A day off yesterday here in Helsinki and I managed to get many of my favourite activities crammed in to a single day beginning with a hard 90 minute work out in the hotel gym. Not a large one, but incredibly well equipped with more than enough of everything to humble the socks off anybody. A slight complaint was the temperature which was warm and by the end of 90 minutes I could ring my clothes out. A quick shower then it was off to meet up with one of our great drivers and friend Eike who put a list of fab used record stores together and we set off on a mission of vinyl. The very first place we hit the bonanza gold, one of the finest shops devoted to jazz vinyl I've ever seen. The owner was very nice and extremely knowledgeable about jazz. Eike and I ended up browsing for a couple of hours and I wanted to buy every record in the place. In the end I exerted supreme control and only bought 7 albums, one of which The Essential Jo Jones, was a gift for our own drum hero Danny Cummings. Other purchases were Clifford Brown/Max Roach from 1955, a double set of very early and extremely rare Stan Getz 78 reissues, Tadd Dameron Orch. from the mid-50s, a 1958 Johnny Hodges LP on Verve and a few others. Jazz has always been huge in this neck of the woods and I was in heaven. We went to another record store after that but we'd already been to the best and decided it was time for lunch. Eike and I found a quiet restaurant down by the water and had a great meal of fried fish and rose pepper steak topped off with a local brew. After that I went off to do some shopping on my own. The hotel is smack dab in the middle of a great shopping area, clothes, shoes, department stores, you name it. Ended up looking but no purchases. On the way back to the hotel stopped in a wonderful old world pastry/sweet shop, everything elegantly presented but I opted for a cafe latte and it was one of the best cups of coffee I've had in a while. Back to the hotel for a little nap then met Guy and Danny down in the bar for a pre-dinner cocktail followed by a meal with the three of us joined by Mark and Paul Crockford. After far too much saki and sushi, we adjourned to Guy's room for cups of tea and music. About midnight we decided it was time to go back to the bar where we met up with John McCusker and his girl Heidi Talbot who's a brilliant singer and artist from Ireland. We ended up closing the bar down at 2 and I think they were glad to see us go. All in all it was a fantastic and memorable day off in Helsinki.
As for today, I took it slow and quietly beginning with a little room service to clear the cobwebs, a little practising from a Johnny Smith instructional book, a little writing, reading and catching up with e-mail. Before long it was time to get a shower and go to the gig.
I t was our usual Hartwall Arena where we've played every time we've come to Helsinki and our usual pre-soundcheck routine, drop the bags and make a bee line for catering. A large cauldron of steaming hot fresh cream of mushroom and garlic soup was waiting along with various salads, cold cuts and espresso. Fortified, we did soundcheck and then it was time for dinner! Our caterers are the best in the world, there isn't one night when they don't present something magical, and not just one thing, a choice of three entrees all of which are award winning....loads of fab salads, fresh cheeses, loaves of delicious bread and always a couple of seriously tempting desserts. I used the excuse that I'd been sick for the last couple of weeks to load my plate up with a brilliantly prepared steak, spinach and egg noodles with gravy, followed by a dish of freshly baked hot peach crumble with warm custard. This stuff's a builder!
It was now time for a meet and greet. These affairs have taken on a level of entertainment that is hard to imagine. We've been breaking new ground with the addition of John McCusker and his Celtic fiddle in addition to my usual Hawaiian guitar stylings, all the while Mark playing and occasionally singing a tune as well. Lately we've added the song Caravan to the musical whiplash with Danny playing the bongos, and he's a true, pro bongo man. Tonight also included a bit of juggling by our own Guy Fletcher. This is variety entertainment as it used to be and a side of the group that very few get to see. The kind of stuff our grandparents would've liked and now we like it too. The m&g went on for half an hour and we love doing them. After that it was time to get ready for the show. There's so much to do in the three hours at the venue prior to taking the stage that it's a miracle we get round to doing a show at all! Tonight's was for 9,000 great fans, another warm and wonderful audience, as they have all been, and another good showing from MK and troop.
Back to the hotel and a smorgasbord of flat bread, brown bread, stunning cheeses, salamis and a couple of bottles of the brilliant Amarone from the Montecariano winery in Italy. Today is road manager Pete McKay's birthday, he is 50. We all signed a card, gave him a load of good old fashioned ribbing, sang happy birthday and all had a drink of the red stuff. Amazingly the party broke up about midnight as it's an early bag call for tomorrows journey to St. Petersburg, a show there and an after show flight to Moscow where we'll sleep and do a show the following day.
It has been a tremendous run of shows in the Nordic and Scandinavian countries. I love this part of the world and it's people and look forward to when I return.