The first Mary Chain performance of 2018 was to be on a late night chat show in Moscow-the Russian equivalent of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. I overheard someone say that the show had an audience of four-hundred-million but as the population of Russia is only about one third of that I think it was a bit of an exaggeration.
Getting to Moscow proved surprisingly challenging. We had a flight booked from Manchester to Frankfurt the day before the TV show. We arrived two hours beforehand to learn our flight had been delayed three hours. This was potentially a disaster as it would mean missing our connecting flight to Moscow. We arrived in Frankfurt to learn that we had two minutes before the gate closed on our second flight. There was a frantic dash to make it though there was no way possible of getting to our gate in two minutes. Particularly when we discovered we’d have to clear security again and an officious security guard stepped in front of me and pushed me backward.
“One at a time!” he barked. I resisted the temptation to snap back at him as I didn’t fancy getting locked up in Germany for the night..
Once through security I ran for the first time in about six years and arrived at the gate drenched in sweat and out of breath to find that the boarding process hadn’t even begun yet.
We eventually arrived in Moscow a few hours later than scheduled and even though it was late evening the traffic was horrendous. It was a huge relief when we pulled up at the hotel but as we were about to disembark from the van we were told we had to wait as the police were inspecting the place after a bomb threat. I felt the blood draining from my cheeks.
Eventually we were given the all clear and allowed to check in. We encountered Michael and Ben--our front of house sound engineer and lighting tech respectively--sitting at the bar grinning. I asked Michael about the bomb threat.
“That’s bullshit,” he said laughing and proceeded to tell the story as he saw it.
“So we’re sitting at the bar having a drink, right, when these two coppers come in and demand to speak to the hotel owner. The owner comes down and he gets into an argument with the coppers. They appear to be making threats and he’s not complying. A few minutes later a door opens behind the bar and a dozen stunningly beautiful women walk out. Then a dozen more until there’s thirty or forty of the most beautiful women you’ve ever seen in your life standing outside the hotel. The coppers continue to argue with the hotel owner and he’s not having it, whatever it is. Next thing, the fire brigade arrives and they join in the argument. Then the owner’s wife appears and she gets drawn in and still the argument continues. Another few minutes pass and the bomb squad turns up. The hotel owner continues to stand his ground until minutes later the hotel is forcibly evacuated. Meanwhile me and Ben are just sitting here laughing, watching all this unfold. Eventually the hotel owner relents and appears to agree to the coppers’ demands and everyone goes back into the hotel and carries on as if nothing’s happened. So what’s gone on, right, is the hotel owner’s been running an illegal brothel behind the bar and he’s had to pay off the coppers to stop it being shut down.”
I was taken aback though I’m still not entirely certain that Michael’s reading of the situation was one hundred percent accurate. It’s totally plausible though. There had clearly been no bomb threat as nobody in the bar was asked to leave the hotel at any point.
The following morning we were taken to the TV studio which involved another hour long drive through terrible traffic. The studio was located in a nondescript commercial district, much the same as the area in which the hotel was located. So far I’d seen nothing of the onion-domed Moscow I’d been hoping for.
We spent most of the day sat waiting in the dreary green room while various production people came in and out with bottles of water or extra boxes of tea bags. Occasionally Olga the stage manager came in to tell us they’d be ready for us in about twenty minutes. This continued for the next few hours until, when we’d been waiting for so long that we’d almost forgotten what we’d ben waiting for, Olga returned and shepherded us to the set for a camera rehearsal. We played through our song--April Skies--two or three times and it sounded fine except William wasn’t happy with his guitar amp. It was decided to bring in an alternative amp from the backline company and so we were sent back to the green room to wait for it to arrive. An hour later we were told the amp was on its way. Another hour passed and there was still no sign of the amp. Eventually we were informed that the amp was stuck in traffic and we were running out of time. At 530 the decision was made to do the performance with the original amp. We were hurried back onto the set--by which time the host had buggered off--and the audience was brought back in. The introduction to our segment had been pre-recorded we discovered. We played the song and the audience cheered wildly as if The Jesus and Mary Chain was their favourite ever band. Looking around I guessed that most of them had likely never heard of the band. We played the song a second time for luck and Rent-A-Crowd cheered again. Ten minutes later it was all over. Our gracious host, Natalia, took us to the TV station canteen for dinner before we climbed back into the van for the hour’s crawl back to the hotel. We had a lobby call for seven the next morning and a couple of hours later were on the train to St Petersburg.
Happily, we returned to Moscow after the St Petersburg show and I finally had the chance to spend an hour at Red Square which did not disappoint. I found it very surreal to stand in the middle of the square and see the Kremlin wall and St Basil’s Cathedral and Lenin’s tomb in particular. I remember, aged fourteen, watching the BBC news coverage of Chernenko’s funeral procession and being fascinated by everything about it from the incredibly sombre music to the appearance of the mostly elderly, fur-hatted Politburo members standing stiffly in line atop Lenin’s tomb. It seemed like a world that was a million miles away from the one I was familiar with.
The show at Glav Club that night was a success. As we exited the venue afterwards, we were greeted by a crowd of fans clamouring for photos and autographs from Jim and William. It was quite heartwarming. A fan pointed at me and beckoned me over to talk to him. He held up his phone and showed me a photo of some Mark Crozer and The Rels guitar picks.
“Ah, you must be Boris,” I said.
I’d been taken aback earlier in the day when a guy named Boris had got in touch to ask if I had any customized picks. It just so happened I did, as Shawn from The Rels had made up a bunch for our last US tour. And I even happened to have a couple with me. So I handed them over and Boris thanked me profusely.
A moment later as I was getting into the van I heard someone calling my name. I went over to him and said hello. He introduced himself.
“I’m Boris. I emailed you about the guitar picks.”
I was confused.
“I just gave them to someone else who I thought was you.”
Boris was pissed off.
“No! Please! I emailed you!”
“I’m sorry,” I said, genuinely confused, “I thought that other guy was you.”
“But I emailed you!”
I told him to send me his address via my website and I would mail a couple to him. He looked like he was going to start crying or worse, punch me in the face. It took a few minutes of remonstrating to convince him I’d made a genuine mistake.
“Honestly, I’ll send some you a couple I promise.”
I hurried back to the safety of the van.
The following morning we had another early lobby call and there were a couple of fans waiting at the hotel to say goodbye. They asked each of us in turn for our autographs and for a photo. We obliged of course though it was stupidly early in the morning. I stood up to make my way to the van when one of the two returned and came over to me. He took out his phone and showed me a photo. Surprise, surprise it was a photo of my guitar picks.
“I’ll add you to the list,” I said.
He just looked at me blankly.
So that was Moscow.