergey’s main hobbies outside of his work is painting war historical miniatures.
Last month Sergey told you about his role in the project and also his own personal rock’n’roll story. This month it’s the turn of Vadim. Over to you, Vadim:
I have been modeling sculptures all my life – this is my profession. For 30 years of work in this field, I have mastered different styles, but I didn’t have to deal with sculptural miniatures, although I had always got a crush on this type of sculpture and wanted to try myself in it. This style requires some specific skills and some experience with relevant materials. Therefore, before starting work, I needed expert advice. My old friend Sergei Shakhov was that expert. He has extensive experience in creating and painting sculptural miniatures. Sergei answered all my questions, and gave me some links to a useful video in this sphere.
As for the composition theme, I had no doubt that it would be Teddy Boys from the very beginning. As a rule, military themes dominate at the miniature exhibitions. But I have long been interested in the history of civilian costume; in particular the sub-culture costumes, among which the Teddy Boys occupy a special place for me, since their culture is the most unbending and untainted by any “collaborations” and “experiments”, which some celebrities call “development”. In general, I think the original Edwardian Teddy Boy costume is perfect. It still does not seem archaic, like one from the dressing room of some film studio. At the same time, with all its conservatism, this costume does not look boring. It has many details – the ties, vests, socks, shoes, let alone such things as tie pins, watch chains, cufflinks, by the changing of which the owner will always look fresh and elegant, but not flashy. I decided to reflect all these undoubted advantages of the Teddy Boys’ costume in sculptural miniatures.
In addition, I tried to focus on the wearers of these costumes themselves, reflecting on those “thugs terrorising the city” from the articles of English newspapers of the 1950s in their images. It is clear of course that not all Teds were thugs, but public opinion affected them. So I set to work and it took quite a long time, due to production of sketches and my lack of experience in working with miniatures. That’s why I asked you so many questions, Richard, regarding the details of the Teddy Boy costume. I concerned all these details during modeling – collars, the number of buttons, the length of the jacket tails and the flaps of the pockets. The website www.edwardianteddyboy.com has also been of great help to me, both with information and photographs. After the polymer clay figurines were ready and baked in the oven, I started to think about painting them. I had some experience gained while working in a mock-up workshop. However, my experience in painting figurines is nothing compared to the experience of Sergey, who is a real master in this matter. That’s why I asked him to paint my miniatures. Since Sergey was well aware of who the Teddy Boys were, I was sure that he would do everything as it should be and would pay due attention to details. And he did !
My interest in the Teddy Boys culture goes back to the Stilyagi sub-culture. Your readers, Richard, should know who Stilyagi are, since you have mentioned them more than once in your articles [Richard’s note: the Stilyagi was a youth movement in Russia that originated in the 1950s. They played an iconic role in the history of the youth culture of the country].Though in the USSR they never mentioned Stilyagi in a positive context and I saw their images only in the form of caricatures, I still had some kind of subconscious sympathy for them and the very silhouette of their costume – a spacious jacket, tight trousers and shoes on a thick sole – I really liked it. I remember drawing such characters in school notebooks. When I found out that in Britain, there were Stilyagi called Teddy Boys, I had a strong interest in this culture. However, there was no way to satisfy this interest. The information was very sketchy; so was my knowledge of the Teddy Boys in those days (early 1990s). The situation changed only with the introduction of the internet, when I was able to fill in all my knowledge gaps. Here I mention the site www.edwardianteddyboy.com again, where gorgeous photos are combined with excellent articles. Richard, I will especially highlight an article by your friend Brian Rushgrove, called ‘Birth of the Edwardians’. We call such articles “fundamental”; I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the culture of the Teddy Boys.
I don’t remember exactly where and when I first saw a photo of Teddy Boys. I think it was some kind of book by a foreign author about sub-cultures, but I remember very well the effect of this photo. The famous Anthony Burgess, in his novel “The Doctor Is Sick”, described the Teds as “youths, simian-browed with horror-waxwork faces, but their clothes and coiffures by contrast most civilised”. I didn’t read these lines at that time, but it was the combination of chic costumes and completely hooligan faces that made a strong impression on me. In general the image resembled our Stilyagi, who were appealing to me, although at that time (early 1990s) I was a front man of a punk band and looked appropriately different !
I got acquainted with the right music for the first time in my childhood, although it was not rock’n’roll at first, but the Twist ! We had a huge tube radio phonograph at home, and when my parents played a record of Muslim Magomayev (a Soviet singer who gained world fame as a performer of opera parts and who in the early 1960s sang Twist songs with his powerful voice), I, as they told me later, sat under the phonograph and pounded on the switching bands, as if it was a piano; a kind of small Jerry Lee ! By the way, when I first saw Jerry Lee Lewis on Soviet TV, I was simply shocked. It was powerful ! I was already studying in high school, it was the late 1980s. And my introduction, so to speak, to Rock was when I was about 13: It was AC/DC, just like for Sergey, but the song was different for me – “Hell’s Bells”. In general, AC/DC was very popular in the Soviet Union at that time – everybody listened to them.
Both in the past and now, I have the same favourite Russian rock’n’roll bands – Mean Traitors and Crazy Men Crazy. However, the former now play completely different from their early works and the latter now only gather once a year. In the second half of the 1980s and early 1990s, the Russian rock’n’roll band Mister Twister had great authority: Though they are still performing now, they have not released anything new for a long time.
In 1989, in my native city of Orel, I organised my first band. It was a punk group. I think even if we had wanted to play something else at that time, it would still have had to be punk, because none of us really knew how to play ! Except for the guitarist that is, who knew a couple of dozen thieves’ songs (called blatnyak in Russian). For the two years of our existence, we managed to perform three times in public (concerts were a rarity in our dullsville city) and even recorded a few songs. In 1991, I became a member of the band called the Severe Silent Scoundrels (Surovye Mrachnye Negodyai in Russian).
Thankyou, Vadim ! The story of the rock’n’roll band the Severe Silent Scoundrels is a wild and frenzied one. Vadim will tell you all about it, plus even more about his rock’n’roll journey, next month !
Welcome to another rock’n’roll story from Russia. This month I’m gonna tell you about something very rare in rock’n’roll history. It’s about an Art Project dedicated to the culture of the Teddy Boy. Here’s the story:
Vadim Shapovalov and Sergey Shakhov are part of the famous Russian psychobilly band “Stonefaces”. Vadim is lead singer and songwriter with the band. Sergey is not a band member but is closely involved in the promoting of the group, especially logos and artwork for their music albums. But their musical passions extend beyond psychobilly. Together they have produced an art collection of Teddy Boy sculptures. How’s that for a first ! Some of the photos you can see display some of these miniature sculptures. It’s a wonderful collection here in Moscow. It came about as a result of some of Vadim and Sergey’s professions and passions. Vadim is a professional sculptor and one of Sergey’s main hobbies outside of his work is painting war historical miniatures. So given their great interest in rock’n’roll and the culture of the Teddy Boy, perhaps it was inevitable this project would come to fruition.
In this article, Sergey will tell you about the project and also his own personal rock’n’roll story. Next month in this column you’ll hear from Vadim. Over to you, Sergey:
In my case, the history of the Teddy Boys’ project is quite simple. The idea belongs to Vadim entirely. We are both interested in small figurines and sculptures, so Vadim offered to me to make some figurines of Teddy Boys. He created and embodied the figurines’ images and characters. I undertook to paint them; we thought that it would look like a complete solution. Probably you can call it a project, though we did not have such long term ideas originally. It was interesting for us to make everything neat.
My interest in the culture of Teddy Boys was an integral part of my interests in British sub-cultures in general; it became a part of the overall picture, a kind of chronological addition. I learned about the Teddy Boys’ culture from Vadim. Once we were sitting in a cafe and discussing the Edwardians and everything connected with them. I found this aesthetic to be very interesting and British.
Like most rock fans, I got interested in rock music when I was a school boy. I was about 14 years old. One guy from our class managed to get recordings of unofficial Soviet bands. Back then they were called underground bands. These recordings of Soviet bands in the first half of the 1980s were re-recorded many times from cassette to cassette and sounded bad. Today, many of them seem naïve and I listen to them with a kind of irony. But back then it was very unusual and creative, against the background of boring official pop music pouring out from TV at that time. In addition, its forbidden status made it even more interesting [Richard’s note – the 1980s was the historical period of “Perestroika” in the old Soviet Union, when the country was beginning to “open up” socially to Western culture]. But the real turning point in my perception of music came when an old friend brought me a cassette of AC/DC’s “For Those About To Rock” to listen to. It was a real explosion; I had no idea that it could be so powerful, forthright and cool. Since then, my interest in rock music remained unshaken.
About Russian bands, I cannot single out any individual favourite bands; and I mean not only Russian bands, but rock bands in general. There were for sure bands that were real interesting. In those years of the 1980s, musical information on genres like rock’n’roll was very scarce compared to today, you had to look for it somewhere, so many things just passed us by. If we talk about that music in general, looking from today’s perspective, I would mention Mike Naumenko and Zoopark, experimental band DK and Durnoe Vliyanie (“Bad Influence” in English).
When I was young everything was a significant event, from an unknown band’s cassette to a cool poster that fell into your hands. However, perhaps the most significant or at least the most memorable event for me was the Monsters of Rock 1991 festival held in Moscow at the Tushino airfield. It was really cool !
It’s hard to pick out just one individual event that was funny or interesting in my rock’n’roll life, there’s so much to choose from. Perhaps I can tell this, although the band concerned was not classic rock’n’roll: It was at the turn of the 1980s-90s, most likely the beginning of the 90s, when Nazareth performed in Moscow. My friends and I went to the concert, not caring about buying tickets in advance and hoping to buy them right before the concert. When we drove up to the sports complex where the band was to play and saw a huge crowd arriving from the subway, we realised our failure. There were no tickets left. And then one guy in our group fell on his knees, raised his hands to the sky and began shouting out prayers loudly, calling on the heavens to help us. In less than five minutes, a minibus with additional tickets arrived at the entrance to the sports complex. This guy knew exactly who he should pray to; it was some kind of divine rock’n’roll !
Russian rock music, due to the specific conditions of its existence, developed in a special way, different from its Western colleagues. It happened that the lyrics often prevailed over the musical component; the emphasis was put on texts. If we talk a lot about this feature of Russian rock music, I should probably mention Mike Naumenko. His lyrics became real rock’n’roll. They were straightforward, unpretentious and frank; they went against the common style of abstract and imaginative storytelling that was popular among Russian bands of that period. Alcohol, infidelity, parties, he called it like it was. It was a description of his real life and the life of his colleagues and it was an unusual musical style for that time.
My musical influences extend not just to classic rock’n’roll. It’s hard to say for sure who influenced me the most. My musical interests go far beyond rock’n’roll itself, such as punk to jazz, so it’s hard for me to single out someone special. Well, let’s say if we turn to my youth and remember the most vivid impressions that influenced my tastes then, I would probably name AC/DC. Yes, perhaps they were the brightest phenomenon for me then.
For me, there are many rock’n’roll heroes and like I said above, not just from classic rock’n’roll. Well, the first person that comes to mind is Lemmy, from Motorhead. He is an iconic figure for many rock fans in Russia, so in that sense is a Russian rock hero and I agree with that. I can also mention Hendrix, Zappa, Led Zeppelin, Iggy Pop, Sex Pistols. There are many in fact. These are musicians that helped me to discover new musical spaces and therefore I consider them significant for me.
Nowadays Russian rock’n’roll is mainly developing within the framework of global traditions, if we are talking about the bands that have emerged recently, let’s say from the 1990s to the present day. It’s hard to tell whether or not it is innovative. However, it has a style, certain aesthetics, the right energy. We began to catch up to some global standards, so to speak. Frankly, I’m not too optimistic about the state of rock music in the world today, feeling some kind of stagnation. The last Big Bang was a powerful cultural impulse given to rock at the turn of the 1970s and 80s with the advent of a new aesthetic of punk and everything connected with it and all the music generated or inspired by punk. Today I see nothing of the kind, although perhaps something escapes my attention. This also applies to Russian rock’n’roll in many ways. I would like to hope that having thoroughly digested the world rock heritage, having mastered it well and getting rid of the provinciality of which some our bands still sin, we will be able to come out with something of our own, interesting and fresh; at least within the framework of Russian rock’n’roll music.
Let’s look at the conditions in which rock’n’roll originated and developed in Russia, or better to say in the Soviet Union. It was a rather niche culture, a very closed environment, that lived in its own world apart from world rock music, without any direct contact with it, away from the rapidly developing Western rock’n’roll. It is not even worth mentioning that releasing an official album for a rock’n’roll band of those years was an absolutely impossible dream. I should also add that in the first half of the 1980s, rock music was driven into the underground thoroughly. Of course, there were groups assigned to the philharmonic societies and they had the opportunity to appear in public somehow. But the underground remained, well, underground and reached the listeners only in the form of illegal magnetic recordings. No one saw the musicians in the flesh and sometimes there were some ridiculous rumours about them. The situation began to change during the decline of the Soviet Union and this process was rather quick. This became obvious when records from bands that had previously been in the shadows, appeared on the shelves of record stores. It was the time for Russian bands to reach a wide audience. The entire related industry began to develop – concerts, clubs, studios and merchandise. I would call this period an important stage in the history of Russian rock’n’roll, though the social events of that period weren’t connected with music.
My main and long-standing interest is directly related to music, it is audio equipment for playing music. Another hobby of mine is painting war historical miniatures; this is the hobby that I was able to utilise in our Teddy Boys’ Project with Vadim.
Thankyou so much Sergey, for your rock’n’roll story. Next month, as advised above, it will be the turn of Vadim to continue the story of this Teddy Boy Project. Stay tuned !
Welcome again from Russia ! This month we are gonna focus on the profession of the rock’n’roll promoter. Way back in 2015 I wrote in this column about probably the most famous r’n’r promoter of them all, the legendary Alan Freed. Freed back in the 1950s in the USA played an instrumental role in ensuring that rock’n’roll became the biggest thing in music at that time.
One indication of the huge importance of Alan Freed in rockin’ history is the number of times I’ve mentioned him in this column when writing about other r’n’r icons. He was pivotal in the careers of many super stars, such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, etc., to name but a few.
It was Alan Freed more than anyone else who promoted and brought the attention of the World to the revolutionary music of rock’n’roll in the 1950s. And it was revolutionary. It was in the 1950s that the first youth culture developed which was recognisably that of young people themselves, and not just an imitation and modification of those of their parents. It was the birth of teenage and young people’s social rebellion and the music which accompanied and was an integral part of it was rock’n’roll. As a disc jockey it was Freed who brought this music to the attention of America via mainstream radio. He coined his nickname “Moondog” and this title stayed with him throughout his career. Later he would be involved in rock’n’roll films and television in the 1950s. As mentioned above he was instrumental in the success and fame of many rockin’ 1950s’ stars. Unfortunately for Freed, he was brought down by the Payola scandal in 1959, but that’s a story for another time.
Now for a story about a famous Russian rock’n’roll promoter. Not quite on the scale of Alan Freed, but in the world of Russian rock’n’roll this man played, and still plays, a very significant role. His name is Alexander Golubev. I will let him tell you his own story. Over to you, Alexander:
Since 1988, I was a Stilyagi living in the Baltic States and then in Smolensk (a city in western Russia) [Richard’s note – The Stilyagi dated from the early 60s – based on the Russian word for “style”. They were more or less the first real rock’n’rollers in Russia. Their style was not 100% rock’n’roll – they also listened to and followed other brands of music such as jazz – and this was also reflected in their style of clothing. But it was close enough to establish them as the original Russian youth rebels].
We danced rock ‘n’ roll on the streets or on dance floors where it was allowed, during those times. One of my specialities at this time was sewing and making clothes. So I used to make trousers in the rock’n’roll style and sell them at cost to fellow rockers.
Some of the famous rockin’ musicians at that time where I lived were the Jolly Rogers and the Country Bandits in Smolensk. Plus I already knew other musicians from different parts of Russia and also the Baltic states, such as Pete Andersen, Bravo and Mister Twister [Richard’s note – Bravo were probably the most famous band in Russian rock’n’roll history].
Then I finished school, completed my course at an academy and then they drafted me into the army. My military service was in Moscow, so as I already knew the Moscow bands I came to their concerts during military leave passes. I joined the army when it was still the USSR and returned when it became a new country, the Russian Federation. As a result the scene changed and for example in the 1990s everyone freely listened to Western rockabilly music. More Russian groups appeared in many cities.
It was a hard time for me personally: I worked for the Russian postal service and it involved a lot of travelling from Smolensk to Moscow. Every week I brought back from Moscow boxes of CDs containing brand new rockabilly, surf and psychobilly. My next job was working for a truck parking lot company. There are the borders of four foreign countries around Smolensk, on the western border of Russia. At that time, several new bands from these countries, such as Garret Rebels, Subway, Bamboozye, Grelley Lepard, Rabids plus some blues and rock bands appeared and performed in Smolensk.
I started to promote concerts. There were very few clubs in the city of Smolensk in those days. I organised events in the Central Park of Culture, where more or less everyone performed. Then I began to work at the Centre for Folk Art of the Smolensk Department of Culture and it was there we formed a neo-rockabilly group called Wanted. I became their manager and we began to go on tours around the cities of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus; we performed in clubs and at festivals. At that time I was working at several jobs – I was a director of a fashion theatre, worked with slot machines and casinos, was a merchandiser in a grocery store and an art director of a nightclub. Looking back, where did I get the energy to do all this ?! Then we began to bring bands from Russia and Belarus to Smolensk – Skyrockets, Crashers, Mister Twister, Meantraitors, Steam Engine, and Meteoriy, to name a few.
In 1998 I left for Moscow to arrange concerts and have been doing it up to the present day. I haven’t worked anywhere else now for almost 25 years. In Moscow I was the manager of several bands, such as the Rattlesnakes, Hula Hoop, Gagarin Brothers and the Moscow Beatballs. Plus I collaborated with many known and unknown bands with different styles to rock’n’roll – for example I worked with Phantom 409, Nekromantix, Number Nine and Stringbeans,
For 17 years I have been the Russian manager of the Red Elvises and annually promote their tours in Russia and concerts in Europe. Now I have four bands in Moscow – the Great Pretenders, Radionyanya, Amigos de Corazon and the cabaret band Champs-Élysées.
I also release many CD collections of Russian and Western artists.
One of the most memorable moments of my promoter career was my acquaintance with Mark Miller, the former concert director of Bob Marley. He is still alive and promotes concerts; he lives in Switzerland. Before our first meeting, he learned a bit of Russian to help him with our conversations !
Some of the most memorable tours were in Europe and Siberia. In Italy, Eddie Nicholson, the front man of the Royal Crown Review, came to the concert to get acquainted with Russian musicians and it was good to talk to him.
The rock’n’roll English language scene in Russia is a sub-culture; that is to say, the rock’n’roll bands who perform in the English language. Such performers are popular in venues like pubs and restaurants, culminating now and then in special big festivals. The Russian rock and pop scene has some similarities and some differences compared to the rest of the World.
Among the modern western bands over the years, I like and have liked Bryan Adams, Brian Setzer, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Restless, Blue Cats, Foggy Mountain Rockers, Stray Cats and ZZ-Top. And the old ones of course: Elvis Presley, Bill Haley, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent and Johnny Burnette. My favourite rock’n’roll song is Elvis Presley’s “Night Rider”. My main interests outside of rock’n’roll are other genres of music, poetry, travel and women.
I am optimistic about the future of Russian rock’n’roll. Everything will work out and it is all in our hands to do this !
I have had many amusing experiences over the years in my rock’n’roll life. Here are just a few:
Once in Poland on a rock’n’roll tour, we stopped by a music store and left one of our car doors open. We had an accordion on the seat. When we returned, there was an additional accordion and two bottles of wine on the seat ! We looked around and an old man from the balcony from a neighboring house waved his hands, indicating it was for us. He was a real rock’n’roll fan !
Once we were going to a concert by train and the female conductor sang songs with us; it was great fun. When we drew up at one station, as she was marking the tickets we asked where we could buy a bottle of vodka. As she knew the town of the station where we had stopped, she went looking for a bottle for us. It took a while and in the meantime the train left the station. She missed the train !
Once, when I was in the company of my band members, an old woman came up to us and asked one of the group, “What is your profession ?” I am a musician,” he answered. “I understand that,” she said, “But what is your profession ?”
In the 1990s in Moscow there were not many clubs for bands to perform at. So I organised an adult dating club at the venue where my musicians played. Here’s how I did it: A lot of women came to our concerts and I came up with a great idea on how to attract more men to come. I thought for a long time and eventually went to the hostel of the local military academy and hung a poster of the next event there. The poster advertised the venue as a place for dating and music. So we ended up increasing the audiences at our events by about a hundred !
Thankyou Alexander, for your personal rock’n’roll story. Stay tuned next month dear Readers, for some more Russian rock’n’roll stories !
Hello again from Russia ! This month I’m gonna serve you a tasty American dish served with a Russian flavour. It’s about a veteran Russian rocker who has paid more than one visit to the one and only Viva Las Vegas rockabilly weekender, on the other side of the pond. For those of you who have been to Las Vegas, you will be able to relate to this tale. For those that haven’t, sit back and be educated !
The Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender has been going for nearly 30 years now. It represents sort of a pilgrimage for rockabilly aficionados from around the World to meet up and savour the best that rockabilly has to offer. Interestingly, this iconic festival in Nevada USA was created and founded by a Brit. His name was Tom Ingram, a DJ and promoter. He had previously organised festivals in the UK. When he moved to southern California he started looking around for the right place to establish a stateside rockabilly shindig. The first one took place in 1997.
As he explained in 2015, “I looked at a lot of cities and decided Vegas was by far the best location. The freedom of restrictions in Vegas makes the difference, such as 24-hour bars.” The festival got its name from the 1964 film starring Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret.
The festival originally began with about 1,200 attenders, but is now over 20,000. What used to be a few dozen bands in two showrooms is now over 100 performers. This does not include “overflow” gigs all over the city. The first car show in 1997 filled part of one deck of a small parking garage. Now it extends over several acres. And now, in addition to the centre piece of the festival i.e. the music, Viva Las Vegas also has pool parties, dance contests, burlesque shows, bowling tournaments, guitar clinics, vendor ballrooms and more.
About the car show, a man who lives in Las Vegas by the name of Lucky La Rue, a DJ who frequently played the festival, advised that “It started out at the Gold Coast Hotel with maybe 100 cars. Now it’s at the Orleans casino and there are tens of thousands of people from seven continents. The car show is one of the biggest in the country. For a sub-culture, the numbers they get every year are pretty impressive.”
Over the years, the festival has hosted many rock n’ roll legends, the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and Wanda Jackson. Performance spaces are located throughout the Orleans casino: Lounges, bars, ballrooms, pool decks and parking lots all have stages for a variety of acts. Music isn’t limited to pure rockabilly, with country swing, rhythm’n’blues and jump blues all featuring. Performances are varied, ranging from solo guitar-slingers to stage-filling combos with multiple musicians, singers and dancers.
And now let me hand over the story to Konstantin Napasnikov. I myself worked in the USA in the early 1990s in Alabama, but never got to make it to Vegas. But Konstantin sure did. Back in 2019, he contributed an article for this column, on “The Life and Times of a Russian Rocker.” This time he will narrate his experiences at Viva Las Vegas. Over to you, Konstantin:
I visited Viva three times in a row. In short, I was delighted with the festival. Everything was organised at the highest level. The performances were divided into several venues, by themes and by days. For example, on one of the evenings the main stage was dedicated to groups playing the most appropriate music for dancing. I mean groups like Big Six, Cherry Casino and the Gamblers and Ray Collins’ Hot Club. These evenings had a super festive atmosphere. My first ever car was a Russian Pobeda (a classic automobile), so the cars on show were very close to me in spirit. The Car shows’ endless parking lot was packed with cars from the fifties and early sixties. They were amazingly beautiful. You could wander between them for hours, while listening to one of the Headliners – like the Stray Cats, Jerry Lee Lewis or the Delta bombers – playing in the background.
One day I was at the venue from 3 p.m. until 3 a.m. because the Wild Records’ bands performed all day. Coincidentally, it was my birthday. It was the perfect gift !
The festival has an interesting feature – during the festival the hotel where it takes place hosts only those who are interested in the festival. Thus, for a few days, you are completely immersed in the atmosphere of our favourite culture. Everyone is dressed stylishly; the music is thematic, even in the elevator.
What prompted me initially to go to VLV ? I must say the music is a very big part of my life. Thus, initially I was attracted by the set of bands that are announced annually for festival. At some point, I registered on their site. Later, quite unexpectedly for myself, I received a paper flyer in a mailbox in Moscow, about VLV. That was a huge impetus for me to organise a trip to Viva. If you visit this festival once, you no longer want to miss it.
I remember many moments. I wrote about the Wild Records day above. I would especially like to mention The Desperados. Lou Ferns is always full of energy on stage and the band performs as a single mechanism. If you have a chance to attend one of their performances you should not miss it. Despite his age Don Woody is full of energy and his songs sound just like on the records of the fifties. Also the dance competition on Sunday is a huge event with a fantastic atmosphere.
It was important for me to see many of my favourite artists live, those whom I had only listened to on recordings before; Gene Summers, Don Woody, Johnny Powers, Sonny Burgess, Gezzelle, the Rhythm Shakers and Big Six.
I did not experience any different attitude towards myself as a Russian at all. Viva attracts people from all over the world. No one cares where you are from, although everyone asks for decency. I had only one particular Russian case when I met a Russian guy who lived in Las Vegas and who specifically went looking for Russians.
Viva has an interesting feature. The Hotel where everything happens opens bookings a year before the festival. The rooms are usually sold out in 3 hours. Once I managed to book a room there. Coincidentally, the bookings for the following year opened on the night I arrived in Vegas. It happened like this: After a long flight, we took a car to Los Angeles. We drove to Vegas in it and before I checked in to a hotel I booked a room right from the car. In the morning there were no rooms left for the following year !
As far as I remember, several tens of thousands of people come to Viva. For me as a non-event manager it is difficult to imagine why they have grown so much. I think there are several factors: The organisation is close to flawless, performers are from all over the world and the car show also attracts a certain segment of visitors. Finally, this is the only place where you can see so many performers from the fifties at once.
I know the festival used to be at the Gold Coast Casino / Hotel, but then it moved to the Orleans. That is a bigger hotel. For myself, having been to both venues, I did not notice much difference between these festivals. Of course, over the years the number of performers from the 1950s inevitably becomes fewer.
Russian bands have performed there. We had a cool High Tones band who participated at Viva, however this was a little earlier than when I arrived for the first time. Later the festival enjoyed the performance by Messer Chups and I got to see them.
The most popular bands to perform there from my observations, were the Stray Cats and Jerry Lee Lewis; they attracted almost all the Viva visitors. But I didn’t go; I went to the Wild Records groups to see them perform.
As for the dance competitions, I can say that people dance in completely different ways. Moreover, to be honest, the criteria by which couples go to the next stage and win the competitions still remains unclear to me.
I had no disappointments at the Festival.
I am optimistic about the future of Viva Las Vegas. I am sure as long as there are those who love our music, they will visit this festival.
You will know that Las Vegas is a city of casinos and shows. It also hosts trade shows. I am not a fan of gambling and the kind of thematic exhibitions that interest me were not held at that time. Once we visited Cirque du Soleil. However, America is very diverse in terms of natural attractions. Therefore, before or after Viva, we got into the car and drove through national parks and cities of the neighbouring states.
As I saw, most of Viva’s visitors are from Los Angeles and America in general. Plus there are also many Europeans and I saw Japanese and Russian guys.
The friendliness of Americans made a huge impression on me. They are very approachable and helpful. When I first visited America, it was a kind of culture shock for me [Richard’s note: From my own experience of working in America in the 1990s, I can confirm Konstantin’s analysis; very impressed with the friendliness of Americans in their own country. Forget the politics and politicians – most individual Americans are very friendly !]
America is generally an automobile country, so we did not even try to move around except by car. From the first day we rented one and moved around with it. If you live at the Orleans Hotel, this is a comfortable accommodation and there are several options for where to eat, including an unlimited buffet for $15-20. Therefore, it’s possible to stay at the Orleans all the time. If you live in another place, then you choose accommodation according to the budget. It can be a community, a hotel or a motel. There are many cafes, restaurants and casinos where you can eat.
I played a little on the fruit machines; didn’t win anything !
I went with my wife every time to Vegas. And in 2019, Tonya, a dancing friend from Moscow, joined us: She really liked it. My wife is not a music fan like me, nevertheless she likes Viva too ! There are not many Russians at Viva. I met about 5 people there from Russia. I would like more of our guys to experience it.
Thankyou, Konstantin; a great narration. I’m guessing there are probably some of you readers out there who have also tasted the Viva experience. If you have, why not write to the magazine and tell us about it ? In the meantime stay tuned for more Rock’n’Roll with a Russian flavour in this column, next month !
Welcome once again from Russia ! Dear Readers, regular viewers of this column will remember that periodically I write pieces on the story of the King himself, under the main title of “The King – the Whole Story”. No, not that new one we’ve just “coronated” or whatever you call it, but the King of Rock’n’Roll. Chronologically, the last time I did an article on this, we had got up to and including Elvis Presley’s Hollywood film career. So let’s continue the story from there, the true tale of the only man in rock’n’roll history to earn the undisputed and richly deserved title of “the King”. This month we’ll focus on two more very significant happenings in Elvis’ life; The Comeback Special in 1968 and the only woman he married, Priscilla.
I once again organised a tribute concert to Elvis, to coincide with my articles about him in this column. I booked the one and only Lowcosters to perform for us. The Lowcosters, as I have written in previous columns, are an iconic and legendary group in Russia. A Moscow based band, they put on a great show for us at the Duma Club in the capital. It was a wonderful concert, a great tribute to the King. Some of the pictures you can see were taken at the event.
Elvis’ activity in the 1960s was dominated by his film career. His manager “the Colonel” Tom Parker focused Elvis’ time and talents on his Hollywood movies. But it was clear towards the end of the 1960s this part of Elvis’ life was reaching a natural conclusion. His movies, although distinctly watchable, especially for Elvis fans, were no classics and it was clear Elvis was no Marlon Brando when it came to acting. That said, Elvis’ charisma and personality did shine through in his movies, which sort of enabled him to make a lasting impact on Hollywood. By 1968 it was time for the King to return full time to the thing he did best – singing and performing to live audiences.
It was Tom Parker who decided and Elvis agreed it was time to go back to singing full time. The TV network NBC planned for a huge Christmas TV “Comeback Special” show for the King in 1968. Once again the Colonel negotiated a hugely lucrative financial deal for Elvis. Now the Colonel wanted the image of Elvis in the show to be similar to that which he had portrayed in the vast majority of his movies, the movie image the writer Joel Williamson described as “simply breaking into hokey simpering songs amidst adoring young women as he had in the movies; no more wiggling around behind a microphone.” The musical director for the project, Billy Goldenberg, had other ideas. Here’s how Goldenberg later described it a few years later, while Elvis was still alive, “The one thing I always felt about Elvis is that there was something very raw and basically sexual and mean. There’s a cruelty involved, there’s a meanness, there’s a basic sadistic quality about what he does, which is attractive.” I think this is true. It what makes the character and story of Elvis even more epic i.e. the two sides of Elvis – the polite, well mannered man and the other side described by Goldenberg. In the Comeback Special, Goldenberg managed to capture a lot of this.
The actual name of the show was “Elvis”. It first aired in December 1968. It comprise Elvis performing alone on stage, plus also with friends and original band mates. It achieved one of the biggest TV ratings of the whole of that year and was the top rated Christmas show. In other words, it worked. The image of Elvis in his iconic black leather suit was a memorable one. Having not previously performed to a live audience for the seven years before 1968, the Comeback Special kick-started his singing career and was indeed a milestone for him. He returned full-time to performing live on stage.
Now let’s re-wind back to 1959 and Elvis’ first meeting with the woman who was to become his wife. Elvis was still stationed in Germany at this time, serving his time in the US Army. One of his buddies introduced him to a fourteen year old school girl named Priscilla Beaulieu. The King was immediately smitten and they dated from then on. That is not to say Elvis became monogamous: His numerous affairs with other beautiful women continued. After his discharge from the army and return to the States, Priscilla moved in with him to his Gracelands mansion in Memphis. His affair with this under-age girl was one of the best kept secrets in the celebrity world.
I’ve already mentioned in previous columns about Elvis’ voracious appetite when it came to beautiful women. This continued all through his courtship with Priscilla, after their return to America. Priscilla adored Elvis, but she also had a clever head on her shoulders. In addition to her love for him, she also saw the opportunities offered in fame and fortune, in being attached to the King. For a long time Elvis had promised her he would marry her, but the promise never seemed to get fulfilled. Shortly before the marriage did happen, in 1967, one of Elvis’s entourage at Gracelands described the situation this way, “If anything, Elvis wanted to get rid of her. But she complained to her parents, and then to Elvis. She told him she was going to make him fulfil his promise to her or tell her story to the world.”
Priscilla certainly was a very beautiful woman and Elvis did love her and tried at the beginning of the marriage to be a good husband. But the old ways of womanising and infidelity soon re-asserted themselves. Priscilla was aware of this despite Elvis attempts at concealment. She was very patient about this for some time. But inevitably, as it became more and more obvious he would never change, she made it clear she had had enough. They divorced in 1973. They had one child by the marriage, Lisa Marie Presley. Priscilla went on to have a fairly successful acting career, and became a very successful businesswoman and entrepreneur. Lisa Marie grew up financially secure, with the wealth behind her of her parents, especially Elvis. Lisa was involved in some high celebrity marriages herself, including one incredibly to Michael Jackson.
Of course Elvis’s marriage was destined to failure, due to his inability to curb his infidelity. In view of the nature of his subsequent death, this failure represents a tragedy in Elvis’ life. Priscilla dearly loved Elvis and could have been the rock to keep him on track and away from the excesses, such as the unhealthy life-style and prescription drugs, that ultimately killed him. His hangers on at Graceland, the so-called “Memphis Mafia”, the guys who hung out with him, certainly provided no such rock. Fearful of losing their roles in Elvis’ life, they did nothing to try to persuade him to curb the indulgences that were killing him. Maybe that was why Priscilla and the Memphis Mafia disliked each other so much. And regarding her relationship with Elvis, in the early 1980s a friend of Priscilla’s, Mike Edwards, asked her, “What really happened between you two ?” She replied, “I grew up.”
My next Elvis article will conclude this saga of the King, by covering his final years. It is the saddest part of the Elvis story, focusing on his decline physically and also performance-wise. Of course Elvis was still Elvis and still had that amazing unique charisma and talent. But it was a King in decline. Stay tuned !
Previous articles in this column confirm my great interest in the wild side of rock’n’roll. The stories of Hasil Adkins and Vince Taylor, which were just two of my articles in this genre, testify to some of the wilder and on the edge characters, in the history of our great culture. This month will continue this theme. The subject is another famous rebel, who came from the golden age of rock’n’roll. Plus he was British !
His name was Jet Harris. On 11th March this year we organised a tribute concert in Moscow to celebrate his music. We held it at the famous Duma Club in central Moscow. The band we booked was Old Time Rock’n’Roll, one of Russia’s greatest rock’n’roll groups. They put on a great show for us on11th. The group’s leader is their lead singer and keyboard player Katya Romanova. And those of you who have been regular readers of this column will very probably remember the name Natalya Terekhova, who contributed 3 articles for this column a while back. Natalya is the lead guitarist in the band and if you did read those 3 articles you will remember she has a great rock’n’roll guitar history. Some of the photos you can see were taken at the concert.
Let’s get to the story of Jet Harris. We’ll start from the beginning. He was born in Willesden, an area of London I personally know well from the years when I lived there. The nickname Jet came from his childhood; at the secondary school he attended he earned a reputation as a skilled sprinter in athletics. As he grew older, he played in various music groups in the late 1950s, over time specialising in playing the bass guitar. One key moment was joining Cliff Richard’s backing group in 1959. This was before they became famous. Later the same year, at a meeting in a pub, the band decided to change their name to the Shadows. The rest as they say is history.
Harris was part of the Shadows up to 1962. This was the period of the group’s greatest fame. Alongside Cliff Richard, they were undoubtedly the biggest names in British rock’n’roll at that time. And of all the Shadows, Jet was certainly the most photogenic on stage.
For Harris this was also a chaotic time. He drank heavily and had lots of arguments with his fellow band members. These arguments led to him leaving the group in 1962. The consensus amongst the other Shadows was that his drunkenness was the primary cause of the arguments. There were lots of examples of this. In his book, “Jet Harris”, Dave Nicolson quotes a case when “the Shadows were performing at Liverpool’s famous Cavern Club doing their synchronised ‘walk’ when Jet fell into the audience. One of the other Shadows attempted to explain that their bass player wasn’t well, but people in the audience shouted back: ‘He’s pissed !’ ”.
Plus there was another factor. Harris attributed the start of his depression and related alcohol addiction to discovering that Cliff Richard had had an affair with his wife Carol Costa (whom he had married in 1959). As to whether this did actually contribute significantly to Jet’s emotional and social problems is one for debate. But it does mean Cliff in the early 1960s for a period had a small streak of the rebel in him. As many know, this changed and Cliff became the “goody two shoes” of the pop industry, strongly influenced by his committed religious beliefs. Some of you will know in more recent times Cliff was accused of some very serious crimes: I am pleased to say he was found innocent of these accusations.
In a 1993 South Bank Show documentary on TV (some of you may remember the “South Bank Show”, which Melvyn Bragg used to present), both Cliff and Carol opened up a bit about their affair. Cliff conceded that “She fell in love with me and I loved her. She reminded me of Brigitte Bardot , who I had a thing about.” Carol added that “When you’re together and there’s a strong physical attraction, it’s difficult not to make love. In the end we did. Cliff was a virgin.” Jet also occasionally made money from this story over the years, given Cliff’s huge celebrity and fame. For example, in 2008 the Daily Mail ran a big story based on interviews with Jet Harris. The headline read, “Cliff Richard stole my Wife.” It must be said, Jet treated Carol badly during the time they were married. For example, an ex-Shadows drummer Tony Meehan recalled an occasion when he had to drag Jet off Carol, as he had her pinned to the floor and was punching her.
Harris’ departure from the Shadows, although ending his most famous and most lucrative period as a rock’n’roll star, did not mean the end of his career. He teamed up with Tony Meehan and they did achieve success. They had some big hit records. For example, their single “Diamonds” was number one in the charts in 1963.
But Harris’ demons were still with him. He appeared in court several times for drunken and violent behaviour. His partnership with Meehan ended after a serious car crash in late 1963, in which he was badly injured. This car crash was another seminal event in his career. It was also a period when he was regularly in the newspapers for the wrong reasons. Here are a few headlines from some of the national newspapers from that time: “Jet Harris in I’ll quit show business sensation” (Daily Mirror), linked to him walking out of TV studios where he was meant to perform. Another Daily Mirror headline, “Jet Harris quits – Nerve has snapped.” All this of course was linked to his alcoholism and wild life style.
After all this he tried a comeback in 1966 with a newly formed “Jet Harris Band”, but it was not particularly successful. In any case, the musical tastes of the nation had certainly changed by that time, what with Beatlemania and all the other new styles in vogue. He then took on various jobs at different times. These included working as a labourer, bricklayer, porter in a hospital, bus conductor, and as a seller of cockles on the beach in Jersey.
Harris’ problems continued for some time. In 1988 he was declared bankrupt. The tabloid press periodically would run “riches-to-rags” stories about Harris, emphasising how he had descended from super stardom. More than one such story reported him to be working as a bus conductor in Gloucestershire (which was true). One tabloid story ran the headline, “Short of money, after earning thousands a week” (which again was correct). It took him 30 years of alcoholism to finally decide to acknowledge it and seek help. He quit drinking and thus began on the path to recovery, following lots of therapy and re-hab. Of course by then his best days in the music business were over, but he still played occasionally and in 2005 he achieved a long time ambition: He toured UK theatres with his own show, titled “Me and My Shadows”. The group the Rapiers performed as his “Shadows” on the tour. The show ran for 3 years and proved to be a success.
I don’t know what your view is on the King’s Honours List, Dear Readers. To me it smacks of cronyism and very often the wrong kinds of people getting a gong. Oops, there goes my last chance of getting a knighthood ! But it is pleasing to note that Jet Harris was awarded an MBE (Member of the British Empire) for his services to the music industry, in the 2010 Queen’s New Year’s Honours List.
During his life he had various relationships, resulting in 5 sons and a daughter. His behaviour towards his partners was not exemplary. For example during his marriage to Carol Costa, she made clear that he was often violent towards her. Some other girlfriends he had over the years also testified to similar treatment.
A heavy smoker throughout his life, Harris died in 2011, two years after being diagnosed with cancer.
As can be seen from the above, Jet Harris was a far from perfect man and upset quite a few people in his rock’n’roll life. But his contribution to the history of British rock’n’roll was significant. He was there in the early days of the rock’n’roll explosion in the UK and was one of its super stars. Had it not been for his self-destructive life style, he would have been much bigger.
An epic story – the Rise and Fall of Jet Harris.
Hi Folks, Welcome once again from good old Russia ! This month is the second part of my article about the Russian rock’n’roll movement in the 1980s centred on St Petersburg, the country’s second largest city. Last month I set the scene by describing the history of Russian rock’n’roll up to and beyond the 1980s. This month will focus on the personal stories of those who were part of it all.
The 1980s were wild and revolutionary times in Russia. They were the final days of the old Soviet Union and tremendous social changes were taking place, including the culture of rock’n’roll. The word in the title, perestroika, refers to the Russian word for these huge structural changes. The following are the lives and reminiscenses of the young Rockers from St Petersburg. The following material was collected by my friend Sergey Kuteynikov, leader of the legendary Russian rockabilly group the Great Pretenders. This was the result of personal interviews he conducted with the guys from St Petersburg. So the text below is Sergey’s, with a few amendments from myself. Remember these are interviews conducted with the wilder guys from the 1980s. I guess the nearest equivalent to them in the UK would be the original Teddy Boys in the 1950s. So hang on to your hat, for a wild ride !
This is a story about the real Russian rockabilly subculture pioneers from Saint Petersburg.
Two of the first guys to join this rockabilly movement were called Oreh and Komar. Oreh was converted after hearing Elvis and Stray Cats records. Komar became interested in USA rockabilly from an early age in the early 1980s, listening to Elvis and other original rockabilly artists. Soon more joined this rockabilly community – most living not far from the Kupchino district of St Petersburg. There were well known characters amongst them in the Russian rockabilly world like Tross, Dan, Credit, Adolf, Farid, Lazy One, Gapon, etc.
These men didn’t like some other subcultures existing at the time, especially the Stilyagi [Richard’s note: As advised in my article last month, the Stilyagi were the first real youth rebels to appear in Russia, beginning in the late 1950s. Their musical tastes included jazz as well as rock’n’roll]. I can put it this way, that the rockabillies beat the hell out of them whenever they could. One of the things they liked to do to the Stilyagi guys was to take the shoes they were wearing. These shoes were called ”rats” and were a popular style amongst the Stilyagi. The rockabillies would then throw them some cheap sneaker sports shoes in return. These rats shoes were popular among the rockabillies as well. In addition they could also sell them later and make a bit of money.
At the same time some newer lads on the rockabilly scene wearing leather jackets could also be in trouble sometimes. They would be approached and challenged about how tough they were, by the original rockabillies. If the newer lad in question would show any fear he would lose his jacket. On the other hand if he stood up for himself there was no problem; hands were shaken and that was that. In other words it was a practical test for the new “recruits”.
Later on, when the famous Russian group Bravo performed in Saint Petersburg, a bunch of Stilyagi were beaten up at the concert by them. At the same time as they were causing such mayhem, ironically many of them became good friends with the band members of Bravo, who were known amongst the youth as a Stilyagi-style group. [Richard’s note – Some of you will remember the articles I wrote about the legendary singer of the Bravo group, Zhanna Aguzarova. Bravo were possibly the most famous band in Russian rock’n’roll history]. There were photos of some of them, like Komar and Oreh, dancing on stage while Bravo performed at the Leningrad House of Youth in 1986. They talked to the band members and became good friends.
On one occasion, the American country music star Roy Clark was performing in Saint Petersburg in 1988. At this concert Oreh jumped up onto the stage and wrapped the American flag around Roy Clark. As a result he was locked up in a Soviet prison for 15 days – although about to collapse, in 1988 the Soviet Union wasn’t quite finished and this 15 day jail term was a reminder of those stricter times !
Most of those individuals guys from the 1980s are still around today, still enjoying the rockabilly music and life style. For example, one of them nick-named Credit is now a biker and a successful tattoo and weapon inlay artist. Another one, Dan, became a successful radio host, as well as at some point a front man for the famous Saint Petersburg band called Stunning Jive Sweets. Others have become successful businessmen. A young man from Finland (which neighbours St Petersburg) who associated with this rockabilly crowd later became the Minister for Foreign Affairs in Finland. Sergey Tross, referred to above, became a businessman in the milk business in Saint Petersburg in the 1990s and employed some of his rockabilly friends – This outfit eventually became known as the “Milk Cowboys”. They went to rock’n’roll gigs as the Milk Cowboys, still engaging in a bit of the old ultra violence.
Like I said, these were wild times. Here’s another example:
One of the rockabillies had his wedding in the city and of course all his rockabilly friends were there too. Everything was going smoothly until a man whom none of the crew knew started behaving anti-socially, bullying many at the reception. Unfortunately he chose the wrong crowd – first it was Lazy One (referred to above) that laid the bully to the floor, continually beating him and pushing him under the table. Lazy One’s friends joined in and threw the unfortunate chap out the door of the restaurant where the wedding reception took place.
Here’s a story from 1987. Mister Twister was the very first Russian rockabilly band and was very popular in the 1980s. One evening they performed at the Youth Palace in the city. The Stilyagi crowd came as well as the rockabillies. After Mister Twister started to play, the rockabillies attacked the Stilyagi and a massive fight started. The concert was disrupted and the band had to stop playing. The militia (the police force of Soviet Union) took the rockabillies outside. The band members of Mister Twister also went outside, to try and persuade the rockabillies to settle down. The group had a kind of history with them and did succeed in helping to calm things down.
There must be some of you readers out there who can relate to some of the above personal stories. When we were young, we did the things that young folks do, before we got a bit older and settled down a bit !
Thankyou Sergey and also to those veterans from the 1980s who contributed to the article with their remiscences. Long live Russian Rock’n’Roll !