First of all I want to say lots of thanks to the man himself who has one of biggest hearts I ever know. He's both noble and humble at the same time. All who knows John will repeat this. And thanks to my friend Igor who arranged a meeting because I was somewhat shy this time and initially thought I'll be out of town so I haven't asked myself.
John played 2 shows, first was in little jazz club called 'Forte' (about 100 ppl, a mix of music venue and a restaurant) and second - in some weird event called 'Russian Tattoo Gathering'. It took place at old soviet Expo-center (VDNKH) pavilion and starting time was 11PM so I didn't go because local transport would close before the end of the show. But anyway...
Meeting with John was wonderful experience. He's full of stories - like working together with Mick Box on the film, playing with Bulgarian guys (his band this time was completely Bulgarian) and past memories of Lucifer's Friend, Uriah Heep and so on. I wish I had dictaphone with me. Maybe next time.
Club was packed and everything was smooth at 'Forte' - besides the fact that local streets were closed because of... rehearsals of 9th May military parade. (9th May is WWII Victory's Day, in case if someone's wondering). So whole street was packed with tanks, rocket carriers and other kinds of military things. And John had to travel by metro.
Anyway, he was smiling and humorous throughout whole show, making fun of audience, himself and the music. His favorite jokes were as always in the middle of sing-along sections. "e;All guys singing... all girls singing... now all girls and (name of one local fan)... now all who aren't sure who they are... it happens... and it's OK, don't worry... so (la-la-la) (someone still sings) (everybody's laughing) I know, you couldn't resist."e;
But the most interesting thing, musically, for me was their version of Lady In Black. I know I'll hear this song live again - for 50th time probably - BUT I never expected it'll be REGGAE version of Lady In Black! And John sings in with such grace and experience as if he is a
lifetime Bob Marley fan :) Fantastic.
Bulgarian band is very good. Especially the keyboardist - he even sang first verse of Rain. Perfect vocal harmonies, tight playing... But they aren't just copying songs note by note. There was a lot of freedom, especially in bassist (he got 5-string one) playing - a lot of slap, very tasty style. Guitarist was playing left-handed Fender and he was very far from traditional Mick Box guitar sound and style. No wah-wah, no rough Gibson-like sound. Sounded strange but mostly it worked. Drummer was good too. I think it's the band that John can really call his own - not a bunch of session guys, they feel his music perfectly and are very professional players. I only wish John to record some new music with them...
Vocal conditions are amazing. I think John is one of very few guys (Ronnie James Dio and Klaus Meine comes in mind) who kept their voice in so perfect shape. Tone, color, expression, colors... Of course range isn't the same but he sang high notes in July Morning very fine, and some other higher parts too. Shifting down Sympathy higher bits though.
Setlist was kind of predictable. Uriah Heep classics - both pre- and John-era, and just one solo song (Still Paying My Dues...). No Lucifer's Friend at all. But it was aimed at core Uriah Heep fans who paid some serious money to get there, so they got their right to hear classics.
Afterwards John said that there are talks about him doing Russian tour in October. Waiting for that!