A few days near the beginning of the tour from Tim Hodgkinson's diary.
Morning of April 11th, 1990. Load instruments and bags off the plane at Abakan airport and out through gates without passing through terminal building. Met with warmth and hugs, especially from Mr Kutz, who seems like a much-loved eccentric caretaker but turns out to be professor of music at the Abakan Music College. Driven to hotel which has beautifully polished floors, giant chess-sets in the foyer, and good food served in restaurant area, with luckily no criminal music. (Criminal music is Boris' expression for loud rhythmic music played in restaurants when you want to eat and talk.) Up in my room I hear someone chanting verses from the Koran through the wall and on the stairs a man lurches out of the next room, hears our accents and does a spontaneous mimicking sound-poem.
Some time for rest, then gig at Music College which has an entrance suggesting a stable or farm building with broken stone steps and bits of wood and straw, but, inside, a little auditorium with those dull brown and grey portraits of famous composers on the walls. Discussion with audience after the gig with intelligent questions being asked. One music teacher apparently complains to Boris afterwards that the saxophonist was incapable of playing a tune with more than three notes, though the drummer had some technique. Then an Altaian musician does a song for us with a pentatonic Gaelic feel accompanying himself on a large stringed instrument with moveable bridges. Then to friendly restaurant on main street. Fall asleep watching Kazakh movie in which wolves circle and attack sheep, and old men gossip.
Programme for next day is announced as follows: rehearsals for TV, then broadcast: workshop with music students: two concerts in evening in large auditorium. So at 10a.m. down to TV building, where there's a general impression of people sitting around in rooms chatting. Meet Gallina, our producer. After some delay, go down to studio. Technician is old guy in fur hat like tractor-driver.
Introduced to Anatoly, Khakassian throat-singer: "Maybe you can do something together?" Decide to plan the show as follows: divination ceremony using stones, Boris spoken introduction, set with us and Anatoly, short break and duo set. All goes until break, when Ken and I agree that Anatoly didn't really get into it, spending most of the time clearing his throat, backing off the microphone and looking unhappy. Insist we do another take and retire to corridor area full of derelict equipment where we have confidence-building session with Anatoly: Ken tries to communicate that he has nothing to fear about doing the wrong thing and not knowing the appropriate musical form, that it's a matter of feeling the spirit and being relaxed. Technicians are now getting worried about how to do a new take, as there are no editing facilities: have to wind back the video tape and drop in at the right place.
Second take feels much better, but afterwards the camera man says there's now no time to do a duo set. We insist and say we are ready to play immediately and they must now roll the tape. Long delay whilst we keep asking if they are ready, they keep saying yes, then new instructions are audible through the headphones. Small boy wanders into the studio during this. Finally do set and feels good. Pack up and then up to Gallina's office. Anatoly looking happy like someone who has just learned something new about himself. Wait in street for Boris, as restaurant turns out to be closed. Buy CCCP passport holders in kiosk. It is warm and sunny and relaxed and there are trees down the middle and you can imagine how pleasant it would be to walk there in summer. Boris arrives and speaks to restaurant staff who immediately reopen specially for us. Boris has a knack for this. Workshop now cancelled.
After lunch, wander to auditorium where evening gigs are scheduled and hang around in park in front. Set up gear and go to dressing room for interview. This turns out to be with Sanka who was Khakassian candidate for the supreme soviet in last elections. He narrowly missed beating the official candidate, but owing to electoral rules could not re-run. He is dignified, calm, focussed and 26 years old. As soon as he introduces himself we forget about talking about our own work and start asking him questions about himself and his people. Sanka's political platform includes the idea of reintroducing shamanism as the spiritual legacy of his people and part of their national identity. He tells us that in the 1930's shamans in the area were first registered with the authorities and then shot. He studied journalism at Leningrad University and is an expert on, and curator of, collected materials and documentation on Khakassian culture. He tells us that there are stone structures 40 kilometers from Abakan which date from 2000 BC. He wears a shamanic pendant round his neck. We go out to photograph him in his fur hat.
At some time during all this, Boris comes in to tell us that the first concert has been cancelled, and, later, that the second one has also been cancelled. Apparently they forgot to publicise them. Sanka interviews us for Khakassian radio, but is disappointed we didn't play because he doesn't have anything on tape to illustrate the interview. So we close the doors of the auditorium and do a special 5 minute long concert for the radio, playing for our new friend and an imaginary audience somewhere out in the mountains.
Leaving the gig we are accosted by an arabic-looking man who introduces himself as Niall, son of a mullah from Karaganda in the Khazak SSR. He is a shaman, but, as he explains, not a powerful one. He saw the poster and was interested, but he'd had a few drinks, so wasn't up to strength. What he does is sit you down and move his hands slowly around close to your temples, then ask you what you felt, and make some kind of diagnosis of your general state of health and well-being. He does us both but says nothing that indicates any talent in this direction. By now a small crowd has gathered and suddenly Niall whips out a membership card for the Moscow Magic Circle and treats us to a highly skilled display of sleight-of-hand tricks, pulling lighted cigarettes from people's ears, getting you to blow cigarette ash apparently through your own hand, having matchboxes appear in the palm of his hand, etc. Back to the hotel for a late night party with Boris and Sergei in the kitchen attached to their room.
Too little sleep. Rush to airport in the morning. Some problems with tickets. Get on flight to Krasnoyarsk in transit to Irkutsk, as advised by Aeroflot that all direct flights are full.
Arrive Krasnoyarsk airport where KGB detain us as we don't have visas for this city which is still closed. They mutter about sending us back to Moscow. Boris does a charm-offensive and gives them posters, which happen to be printed by the Red Army. They agree to detain us in some kind of VIP lounge and speed up getting flights to Irkutsk. A large green TV shows a film about Lenin, there are curiously carved grotesque wooden house-plant holders, elaborate light-fittings, comfortable sofas with striped blankets. The KGB toilet has a seat, paper and soap. There's a bar and later we get a meal. By now, after 6 hours, the KGB are coming over as our friends, helping us to overcome the bureaucratic problems with our tickets, asking us to sign posters, but declining to drink whisky with us as they are, regretfully, on duty.
Flight to Irkutsk arrives 4a.m. local time. No-one to meet us, as Boris unable to contact promoters and only had an office number. We don't know where the hotel is, only that we're supposed to be staying in the next town, Angarsk, about an hour's drive away. Boris suggests we knock up a friend of his who has an apartment where we can probably sleep. Ken gets heavy about needing a good night's rest before a concert. We argue in the airport surrounded by posters of wanted criminals who look similar to the other passengers. Hours go by, whilst Boris tries to check us in to a hotel in Irkutsk. Finally we get a cab and drive to Angarsk, where we check out all the hotels trying to find out the one the promoters have booked us into. No luck. But by now the sun is up and down-town Angarsk glows in the pink early morning light like an Italian town transported to the middle of Siberia, with its terracotta walls and balconies and tree-lined streets. Finally Boris puts Ken and me into a rough hotel used by migrant workers and travelling salesmen, which is the top floor of a modern tower-block in the new part of town. Extremely long corridors, some music reverberating from somewhere but nothing will keep me from sleeping and sleep from about 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. when Boris wakes us. Via the phone book he managed to find the father of one of the promoters and track them down; in fact they waited for us at the airport until 3 a.m. just one hour before our flight arrived (they wouldn't have known we would be on a flight from Krasnoyarsk), deeply depressed they then decided we weren't coming at all and had gone home and got extremely drunk; hence the next day's gig is cancelled as some last-minute preparations weren't made.
So they've found us at last: all down to the bus and we drive out of town to the out-of-season youth camp run by Lena's mother. There are two Lenas, one who speaks English and prepares a large feast for us, and one who speaks to us with great intensity in Russian. Here in Angarsk we are being hosted by a local band called the Romantic Jazz Club and their friends. Lena's mum's house is where we are to stay, and a large table has been laid with various dishes of fish, meat, cucumber, green tomatoes in red sauce, and a big tureen full of stuffed dumplings in broth, plus alcohols. Sometime in late afternoon I stumble out, wander through the camp and down a dirt track into the taiga from the top of a hill you can see the flames burning off the chimneys of the Angarsk chemical complex.