AQSC Russian Night -
Over the years we have had some pretty interesting social events at Aquarius, but I have to say that Rodger Wheeler’s ‘Russian Night’ on Saturday 21 September delivered something just a little bit different. Rodger had organised a four course meal and a Balalaika Group for the entertainment. Now you might be forgiven for thinking this possibly sounded a bit naff but you would have been very wrong. By general consensus this was possibly one of the best social events at Aquarius ever.
Rodger always seems to go for the slightly different/quirky despite the organisational problems this inevitably brings. Rodger and Linda had seen the Balalaika group perform in Sunbury in 2012 and had talked to Bibs Ekkel, their leader, about performing at Aquarius. This wasn’t just any group. Bibs was a prima Balalaika soloist and one of the top masters of the instrument outside of Russia. He has entertained Royalty, and has an extensive repertoire ranging from cabaret to symphony hall and has performed in Russia, Poland, China, Britain the US and Canada.
Rodger had arranged for four performers to come to the club but in the event six turned up (at no additional cost). Five players and a singer, all in colourful traditional Russian peasant costumes.
During the prior week the new canvas marquee was erected over the quarter deck, the clubroom was cleared for entertainment and chairs and tables were set up on the quarter deck.
The evening started, as most do at the club, with a crowded bar. While the group set up, Zakuska (Russian hors d’oeuvre) were served to an audience which numbered some thirty five or so members. Shortly after, everyone was invited to take their seats in the clubroom and the musical part of the evening got underway.
The Balalaika is probably the most recognized of Russian folk instruments. To keep it simple the group played three different types ranging in size, and tone. They were accompanied by a guitarist (six string, not the traditional Russian seven string version), a domra and a singer. Two of which were his wife and son. The balalaika itself is a three stringed instrument, two gut and one steel. The gut strings are tuned together while the melody is played on the third steel string.
Bibs and his group played two sets with the main course of Beef/Mushroom Stroganoff with rice being served during the interval. They played a variety of traditional Russian balalaika music but also included many well recognised pieces which had been adapted for films such as Doctor Zhivago. This was accompanied by enthusiastic clapping, foot stamping and singing by the audience.
At one point Bibs took time out to explain about the instruments and demonstrated their (and his) versatility. Towards the end, shot glasses of Vodka were handed around and the evening, the performers and the audience were toasted in traditional Russian fashion. We resisted the temptation to smash the glasses afterwards. A variety of desserts and cheeses followed by coffee rounded off a very memorable evening.
The Russian Night was a somewhat unexpected evening. Many people had said they were unsure what to expect, however, no one left disappointed and it was still the focus of much conversation at the club the following day.
Many thanks are due to a variety of people who worked long and hard to ensure the Russian evening was a success. These included Linda Wheeler who was instrumental in the planning of the evening and the preparation of the Stroganoff. Diana Carpenter also helped with the food prep including mountains of savoury rice. Joan Walkden and Pat Irving, Helen Barnett and Jean Maracchi amongst others all worked to help prepare and serve the food on the night. Thanks also to Nigel and all the lads who turned up on Friday afternoon to erect the Marquee and prepare the clubhouse; and last but by no means least a huge thanks to Rodger whose vision the evening was. You did well. Very well. Thank you from us all.