One To Wear And Four To (The) Bear

Day 1 : I set my iphone alarm for 05:00 because I needed to leave for the airport at 06:30.

This meant leaving the volume on, whereas I normally put it on silent when I go to bed. (I recently found out that you can leave the phone on "silent" and the alarm still works!)

Sadly, my dear friend Paolo doesn´t sleep the same hours as I do and decided to send me an e-mail at 04:11... So that was that! But I made good use of the extra time and was ready when Fransisco arrived. As always, the dogs went crazy but I had already taken Monica her coffee so that was fine too.

I had to fly with a small Spanish carrier called Vueling from Alicante to Barcelona and checking in was full of the usual surprises. It seems these low-cost airlines change the rules hourly now so you can never be fully prepared. I will spare you the gory details but I had to pay €70.00 extra even though we had paid for this and that when we made the reservation.

I do want to mention that all of this was handled with great charm by the Iberia lady at the check-in desk whose grace reminded me that a smile can soften just about any blow. I expected further trouble but I had an ace up my sleeve! I got to the gate and, sure enough, got the dirty looks from the gate agents when they saw the guitar I was carrying. But I had bought a seat for it so they could do nothing!!! Ha!

The ticket for my guitar was named "Extraseat Hensley" ... When I checked in on line I reserved seat 6D (aisle) for myself and 6E for the guitar. This of course is really silly because it fits perfectly in the overhead compartment. But if you don´t buy space for it they can force you to check it in and thereby take more of your cash. So much for "low cost".

As I boarded I received more dirty looks and the panicky flight attendant ran down the aisle after me protesting loudly. I showed her the boarding card for ëxtraseat. And she was momentarily stunned. But she had another weapon ... it had to be strapped into a window seat, not the centre seat I had reserved. Hmmm ... Who knew?

Problem was that 6F was occupied so she asked the guy there to move! This could have been handled so much more simply and quickly but those two words are not in their vocabulary apparently.

Anyway, he kindly moved to D, I sat in E and my guitar was strapped into F. She still tried to change things by insisting that it was placed on the floor and not on the seat itself but there is not enough legroom for that and anyway I had paid for a seat, not the floor! I tell you all of this so that those of you who fly within Europe can be pre-warned to expect nothing but hassle when you fly!

I arrived in Barcelona and had to retrieve my luggage (Vueling was unable and/or unwilling to check it to my final destination) so I could check it in with Aeroflot for my flight to Moscow. By stark contrast, this went very smoothly and I went to the lounge to relax for a while ... I was already quite tired and I had a lot more travelling to do.

I found it interesting that the airport internet hot spot actually cancels out your 3G connection to try and force you to buy access if you want to check mail or, in my case, see how practise was going for the Monaco Grand Prix. Capitalism at its ugly best! But just disable your wi-fi and you win!

On board I ate my lunch and slept for a couple of hours and we landed at Sheremetyevo a little early. A nice lady named Olga and a gentleman, whose name I was never given, met me and we went to the other terminal to wait for Steve who was flying in from London and was therefore late. Try Heathrow one day, you will see what I mean!

We all met and began the journey to the Zavidovo resort where I am due to play on Saturday to celebrate Vyacheslav´s 50th birthday. This had all been organised by his son Dmitry because his dad is apparently a big fan. Nice! We stepped in the Cadillac Escalade (Russians certainly know how to spend money!) for the 90-120 minute ride to the resort which actually took more than 3 hours!

This was because (a) Russian roads are terrible, (b) when there is an accident, the police stand in the middle of the road and argue about it instead of moving the bloody vehicles so traffic can pass and (c) the road works continue through the night ... for no apparent reason and with no discernible result!

But we eventually made it, the place (Steve and I are sharing a cottage) was nice (or as far as we could see in the relative darkness) and we eventualy got to bed at 03:00 local time. That meant 01:00 Spanish time. It had been a 21-hour day, quite challenging and extremely exhausting.

I always wonder what I have forgotten when I pack and I never find out until I arrive at my destination an unpack. But I had remembered the essentials at least. One to wear and four to (the) bear.

Day 2:

My lumpy mattress and I parted company far too early so I was thankful that today would be a day off!

We ordered breakfast to the cottage and they tried to deliver it 3 times but failed because we thought the doorbell was some kind of Russian animal creeping around outside and ignored it!! It did eventually arrive though and we were grateful ... even though it was almost lunch time!

Today was a lazy kind of day. It was sunny and warm with a little wind. We walked around the resort which is situated on the Volga and Shosha rivers and is really quite beautiful. Lots of trees, walkways, tennis courts, water sports ... a real getaway kind of place. Not too many people today either.

After lunch I took my siesta and did some work before we went to the venue to meet everyone and check everything out.

This was 90 minutes well spent and we were satisfied that everything we needed was either there or that it would be. Steve´s good at that kind of thing and with my good friend Timofey in charge we relaxed, had dinner and some wine before returning to the cottage.

I didn´t last too long and went to bed early which meant...

Day 3:

... I woke up way too early!

And today we had a lot to do but it was bright and sunny and warm so I felt good and will have a nice long siesta today. But first we needed to rehearse and do sound check so we headed to the hotel for breakfast and then to the show venue. We had sorted all the various problems yesterday so it was just a matter of making sure the band and the backing vocalists had their parts together.

I was using a Hammond XK3 which is a sort of mini B3 but it would work for this gig. The band was good and, with a little "training", they were ready for the show. This is the set list for that part...

Circle of Hands
Sweet Freedom
July Morning
Easy Livin'
The Wizard
Lady in Black

I had two girls and a guy for the harmonies and they were very good. They had done their homework and they sounded good together.

Dmitry, who, along with his mother, Oxsana (sp?) had organised this party, drove us around in their shiny Humvee...

ken in russia next to a humvee

...which I wanted to take home for Monica! It´s her favourite car ... but this was not the end of our vehicular adventure as you will read later.

Lunch and then back to the cottage to watch Monaco qualifying and then a nap.

All went well and I was ready. Slava´s party was in full swing. We positioned ourselves in the hotel room that was to serve as my dressing room and I got ready for the first part of the show which was me, all alone. These are the songs I selected to play and I would go on to choose from this list, knowing that, in this setting, I would definitely not play all of them.

(These are all played on a de-tuned acoustic guitar)
(These are all played on piano, occasionally using the transpose feature to vary the pitch)
(For these final four songs I use another acoustic, tuned to concert pitch, except I tune the low E to D for "I Close My Eyes")

When I do my solo shows, I spend the first 10 minutes or so "feeling" the audience and the vibe in the room. Then I know how to manage the rest of the show, but this was no ordinary concert. This was primarily a party and I was really an accessory so I set my mind there and felt very comfortable.

Maybe a little background would be good here. Slava is a big Ken Hensley fan and he was really happy that I was coming to play at his party. He and Oxsana were brought together by the song "Lady in Black" and there are many interesting stories around that.

I am always amazed when I hear stories like Slava & Oxana.

The first time I did, it was a couple in Florida that wanted to use July Morning as their wedding song and that was pre-internet! Since then I have heard maybe a thousand different tales and not only am I still amazed but also very thankful to have touched people in such a special way. I know I write these songs but you also know by now that I will not take credit for the inspiration. That goes to God!

Of course, way back when I was writing the early songs, I had no idea that the music would become so deeply important to people over time but to me this is a truly wonderful blessing and I hope that the new songs will also establish themselves over time.

Anyway, as I moved through the show, I knew instinctively which songs to skip and how to keep the right balance for this unusual event and environment and things went really well. They enjoyed the Q&A bit and of course I enjoyed being able to inject some of my silly English humour! If I was you I might even pay to see me play this show...

I finished after about 80 minutes and went to my room to rest while they changed the stage.

Time for the "band" part of the show and... amazingly enough, everything was still working as it had in rehearsal and we whizzed through the eight songs with everyone singing and dancing, including the very young children who created their own front row and flashed their "metal" signs... very cool!

Slava joined us and added his own unique quality to Lady In Black and a good time was had by all.

After a quick cooling off and a change of clothes we joined the party so I could sign the Love & Other Mysteries CDs that Dmitry and Steve had brought, watched some Chinese lanterns set off and then we went to dinner, which lasted a long time.

It had been a long day but a very rewarding one.

Day 4:

Today we would be returning to Sheremetyevo airport which I suppose could be called the main of the 4 Moscow airports. We will overnight there for our flights on Monday morning. But first we spent time with Slava and his family and this was great.

As a successful businessman he had invested a lot in their home and the surroundings and he showed us around with what I can only describe as modest pride. I have spent a lot of time in the company of very rich people but this was different because there was no sign of the superior ego that you can suffer sometimes.

His family rescues animals in the same way that Monica and I do and they are all very well taken care of. Then I saw the Humvee to beat all Humvees! It is an ex-military Hummer with all the possible extras and it was massive! The family was large and lovely and I enjoyed meeting all of them and spending time in their home.

I declined the sauna and opted instead for a quick ride on his boat...

ken in russia next to a humvee

We parked on the confluence of the Volga and Shosha rivers, had a couple of beers and nibbles, listened to some loud music and then returned to the cottage so I could watch the Monaco race.

Then we said goodbye to Dmitry, Slava Timmy and Laura and climbed into the Cadillac for the long and boring ride to the Novotel at Sheremetyevo.

I slept okay but was ready to go home. The morning was smooth and my Aeroflot flight was comfortable. After breakfast I slept for a couple of hours and arrived in Barcelona refreshed and ready for battle with Vueling. But this time there was no problem and I arrived in Alicante on time.

Fransisco drove me home and I will be here for 2 weeks before I set off to Oslo to rehearse with Live Fire before we go to Czech to start the festival season.

It´s good to be home and I am thankful.

God bless,