Ali Horn’s tour diary – the inside story from the Ulyanovsk UNESCO trip

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Ali Horn

Ali Horn

Following a trip to Russia with Eggy Records, Ali Horn has published his tour diary alongside the video for his latest single, Getintothis’ Lewis Ridley is taken on a rocket to Russia.

Ali Horn is much loved here in Liverpool. From busking to headlining, he captures audiences and embodies the city’s music scene.

Just last week, Horn supported Tess Parks and he was in typically engaging fashion. A likeable guy, with bags of talent to match.

It was therefore no surprise when he joined bands Eyesore and the Jinx and Stores at the Intersection of Music Festival in Ulyanovsk in July.

The festival, which was organised by British and Russian Music Embassies also saw the bands perform in the Russian town of Dimitrovgrad, and end up on Russian news channel Volga TV.

Horn recorded his experience in the form of a tour diary, which we are delighted to share on Getintothis, along with the video for his track Dreamers, filmed in Russia.

Ali Horn’s tour diary – Welcome to Russia

The eyes get your first. You tell people you are going to play in Russia as a fairly unknown UK act and the looks say, ‘how does that work?’

Much of the world is known now but Ulyanovsk, UNESCO World City of Culture, birthplace of Lenin, nearer Iran than Europe and my ultimate destination, still has that air of the unknown. I wish they’d stop that look though, its freaking me out.

I’m not alone. Joining this voyage of discovery are three other Liverpool bands – Liverpool being, of course, a UNESCO World City of Music – Eyesore and The Jinx and Stores.

It’s the day before we leave, I have a visa and a flight but know very little else. We have a contact over there and some emails but that’s it. Those looks may have had a point….

Ali and the tour party

Wednesday 26 June

There’s me and Chay, the bassist in my band, and a pile of gear that takes the fancy of the Heathrow security. I literally have to unpack everything, stick it through the conveyor and then of course have everything taken to one side and examined as if it was extra-terrestrial.

Six or so hours later we are in the hotel bar in Moscow being given free cigarettes by a fellow drinker clutching margaritas. Surreal doesn’t cover it.

Thursday 27 June

Short flights with hangovers and turbulence are no way to start your first full day in a new country. Losing your immigration papers en-route makes the experience even worse. I’ll be walking to the door of the embassy tomorrow, then….

After lunch – Shuba, a strange salad of Herring, potato, carrot, beetroot, egg and lots of
mayonnaise, I think I can still taste some now – we are deposited in a performance area at the Arts Centre alongside a bunch of Russian musicians. It’s awkward, no one quite knows how to get things started but gin and blue 7-Up proves a decent lubricant and instruments are swapped and songs played.

Then comes the kicker. The ‘jam’ session was preparation for a performance. I fall back on my
busking skills and we reel out Anenome by BJM, Sweet Jane by The Velvet Underground, Dreams by Fleetwood Mac (F and G all the way through!) and somehow pull off Rebel Rebel on the fly with me yelling out chords and singing in a uncomfortably bright room with zero vibes. It seems to work though.

The evening really livens up. Of course, there’s an Irish bar and from there our guides, members of the town’s English-speaking club, lead us to a 24/7 shop which seems the place for late night hang outs. By way of entertainment two men appear, one chasing the other with a knife, slipping and sliding through the rain soaked streets. This seems normal to everyone, but us.

Friday 28 June

After a charming visit to the immigration office, where a lady putting on gloves to fingerprint me sparks all manner of awful images in my mind before I realise what is actually about to happen, I am legal again and ready for the day.

It’s technically a day off so we cram in museums and galleries but somehow also do media for the afternoon. The upside of this is the venue for the press meets. Records Bar is a venue come bar which has already become our evening meet up. Post interviews and despite what is rapidly becoming an eternal hangover Chay joins me on the hotel roof overlooking the Volga to shoot some footage for the video to Dreamers.

Our guide’s friend turns up channelling Mia Wallace with a party invite. Which is how we end up spending the evening in a strobe filled space, fists aloft and mouths open dancing to Russian gabba and techno.

Ali Horn

Saturday 29 June

Festival day. There’s an outdoor stage and we play sets alongside the local bands. And I feel awful, the lack of sleep and the booze is having a real effect now. Add in all manner of translation problems with the PA folk and its fair to say that, when I step on stage I’m not feeling too confident.

But the sound problems are gone, the set flows and, at the end, I’m surprised by a local balalaika maker who hands over the most beautiful instrument to me as gift.

I’m genuinely humbled.

Offstage the gifts keep coming from the local people, Russian badges and a ‘remove before flight’ tag from a pilot. As I’m trying to talk to all these generous, wonderful people I hear a remix of the song I have just played coming out of the PA. It turns out these Russian DJ’s and software developers had come up with a live sampling app and had recorded snippets of my set and were remixing them literal minutes after I had played them. Mind blown.

It gets weirder. The evening at Records Bar runs to 2.30am at which point a local guy with a huge beard invites us to see his forge. Which is how, at 3am in the morning we find ourselves stood watching a man in flip flops wield a welding torch to make the most beautiful ornamental spoon.

And how, minutes later our DJ friends from earlier start an impromptu rave in that forge by sampling the sounds of metal beating to create a soundtrack for dancing into the dawn.

Ali Horn

Sunday 30 June

Why did I say I wanted to visit an apiary? Its 9am and we are bouncing down rutted roads to the middle of nowhere. Later we will play National Youth Day at a sports stadium in Cherdalky but at the moment I’m wondering if we will still be alive to perform. It’s a bumpy ride at high speed.

We finally stop at a wooden door with a sunflower mural on it, a huge Russian man named Gennadiy appears and starts shaking hands. He’s old (we later find out he’s a grandfather), he’s kind and he’s very welcoming. He takes us through his gardens, another mural adorns the shed. The Russian words we are told translate as ‘I was there and I was drinking mead and beer.’ A quote from Pushkin.

He shows us the queen bee, the worker bees, the drones and the bees that guard the entrance. All along I’m thinking that this hive is a perfect microcosm of a communist dictatorship. So, if the queen bee is Stalin and the guard bees the KGB, is Gennadiy mother Russia?

Gennadiy

I’m hung-over, paranoid and haven’t slept enough for days. We sit down and sample his mead. None of us have eaten breakfast yet. With rosy cheeks, smiles and selfies with our amazing host we head off to lunch and then to sound check at the City Stadium in Cherdakly.

Today is the national day of youth in Russia and we turn up to the venue to realise that we’re basically playing at a school sports day at an athletics track. There are kid’s games, stalls and a huge bouncy castle. It’s all slightly surreal. We sound check and then hang around until show time.

They seem to inspect us rather than listen to the music, looking at our alien like clothes. Cherdakly is a tiny town with about 40,000 inhabitants and I don’t think anyone from outside ever really came to visit so I understood their inquisitive stares.

3am rolls around and we’re on our way to the airport for our last goodbyes. feel strangely emotional leaving these people who have shown us so much hospitality and love over the last few days. I jump on the plane, knackered, with all the memories of the week buzzing around my head.

In four days, we have played shows, danced to gabba, raved in a forge, witnessed a real-life street-fight, become beekeepers for the day, loaded up on gifts and not really slept for more than a few hours at a time.

We’ve been blessed with the most incredible hospitality, overcome language and cultural barriers and carry a lot of shared memories on the flight back to Heathrow.

I’ve definitely left a piece of my soul out in old Simbirsk. I hope to go back someday to retrieve it.

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