“I can’t listen to music too often. It affects your nerves, makes you want to say stupid, nice things and stroke the heads of people who could create such beauty while living in this vile hell.”
The desire to hear music is a strange phenomenon; for some it is something as simple as being able to hum or dance along to a pretty tune on the radio, for others it can be a cathartic outlet, but then there are those (and I count myself among them) for whom it is a lifelong voyage of discovery. The two major sources for my particular journey have been friends; with the “Have you heard this?” calling card, or artists citing their own influences, and over the years they have turned me on to all sorts of weird and wonderful music from all kinds of obvious and obscure places.
However, a couple of years ago a new source arrived via an absent-minded browse of the Internet, and it came in the shape of a fan made video featuring the characters from Charlie Brown/Peanuts. At a loose end I clicked on the clip expecting to give it a 30 second listen before moving onto something more fruitful to occupy my time, but thirty seconds passed and I was still listening and becoming increasingly beguiled with the wonderful Ghost by Motoroma. It was love at first listen and for once I was glad of the instantaneously demanding culture that I am often highly critical of and so I immediately sought out further information and further tunes from this musical apparition from the ether.
The first surprise was that Motorama are not from the U.K. but Russia; Rostov-on-Don to be precise. I then discovered that Ghost was not a one off but part of a four (it’s five now) album career rammed with songs of equal beauty and some that excel my first experience of that three-minute burst of perfection.
Sadly, I also discovered that seeing them live was a highly unlikely prospect given it appeared they had played a single London gig in twelve years of touring, and so I resigned myself to the fact I would only ever hear their recorded output.
Then, a couple of weeks ago an email alerted me to New Russias 2020: UK Festival of Contemporary Russian Culture which looked like a fascinating prospect generally; then I saw that Motorama were appearing as part of it and not only that, but in Manchester! I was gobsmacked and so I grabbed my ticket and then went through the channels seeking to meet up with them for an interview, but unfortunately that appeared to be a no-go. However, my offer of a foray around the sites of Manchester was met with more enthusiasm.
“Some mathematician, I believe, has said that true pleasure lies not in the discovery of truth, but in the search for it.” L.T.
On the day I meet up with Motorama, the sun is belligerently doing battle with an icy wind in the crisp Mancunian skies. The weather seems like an apt metaphor for a band that majestically traverse a precipice beset with happiness on one side and sorrow on the other. With me for a tour of photogenic sites of the city are songwriter and lead vocalist Vlad Parshin, Maxim Polivanov (guitars and synthesisers) and Mikhail Nikulin (drums). Irene, the fourth member of the band and de-facto manager is not here this time for child-care reasons, which means Max and Misha have a little more room on the back seat, which is good because all three of Motorama are big lads and I’ve only got a Ford Focus. From our initial small talk, it soon becomes apparent that Vlad has an encyclopaedic knowledge of music and so I suggest our first stop is Salford Lads Club. As we tumble out of the car all three immediately start taking photographs but not necessarily of the Club, they seem more taken with the mundanities of English life such as the terraced streets, which in Salford are juxtaposed with the shiny monuments to modernity that peer down into the heart of the working class lives barely a mile away. Lead singer Vlad has a keen photographic eye as is evident from a cursory glance at their Instagram page and indeed their wonderful cover art. Next stop Stretford; we pass the door where Marr met Morrissey and move onto the Iron Bridge, where the latter of the feted song-writing duo allegedly “ended up with sore lips”. Again, backyards, passing trains and playgrounds seem of more interest to Vlad, Max and Misha although one of the many pieces of Smiths graffiti that festoon the bridge (‘Moz is a Nazi’) encourages a brief discussion on Morrissey’s current reputation, with Vlad wondering what the British take on it is. Vlad and Max are both relaxed and have excellent English. They are charm personified, as is Misha whose English doesn’t allow him to join in quite as much, but he is a smiling fellow passenger in conversations, the others interpreting where necessary. I ask if they fancy a quick diversion via Old Trafford and it seems Max is the most enthusiastic of the three and so they take me up on the offer. It is the day after the 62nd Anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster and as a result there are flowers beneath the main memorial. I ask about F.C. Rostov and Max explains that whilst they have a 40,000-capacity stadium they can’t quite compete with Zenit St Petersburg, although as I write they currently lie in third place in the league. The band feeling hungry search for an eatery near the ground but do so in vain and so for the second time in 12 hours are forced to sample fish and chips. They understandably raise a collective and sceptical eyebrow when I suggest we do have other foodstuffs in the city.
Southern Cemetery is next on my itinerary and again the band photograph some of the more unusual aspects of the cemetery. We say “Hi daaaaarling” to Anthony H. Wilson who is just round the corner from some of my ancestors and then just as we are about to leave, I catch a glimpse of a familiar and tragic name about whom Morrissey sang on Suffer Little Children way back when. I must have passed the grave many times before and not noticed the heart-shaped Lesley-Ann stone. It jolts you. As we pass through the Cemetery Gates, Vlad and I exchange ideas on Russian history and he tells me to my surprise that Stalin is still the most popular historical leader amongst the people in Russia (Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?) and we also discuss Brexit briefly. Our last stop of note is Epping Walk Bridge where Kevin Cummins took his celebrated Joy Division picture. With his usual perversity Vlad takes a picture of me, Max and Misha peering over the edge, and of something far off in the distance.
“In the carriages of the past you can’t go anywhere”. M.G.
After I drop the band back at the hotel, I reflect on what lovely and incredibly intelligent people they are with a grasp of history and culture that few bands have these days. My time with them was enjoyable, interesting, illuminating and educational. Their intelligence comes through in their lyrics too, more of which later. However, I also realise that I know little more about them than I did when I picked them up, other than Vlad had promised they would play a personal favourite, Rose in a Vase tonight. After parking up I made my way to the venue for the soundcheck where I met the promoter who congratulated me on interviewing the band, because “they rarely do them”. I told him I hadn’t and that in three hours of travelling around and chatting about lots of fascinating stuff we didn’t really talk about the band, which I suspect was their intention all along. Canny lads those Motorama boys!
The Night and Day Café has a few stragglers from Friday’s labours as Motorama arrive and set up. They are meticulous in their preparations and they let fly with some of the shimmering sounds that promise to make tonight a very special one. Before the gig Vlad is swamping me with Youtube clips played through a soundbar; old British bands that I shamefully have not heard of, new bands I didn’t know existed, Russian bands, Chinese bands, and every single song is a winner. For about an hour I receive a thoroughly enlightening music lesson from someone with the most terrific breadth of knowledge and passion for all the stuff I like. It was like being fifteen years old again, swapping records with friends and getting our minds blown by the beauty of some of the less obvious stuff out there, and saying things like “These should be massive!” which is exactly how I feel about Motorama. They do everything I like in music and they do it brilliantly. Fabulous bass lines, chiming guitars, understated vocals and thought-provoking lyrics. If that’s your bag, what are you waiting for?
Motorama have been described as post-punk but they are so much more than that. Their debt to Manchester is clear, but not just in the obvious Joy Division/Smiths comparison that a casual listener might hear (but hell, if you are going to be compared, be compared to the best). The dance ghosts of New Order and Happy Mondays are also inherent in their make-up but as tonight’s set will demonstrate Motorama have their own sound and cannot be compared to anyone around right now.
The band amble on, fiddle with a few switches before one of their unmistakable shimmering guitar lines pierces the night. The lively bounce of Tell Me precedes the bass driven funk and stately paced Kissing the Ground and already you can see faces betraying ardour and wonder in equal measure. The unmistakable opening bars of Heavy Wave produces the first sing along of the night in the packed-out venue, before the gorgeous shimmer and strum of Wind in Her Hair mellows everything out again.
The icy realm from where Motorama hail is conjured up in the mysterious You & The Others whilst the insistent I See You harks back to early Bunnymen, and already the different genres visited has been dizzying yet each song is stamped unmistakably: ‘Motorama’.
He Will Disappear from 2018’s Many Nights is simply beautiful this evening with the synth lines driving the song to heights beyond the recorded version. A tease of a tune up segues into a riotously received (not just my favourite then!) Rose in a Vase which the sound in Night and Day does absolute justice to, the crystalline guitar lines positively ringing out and Vlad’s hands moving in a curiously mesmerising manner up and down his fret.
Art takes over from music in Voice from the Choir as Vlad spends much of the song crouching next to the drum kit tinkering with various pieces of percussion.
Halfway through the set and it is noticeable that Vlad and Max have real musical versatility because at different times both play lead guitar, bass and synthesiser on different songs, whilst Misha keeps the hypnotic, metronomic pulse beating, allowing the guitarists to plough their creative fields.
Empty Bed from debut album Alps is a heart-breaking song at the best of times and tonight’s delivery drips with delicately poised pathos. The lyrics are bleakly emotive: “Down from the country road/To the waterwheel/You were standing on a giant stone/In your grandpa’s coat/I can’t see you in my dreams/I don’t know why…” and then you remember this is Motorama’s second language. Wow.
Hard Times from 2016 ‘s Dialogues sees Vlad switch from lead guitar to synthesiser, then bass for No More Time before Second Part sees him down tools altogether and start assisting Misha with the cymbals again. Tonight’s show has seen the lead singer follow a trajectory where he has gained in confidence and authority throughout and he is a captivating performer, with Lottery from 2015’s Poverty perhaps being the epoch of tonight’s show.
The opening of Lottery sounds like She’s Lost Control before going somewhere else completely as Vlad stalks the stage assaulting the cymbals with real aggression and yelping incoherently much to the delight of the crowd. One senses the show building to a crescendo, and Max’s beautiful echoing, descending chimes in Alps, with it’s coda of “takes my breath away” could equally be talking about the effect Motorama are having on tonight’s audience.
It is apt for me that they close with Ghost as that is where my Motorama journey began, and tonight it is astonishing. From my vantage point Vlad doesn’t look unlike Billy Corgan which is ironic as the bass line sounds like Smashing Pumpkins 1979 on speed. All around me people are dancing and singing along, and when you hear guitar lines being sung at the stage you know you have a special song on your hands.
This was indeed the last song on the set-list, but Manchester wasn’t going to let Motorama leave quite yet. The mellow and poetic throb of She Is There (check the evocative lyrics out – “Bengal Lights illuminate his way/Fiasco for the daytime/Triumph for the night” – and again remember that this is Vlad’s second language) is half of the encore whilst the joyous riff of To The South is a suitably triumphant ending to a wonderful evening.
I began this piece with a quote, and it might surprise you that it’s from Lenin, not Lennon (“Shut the fuck up, Donny! V.I. Lenin. Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov!”), Motorama’s reposing countryman. After the event new fans were queueing up “to say stupid, nice things and stroke the heads of people who could create such beauty” to Motorama.
I fail to understand why they are so little known in the U.K. They have everything in their armour that suggests they should be regular visitors to these shores; startling English lyrics, a quite wonderful and derivatively unique sound, and of course, indie cool. I really hope tonight acts as a springboard for a full tour of the U.K.
I’m fifteen again.
Motorama should be massive!
The Ural Mountains