A GUEST SERIES
13 – Gigantic – Pixies (1998, 4AD Records)
Released as a single in August 1988 (Reached Number 93)
It is midnight and I have just jumped into a car belonging to a guy called Nikolai. I am sitting next to a Swedish guy called Christer who is ridiculously good looking. He looks like Daniel Craig and I am drawn instantly to him, largely because he is wearing a Ramones T Shirt and when I met him in arrivals area of Tbilisi Airport he hands me a bottle of Swedish Vodka as a present.
Nikolai has been tasked to look after Christer and I all week, we are in Tbilisi at the request of the Georgian government to deliver some training and teaching to a bunch of students. He tells us in good English with a strong Russian accent that “he has a fun packed week mapped out for us”. Frankly at that particular moment I couldn’t care what he has planned for me, I’m shattered. I’ve just spent four hours on a plane from Istanbul next to a couple who spent the entire flight shouting at their two children. I now know the Turkish words for ‘Shut Up You Little Brat’ (kapa çeneni küçük velet) and ‘Do Your Crossword and Be Quiet’ (bulmaca yap ve sessiz ol) and all I want to do is sleep.
I can’t do that though because all the way to the hotel Nikolai plays Georgian Folk Music. Now its very pleasant, but the same songs appear to be played everywhere – might be my ignorance, but that’s what it sounds like. We get to the hotel, where the woman in reception flirts outrageously with Christer whilst giving him his key as yet more folk music twinkles away in the background.
At the end of Day one, Nikolai tells us that we are being taken to a banquet. The Guest of Honour is the Georgian equivalent of the Home Secretary, everyone stands when he comes in the room and Christer and I feel massively out of place. Nikolai tells me that it is ‘A Russian’ thing. We then eat roughly fifteen courses, each one starting with a toast and shot of something called Chacha. A stupidly strong fruit brandy. I get laughed at for not eating meat and two different women move seats so that they could sit either side of Christer. A folk band turns up and serenades us as the plates are taken away from each course. They play the same song at least three times.
Between course six and seven Christer and I go outside for some fresh air we take some photos of the sun setting across the Kura River – Christer leans across to me and says “Right now all I want to do is go back to my room, phone my wife and children and then fall asleep whilst listening to Crass”. I look at him and nod, I know exactly what he means, although you can’t fall asleep listening to Crass. He then tells me with a sigh that the next course is ‘water rat’. I, being the vegetarian, am eating a mushroom and grape pie.
The Rat – The Walkmen (2004, Record Collection Records, Number 45)
We talk a bit more about music. He tells me of his love for American Rock music bands like Pixies, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam have been his life for the last twenty years. He tells me that his favourite album of recent years is ‘…Like Clockwork’ by Queens of the Stone Age and then he tells me that he is coming to the UK in about six weeks to see them at a festival. We make a plan to meet up. He tells me that he is hiring a motorbike from Edinburgh Airport and riding all the way to this festival near London – I realise he is going to the Reading Festival. I also realise that he is probably the coolest person I have ever met. Minutes later one of the two women grab him by the arm and drag him back to the dinner table. I think about making a run for it but International Diplomacy drags me back to the table.
I Sat By The Ocean – Queens of The Stone Age (2013, Matador Records, Did Not Chart)
I should say by the way that Georgian food and wine is excellent. It really is.
On Day Three, we have been joined by a German guy called Bernhard and Nikolai tells us that he has a real treat for us. I’m hoping that it is a night off and I can catch up on some sleep but no. We are going to a football match. Dinamo Tbilisi versus Dinamo Batumi. Dinamo Tbilisi are a bit like Barcelona in Georgia, they win everything and are adored by everyone. Every shop bears their flags and pennants and according to Nikolai, his own father claims that the night Dinamo Tbilisi won the old European Cup Winners Cup was the greatest night of his life (this was in 1981).
As we drive there Nikolai puts on more bloody folk music.
We turn up at this stadium, it is kind of cool in a seventies Russian architecture sort of way. We are given more Chacha and handed something which looks like a candle. It is not a candle it is something called Churchkhela, basically almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts and chocolate dipped in grape juice and shaped like a candle. It is also wonderfully tasty. We sit back and wait for the match to start. Piped folk music fills the stadium.
The stadium announcer suddenly starts jabbering very quickly, it must be close to the start and suddenly out of now we hear something very familiar. Christer stops eating his Churchkhela and I put down my tumbler of Chacha. Its ‘Gigantic’ by Pixies. Dinamo Tbilisi are for some reason walking on to the pitch to the debut single from Pixies.
Christer looks at me and says “that‘s Gigantic” and I nod. It is one of the weirdest things I’ve heard in this increasingly wonderful country. I have heard nothing but folk music for three days and then from out of nowhere I’m hearing ‘Gigantic’ played to about 10000 people on a balmy Wednesday night in Tbilisi through a crackly PA system. It still sounds marvellous.
The football is awful Dinamo Tbilisi win the game 3 Nil thanks to the efforts of a Brazillan veteran and a youngster who Nikolai calls ‘the Georgian Messi’.
Oh and at half time, Dinamo Tbilisi come out to this
I Wanna Be Your Dog – Iggy Pop and The Stooges (1969, Elektra Records)