Alan Silson in Kiev. June 3, 2006
 

After my phone conversation with Marybaby in evening on June 2nd, following her advice and having the nerve to do it, I called Alex (Alexander Blumin, the director of Bita Music concert company). He was so kind and listened to me attentively and expressed full readiness to meet and speak with me. I am grateful to him for it. Mentioning the name of Chris Allen just strengthened our connection.

We met on June 3rd at the lobby of Slavutych Hotel 15-20 minutes before the group arrived. Just after the musicians had arrived, we introduced ourselves and agreed with Alan to talk a little bit for 30 minutes in the lobby. I introduced myself and passed the word from Marybaby, making reference to the Silson-and-friends site.

First of all, Iíd like to admit that from the very beginning that our communication with Alan and all the other musicians was extremely friendly. And (I am sure that it was not only the professional style of behavior) all the musicians showed good personal qualities and decent upbringing. We all love their music and they make it for us!

I was at the meeting with my wife who does understand my old passion for Smokie but is rather skeptical about such a kind of eventsÖ However, even she was fascinated by our heroes. She kept saying this to me. (Iíd like to add that she doesnít know English at all). As for me, I had no experience with communicating with celebrities before – only the fantastic meeting with Chris Norman in Moscow on May 28th to which I was invited by my Moscow friends. But, that time, I had to act by myself without somebodyís help. So kind and friendly attitude of Alan appeared to be of great use and brought success in communication with him.

Then, we were having coffee for a half an hour, talking to Alexander and Valentina, the group tour manager. She told a lot about two previous concerts of the Alan Silson Band (this is the present name of the group) in Simpheropol and Sevastopol.

Finally, there was the moment when all the musicians came from their rooms.

There are four more people besides Alan in the group now. All of them were present:
   Andy Whelan – guitar, mandolin, vocals;
   Ron Kelly – drums;
   Barney Brands – keyboards, accordion, back vocals;
   Graham Kearns – bass, vocals.

Andy Whelan & Graham KearnsFirst, we spoke with Andy and Graham. When I referred to the Silson-and-friends site they got excited, asked about Marybaby and sent their regards to her. Then, we remembered Alan Barton. Andy said that he had considered him to be his best friend and he has been still mourning for him...

After that, we spoke about the current ASB repertoire. At the concerts, the group performs mainly the original songs of Smokie and the Eagles, and from time to time the classical songs of other musicians, just their favorites. For example, in Sevastopol they wanted to perform something from the Beatles, but Valentina did not allow them to do it. She said that they were not restaurant singers (?!!!...) I asked if “Needles and Pins” would be performed. The reply was “Yes, especially for you!” They like this song very much but they donít play it very often. It is really a terrific song, though it is not very difficult in performance (I am not speaking about the harmonic vocal of this song). It was the song that made me start learning to play the guitar. They were very pleased to hear about it. And then I added, it was a joke, of course, that I can play this song very well (between us, itís really so) andÖ took a pick out of my pocket! “This guy is ready to play in public with us!” said Graham. So, we had a lot of funÖ My wife, Larisa, who doesnít speak English, understood everything and called me a cheeky fellow...

Ron KellyThen Ron Kelly came down! I was so excited!! You might feel the same as if you met Pete Best!! I didnít ask him any questions, only mumbled something about Kindness and took some photos. It was more than enough for me.

Barney Brands, a cheery fellow, also came down. It was high time to go to the sound check. We were waiting only for Alan. Iím not sure who had the following idea (maybe Alexander) to take the whole band by bus, but Alan and his Andrea – by my (!!!!!!) car. Having specified the size of my car, Valentina drove he rest of the group.

Alan SilsonFinally, in a few minutes Mr. Silson and Andrea entered the lobby. I had asked Alexander to help me with translation before, but fortunately, I managed myself. After one more greeting with Alan and Andrea we sat in the lobby for a while. Larisa switched on the video camera (though she had said she wouldnít do it). As soon as Alan realized that I was his old good fan for a long time, I gave him a souvenir. It was a bandura, a Ukrainian folk stringed musical instrument played by plucking. Of course, it was many times miniaturized, hand-made thing, but, nevertheless, it was quite possible to play it. I had doubted about the present before, but I wish youíd seen his reaction!.. Only children or very kind people can react like this. You see, Alan didnít leave from his hands the miniature bandura for a moment during our meeting and took photos only with it. So that!

What did we talk about?

I meaningfully avoided all questions on biography, relationships, and global musical problems because we can learn about it from professional musical reporters and, of course, because of my “little bit” English. I have been studying it for a long time, but still I have very little speaking practice. Certainly, I can ask a question but I fail to understand the answer in a proper way and develop the conversationÖ Shortly speaking, I think my questions came from my heart.

Well. For example:

Question:

Do you know, Mr. Silson, that in Ukraine, or exactly saying, in all former Soviet Union, there are some western songs that can really be called “Soviet folk songs”? (He is trying to understand carefully and smiling.) There are not so many, on my opinion, the top 5 are: “Venus” Shocking Blue, (Yes, really good song. I remember it), “Smoke On The Water” Deep Purple, (Yes), “Hotel California” The Eagles (Great song. We will play it tonight), “Yesterday” The Beatles (Oh, yes!) and Ļ1 “What Can I Do” which is your work. Can you believe that it was heard from all opened windows and the whole generation grew up with this song?

In response Alan said that he certainly knew about Smokieís popularity in the USSR. Unfortunately they were not able to come there those years. He was absolutely delighted to learn how popular they were those days and managed to be the first among so big masterpieces of pop music. He was really very pleased to hear this and it made him feel proud!

However, he considers the time of “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams” to be the most successful.

When I asked Alan how he had written “What Can I Do”, he didnít answered specifically. He said he had been young – he was 25 years old, Andrea reminded him. (By the way, she orients herself very well in all dates, facts, music and so on. I paid attention to this from the first minutes of conversation and then it was confirmed many times.) So, Alan said that he just wrote this song. To me, this is the example of real creativity!

We were talking like that for about 15 minutes.

After that I asked him Alan to sign two CDs that I had with me: “The Other Side Of The Road” (1979) and “Rock Away Your Teardrops” reissued “All Fired Up”(1988). Having seen the cover of “The Other Side Of The Road”, Alan got excited and pointed to himself on the photo...

Then we took photographs before it was the time to set off. I had to leave my driver at the hotel because there were six of us and a car. It was my great pleasure to drive. Besides me, there were four people more in the car: my wife Larisa, Alexander, Alan and Andrea. We started our way along Kiev streets!!!

While driving, we were chatting about this or that (chatting as if we had known each other for ages!). We chatted about Kiev sights, for example, because we were passing by ancient sacred places. They asked if weíd visited England, and my wife and I told them about our travels to London and Edinburgh two years ago. We told them about our visits to Stearling Castle and the Famous Grouse, where the original whisky is made. Then we started speaking about whisky, showing good knowledge in that sphere, I have to admitÖ I had been warned in advance that the topic of alcohol was not recommended to touch upon, and I did my best to change it.

And I switched on to music. I always have something from Smokie & family in my CD-changer. That time there was the solo of Agnetha from ABBA, which Iíd bought recently, and Donovan Album of 1977. On both disks we could listen to back vocals we knew well. Andrea recognized “Once Burned, Twice Shy” within the first three notes. Alan said some good words about Agnetha and Donovan and about their common works, and together with Andrea they sang “Astral Angel” with low voices.

Alan SilsonWhen we arrived at the concert hall of the casino Freedom, we saw a group of fans, who were waiting for Alan and thirsting for the chance to take some photos and get autographs. You can only imagine what I felt at that moment – the surge of pride and greatness when my Jeep with Chernigov number plate drove to the casino and Alan, the real legend, came out of the car to the applause of his fans...

We said goodbye to each other and took some pictures again. Alan and Andrea thanked me “for giving them a lift”. I think that thereís no need to explain who should have said the hearty thanks at that very moment.

There were only two hours left before the concert.

 

Friendly speaking, itís ungrateful business to describe the magic show. So, Iím contenting myself with the description of the concert in the chronological order and my own impressions.

Well, some Kiev band appeared on the stage at 8 p.m. on their sound check (?!). They had been warming up the audience for an hour and did it perfectly well. That band is very famous in Kiev. The fellows play rockabilly, rock-and-roll, latinos, reggae, country music, etc., but that night they were playing the music of 70's.

The concert hall is very nice, cozy and comfortable with well-designed sound and lightning. We were sitting in the second row of tables (7-8 meters far from the stage). We had an excellent place for filming and taking photos of the concert. We could smoke, drink beer and do everything that we wished. The concert hall was 80-85 percent full.

And then there was the long-waited start!!!

First, they played “Lay Back in The Arms of Someone” and immediately after it there was as promised to me (!) “Needles and Pins”.

Iíd like to admit, that the sounds of keyboards, bass and drums were perfect but the “warming-up” played a mean joke. Kiev band retuned up the musical instruments themselves. As a result, the guitars and microphones did not sound very good and thatís why the musicians, probably, couldnít hear themselves clearly. So, it was reflected on choral parts. We, of course, tried not to pay special attention but it was Andy himself who couldnít stand it any more. During the pause he gave very hard comments on that fact. And after making an excuse, the musicians spent some time tuning the instruments.

Alan SilsonAlan played the Stratocaster, Andy – the Telecaster. Sometimes they used 12-stringed acoustic guitar. Solos were played either in turns or altogether. SUPERB! Also, Andy played the electro mandolin. SUPERB! I adore such “doings” in performances. Bernieís accordion was in the nick of time. He played a third of the whole concert! SUPERB!

When we were in the hotel, Valentina noted that Ron is not a showman. But itís none of my business. I know that he is a superb drummer: efficient rhythm like a metronome that changes EXACTLY where itís necessary and breaks EXACTLY where itís needed. He is a “tastefully” drummer, old good school! I think that Ron can be a real example of an excellent drummer, especially in such genre. SUPERB!

Alan, Andy and Graham performed the lead vocal in turn. The back vocal was, certainly, of the highest level. All voices harmonized with each other very well. SUPERB!

Actually, it was very interesting to observe Alan as a frontman. Performing the most famous hits of the original Smokie, (he had never soloed them before), Alan enriched them with an absolutely new unique charm. His voice was sincere, soft with a hardly heard huskiness. SUPERB! I didnít have any desire to compare to something or somebody...

On the whole, the sound of the concert was more rocking than studio records. And it should be so!

Alan Silson BandIím not going to speak about the setlist in detail. Iíve already said that it certainly, contained the old hits of Smokie. For example, “Something Been Making Me Blue”, “Oh, Carol”, “Baby Itís You”, “Iíll Meet You At Midnight”, “Living Next Door To Alice”, “If You Think You Know How To Love Me”. Some things from Eagles were also performed, in particular, “Take It To The Limit”. There also were some more songs that unfortunately I didnít know. Something new? Something old? Something strange? Something familiar?

“Hotel California” was encored. Terrific performance! During the second part of the song Andy changed acoustic into Telecaster and set off the original solo playing together with Alan. Graham performed the leading vocal. SUPERB!

Can you guess what was the second encore?.. You are right! It was “Soviet folk”, an immortal “What Can I Do”!!! I am not going to describe the performanceÖ You should have seen the reaction of the audience! It was a burst of applause!

At the end the group left.

The concert lasted for an hour and a half.

The audience received ASB very cordially. It couldnít have been any other way! The public cheered and clapped their hands. But only one (?!) bunch of flowers was presented to the musicians.

Right after the concert we came behind the stage just to thank the musicians and say goodbye to them. There were many fans there too. The autographs were being given and the photos were being taken. When the next group of fans took a photo with Ron Kelly, I happened to ask them if they knew who they had just photographed. They paused without answering and looked as if they were interested. I explained to they who it was. That time they looked amazed.

The musicians did the great job and they were exhausted. Andy was upset because of the technical problems, but Barney was happy and told me about something for a long time (mind my EnglishÖ). There was only one thing that I got well: he was delighted with the reception. So was Graham too. He added that they were going to record a new album soon.

When the musicians left for their make-up room, the fans were still waiting for something. We were about to leave when Valentina looked out of the door and invited me and Larisa to enter. She gave us a poster with the signatures of all musicians. They were discussing the concert. Alan had a glass of beer in his hands. I thanked them for the beautiful show, shook hands with everybody and we hugged with Alan. He thanked me and I thought his thanks was not only to me but to all his fans in Ukraine (read: the USSR ).

We left at night for our friends who were waiting for us to celebrate the great event.

Thatís about all...

Writing this I am going through the same feelings. Sometimes childhood dreams can to come true!

 
  With great thanks to Alan Silson and the whole Alan Silson Band, Marybaby, Alexander and Valentina.
 © DK67 (Ukraine, Chernigov), 5-6.06.2006
 © www.chris-norman.ru