My column this month focuses on a real and important star on the Russian rock’n’roll scene. Over the past year, she has established herself as one of the brightest stars in Russia. She has shades of swing, traditional Russian songs in her repertoire, but it’s the rock’n’roll element in her performances that is really something very special.
Her name is Lara Markeeva. She has two qualities in particular that make her special – a great singing voice and charisma on stage. From my own experience of living in Russia since 2004, a typical Russian woman is not only beautiful but independent, interesting and forceful. Lara fits that description perfectly. You will see from the details below that she is not shy in coming forward. For me, these are always the most interesting and exciting kind of Women !
I booked her and her band, Rock’n’Lora, to perform for us at the Esse Jazz Café in Moscow on 11th March. It was her premiere performance at the Esse Café and she went down a storm. Some of the photos you can see were taken at the concert on 11.03.17.
Afterwards I sat down with Lara and talked to her about her rock’n’roll life. Below are the results of this conversation, told in her own words. Over to you, Lara.
Well, first of all here are some of my favourite songs that I perform from our repertoire:
Big Bad Handsome Man – Imelda May; Blue Suede Shoes – Elvis Presley; Can’t Buy Me Love – The Beatles; Let’s Twist Again – Chubby Checker; Something’s got a hold on me – Etta James; Stand By Me – Ben E King; Tainted Love – Gloria Jones; What’d I Say – Ray Charles. We also play cover versions of modern songs arranged for the retro style (Whitney Houston, Nirvana, Adele, etc.) and Russian songs from the ‘50s and ‘60s.
I started performing when I was a kid. I found myself onstage as soon as I learned how to walk. My Mum says that I started singing even before I could speak. I began performing professionally at the age of 23. During my first solo concert, I sang jazz in an intimate, almost home-like atmosphere for my friends and relatives, but it was at a real concert club!
When I started performing, I had absolutely no interest in rock’n’roll; I really liked jazz. But later I realised that my energy was too much for this style of music; it was just too small for me. At that point, rock’n’roll entered my life. Of course, my familiarisation with this style began with Elvis Presley. He was and still is my idol; I absolutely adore his ballads!
When I started singing rock’n’roll, I was not well versed in this style and I was certainly not familiar with the Russian rock’n’roll scene. But one day, a few guys came to my show and demonstrated some amazing dance moves while I was singing. They were dancing rockabilly jive. It was real love. I enrolled at the Jiving Rockets dance school and in just a couple of months I started appearing on the dance floor. Later on, I began dancing at my own concerts! Since then I couldn’t live without rock ‘n’ roll! I started listening to it a lot, watching video of foreign concerts and getting acquainted with the Moscow rock’n’roll musicians.
I love the retro style and my clothes and my image are always very thought through and bright. As my musicians say, “Lara looks chic when she comes to the concert, but she looks even more chic when she goes on stage!” So, one day I came to the concert having forgotten my concert dress in a cab. But no one even noticed that because my casual clothes were as always gorgeous that day. My friends joke that even when I sleep I am in the character of a Pin-up Diva.
The success of Rock’n’Lora is my infinite energy, which attracts amazing people; musicians, spectators, photographers and retro fans. I love being a leader and it’s easy for me to assume the responsibility, which is why people believe in me and help me. Just recently I found a concert director and now I am pretty much a grown-up established artist with her personal manager and favourite band.
In the two years of its existence Rock’n’Lora has changed many of its musicians. I can’t say it’s bad because I am the main driving force behind my band. I am Rock’n’Lora and my musicians are here to help and support me. We don’t really have disagreements in our band because I am the boss here. They all know that you don’t argue with your boss !
My favourite Russian band that has made an enormous contribution to the development of rock’n’roll in our country is “Bravo”. It has existed for over 25 years, and everyone knows it. Bravo sing songs in Russian; it’s sort of a rock‘n’roll adapted for Russians, taking into account our own music culture and history. Their music is a mix of American rock’n’roll with the Russian composers’ school added. I have just recently begun writing my own songs and I really want to become as successful as “Bravo”.
Right now the greatest influence on me is Imelda May, the singer. She is a stunning beauty and a great musician. I can feel her influence in every song of mine. And I also love the Soviet retro from the ‘50s and ‘60s – I have a lot of favourite musicians but the English readers probably don’t know them.
Like I already mentioned, I love Elvis and I can listen to his slow songs forever. Brian Setzer is another hero of mine. He was the leader of a small band, achieved great success and then his band grew to become an orchestra! Now that’s power! That’s what I want.
My favourite song of all time is “You were Always on My Mind” by Elvis. I believe that rock ‘n’ roll will continue growing in Russia. There are so many opportunities nowadays: music lovers can listen to any music freely on the Internet and go to concerts of foreign stars that come to Russia. After all, in the last 20 years the Russians have been freely travelling to Europe and the US, which also allows our culture to be filled with new colours. I’m very optimistic. I want to create and perform rock’n’roll, at the same time looking for new facets. I’m ready!
My style is a mix of rock’n’roll and Russian music, along with playful performance and dancing.
The most important event for Russian rock’n’roll was the opening of the Iron Curtain that existed during the USSR. Our culture was closed-off, and you could only listen to foreign music secretly, without telling anyone. But twenty years ago everything changed and these changes were for the better!
In addition to working as a singer and the leader of Rock’n’Lora, I teach vocal signing to children and adults and work at a school. I love my job and I would never trade it for anything because the music has filled my whole life. As for non-musical events, I’m getting married this year and plan to start a family. My fiancé is not a musician but he supports me in everything. We love being active. We ride scooters in summer, travel, and often go to museums and theatres.
Thankyou so much Lara, for a great rock’n’roll story. To see just how special she is as a Russian rock’n’roll star, you can visit her web-site at www.rocknlora.com
Those of you who go back as far as I do, will remember the comedian Bobby Ball and his famous catch-phrase: So to paraphrase – “Rock on, Lara !”
And finally, could not let the opportunity go without saying something about the passing of Chuck Berry. I wrote a column about the Great Man in this magazine quite a while ago. The gist of it was that he was not a particularly nice man personally but was a Rock’n’Roll Genius. He was the Poet Laureate of Rock’n’Roll, with his memorable and brilliant song lyrics. Stuff Shakespeare and Wordsworth, it was Chuck’s wonderful lyrics that did it for me. Some of his concerts in London in the 1970s that I went to see are ones I still remember well. Probably the greatest of these was his headlining the London Rock’n’Roll Show in 1972 – an unforgettable performance from the man from St Louis. Thanks for the wonderful memories, Chuck. He passed away last month at the age of 90 – Gone, but never ever forgotten.