Claire Martin ironed my shirt

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Really, she did.

Let me explain, and I can assure you it's not as dodgy as it sounds...

Winter Palace

Claire Martin and Ian Thomas outside the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg

Linn, together with our Russian partner Linn Prestige, brought Claire Martin to Russia for the first time to perform in front of an invited audience in St Petersburg.

Claire's band was the same elite line-up that I'd seen at Ronnie Scott's last year - Gareth Williams (of the Gareth Williams Power Trio) on keyboard, Laurie Cottle (Black Sabbath, Seal) on bass - with the notable exception of drummer Chris Dagley, tragically killed in a motorbike accident in July on the way home from a gig at Ronnie Scott's. Ian Thomas(whose credits include Eric Clapton, Tom Jones and Sting) was a fitting replacement.

Claire Martin with 'Theatre of Sport' dancer

My brief was to chaperone Claire and to try to make sure nothing went disastrously wrong before or during the gig.

On the morning of the gig, those of us who hadn't stayed up drinking until 5am went on a quick tour of the Winter Palace.

Then, back to the hotel for a meal and final preparations for the gig, during which time Claire Martin ironed my shirt. Apparently she's one of these people who enjoys ironing, and I'm one of these people delighted to take advantage of such a rare offer.

Tune Dem

Impressive Fruit Platter

Claire informed me on the way to the gig that, while the band was getting things sorted on stage, I was to be responsible for the sound in the auditorium. This involved repeatedly asking the sound engineers via a translator to make the drums quieter and the piano and Claire's microphone louder. Once I realised that the sound wasn't changing, not because of language difficulties, but instead because they preferred their own rock concert sound, I turned my persuasive powers up one notch and eventually arrived a pretty good result.

Meanwhile on stage, Claire had?--?against my advice?--?agreed to allow the mysteriously-present, nubile dancers of "Theatre of Sport" to join her during the performance for two songs, which they were now rehearsing, hilariously. Things were now threatening to get seriously out-of-control.

Backstage

Claire Martin power massages Gareth Williams

Backstage, the band were getting hungry and restless. If the venue had realised they are all of Welsh stock, perhaps they would have held back the obligatory, but nevertheless impressive, fruit platter.

Emergency procedures kicked in, with Claire showcasing yet more hidden talents with this brutal back massage administered to a strangely-contented Gareth. A communal rendition of Michael Jackson's Man in the Mirror and some impromptu moonwalking by Laurie finally put everyone in the mood.

The concert itself went perfectly, with Claire and the band performing songs from A Modern Art and others from her collaborations with Richard Rodney Bennett, hinting at a new album. A highlight for me was a cover of K.D. Lang's Wash Me Clean, performed by Claire and Laurie.

Taxi!

Taxi down the River Neva

There was one more surprise in store; our Russian hosts pretended the minibus had broken down, but had actually rented us a river taxi to take us back to our hotel.

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