PASSPORT: SLAVA GRIGORYAN

You know you're travelling rough when the love of your life can't sit beside you on the plane but has to ride in the hold
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The Independent Travel
I was just four years old when I left Kazakhstan for Australia, so I only remember some vague events. I don't recall being sad, rather that it was quite fun to be getting on all these trains and leaving for an unknown destination. We went from Kazakhstan to Russia then into Italy where, after five months, we were finally allowed to go to Australia. I've never been back. The country is just getting on its feet, especially in terms of the arts, and I'd love to play there now.

I started playing the guitar when I was seven and touring when I was 14. Three of my first tours outside Australia were to Japan, which I go back to whenever I can. The level of musical appreciation there that is hard to find anywhere else. I'm also a fan of traditional Japanese music and the big, summer events are incredible; you have these guys playing drums the size of double-decker buses.

I don't really have a favourite part of Australia but Sydney is a spectacular city and I love the isolation and the beauty of Perth. I enjoyed living in London but when I wasn't working I found it hard to relax. That was one of the reasons that I moved back to Australia. I missed the sense of space and the quiet.

When I first came to Europe I spent six months in Spain. I studied in Alicante. It is such a touristy town but it seemed that a third of the people you passed had classical guitars in their hands. Alicante is the home of Jose Tomas, one of the great guitar teachers. I also spent quite a bit of time in Barcelona with friends. I love the city as it reminds me of Melbourne and certain areas of Sydney. There is a real fusion of different kinds of people and food.

I once spent a week shopping for guitars in Granada. By chance I heard of a party in Sacra Monte, in the hills where the gypsies live. When I arrived there was a concert-cum-party going on with a Finnish violinist playing a Bach recital and gypsies playing flamenco. So I took my guitar out and played as well. Often these experiences that are not "proper gigs" are the most important to me.

Another great Spain experience was in 1993 when I toured with a local Melbourne mandolin orchestra. In Morillo, we played in a grand old run- down cathedral and the concert was completely free so there were about 1,500 people in the audience. Afterwards the whole town threw a party for us. We sat at a long table and the mayor went around serving the orchestra soup. All the village girls who were studying flamenco came out and put on a performance for us. It was a mixture of people, from 10-year-olds to their great-grandparents.

I never really travel with more than two guitars and I always have problems taking them on planes. Many airlines now won't let you pay for an extra seat for your instrument as you can't strap it in properly. So you have to put them in the hold and they can easily end up damaged. This happened to the one I bought in Granada. I have repaired it and it sounds OK but the spark, the character, has gone.

Unfortunately, being a guitarist, I'm often pulled over. A guitar case and a big bag of marijuana go hand in hand for many customs officials. Now I get around being stopped by being careful how I dress. Travelling in a shirt and a jacket often does the trick.

Slava Grigoryan will be playing music from his new album, 'Another Night in London' (Sony), today at the WOMAD Festival in Reading.

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