Wednesday 3 July 2013


Balalaika bashing in Bridgy
We've never had Russians before. Well, we have, but they thought they were the Beatles. This time we had a coach full of the genuine article who had, genuinely, driven all the way from the city of Yaroslavl to visit us here in Bridgwater. That's 2,146 miles. In a bus. 

Leaving Monday they slept through Poland, dreamed through Germany and woke up on a ferry crossing the English Channel early Thursday morning. None of them had visited England before. Least of all the drivers , who made a point of testing the ongoing traffic at their earliest opportunity.

We met them at Greenwich at 7am Thursday morning. 'We' being the Bridgwater International high command (Cllr Smedley) alongside the executive committee of the Exeter Yaroslavl twinning group (David and Julija). Their first sight of London was from atop the Greenwich observatory and their first site of an English breakfast, a Turkish cafe alongside the Cutty Sark.

Old Friend Vlad

The biggest balalaika in Bridgwater College
The Russian Childrens Folk Orchestra had come to our attention via our old friend Vlad Rancev from Lithuania, who we hadn't seen since his country joined the EU and he'd joined a Bible thumping Alabama based religious sect. Now he was the agent for the Russian choir. Except today he'd hurt his arm and so couldn't walk. 

Julija, a Russian speaking Russian, was a star for the day. Her interpreting and communicating skills made our swift guided tour of Greenwich, Docklands, Tower of London, St Pauls, the Globe and the Tate fall into place swiftly and smoothly and without losing many of the 50 strong group en-route.

And then it was off to Somerset where Nigel had swapped his drivers flourescent jacket for a chefs hat and was cooking up a Thursday roast for them. Delicious though it was, most of them slept through it or in it. They were a bit tired.

Mino helps out

But they were here! A coach load of some of the most talented musicians Russia could
Authentic Russian folk singing on stage in Somerset
produce were sat in a youth hostel in Cheddar waiting for the gunshot that would either start the concert ball rolling or execute the organiser.

Off we went to Bridgwater College where the ever helpful Mino De Francesca and his Media department organised a special concert for students which he then filmed and recorded. By the afternoon it was being played on BBC Somerset Sound advertising the evening show at the Art Centre. Also on hand was Irena the Russian teacher and some extra Russian speakers to help the day flow smoothly. A meal at the college and a walk round Bridgwater and then a ploughmans lunch in the Duke of Monmouth and the first day had almost gone.

Mayor Dave meets Conductor Pavel
Only it hadn't. There was a show to do. An array of young Russians in national costume sat on stage playing a range of their folk music alongside some other classical pieces from around Europe , rapidly changing the soloists and all under the firm baton of leader Pavel Sergeev. The audience was hooked. Even Town Mayor Dave Loveridge invaded the stage, handed over a bottle of Somerset cider brandy , did a soft shoe shuffle with his walking stick and looked as though he was about to perform a stage dive. The audience loved it and by the time they were performing a Beatles medley they were all singing along.

Peter steps in

The next day the group  visited Wells. What could be better than the magnificent gothic Wells cathedral we thought. "Where is Asda?" they asked. We compromised on Clarks Village.

That evening they were on stage at the Princess Theatre Burnham thanks to the support
Washboard blues at the Princess
and assistance of local Councillor Peter Clayton and his wife Jo. A good turnout plus an excellent buffet laid on and hand rolled by Peter plus a support slot from the tall debonaire man they call 'Bruce', who sang a short endearing set of Ralph McTell type songs plus one of his own. Again the Russians took the place by storm, some of the Bridgwater audience returning for a second shot.

Sunday was a day off. A day in Cheddar. to see a gorge, sample a cheese and scamper headlong up a cliff-face after a goat. 

Andy comes in 'andy

Another sensational victory for England....
But the afternoon was a treat for all concerned....a celebrity football match!! Bridgwater International had arranged a team of skillfull local footballing celebrities and cllr Smedley,  whilst the Russians fielded a team of largely 9 year olds and some of the more aggressive parents. Bridgwater Town had kindly lent us their Russian looking red and white kit and Andy Merrifield had somehow managed to find some comedy inflatable goalposts. Needless to say the Brits stopped counting at about 10.1 and this was even when we let every last Russian kid play in a human wave formation with 18 of them on the field at once, severely blockading the fat councillor who they'd observed was indeed a threat after scoring the winning (6th) goal. Their tight man-marking combined with his lack of any visible footballing skills at all to prevent him from scoring at least a further 6 open goals. At one point , in an attempt to get himself sent off by battering a Russian child he found himself being judo-thrown by a 9 year old. And deservedly so.

Milans mealtime munchfest

Milan (a Slovakian) and his friend Milan (a Czech) turned up to make a Czechoslovakian
Laura stirs Milans Goulash
goulash for them. Yumski Yumski, as almost no-one actually says.

Monday was an important day for the Russians as it was Exeter Day. Yaroslavls actual real twin town had rolled out the red carpet for them. Twinning organiser David Parsons had a full days programme, civic reception,guided tour and to conclude a concert at the White Ensign club. Yet another triumph for Pavel and his merry melodians.

And that night it was Bath. They'd moved up country slightly as their next target was Oxford. After a guided tour of the Romano-Georgian city with the assistance of Simple Simon, the man with the golden pasty, they pointed the bus in the direction of Avebury. Please don't climb on the stones....too late. Not to worry, they've only been there several thousand years.

Staying at the Ridgeway youth hostel we fed them that traditional olde Englishe staple 'Tortila wraps and chilli con carne'. Then put them to sleep.

Richard hits the bottle in Jericho

one of many talented soloists
For tommorrow we hit Oxford. Well, with the help of Bridgwater wild goose Richard Morley and his flurry of assistants, not all of whom were stone masons like him, we'd got a gig in the St Barnabas church and a meal in the nearby Bookbinders pub in the district of Jericho. Excellent food and the concert succeeded in drawing out a large portion of the Russian community from around Oxford (itself twinned with Perm). Richard, who himself gave the impression of being permed by twins, was his usual effusive happy go lucky self and thanks a lot to him for all his help.

Balalaika it like Brian

And they had their fair share of groupies too. Brian Hulme, one of Britains leading Balalaika bandleaders and exponents of the dark slavic art of balalaikaing, had come all the way from Manchester to shadow their every move, help with translation, technical advice, sign autographs and show his students the authentic artistes in action. He watched every gig, filmed at least one, fixed a couple of instruments, walked with goats up Cheddar gorge and then appeared at the church in Oxford to introduce the band and plug his own.

The final day took them back to London. A bit of a heatwave, another supermarket sweep and a mad dash around the most touristy bits of the capital and suddenly they were gone. 

Pavels lasting legacy
The impressive Pavel Sergeev

But what an achievement! For Pavel Sergeev he'd managed to bring his talented orchestra 3,000 kilometres across Europe to England for the first time and achieved widespread acclaim which could only bode well for the future . For us in the West Country we'd got a dead good band playing  on our provincial stages and for internationalism a great leap forward in these times of far right hysteria and the closing of minds all over Europe.

Lesson 2:- How to herd cats.

1 comment:

  1. they were absolutely fantastic - it was a great concert at BAC and your are right Pavel is truly impressive..