CPB European Tour, Day 4 – St. Petersburg

At last, our first half decent night’s sleep of the tour; my alarm woke me at 8, after 6 and a half hours sleep. I sacrificed breakfast in order to take full advantage of the sleeping opportunity and met the rest of our party in the hotel lobby at 9. We set off for Moscow airport and checked in our luggage. Whenever we fly, Stuart and myself always take our guitars on board as hand luggage. The advantages of travelling like this are; 1 – you know your guitar is not going to get thrown around by baggage handlers and, 2 – it really helps with the excess baggage situation. However, there are also disadvantages to this approach; 1 – The guidelines concerning taking musical instruments on board as hand luggage seem to be vague and so we always run the risk of being refused and 2 – the very fact that we take the guitars as hand luggage means they have to be in soft cases for us to stand any chance of getting them on board, however, if for whatever reason they’re refused, we would have to put the guitars IN SOFT CASES in the hold – not a happy situation! And that’s why every airport experience is coloured by low level anxiousness. Having said that, it should be known that in all my time touring – taking what must add up to hundreds of flights with a guitar as hand luggage, I’ve only been refused it once; on a small internal flight in the U.S. where the overhead baggage compartments were too small to fit a guitar.

We boarded our flight from Moscow to St. Petersburg without problem but, on entering the plane, we were met with a sight that made both Stuart’s and my hearts sink; the overhead baggage compartments were approximately half the length of a guitar. Not knowing what else to do, we took our seats (second row of the plane – in full view of all the cabin crew) and, sitting with our guitars between our legs, waited to see if the staff of the plane would be able to suggest somewhere for us to store them (some planes have wardrobes etc). We waited, I smiled at a few members of the cabin crew, we waited some more, still no comment about the guitars until, finally, they closed the doors of the plane – success, we were sealed in with our guitars! But we still had the problem of where to store them for the flight… that was until we realised that the Russian cabin crew hadn’t commented on the guitars between our legs as they were quite happy for them to remain there for the entire duration of the flight – imagine that happening on any other airline! Then an air host came and asked us if we wanted to store our guitars on the empty seat in front of us, Stuart accepted his offer whilst I declined, preferring to keep mine close; besides, there was a young Russian couple getting ‘very friendly’ next to the empty seat in question and I didn’t want for my guitar to get in the way of their fun! And so it was that I spent the entire flight from Moscow to St. Petersburg with my guitar between my legs! The in-flight food is also worthy of comment; we were served a croissant with a filling of cheese (a generous chunk) and chicken (real roast chick, thickly carved). This simple feast reminded me of something my mum would make for me to take to school as a packed lunch; very homemade, all natural ingredients and rapped in cling film – better than anything I’d ever had on a plane before!

We landed in St Petersburg, were met by our hosts from Moscow, whose night train had just arrived, and collected our luggage. From there we went straight to the venue as we didn’t have a hotel booked in St. Petersburg, instead we were due to go directly to the airport from the gig and fly over night to the next city.

Our venue for tonight was a massive, old theatre, complete with revolving stage. The theatre was obviously build for classical music and opera – probably at the time of the great Russia romantic composers; there was a huge orchestra pit in front of the stage and the acoustics in this massive room were fantastic. Tonight we were in luck; there was no football match and, as a result, we’d sold 1000 tickets.

On investigating what gear we’d been given, I found the standard issue 2 channel Marshall at my side of the stage, happy with that, I went to unpack my pedal board. When I opened my bag I found that my Whammy Pedal’s control knob (the only thing that allows you to change the pedal’s setting) was sitting on top of my tuner – it had been snapped clean off by some over zealous Russian baggage handler.

After closer inspection I saw that I may be able to change patches during the gig (which I have to do several times during some songs) by pressing my thumb, hard against the small stub of plastic protruding from where the knob had been snapped off. Next I moved to my amp and plugged-in to check that it was working (we’d been told that the hire company that amps and drums had come from was 4 hours away and, seeing as we weren’t provided with spares, I wanted to check that everything was working before it was too late for us to change anything). On plugging into the amp I found it had a negligible signal; hoping it was the lead (or cable, for those reading in the U.S.) I waggled it a little and sure enough the amp came on at full volume. Once I’d switched to a spare lead I was ready to go.

Sound check came and went and we were ready for show time. It was great to walk on stage and be greeted by so many enthusiastic people and full of adrenaline, we launched into our fist song, Peter Gunn. Peter Gunn links into ‘Barbarian’ and all was going well before my amp, just as when I’d first switched it on, suddenly cut out… so it wasn’t my lead after all! Carl and Stuart played on and, after a short period of being stumped and having no one come to my assistance, I remembered that I’d sorted the problem before by waggling the lead at the input socket of the amp – when I tried this again, sure enough the amp came back on. The problem was a loose connection in the input socket of the amp, there was nothing I could do except hope that it wouldn’t happen again; we had no spare amp to switch to. After what seemed like minutes, but was probably no more than 10 seconds, I rejoined the band and we finished the song. Thankfully the amp help out for the rest of the gig, unlike Carl’s drum stool, which kept slipping; as the gig progressed he was getting closer and closer to the floor! And, as a result, towards the end of the gig Carl instructed me to keep my solos short in order that his stool would last to the end of the set. In all, I thought I played badly tonight; I made some silly mistakes but when we got off stage, Carl was really happy with the performance and the audience seemed equally happy, so I put my feelings of disappointment behind me. In retrospect, I think my sloppy performance probably had something with being so road beaten by the past few days and, bizarrely, I think the previous night’s decent 6 and a half hour sleep threw me… the human body is a fragile instrument, the mind more so.

After the gig we sat down to a meal of ‘special soup’ and chicken, served in our all-wooden dressing room, complete with banqueting table and side board.

Our appetites satisfied, we were ready to leave the venue. The rest of the guys went outside while I did a final ‘idiot check’ of the dressing room before following. Getting out was like a scene from ‘Spinal Tap’ – I wandered around for a while before coming across a group of people in a bar area, they then accompanied me on my quest for the exit and, together, we eventually managed to get out. Once outside I was surprised to find that, at 10.30 pm, the sun was still in the sky! After meeting a few audience members who had waited for us, we got into our minibus and set off for the airport. Our hosts explained to us that the phenomena of the sun still being in the sky was called ‘White Night’ and occurs in St. Petersburg from the start of May until the end of July. It was amazing; 10.30pm and people were out on the streets enjoying the city as if it was the middle of the afternoon (as the sun would have them believe it was)! This strange phenomenon only added to our feeling of bewilderment caused by multiple time zone changes and sleep deprivation.

When we arrived at the airport to check-in our luggage we were faced with the usual problem of having to pay excess baggage (they seem VERY hot on that in Russia). Our Russian hosts tried to talk the lady on the check-in desk round; it wasn’t long before they’d made an ‘unofficial’ payment of cash concealed inside a passport and slipped across the counter to the lady who, in turn, returned the empty passport… this, apparently, is a standard procedure for ‘unofficial’ payments. That sorted, we went through security where Carl had to explain what Stuart’s pedal board was used for, to security staff who didn’t speak a word of English. All this drama meant that we made the gate with minutes to spare before our designated check in time. And, after some confusion about which gate was actually ours, we boarded the plane.

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