John and Martin 'fresh' off the plane in Moscow
I have been playing with Ronika for several years now. We met at Junction 7 after me and Martin (who I also play with in 8mm Orchestra) decided to ditch a friends birthday party for something more interesting. We sat by an old painted white piano by the DJ stage. She played an eclectic mix of classics and at the end of the night dropped Life on Mars by David Bowie. We were won over and wanted to chat. The rest was history.
Fast forward to mid September 2012 and less than a week before our trip I received a phone call from Ronika (or Ron as she has always insisted we call her) telling me to forget everything I’m doing next week, we are going to Russia and Poland for a few days.
So on the 20th September Ronika and her band went out East for a bit…
We leave Nottingham late and travel to London. We have an early flight so the very kind Petebox lets us crash at his place. It was the first time we had all hung out since Splendour as Ron had recently moved to Barcelona. She and John (from Swimming) tell us all about Spain. We arrive late in London and try to work our names out on our Russian visas.
We get up early and John drives us to Heathrow; we leave for Moscow via Stockholm at 7am. In Sweden we were all lame enough to be amazed at their indoor smoking facilities. Arriving at the airport just outside of Moscow we are awaited by a man called Dmitri who is holding a ‘RONIKA’ sign. He hastily drives us into the city. He speaks very little English but he teaches us some Russian -‘’no, Zdravstvujye... Zdrah-stoooy-tee’’.
Moscow is a very big city. I have never seen anything on this scale. The roads are insane; 6 lanes wide, people drive fast and aggressively. Dmitri doesn’t mind, this is the norm.
After going through tight security at the venue we are taken upstairs into the trendy upmarket bar – the place for the MOD magazines launch party. Backstage Martin and me drink wine, John chats with the promoter and the magazine photographers are quizzing Ron.
Much later we play to a room full of fashionable, beautiful Russians drinking glasses of Martini whilst smoking pencil thin cigarettes. It’s all very surreal - I’ve never been out of Europe, so just being here and getting to play is an amazing experience. We play an extended set and the audience looks like their having as much fun as we are. I try to fight off an awkward laugh as a close audience members eyes are glued to my hands during Paper, Scissors and Stone.
After the show the promoter drives us to our hotel but takes a brief detour by the Kremlin so we can see it lit up at night. We arrive at the epic Hotel Tverskaya – our rooms are high up and me and Martin curiously watch the city below for a while before crashing out.
Taking a stroll around the Red Square, Moscow
We intended on getting up at 8am but instead wake up at 12:30. We stumble out and visit a 24-hour supermarket across the road and tried to work out what anything is (nothing is written in Latin characters). At the checkouts we have our first of many hilarious awkward language encounters.
We walk down the lengthy Tverskaya Street (a road that runs directly to St Petersburg over 745 km away) finding many things we didn’t expect of Russia. The Sun is out and the temperature is over 23 degrees. The busy streets are filled with frowning people who watch us walk by. John curiously looks around at the Stalinist city blocks taking pictures and I wonder what its like to be an older citizen here and live in a city with old statues of Marx facing huge permanent billboards for Nokia and H&M. Not what I expected at all.
We reached Revolution Square to find hoards of tourists so we quickly walk up into Red Square whilst being greeted by a man dressed as Mickey Mouse – not what I would call the most suitably traditional symbol of Russia.
I looked around in awe at its size, especially that of the huge red Kremlin wall behind Lenin’s mausoleum. Armed police on patrol here guard the graves of Soviet heroes. The other side of the square we take our ‘Leftlion abroad’ picture and enter St Basils Cathedral to find 4 men singing.
After this we met up with editor of MOD magazine and his friend who take us around a large shopping centre and then through the amazing Metro system. Statues of the fallen during the Second World War are everywhere. They take us to a lucky statue of a dog; if you rub this dogs nose your wish will come true. It was very popular… the dogs nose wore down and discoloured.
The editor takes us to a bar where the DJ is playing weird mash ups (remember the kind from MTV a few years ago?). Martin and me drink beer and caught the attention of locals who ‘’do not drink beer, only cocktails or vodka’’. We decide it’s not for us so we retreat back to the hotel and watch bizarre Russian art films.
Another early start, this time we were picked up by Dmitri from outside the hotel at 9am (6am UK time). He is wide awake and again sped to the airport whilst listening to pumping dance music. We split with John – he has to get back to the UK. It was horrible leaving him in such a crazy place by himself!
We get on an interesting looking plane heading to Minsk (Belarus) that makes the others nervous about getting the fight. I was slightly distressed though when I found that Martins seat was broken and we had to keep our bags on our laps during the entire flight. Also, the overhead luggage departments popped open during take off and a man got up out of seat to use toilet during ascent.
Minsk airport turned out to be a very ugly old building. Very few lights are on at all; everything is in Cyrillic and the whole building is very quiet compared to where we had just been. Searching for our gate it turns out they had already put our fellow passengers through security without an announcement. After asking a random airport employee, she looked at us with horror and said “you are late!” We are hurried through security by staff shouting ‘passport, passport!’ every other minute, demanding to know why we were late. We just get to the plane in time!
When we land at Warsaw Chopin airport the promoter Kuba picks us up and drives us into the city. He was a very friendly and chatty guy who spoke excellent English. He takes us to our apartment on the 12th floor by the Vistula River facing the brand new national football stadium.
Jack's view from his hotel in Warsaw
After relaxing for a while we go out into town source some gear we have rented, meet some local musicians and later go to the venue for setup. The venue is a relaxed bar down a backstreet in the city centre; upstairs there was a large open seating area with a bar at the back sporting little beer and lots of vodka. Downstairs was dark room that reminded me of Stealth in Nottingham.
We wait a while for the engineer to set up so I go for tea and puzzle the locals when asking for milk:
‘Can I have some milk?’,
‘Milk? What cold or…?’
‘For my tea’
‘…. Oh. Why?!’
I like Warsaw (Var’sava), the pace is slower and it’s much greener than Moscow. We return to the venue and practice our Polish at the bar with our DJ (Naphta) and the bar manager - the bar maids laugh at us.
Backstage the engineer clocks us looking at a very high pull up bar and jokingly demands we do pull-ups before we go on stage. We do so but he out does us whilst menacingly staring at me.
We enter the live room to a packed house, the audience is crying out ‘Ronnnniiiikaaa!’. We jump straight into Forget Yourself and people instantly dance and sing along. Automatic was a personal highlight, Roni struts the stage, drops an awesome solo and gets the whole audience involved in the chorus. After 11 songs we end on System Error and the audience want more – we have no more! Me and Martin quickly exit the stage and are ambushed by locals who want to chat and share drinks with us whilst Roni stays in the club dancing late into the night to the nu-disco beats.
We sit on the balcony of our apartment late in the morning, eat breakfast and chat with Kuba and his girlfriend reflecting on the night before.
We head into town for a drink at a local coffee house where todays special is ‘Buffalo testicles marinated in red wine’ – we joke whether I can eat this because it’s not technically meat.
After taking a few group photos we were then driven to the a smaller airport outside the city and fly back to the UK to find that it was several degrees colder and it was lashing it down with rain. It’s lovely to be home...