TDear Readers, this month marks an impressive finale to the fascinating series we have been running on the topic of women in rock’n’roll. And to conclude the series, the hugely talented Natalya Terekhova, lead singer of the all-women Russian rockin’ group Magic, will continue her rock’n’roll story. Last month, she included details about her life with the Kazakhstan-based band Lamia. And now Natalya will begin her article this month with the story of Magic. All yours, Natalya:

Now let me tell you the story of Magic, my current group. It all began in September 1999 in Moscow. I met Alik Sikorsky, a Moscow music legend of the 1970s-1980s and convinced him to support the idea of creating a female rock band. The women were there but the repertoire was undecided. Alik invited me to visit him, pulled out a bunch of CDs and suggested that I choose the ones I liked the most. I instantly and very vocally rejected the Spice Girls, Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys ! Alik was surprised – “this music is popular now; in the 1980s, we played the music which was popular then, so you should play music which is popular now”. Having loved and played the best kind of music, I vehemently refused to even continue the conversation. Alik got tired of suggesting “currently popular music” and said he couldn’t help us. Later on during the same visit, he decided to pull out a completely different little case from a completely different box. It contained entirely different CDs! Rock’nRoll ! – plus Creedence Clearwater Revival, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Status Quo and others. I shouted, “This is It ! This is what we’ll be playing ! This is our repertoire”. Alik said, very surprised, “You can’t possibly love this old music. We grew up with it, but now there’s a different type of music.” I grumbled even louder, this time about the time wasted in listening to silly stuff from the wrong box and about how he should’ve immediately brought out this one, the right one! This, amidst honest exchanges, is how the band was born.

So, the history of the Magic band began in 1999. Having chosen the right box from Alik Sikorsky’s huge CD archive, our group with members Natalya Terekhova (guitar), Sofia Yurchenko (keyboard), and Natalya Malishevskaya (bass-guitar) began learning the material. The first rehearsal took place in Alik’s apartment, and judging by his reaction, the maestro wasn’t very impressed. “This is no good!” Alik snapped. “No good at all.”

Magic’s history continued. It was still 1999: Our band with its first lineup was quickly invited to work in the “Rhythm’n’Blues Cafe” in Moscow, right after a party with Alik Sikorsky and the Staraya Gvardiya band, where a contest to invent a name for us was announced. At that time, our entire repertoire consisted of six songs and two sets. We could play each set in 15 minutes with an hour break in between. When we went to the club for our second concert, the wall sported a poster “Rock’n’roll is here today. The Magic Band.” We asked who that was and were told this is us.

This is how, thanks to Alik Sikorsky, our band’s name was born. To speed up the work on enhancing our material, they allowed us to rehearse on the premises. During the day, we got on the stage and worked on improving ourselves. After the third rehearsal, the cleaning woman resigned ! We continued learning songs in four-part harmonies. A week later, a couple of waiters and the coatroom attendant resigned as well. Thus, thanks to our band, the club’s entire staff was gradually replaced with new people. And regarding the story of Magic, the rest, as they say, is History.

There have been many amusing stories during our Magic history. Here’s one: At a very big stadium concert in Moscow, during the sound check prior to performing, I was helping the sound engineer. The stadium was already full of people. During the sound check the microphone for communicating with the musicians on the stage hadn’t been turned on yet but the audience was already there, making sounds. I was forced to yell my instructions, when they should play or not play, at the top of my voice. Here is how things went:

(Me, yelling!) “Stop jangling! I’m GETTING A LOT OF BUZZ ! (meaning, everything started whistling and buzzing) Let’s tune the signal! (The musicians, not hearing me): “Whaaat????” (Natalya): “I’m getting a lot of buzz!” (The musicians): “Huuuuuuh?” At this point, the local sound engineer had already managed to connect the microphone and announced to the entire stadium, “She’s going to get the Booze!”

Here’s another one: At another big concert, just before we were to come on stage, the concert organiser ran to the master of ceremonies and quickly said, “So, listen. You’ll announce, ‘Now the ladies will perform rock’n’roll hits – gems of the past thirty-forty years!’ Got it?” He repeated, to make sure there were no mistakes, “OK, remember, “Now the ladies will perform global hits, gems of the past thirty-forty years!” Got it?” “Got it.” The MC confidently walked on the stage and announced, “Now, gems of the last thirty-forty years will perform global hits!”

Once, we had an audition for a new singer. Here was the reaction of one of the applicants to having to sing rock’n’roll: “I’m not going to sing your rock’n’roll! I have a VOICE! I want to show it off to everyone! I will sing only ‘Can’t Live’ and ‘Titanic!’ There’s no way to show my voice off with your rock’n’roll!” She didn’t get the job !

And here’s another applicant’s reaction, at the same audition: Singer – “What?! A female band? No way, no how! I want the audience to watch only me, not some other chick beside me.” Our conclusion was, “Untreatable”. Harassment in the musical world because you’re a woman of course can happen. This has been going on all my life. When I was a little girl, I wasn’t accepted anywhere; they were sure I’d play the guitar for a little while and then drop it, because I was still very young. Later on, I kept hearing, “You’ll get married and drop it.” Men didn’t want to marry me because they didn’t want a guitar-playing wife. Men like having ordinary wives, wives who’re not show-casing themselves. But I’m way too energetic and showy.

Then they started saying I was already old, because of my style ! But the main reason for everything is always my rock’n’roll appearance. I don’t match how a woman is supposed to dress, according to traditional female beauty standards. Plus, I maintain the rock image in both my everyday outfits and the stage costumes.

About my relationship with other female rockers, I’m not combative at all. I’m friends with everybody; many colleagues – women guitar players. We get together for coffee or nature walks. We keep in touch. Women aren’t jealous of who plays and where they play.

My rock’n’roll heroines in all of history ? Joan Jett and Suzi Quatro. It’s just that they were the first ones I knew about and I knew I wasn’t the only one playing the guitar anymore ! My favourite rock’n’roll composition performed by a woman in all of history? The Los Angeles band “Birtha” (1967-1973) and their “Free Spirit” track. I am a little pessimistic about the future of Russian rock’n’roll. It’s waning as a music style. And maybe Rock’n’roll has a bleak future generally, too. This is the time of electronics, synthesizers, plug-ins, and sampling. Live music isn’t in demand. Musicians need to fit the requirements imposed by the degradation of generations of listeners. Music changes depending on the payment system. In the past, the Russian restaurant musicians joked, “Not playing a note without a banknote” but this isn’t a joke anymore. All musicians play the music that pays money, not the music they love and want.

Richard, you asked me about some rocker friends in both the UK and Russia, who occasionally tell you that this music is meant for men and should be performed only by men (!?). What can you say to that? I disagree. Music has no gender. You can like it or not like it. And “he” can be changed to “she” just fine. Since it’s very very difficult to make a living from music in Russia, I’d call my guitar playing a hobby as it’s impossible to live off this skill. This makes it necessary to be able to seek other ways of earning money at the same time. I’m a webmaster-programmer (designer of websites) and a sound director with my own equipment, which I use for various concert events. Yes, I would love to be a full-time guitar player, go on more tours and give many more concerts, but this is impossible to do in Russia, it’s not in demand. It’s especially hard for a woman, and even harder when you’re not 30 anymore. You need to have a regular, non-creative, job, in order to survive here. It’s very sad.

Life has always been hard for women, and it’s doubly so for guitar players. So, as I researched – yes, researched, I’m not afraid of this word – the history of women guitar players going back centuries, I came to the conclusion that the gender issues are the same now are as they were in the 15th – 20th centuries. What happens in our countries in the East is identical to what happens in the West. Instead of having men’s support, women are constantly and ceaselessly having to prove their talents and abilities. They waste more effort on that than on their craft. Many can’t cope, many get tired, many resign themselves to it. So then men victoriously and joyfully say, “See, I told you, you can’t do it”.

Regarding my life style, I’ve made sure to make myself so busy that I don’t have any free time in general. I rest after getting one thing done by tackling another one. Thank you so much, Natalya ! Next month, you’re gonna find out about another Russian rock’n’roll hero. He’s not a musician or a singer, but you’ll find out why he qualifies as a rock’n’roll super-star. In the meantime, Keep Rockin’, as hard as we do over here in the East !

Richard Hume