Teddy Boy Power !

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 !