Teddy Boy Power – Take Three !

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 !