Dark Entries is an independent Belgian music webzine with a focus on dark sounds. The webzine itself is completely in Dutch and can be found at www.darkentries.be. This blog was created with the intention to have an additional online place where our editors can post their English articles.
maandag 21 december 2015
Boris Grebenshikov and the Russian-Irish quartet: Tears, hugs and understanding glances
I couldn’t have imagined that the Russian rock legend
Boris Grebenshikov would ever play in Belgium, but he did last Friday. For
years, I have been completely blown away by his music, and to date I have travelled
abroad three times to see him at work. This time I could admire him close to
home, in the Amuz in Antwerp, a beautiful baroque church where concerts and
socio-cultural events are now taking place.
Since it's unlikely that you know Boris Grebenshikov, I’ll
give you a little introduction. Grebenshikov founded the Russian rock band
Aquarium in 1972. During the 70s, he lived the life of the underground hippies
with his companions in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg. They played on the
streets and in apartments and brought out cassettes with their own music now
In 1980, they were allowed to perform at the
‘spring-rhythm’ festival in Tbilisi - now the capital of Georgia - that somehow
felt like the official legalization of Rock in the Soviet Union. The performance
of Aquarium caused a real riot and Grebenshikov was fired from his job and from
the Komsomol Communist youth league when he returned to Leningrad. This was
usually a career death kiss in the Soviet Union, but for Grebenshikov, it was
the opportunity to devote himself entirely to music.
The circumstances were quite helpful. In 1980, Grebenshikov met
Andrei Tropillo, who offered him the opportunity to record in his studio in
Leningrad. The studio was meant for pioneers - the communist youth movement -
but after his job, Tropillo let all alternative groups from Leningrad in to record
and edit their cassettes. Aquarium accepted the offer with delight, and in the
first half of the 80, a series of cassettes saw the light that would make their
popularity grow gradually with the Russian music lovers.
Founded in 1981, the Leningrad Rock Club quickly
became the epicentre of Russian rock. Aquarium has an important role in the
club, with several members on the board. At the annual festival of the club -
conceived as a competition - Aquarium almost always became the winner. In the
second half of the 80s - during Perestroika - the group could even record on
the official Soviet Record label Melodija, and they filled whole stadiums with
But Grebenshikov wanted more. He believed he could
become an American rock star. It was a flop and saw the death of the first
incarnation of Aquarium. Grebenshikov returned to Russia and released the
beautiful ‘Russian album’ under the name of BG Band. The success of this record
convinces him to establish Aquarium again with new musicians, and the 90s were
years of unrivalled success for Aquarium, with several impressive albums.
For Grebenshikov, the success became too obvious. He
wanted to follow other paths, do more experimentation, to look for renewal. He
dissolved Aquarium and made a solo album with The Band, the former backing band
of Bob Dylan. Later, he founded the group again and he experimented with
ambient, trip-hop, world music and so on. The more eclectic and experimental it
was, the better.
And apparently, Grebenshikov lives through such a
phase again. He has dissolved Aquarium this year for the second time and released an
excellent solo CD. Earlier this year, he toured solo with a formation of nine
men, including many members of Aquarium, and now he is touring with the ‘Russian-Irish
Quartet’, in which he is surrounded by three Irish musicians.
The initiative comes from Brian Finnegan, an Irish flutist
who has been working with Grebenshikov and Aquarium for years now. Finnegan got
in contact with Aquarium in 2007. Grebenshikov than established Aquarium
International as a complement to his group with musicians from Ireland
(including Finnegan), India, Austria and other countries to a gang of 19 with
sitar, strings, bagpipes, flute, Indian percussion... They played several times
with this line-up, and I've been lucky enough to see them at work in Dublin, a
concert that belongs to the very best that I have ever experienced.
Grebenshikov said back then that the new album was going to be very
experimental, and so it was.
On ‘White horse’ - the CD in question - we find a
whole set of international guests, including Finnegan. The CD sounds like folk
rock, but is especially experimental in the compositions and the song
structures, that err as much as possible from the classical structures. After
the disc, Finnegan was included in Aquarium as a consequence of his exceptional
talents as a flutist.
Finnegan came up with the proposal to accompany Grebenshikov
with two other Irish musicians on a tour this year. Alan Kelly is considered an
accordion virtuoso and performs on his own with the Alan Kelly Gang. John Joe
Kelly is a master of the Irish bodhran and has already played with Finnegan in
the folk group Flook. Moreover, he could be heard on ‘White Horse’.
Grebenshikov leads the 'Russian-Irish Quartet' with his songs, guitar and
The first set revolves largely around 'white horse', a
record of which Grebenshikov is - rightly - very proud. It started with ‘Sitting
on a beautiful hill’, a song from ‘The Day of silver’, which according to
Grebenshikov is the best Aquarium release of the 80s. Then starts a set in
which half of ‘White Horse’ will be played.
There are a handful of exceptions. ‘I came to drink
water’ comes from Grebenshikovs recent solo album ‘Salt’. And if you thought
that a folk group could not play reggae, then ‘The words of the rastaman’ will
prove you wrong. Aquarium, incidentally, was the first band to play reggae in
Russian, in the early 80s. The first set is completed with three new, unknown
songs. Then Grebenshikov says he urgently needs a beer, and the band leaves the
When we look around while we are enjoying a pint, we see
that we are almost the only Belgians. Not surprising, because when Grebenshikov
plays in Western Europe, it is almost exclusively for the Russian diaspora. The
name of the organization managing the concert - Top Russian Society - suggests what
kind of people you can expect, as the price of the tickets was not small.
The second part begins with a flute solo of Finnegan,
which then turns into ‘The words of the dove’, also from the recent ‘Salt’. We
then go back in time. 'My Star' is undoubtedly the oldest song of the evening,
as it dates back to the 70s and is still invariably played at every concert.
‘Plantan’ is an old hit from the 80s.
On 'Little Star' - a song from the ‘Russian period’ in
the 90s - we see someone who is so moved by the extraordinary beauty of the
song that she starts to cry. During the concert, we quite often observe people
sharing hugs and exchange friendly and compassionate glances. It’s raining
splendid songs that leave no one indifferent: ‘When the pain stops’, ‘Silver
from my lord’...
A drinking song like ‘Glasses’ is on the list. ‘Put up
the glasses. They say I cannot drink, but I do it anyway!’ The quiet closing
song ‘on your own feet’ also refers to the Russian drinking culture, because it
is a toast to the skill of returning home on your own after a night out.
Fortunately, some encores follow. ‘Tea’ is derived
from the first official ‘Blue Album’ in 1981. The particularly poignant
‘Yoshiwara Flowers’ stood on ‘Psi’, a highly experimental album from 1999, when
Aquarium was reborn for the second time. The band ends everything with ‘A day
of joy’, a song from the period of the BG Band, but that was re-recorded a few
years ago with the magical flute of Brian Finnegan. We are not the only ones to
get high on the sound. Grebenshikov is strumming his guitar in ecstasy as
Finnegan produces pure beauty with his flute.
What a beautiful ending for this extraordinary
performance. Of course, the focus was put on the new work of Grebenshikov, but
this man proves that at a higher age - he is 62 - you can still write wonderful
music. He has never been driving on adrenaline and excitement only and was never
ashamed to write sensitive songs. Many songs were relatively new, but there
were - especially in the second part - also a lot of oldies. For me, the first
part was fantastic and the second sublime. I hope we can see Boris Borisovich
at work in Belgium again in the future. Xavier Kruth
Set 1: Sitting on a beautiful hill - The Lord is
visible - Push - I came to drink water - The words of the Rasta man - white
horse - Violets and ladybugs - Arigato - Indescribable - Tempora Mutandur (new
number) - Dog Roller (new number) - Look into my eyes and tell me that it is
your will (new number)
Set 2: The words of the Dove - My Star - Plantan -
Little Star - Instrumental song - ?? - When the pain subsides - March of the
sacred cows - Silver of the lord - Glass - on its own two feet
Bis: Tea - Yoshiwara Flowers - The day of joy
Cet 1: Сидя на красивом холме - Господу Видней - Дуй -
Пришел Пить Воду - Слова растамана - Лошадь Белая - Анютины Глазки и Божьи
Коровки - Аригато - Неизъяснимо - Tempora mutantur (новая песня) - Собачий
вальс (новая песня) - Посмотри мне в глаза и скажи что это воля Твоя (новая
Cet 2: Голубиное Слово - Моей звезде - Платан -
Звездочка - инструменталь - ?? - Когда пройдет боль - Марш Священных Коров -
Серебро господа моего - Стаканы - На ход ноги
Чай - Цветы Йошивары - День Радости
Little star (live in Lviv):