Sting's Gold Medal performances in the White Nights of June...
Ever since missing out on seeing Sting play in Russia on the 'Mercury Falling' tour I made the resolution that the next time he toured there I would make every effort to go and so it was that after three months of negotiating all the details of my trip with the tour company and numerous e-mails and phone calls to the promoter, to ensure the concert tickets would be ready for me on my arrival, the beginning of June came and I was off on my most adventurous trip this tour.
Arriving in St. Petersburg the first question was: would they let me in the country? My hair is now a totally different colour to that of my passport photo and with my 'Brand New Day' T-shirt on they probably thought to themselves: bleached hair, music tour T-shirt, travelling alone, what's this geezer up to? Anyway, after close scrutiny of my visa and a couple of double takes by the passport control officer they let me in.
So here I was in Russia, couldn't speak a word of the language, only roughly knew where my hotel was, didn't know how I was going to get from the airport to the hotel and whilst all this was going through my mind I was constantly being badgered by rip off taxi drivers and hounded by a transvestite beggar! I won't bore you with all the finite details of my trip suffice to say it was an experience that I will remember for a long time and I'm proud of myself for achieving it.
The venue for the St. Petersburg gig was the new Ice Arena, a large indoor arena located within the residential area of the city. It was refreshing for me to know that the venues now being chosen are those that accommodate standing as well as seating. My enjoyment of concerts is far greater when I can have a bit of a boogie and jump around a little.
I went to check out the venue in the morning so I that knew exactly where to place myself at sound check time. I duly arrived back at about 4PM and waited patiently along with about 10 other people in the hope of catching a sight, or even better a word, with the main man. But alas on arrival the entourage drove straight into an undercover section and a big steal shutter came down immediately, not even a glimpse of anybody.
My plan to hang around and ensure I was at the front of the queue to get in was scuppered when it became clear that the ticket I was in possession of had to have the receipt of payment attached to it to gain entry. So I sped back to my hotel to retrieve the receipt, which I had luckily not thrown away, and returned once more to the venue to find the doors opened and people going in. My chance of getting right up the front had gone and I won't repeat what I was saying to myself but it had quite a few Fs and Bs in it.
As I was walking towards the already assembled crowd at the front of the sage Chris was coming the other way to meet some guests at the front door. Due to my lateness I was anxious to get as near to the front as possible so we only had a brief chat but it was nice after the disappointment earlier at the sound check to know that at least I'd made contact with somebody.
The gig started very early, at 7:30, and there was no support band. (The early start was probably due to it being a Sunday night). The band took their positions and then the main man entered the stage warring a new shirt, a colourful number with flowers and stripes on a cream background. The set was the one we have all got to know over the last year. I'm not going to criticise the lack of changes to the set as it's a set that works and Sting is obviously happy with it. The 'mad fans' like myself who go to show after show have to remember that for 99.9% of the crowd its the first time they've seen it, and its for them that Sting is performing. I take the opinion that its my decision to keep going to show after show, nobody makes me go and so the fact that I've seen it all before is my problem.
I was interested to see how the Russian people react to concerts nowadays, remember it not that long ago when events like this would have been unthinkable behind the Iron Curtain. I came away with the opinion that they are much like the English, a bit reserved and not to sure about letting themselves go. I was doing my best to encourage clapping in all the right places and the crowd loved all the old Police numbers and 'All This Time' went down a storm as well, must be the northern latitude. 'Englishman In New York' got an excellent reaction and the crowd swayed along to 'Fields of Gold'. 'Desert Rose' seems to be universal in its attraction. Everywhere I go this song is a crowd pleaser. In fact it must be so popular in Russia because they were selling 'Desert Rose' T-shirts with the lollipop
picture of Sting and a pink Rose on the front of them. Having said that going by the T-shirt range 'Nothing Like The Sun' is still going strong as they were also knocking out green and black T-shirts with the name of the 1987 album emblazoned across them!
Sting once again gave a performance of true professionalism, I just don't know how he does it night after night. He's got far more stamina than people half his age and his conscientiousness to put on a top notch show for each new crowd throughout the world is truly applaudable. (Why the Queen of our country continues to ignore him in her Honours List is beyond me).
Upon exiting the venue the weird experience of leaving an evening gig in bright daylight was a bit disconcerting. They call it the 'White Nights of June', in fact it didn't get dark until about half past one in the morning, bizarre! Having sung my heart out throughout the gig I was, as usual, gasping for a drink. I saw some cans of what I thought was the equivalent of sparkling orange juice for sale so I duly purchased 3 of them to quench my thirst. I started to down them can by can thinking to myself: this Orange tastes a bit funny? But hey! any port in a storm. Little did I know that they were in fact ruddy great cans of Vodka and Orange! By the end of the third one I'd reach the point of doing my Sting impression, pretending to play the bass, swinging my hips and belting out 'sweet 'Desert
Rose' a lay de la hey'. Yet another successful Outlandos On Tour night to add to the list.
I headed down to Moscow the next day on an Aeroflot internal flight and struck up a conversation with the man in the next seat who could speak very good English. He was able to translate the newspaper report for me in which it stated that it was at Sting's personal request that the show that night was to take place in the Olympic Stadium. The article read that Sting had said he would only come back and play Moscow if he got to play in the stadium because last time, when he played the all seated Kremlin Palace, the atmosphere was very subdued and not to his liking.
The Olympic Stadium has been covered and about a third of it has been renovated for the purpose of concerts and similar events. Once again it was a split venue with seats around the circular edge and standing on the floor. Having forgone the sound check to pick up my ticket from the promoters office I was determined to get right up the front for this one and just like a military manoeuvre I timed my entrance to perfection and positioned myself just to the left of Sting's mike.
As the lights went up for 'A Thousand Years' Dom caught sight of me and smiled and waved. He then turned immediately to Kipper and said something. Kipper looked straight down and beamed and waved. He was warring a bright red T-shirt with the statement 'I eat glue' emblazoned across the front. I had quite a laugh with him making out that you should sniff the stuff not eat it.
When Chris came over to perform his solo he smiled and I was joking with him during 'Fill Her Up' as to the fact that Sting was not inviting anybody up onto stage to sing with him, as he had been recently in the US. (I'm still awaiting my turn for my five minutes of fame). Sting concentrated on giving another top notch performance right from the first note of 'A Thousand Years' through to the final 'ping' of 'Fragile' and all the Muscovites went home thrilled.
The following day was sight seeing day and low and behold who should I bump into just near Red Square but Kipper and his mate and Chris his girlfriend. We spoke for a while discussing trips past and forthcoming. During the conversation Chris asked me ''so how many shows have you seen now Andy?'' I sarcastically replied ''I don't count shows I count countries'' which brought a laugh from them all. I left them to continue my sight seeing and told them I'd see them on Saturday in Stockholm the next port of call on my 'Brand New Day' travels.
My Sting holiday in Russia was made complete when I met Natalia, a Russian Princess, on my last night but that's a story I'll keep to myself...
Spasiba Sting and Dosvidanya Russia!
(c) Andy Finch for Sting.com