‘Appy Days: The Mick Box Column (No. 4)
This week Mick tells us about Uriah Heep’s trip to Armenia, where the best way to combat the cold seems to be a combination of brandy, water and apricots! The guitarist also bumps into a Rolling Stone at the airport and gets interviewed by the BBC for a documentary on ‘eavy metal. Plus Mick magically extends his life expectancy to 206! Click here to read Mick’s previous columns.
Here we are on week four and I know I keep saying this, but I really have been doing a lot of interviews because of the release of our 40th Anniversary Celebration CD, and they are coming at me thick and fast. I did a nice interview on Tuesday for the BBC about the origins of heavy metal. This may be aired in February 2010, with a lot of other people yet to be interviewed. Of course, Heep can never be called heavy metal, but the start of what we did emerging from the 60s into the 70s – along with the likes of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, etc – grew into heavy metal, with bands like Motörhead surfacing. I love Motörhead, and it is always great to meet up with them when we play festivals in Europe together.
The last major one was last year in the Czech Republic to over 40,000 people, and Lemmy, Phil Campbell and Mikkey Dee were in fine form. Lemmy and I go back a long way, to the Bronze Records days, when we were labelmates.
We flew out to the Armenia for a show last Wednesday and it was the the first time we had played there, so it was quite exciting. A lot of the proceeds will go towards the Armenia Earthquake fund, and the reconstruction of housing destroyed in the devastating earthquake in Spitak in 1988, so that is cool.
I saw Ronnie Wood of The Rolling Stones at Heathrow Terminal One when we were checking in, and he was at security, and just before he went through with his new Russian girlfriend Ekaterina Ivanova, we had a nice little chat. It was good to see him; they were on their way for a break in Ireland.
The flight to Armenia was four hours and 30 minutes, and on arrival we were surprised to find how hot it was. We were told it had the same climate conditions as Greece, Italy and Spain. Still, they have harsh winters with the temperature getting down to 33 degrees below freezing! As we climbed down the aeroplane steps, we were ushered into a van and driven straight into the VIP area. We waited there while they collected all of our bags, equipment and dealt with our passports.
We arrived at the hotel at 2am and went straight to the bar in the lobby, where we were treated to some 20-year-old Armenian brandy. They told us that they believe one drop of Armenian brandy prolongs your life by five minutes. Needless to say with the amount we all consumed before bed, you will be happy to hear we will make our 50th Anniversary with ease. They also say that one drop of water from their 300 mineral springs prolongs your life by one minute. So on that basis, a night on the brandy, followed by a glass of water, and I have a good chance of living to the ripe old age of 206.
Armenia has a population in the region of three million, and is the approximate size of Belgium. The capital, Yerevan, has a population of 900,000. Legend has it that Noah’s Ark came to rest on Mount Ararat and they found the fossil remains of something resembling a boat’s hull, of which a small piece is in the Vatican. When Noah landed there, and the water receded, Noah was meant to say Yerevan which means, “Something has appeared.”
Yerevan was founded as a fortress in 782BC. On Mount Ararat there are 13 glaciers over the two peaks that never melt. That’s how cold it is! They believe very much in the power of Armenian apricots, fresh or dried, and they cure everything from headaches to sunburn. Next time I drink a little too much and need help with a hangover, I will surely give it a go. Another amazing fact is they can boast that they do not have one McDonald’s restaurant in the whole country.
Just outside of the hotel we were staying in there is a bridge called the Victory Bridge. However, its nickname is the Drunken Bridge as it connects two distilleries, one at each end. One for vodka, brandy and wine, and the other for brandy. Our promoter, Gagik Gyulbudaghyan, arranged for us to look around one of these famous brandy distilleries called Ararat.
It was quite amazing, and a few facts about the distillery are as follows: They have 370 staff, 5,200 grape growers, a turnover of US$57 million, and in 2008 8,200,000 bottles were made, with 92% for exportation. Russia takes approximately 75% of this. We tried a couple of glasses of the brandy, and they were exceptional. In fact, Winston Churchill ordered 350 bottles a year from this very distillery. We were given a bottle of 30-year-old Ararat brandy which was most kind of them, and I guess I will open mine at Xmas sitting in front of an open fire with my family. ‘Appy days indeed!
We had a press conference which was mobbed, and we met the Prime Minister’s wife, Gohar Sargsyan, along with the British Ambassador, Charles Lonsdale. Gohar said that the Prime Minister, Tigran Sargsyan, could not attend the press conference, but will definitely be at the concert.
I have the same feeling here in Armenia as when we were the first western rock band to play Russia in December 1987. They have such a passion and excitement for our music it is overwhelming. It has been very much a part of their musical culture for over 40 years. The venue we played was built in 1984, and the response at the concert was fantastic.
True to his word ,the Prime Minister came with his wife and family, and we met them afterwards and spent some time talking and taking photographs. They are hoping to include us in their plans for 2010, when they are going to arrange a huge festival in Yerevan in the Republic Square. The journey home was fine, except for when the equipment arrived back in London my Marshall Amp, that is in a heavy flight case, was smashed. Some baggage handler must have thrown it from a great height to do that much damage. If you have ever tried to claim back from an airline for this sort of damage you know that it is a nightmare.
However, on the music front with all of that travelling, I did have a chance to listen to a lot of music. I have the new Pearl Jam CD, Back Spacer. There are a couple of acoustic tracks that I really like, one being Just Breathe with really nice rolling finger picking. There are not as many guitar solos as on my favourite Pearl Jam CD, Ten, but it really stands up. Eddie Vedder is in fine emotive form.
I also listened to Porcupine Tree’s The Incident, and I did not think it was going to be my thing, but I liked it. It is one of those CDs you have to play in one go, top to bottom. Any band that writes lyrics like, ‘Your unpleasant family smashed up my car’ is alright by me. That made me smile, and I really enjoyed the CD.
I also played the Kings Of Leon’s Only By The Night CD and liked that too. Caleb Followill has a really appealing voice. Anyway with those CDs, a book, some Sudoku, and a bit of shut eye, the hours on the plane to and from Armenia passed reasonably quickly.
See you next week,
– Mick Box
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