‘Appy Days: The Mick Box Column (No. 21)
This week, Mick’s on tour with Uriah Heep in Russia where he gets involved in a bomb scare, drinks too much vodka, is impressed with the beautiful laydees… oh, and plays a couple of shows! To read Mick’s previous columns, go here.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
I spent the morning packing, and then spent the afternoon in a cold, wet football field with my son Romeo, watching him play for his school ‘A’ team at football. The score was 1-1 and they played very well. Romeo was put in goal for half the match, and made a couple of magnificent saves, so I was proud as punch. We drove home, and then I left for Heathrow Airport. I was staying in a hotel overnight, as it was a stupid early flight the next morning. I had a nice bottle of wine with Bernie Shaw, as we were celebrating the fact that he was going to be a daddy again, which is fantastic news, and then everyone arrived one by one and off to bed.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
We were up early to get the shuttle bus to the airport, and then we checked in. This took quite a while with all of the equipment and excess baggage to be paid, and we had just enough time to grasp a quick coffee and a sandwich before boarding the British Airways flight to Moscow. The flight was three hours and 30 minutes long, and passed reasonably quickly with everyone getting some much-needed shut-eye. There are always forms for everyone to fill out before you land, and in usual Heep style, all we could rustle up between us were two pens, and there was information being shouted and passed up and down the aisles of the plane.
I noticed in the duty free BA magazine an interesting sports watch that you could purchase on board. It is a Breo Roam sports watch, which is like a watch within a bracelet. The description is just wonderful and surely must have been written by an estate agent. It reads: ‘The Roams’ simple, stylish and bold design means that this fantastically good value watch is set to become a firm favourite. The watch is made from tourmaline, which is said to have various health benefits including increased concentration, natural detoxification, improved sleep, vitality and mood. They come in two colours: black or pink. All this for only £10.’ I was tempted to purchase one each for my entire family, and then I thought: ‘”Nah, what a load of old poppycock.” It did make me smile though!
Moscow airport has changed so much since our first visit in 1987. Back then it was black, dark, and grubby-looking, but now it is a lot better and much cleaner and brighter. I did notice signs everywhere that read: ‘Beware of private taxi drivers. Fraud is possible when paying. No safety guaranteed.’ It took some time for the equipment to clear through customs, but everything went relatively smoothly. I see what they mean about the taxi drivers, as there were hordes of them asking you if want a taxi when you clear customs, and they are continually being moved on by police and having their IDs checked. It was quite funny to watch, because as they were ushered out of the airport through one door, they all came in through another!
We met the promoter’s representatives and then jumped into waiting vans to get to the domestic airport which is across town. One of the promoter reps we had worked with before back in the 90s; his name is Peter Smirnoff. What a great name for a Russian being named after a brand of vodka! It was a bit of a shock once outside with so much snow everywhere, and boy was it cold. With the horrendous Moscow traffic from the international airport to the domestic airport, which was across town, it took the best part of three hours, so it was lucky that we had four hours and 30 minutes to do this.
We checked in for the Aeroflot Rostov flight, and even had enough time for a quick burger and chips before boarding the flight. Once on the flight we sat down and noticed people were staring at us. We soon found out why, because we were featured in the in-flight magazine with a third of a page picture and article advertising the Heep tour. This soon started a stampede of autograph signings which kept us busy for a while. The flight was an hour and 45 minutes and, as we arrived, we were met by a TV crew, as the promoter had arranged this to make the morning news, so that the people actually knew we were there. After waiting for our bags and equipment to arrive, it was off to the hotel where we arrived at approximately 1.30am. They always ask you for your passport on check in at the hotels over here, along with your immigration form, but the trick is to remember to pick it up on departure. There were a few fans after autographs waiting in the hotel foyer, and we signed everything from old vinyl albums, CDs, pictures, tickets and a guitar. One guy gave us a whole Tupperware container of Blinis, which was nice. However, once everyone had checked in and dropped their bags in their rooms, it was down to the bar for a nightcap. Or in some cases the entire hat shop!
Thursday, February 11, 2010
It was up for an early breakfast and then the crew went down to the venue at 11.30am. Some opted to stay in bed, but I had to go to a radio station (Radio Rostov) to do a live interview. I was picked up by the promoter at 1pm and off we went. It was only 20 minutes away and quite an enjoyable interview, which included a phone in with questions from fans for me to answer on air. It is always strange doing interviews with interpreters, as you have to keep your answers short so that they can interpret correctly. I learnt this years ago as I used to give really long in-depth answers to questions and then look at the interpreter’s face which usually had a look of horror mixed with panic all over it.
After the interview it was back to the hotel at 3pm to meet everyone else to go to lunch and then on to the sound check. I had to grab my stage clothes quickly from my room, as we were staying down at the venue, due to an early stage time of 7pm. The sound check went well and then we relaxed backstage, until we got the call that the show was ready to start, albeit 30 minutes late. We hit the stage running and the crowd were extremely receptive from the off. Half way through the opening song, Wake The Sleeper, everyone had rushed down to the front of the stage which was great.
It was a fantastic show and we really enjoyed it. On the flight over the airlines had trashed my amplifiers and pedal board which had to be rebuilt by Christos, my guitar tech, but somehow a gremlin was still in there; on Lady In Black my Hofner acoustic kept cutting out, as a connector on the floor board had broken. For half the song Christos had to sit on the stage and hold it in with his hand with a wrinkled grimace on his face, much to my amusement.
After the show, with many autographs and pictures taken, we were ushered into vans and taken to a restaurant for dinner. Trevor Bolder and I had a couple of vodkas and decided to go back to the hotel. Everyone else stayed and then some of the party went to the hotel bar to continue. There were some stunning girls in the hotel foyer when Trevor and I came back, and it was obvious they were ladies of the night. As we were getting in the lift we were asked if we wanted to join them, but we politely declined and went to bed.
Friday, February 12, 2010
Today we had an 8.30am bus call as we have a two hour drive to Krasnador. Now they had told us it would be two hours but in fact it ended up being over four hours long. The bar had obviously taken its effect on some of the party as we did not leave until 9am, and it wasn’t long before the snoring started once the bus had hit the road. Both Trevor and I admitted we felt a bit groggy this morning after drinking the vodka, which is like rocket fuel, so I can report that we have still not got the hang of drinking it yet, but we will Keep On Trying as one of our earlier songs suggests. It is so wickedly strong. However, we got away lightly compared to some of the party for sure.
We arrived at the hotel and the crew went straight down to the venue, while we had a quick lunch and a shower before going to a record shop for an autograph session. This went very well and we signed a lot of old vinyl – and to our surprise a lot of Wake The Sleeper and Celebration CDs. After this, is was on to the sound check and to get ready. The show was brilliant and the crowd were fantastic. Unfortunately, the security were heavy-handed with people who just wanted to enjoy themselves, which is a throwback to the old days. Afterwards, we had dinner at the hotel, and for some it was an early night as we were up at 6.30am to make the flight for Moscow in the morning.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
One thing you have to get used to in Russia is this constant bending of the truth. For instance they had allowed one hour to travel to the airport, when in fact it was only 20 minutes. We could have had an extra hour in bed, because even the gate to check in at the airport was not open for a further hour. I must say that after a few days this all gets quite draining, but it goes with the territory, and you end up just going with the flow. Either that, or you end up losing your voice shouting at people, who just shrug their shoulders back at you as nothing gets done.
When the gate opened it was noticed that Peter Smirnoff’s flight ticket read March 13, instead of February 13, which caused a lot of fuss. Eventually this got sorted out; luckily for Peter, as at one point they were not going to let him on the flight. Anyway we all checked in and went through security and on to the plane. While we were on the ground a stewardess announced there was an unidentified bag left at the check in. They thought because of the problem with Peter’s ticket that maybe it was his bag untagged. Now this caused such a fuss that they closed down Krasnador Airport, and evacuated everyone thinking it may be a bomb. The bomb squad arrived with sniffer dogs along with the FBI, and Peter was taken off the plane to identify his baggage. Luckily for him he could identify it and it was tagged, so all was okay and the bomb squad took away the unidentified bag.
This took at least an hour, so we were left waiting on the plane wondering if we would ever see Peter again. There was a huge sigh of relief when he came back on board, and the plane eventually took off. Because of the flight delay, plus the horrendous traffic from the airport to the hotel, this put our arranged schedule in disarray. The crew went straight to the venue and the band had a quick lunch and showered, before going to an autograph session in a music shop. Unfortunately we were two hours late, but the people were still there, and it was mobbed. It went very well, and we signed autographs and had lots of pictures taken with the fans, and then the shop owners. I was given a present of a nice hand-knitted scarf with the latest UH logo on it, some flowers (roses) and four small religious icons that folded into a little wooden book. These were given to me by Yuri, an associate of Father Sergei who sends me emails from time to time. I was also given a major Russian rock magazine called In Rock that Heep featured heavily in. I was on the front page, and there was a four-page article with more pictures. There was also a half-page advert for our tour with a picture of the band. On top of that there was a small article on the late David Byron along with his picture, and an article on Praying Mantis, a band Bernie used to be in. There was also a picture of him with them. Plus there was a review of the Celebration CD as a feature.
After the signing it was on to the sound check, which went without a hitch, and then a press conference and a TV interview that Phil Lanzon and I did. The concert was fantastic, and the audience were fired up and chanting our name long before the intro tape started. It was great to see so many young people in the audience and they knew every song and lyric, old and new, which was brilliant. After the show it was back to the hotel bar, and a couple of celebratory drinks as the show was a success, and off to bed.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Well, as it was Valentine’s Day we had all sent flowers home, which we arranged from Russia, and these all arrived okay which was nice. We had a late check-out from the hotel, and a late breakfast before we went to Moscow airport to catch a plane to Yekateringburg, where the next show is on Monday.
In Moscow we were staying in the very plush Hilton hotel where the staff, mostly beautiful females, treated us very well, and they were very nice, smiley and helpful. After breakfast I decided to have a nice shower and pack and get ready for the journey. In my bathroom there was a luxury shower and a bath so I was spoilt for choice. I opted for the shower as it was quicker, but there the plan fell to bits. There was no hot water. I ran it for 20 minutes to no avail. I then had to run the bath which was only lukewarm, but that was the best it was going to get, so I had to make do. Other than that it was a pleasant stay and one I would repeat.
One of the changes in Moscow airport, apart from the others I have mentioned previously, is that you can get a soya latte in Costa Coffee there. Now that went down well, I can tell you. On these domestic flights we have travelled on S7 airlines. They used to be called Siberian Airlines but they changed their name. All the aeroplanes are a shocking lime green colour, and the poor staff have to wear lime green knitted sleeveless jumpers as part of their uniform, which to be honest look naff. The planes are okay though, and even the food is served in lime green boxes, which is mostly chicken and noodles or fish and rice.
We arrived on time in Yekateringburg in the Urals, and were met by the promoters and taken to the hotel. Tonight is a night off so we are going out to dinner to have a relaxing evening as it seems that we have been pretty non-stop since we arrived in Russia. Up to now it has been a three-hour time difference between Russia and the UK, but it is now five hours in front of the UK, which really messes up our sleep time. Enter the dreaded jet lag!
Well that’s all for now, and I will finish off our Russian trip and everything else that happens in Boxworld next week.