The Slovenian

I was asked if wanted to do a tour of Slovenia. I had no idea where that was. It was part of Yugoslavia and in my mind somewhere behind, or at least on the fringes of, the Iron Curtain.

Finances being what they were the travelling options were limited to the train; Leaving from Victoria to Paris where we changed for the long haul; effectively the same route as the luxurious Orient Express but without the first-class carriages, food and service, to arrive in Ljubljana two days later.

I was travelling with the other member of the band, Bill Thorp on violin and glockenspiel, with me on guitar and banjo.

Having been diverted in Switzerland and asked to vacate the train for a coach due to a snow landslide, several tight squeezes trying to find available seats with space for luggage, musical instruments, continuous Pink Floyd being played over the Tannoys with more eclectic and displaced fellow travellers joining us along with their chickens, sheep and other pets, we finally arrived in Slovenia to be met by our Slovenian host and star of the show, Aleksander Mežek, along with his manager, Andrej.

With no time to recover we immediately set into a rehearsal routine steadied up with fully cooked breakfasts, kidney, black pudding, potatoes, Slovenian goulash and solid bread on the assumption that we would be working the fields until dusk. We had not only been asked to provide the accompaniment to the Slovenian, but also be his support act. So, Bill and I, using our small collection of imported instruments, worked out a tight twenty five minute set of instrumentals and songs to get each show up and running and practicing our Slovenian with introductions and greetings. This seemed to go down well despite Bill’s strong Yorkshire accent and the uncontrollable giggling when trying to pronounce every word we’d written down.

We’d worked our way through to the end of the tour. It had gone well. It was the last night and we had our train booked back to London the following morning. The manager, Andrej Sifrer, had stayed pretty much in the background only appearing when necessary. The sign of a good manager. He was studying to be a lawyer but had aspirations to be a songwriter. So, our Slovenian decided in his magnanimous generosity to loan us out to play on Andrej’s demo songs before we left by way of a payment for his work on the tour. We were booked in to the main radio station recording studios for an overnight session starting around 10pm. The songs were straight forward enough and we started recording from the ground up; First the drums and bass, then guitars, keyboards, strings, organ, glockenspiel, percussion, harmonica and anything else we could lay our hands on. We soon had three very presentable demo backing tracks recorded and thinking nothing more of it, received a few local drinking vouchers and prepared to take the train home.

Several months passed and I got an invitation to a festival back in Slovenia for a song competition. I met Andrej in the corridor of the venue;” Have you heard?” he asked excitedly. “Heard What?” I replied.

“We’re number One in the charts with my first single. The tracks you recorded for me that night”.

Why we weren’t told about this was baffling and a little conspiratorial but I was happy for Andrej and offered to produce his first album on the back of his success. “We can do it in London and use some great English musicians” not really thinking how and if indeed we’d get a studio that was affordable never mind the players.

A short time after, there was a knock on our apartment door back in London. It was Andrej carrying his backpack and a brown paper bag.  The bag contained black market cash exchanged from his local currency into Sterling to fund his first album. A total of one thousand pounds!

Stories have since been told how we ran out of cash half way through the production, fell out with each other, made up, smuggled the masters back to Slovenia, watched in amazement as this album got to number one and how this budding poet and songwriter develop into a star and then into a legend.

We celebrated his 40th year as a performer with a sell-out concert in Ljubljana, including several current bands covering Andrej’s songs, a full concert orchestra, choir, live TV, Bill Thorp the original band member on violin and me, playing the same harmonical solo I played 40 years back that started this man’s great and successful career and creating an everlasting friendship.