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On the townski!

What do you do when your Russian colleagues are throwing a party? If you're Time Out you send the crash, bang and artful wallop of British Sea Power. Chris Salmon joined our Live Band Of The Year to see the sights and stun the crowds.

"You want boogie nights?" asks a smart Russian, who's appeared in the dressing room. "Boogie nights," he repeats. "Vodka, cocaine and girls!"

"He means: Do you want to meet some Moscow whores?" explains another Russian. British Sea Power shuffle awkwardly.

"Some of them are very good," encourages the second Russian. British Sea Power mumble that they'd actually rather go and see RedSqaure.

"Really?" says the second Russian, puzzled. "When [famous British frontman] was here, he went with a different prostitute every night."

British Sea Power scan the room for exits.

The band are in Moscow to play two Russian shows at the invitation of Time out Moscow and Time Out St Petersburg. When the magazines decided to throw summer parties, they contacted Time Out London to ask if our Live Band Of The Year would play. That band is British Sea Power, the marvellous art-rockers who've just released their second album, "Open Season". Our people touched base with their people, push was shoved and before long BSP were flying to Moscow. And since they were travelling as ambassadors of our magazine, they asked us along. Splendid!

Moscow airport, Friday, 2pm.
"There's nothing in the index under "bribes"," shrugs BSP's guitarist Noble, consulting his Moscow guidebook. It's several hours before the offers of prostitutes and we've just arrived in Russia. Having heard scare stories from on British band's crew about their recent Russian trip, our party is approaching customs with some trepidation. A notion has spread that, to be allowed in with musical instruments, we have to (whisper it) bribe a customs officer. But nobody's sure how we'd recognise the moment to do this or how much an appropriate bung would be. Eventually, it's decided we should just act cool and cross the bribery bridge when we come to it.

Which, it transpires, we don't. Several pairs of underpants are endangered when we're stopping in Nothing To Declare and sent to the redzone, but that's only because they need to X-ray the instruments and it's where the machine is. After a brief delay, we're through. All the worrying would seem daft if the man who's here to meet us didn't jump and whoop when he sees us, relief carved across his face.

Gorky Park, Friday, 4pm.
The band are driven straight to Gorky Park (yes, of Scorpions' "Wind Of Change" fame) where they will play an open-air show to the Time Out Moscow readers. After a soundcheck and a vodka-fuelled meal, it's showtime. "What's Russian for "thanks"?" asks Yan as the band take to the stage. "Spazzybo," says keyboard player Eamon (who, oddly but truly, learnt a bit of Russian after developing an obsession with the ex-Soviet state of Kyrgyzstan).

It's intriguing to watch out Live Band Of The Year play to the a crowd who, bar an excited expat of handful, have never heard of them. At first BSP's blasts of Joy Division-tinged pastoral rock are greeted meekly. But after a few punchily delivered songs, the crowd starts to jiggle. And by the time they unleash the frazzled euphoria of "Remember Me", several hundred Muscovites are going completely "spazzybo".

As the band extend their last song into a vibrant, pulsing jam there's a typically chaotic finale, led by Noble. He hurls tomatoes, lifts a woman from the crowd then perches her on the bass drum, smashes a courgette over Yan's head and, finally, tries to stage dive, but only manages to crash into a disgruntled security man. The Moscow audience's mouths are either agog or smiling. "That was the best thing this year!" a woman tells me. They came, they played, they conquered.

A supposedly posh hotel, Saturday, 12:30am.
Having dodged the post-show prostitutes, we go to our upmarket hotel, only to find the reception crawling with hookers. "That cold, alluring look in their eyes if frightening," shudders Yan. As we check in, we're handed flyers for the hotel's strip bar where, according to the pictures, couples can eat fruit off naked women.

Red Square, Saturday, 3am.
Dumping their bags, the band escape, via a bar, on a late-night sightseeing trip to Red Square. "It's just another fucking square with some nice buildings," pouts a sozzled Yan outside the Kremlin, as a police car drives slowly behind us. "We're too drunk to appreciate it," reasons Noble, nodding towards the fantastically bulbous St Basil's Cathedral. "Let's go to bed."

Moscow airport, Saturday, 8am.
The band's hangovers are hitting hard when we reach the airport (woe betide the Brit who tries to match their Russian host's drinking). But the café's fish soup cures all and BSP arrive in St Petersburg bright-eyed and up for it. More so when they see the limo that's come to collect them.

Palace Square, St Petersburg, Saturday, 1pm.
As the locals will tell you, St Petersburg is a calmer, prettier and friendlier city than Moscow. "Why do people in Moscow never smile?" the saying goes. "Because they've got nothing to smile about." "It's like a cross between Venice and Prague," decides an impressed Eamon. "And not nearly as in-your-face as Moscow."

We visit the glorious Palace Square where a sizeable crowd has gathered for what is, we're told, Police Day. Those not sitting in a police car or clambering on a tank are watching four thirtysomething coppers on stage in full uniform making like a Russian Take That. "They're fantastic," grins Hamilton, clapping along down the front. But BSP have to drag themselves away for the 90-minute limo ride to tonight's venue.

A club called The Beach, Saturday, 4pm.
Separated from the Baltic Sea by 20 years of neatly tended sand, The Beach is one of Russia's most exclusive venues. Tonight's invite-only crowd will apparently consist of VIPs and celebrities. "I'm not sure if we've just walked into Ibiza or the set of "The OC"," says Yan, standing on the open-air stage looking at the venue's swimming pool and sunloungers.

When the guests arrive (thick-necked men in expensive suits, unfeasibly beautiful women in very little) it's immediately apparent that they're not frazzled art-rock types. "This could be the strangest gig we've ever done," signs Eamon. "I doubt anybody here wants to see us play."

A woman approaches to prove otherwise. "My friend saw you in Moscow," she smiles. "She said you were the best live band in the world! She said you were throwing tomatoes!"

But convinced that most of the crowd would rather spend the evening looking at each other than at them, the band adopt a defiant stance. As the beautiful people dance to jazzy house, BSP drink. A lot. "Let's just go for it tonight," suggests Hamilton.

Into battle, Saturday, midnight.
When BSP sway on the stage around midnight, many of the guests look aggrieved that their jazzy house has been interrupted. The fired-up band begin with a blistering instrumental attack. The crowd flinch, but their attention is grabbed.

For almost an hour, Yan prowls and howls, Noble thrashes and Hamilton stares his hardest stare. It's powerful, arresting stuff and makes for an oddly amusing stand-off between crowd and band. One or two people beg the soundman to make them stop, but the vast majority, while perhaps not enjoying it, are transfixed.

By the end several models are dancing down the front, three uniformed Time Out St Petersburg cheerleaders are on stage waving flags, Eamon is rampaging through the still largely static crowd, pounding a drum, and Yan has jumped from the stage, marched to the pool and dived in.

"We've invented a new genre," grins Noble afterwards in the elation-filled dressing-room. "It's called drunk rock!"

"It was like a human car crash,"beams a dripping Yan. "It's frightened them, but they couldn't take their eyes off."

"We were driven by complete spite and hatred towards the audience," admits Hamilton. "But I honestly think they loved it!"

That's pushing it (the relief when the jazzy house starts again is tangible), but rest assured that nobody who saw BSP in Russia, be it in Moscow or St Petersburg, will forget them in a hurry. Our ambassadors did us proud.


Author: Chris Salmon
Source: Time Out London
Date: 3rd August 2005

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