DEEP PURPLE bassist Roger Glover has posted the following Russian tour report on his official web site:
"This a tour of seventeen cities spread across parts of what was, until relatively recently, known as the Soviet Union and now called Russia and the Ukraine. As I write this, we are roughly at the halfway point and not yet in the Ukraine.
"Because of the vast distances, we are traveling on our own chartered, three-engined plane, a YAK 42, and it's really quite easy. However, this doesn't mean that we can avoid airport security and our echoing footsteps regularly bounce off the high, domed ceilings of dimly lit buildings that often look more like churches than terminals as we traipse through, bundled up and dragging our bags. Unsmiling uniformed women in unbelievably sexy high-heeled black leather boots direct us through the X-ray machines. Our plane, although it has seen a good few years of use and the seats and fittings are rather ancient and worn, has a personality all of its own. The flight attendants change from day to day but there is one regular guy who speaks a little English and looks like a young George Formby. I've christened him 'Short Back and Sides' for obvious reasons.
"On arrival, we are met at most airports by a gaggle of people from the local promoter, security men, TV reporters, photographers and autograph hunters who eagerly cluster around wanting a few words or a signature as we climb aboard a rattling van for the hairy ride to the hotel, preceded by a wailing police car. Some of our hotels are not too impressive. Dingy would be a good word. The light bulbs seem to be about 15 watts and the furnishings look they could be from the Fifties, something that was then probably considered ‘modern’ but now just looks quaint. There are some gems amongst them.
"We travel with a cheery Russian crew that are thoroughly professional and compliment our own superb crew well. There are about a dozen of them. In hotel bars after gigs I have come to look out for the words, 'it's a Russian tradition!' as they proffer shots of neat vodka that actually go down surprisingly well despite whatever it was you were previously drinking. Before you know it, the glass has been refilled and yet another toast is offered. This can so easily be the start of a 'cultural exchange' that will haunt you the following morning, a hard, fierce morning that always comes too soon!
"Food leaves much to be desired. Sometimes after a show the promoter invites us to a restaurant, the managers and waiters of which seem intent on impressing and pleasing us but usually blow it by trying too hard. We are ushered to tables laden with all kinds of food, much of which is unidentifiable. There seems to be an alarming number of dishes containing a slimy substance garnished with some kind of pickled matter. Fish is frequently cooked whole; the eyes staring vacantly back at us. Meat comes in various shades of grey and the vegetables are either overcooked, cold, or more than likely both. Predictably, the vodka is good and plentiful and helps to get the other stuff down. We shouldn't complain though because at least we're not paying for it, except with our presence. And we have had some good times.
"The gigs on the whole have been excellent, the crowds ecstatic to see us. The other day a local promoter flew half way across Russia to have his photograph taken with us so that upon his return he could have it published in the local newspaper; apparently no one could believe we were really coming to town. You can sense this in the crowd when we kick into 'Silver Tongue', the first song — they seem to be saying to themselves, 'it's them, it really is!' and then they go nuts! What a welcome we have here. The age range is impressive. Amongst the grizzled features of the older ones bent on re-living their younger days when our songs were illegal copies of copies there are plenty of rosy-cheeked teenagers jumping up and down and even younger ones raising their hands in the air and having the time of their lives. Smiling faces everywhere.
"Security is overwhelming. There are about thirty or forty of them around us wherever we go — grim, pale, heavyset men in black leather jackets, looking out for whatever trouble might be looming — and usually causing it by being in the way. However, in these unpredictable times I’m glad they’re on our side. One morning I left my room to go to breakfast and I saw one of them stationed at the end of my corridor, dark glasses and a close-cropped haircut like a stereotypical hoodlum out of any Hollywood movie. As I approached him along the corridor I nodded and smiled uncertainly as he reached into his oversized leather jacket for what could easily have been a gun but to my relief was only a 'Bananas' CD that he wanted signed.
"When we leave whatever drab hotel we are in to go to the concert it is by way of a convoy of cars and jeeps surrounded front and rear by the usual police cars with flashing red and blue lights, hurtling perilously towards the oncoming traffic, the sirens wailing and loud-hailing other vehicles to get out of the way or stop, and all this at a breakneck pace. After a few of these episodes, when we found ourselves white-knuckling the seats and holding our breath, we had had to talk to them and advise them to slow down; we don’t really need to be in that much of a car chase.
"Security at the venues, usually large sporting facilities, and can sometimes be a bit over the top as well but that is not unique to this country, it happens just as much in other places. People naturally want to get up and approach the stage and are held back not only by these goons but also with back-up squads of uniformed army types in high military hats, wading in if they think things are getting out of hand. Old habits die hard I suppose and they can be too rough on people at times but they are outnumbered and eventually have to back off. Generally the people have a good time and we end up with a heaving crowd happily enjoying the occasion in front of the stage.
"Backstage facilities can be spotty; dressing rooms are either stuffy or freezing, plastic-wrapped plates crammed with strange looking snacks that are seldom eaten cover the tables, and there is a mysterious smell that is indicative of something somewhere that should have been cleaned out years ago. Security men roam the corridors, getting in the way as usual. Most of the buildings are ancient and well used. In fact the whole country has a similar look and everything seems to be tinged with grey, even the fields and trees look rather sorry for themselves. Although some cities look like anything found in the rest of Europe, there are a large number of what can only be described as Communist blocks — utilitarian buildings that look as if only one uninspired architect on the lowest budget possible designed them all.
"As we pass the outskirts of towns and cities you can see how some of the poorer people live. Small wooden houses painted and decorated to cheer themselves up are interspersed with patches of garden that look like something out of the middle ages. Stockpiles of logs are everywhere, ready for the brutal winter ahead. Sometimes you see the newer redbrick buildings going up with more of a grandiose architectural style but somehow they don’t seem to brighten the neighbourhoods that much.
"Despite all this carping we are coping with it as best we can, spoiled brats that we are. The Russians are so happy to see us that it would be churlish to complain much. As Ian Gillan is fond of saying, 'We are lucky buggers.' It's a wonderful experience to see this country and meet people who are as down to earth, warm and welcoming as anybody anywhere. They have suffered under an oppressive system for so long that it is ingrained in their psyche and they overcome this, and the harsh weather, by being such a hardy and uncomplaining race, unlike us!
"In Irkutsk recently, we had a rare day off and were invited to an afternoon boat trip on the famous Lake Baikal, a huge body of water 400 miles long in Siberia. Although winter is approaching and there was a slight chill in the air it was a beautiful sunny day and a special occasion not just for us but also for the boat crew, owner Stan and his family and the skipper, Sergei. We were treated like royalty on the Valeria, a venerable boat that has seen many a season, and we departed from an untidy dock that was full of stalls, smoke and vendors selling souvenirs and fish. After casting off, the food and drink flowed; glasses were raised and good fortune toasted. The water of this lake is known for its cleanliness (apparently you can drink it) and it hosts a number of unique varieties of fish. There are two traditions; one is to tip some vodka in, as a salute to the lake, and the other is to drop a coin in, meaning that one day you will return. I hope we will."