Hunched against the sleet blowing at my face, I made my way up Sadovaya-Samotechnaya Ulitsa on what was Jimi Hendrix’s birthday. The African –American figures on the iron gates told me I was at the right place; otherwise what Trip Advisor calls ` the oldest blues club in Moscow` is not well signposted.
Then I was in the corridor and going past the figurines of the Blues Brothers. Only as I approached the bar did I notice the shots on the walls of Lemmy Kilminster and Bryan Adams – taken at the same establishment. B.B King’s – named after the first blues player to tour the Soviet Union –does not need to boast its credentials.
I had come to see a permanent part of the club’s schedules: Blues Gravity. I thought it might be interesting to see what a jobbing pub band, in Russia, would have to say.
Their show was already in full swing and a small but enthused group of twenty-somethings were doing Mexican waves to Freddie Mercury’s `Crazy Little thing Called Love`. Iain, meanwhile, was drumming the table, contented after having taken enough shots of the band to fill the Tretyakov gallery.
Blues Gravity comprises a three piece, but produce a big sound. Blues is not really my thing, but I soon found myself zoning out to their varied repertoire of classics. `Hey Joe` by Hendrix was followed by `Break on through` by The Doors which featured an impressive extemporised middle section.
When we get to `Sympathy for the Devil` by the Rolling Stones the lead singer makes mention of the fact that Bulgakov’s baffling magnus opus `Master and Margarita` helped to inspire the song. The book had just been translated into English in 1967 and, as I paid attention to the lyrics for the first time, I could indeed hear in it the voice of Professor Woland listing his exploits throughout history.
Kirrill Gutsov who multitasks as the bassist and lead singer, Sergei Vinogradov, an accomplished lead guitarist and Aleksandr Polovinkin as rhythm section all do this for a living. They play other venues too, like the `Old Town Bar` near Aleksandrovsky Sad. Also Kirrill and Aleksandr double up as Beatles and Elvis Presley tribute acts too.
“Sergei and I met at a bar called the Roadhouse Blues Club eight years ago”, explains Kirrill. “We do Blues-rock because we grew up listening to Queen, but also stuff like Louis Armstrong. We like Pink Floyd too, but they are difficult to play live.”
Then I pose the elephant-in-the room question: Why no `Machina Vremeni` or Zemfira covers? The drummer replies with finality that he `hates Russian rock`, but Kirrill gives the matter a bit more consideration:
“B.B King don’t stage Russian rock – it is their policy. I myself do quite like `Akvarium` actually and I have written some humorous songs in Russian, which we sometimes play in other venues. Russian rock though, tends to remind us of the days of Andropov and Gorbachev”.
Blues gravity are a no-nonsense working band: you will not see them through clouds of smoke or laser lights or exchanging merry banter with the audience. For them it is all about the music. They even sum up their philosophy of life with reference to one of the Beatles trippiest of songs `Tomorrow Never Knows`.