Matt Bianco at the International Jazz Festival Bansko (Bulgaria) and Nisville Jazz Festival (Serbia). / by Elaine Crouch


So last Thurs I set the alarm for 4:30am to make an 8am flight from Heathrow to Sofia in Bulgaria.We eventually arrived in the winter ski resort of Bansko (I’d actually been skiing here before) around 6pm at a hotel rated 5* (described by one of our entourage as ‘70s council estate chic). There was a jazz festival going on a mile down the road, but no-one around to give us any info or timings other than an indecipherable program in Bulgarian. So we took the boring option of dinner and a drink at the hotel. It was still hot so drinks by the pool were nice, albeit with a speaker in every plant pot playing low grade library smooth jazz….

On Friday we had a midday soundcheck in a pleasant open air town square (it was roasting hot) and the local crew were very amenable and capable. I stayed on with Mark Reilly for a press conference like a scene with the president out of Homeland (interpreters and all that!) although the questions weren’t so challenging….

Our show was scheduled for 10:15, but the previous act overran massively and we went on very late. The show was great. The fact it was filmed for TV and that we hadn’t played for a while kept us on our toes - the vibe was excellent although when it’s being recorded you’re always conscious of the mistakes! The crowd was good and enthusiastic.

It was late by the time we got back to the hotel, and we had to leave at 8am the next morning.

The Bulgarian-Serbian border is known for being a drag, but 4.5 hours! Our 310km journey from Bansko to Nis took 10 hours! And it was killer hot. Mercifully we had aircon in the van.

When we arrived in Nis, we were greeted by a nice young girl (turned out to be only 16 years old) who had been entrusted with managing our stay. We were told that we had to go immediately to the soundcheck, 2 min walk away. So without any chance to recoup, we walked 20 min to the gig, carrying our things in the heat. Once we were there, we sat listening to another band soundcheck for 30 mins in a hot, sticky, noisy tent and had a warm beer. Our soundcheck went reasonably, but there were a few technical issues. We were keen to get some food (we’d had nothing all day and it was now 7pm) so we were taken another 2 min walk that took 20 mins to a local restaurant, which sadly was terrible. Greasy soup, salty dry chicken and cold chips. And very ropey wine. So we got out of there as fast as possible to have an hour at the hotel before having to trundle back to the gig.

Again the previous act overran and our 11.15pm show was more like 12:30am. We were all so tired it was an auto-pilot job - in front of about 8000 people and again televised.

Afterwards, everyone else had returned to the hotel bracing themselves for a 7am leave, when Mila (our host) told me and Martin Shaw that our departure time had been moved forward to 5am. This was 2am and we were still at the gig. We doubted we could get that message to the others, who’d left already. Also I expressed concern that this would be terrible if the driver was late……

So after 2 hours sleep we were up and ready to leave. The driver wasn't there. He had overslept....

We were still so early at the border (which we had to cross again to get back to Sofia airport) that it was relatively quick this time. That meant we arrived at the airport about 10am for our 2:20pm flight.

It was fun bumping into the David Dower Trio at Sofia airport. Other than that just an awful lot of hanging around. Eventually got home around 5:30pm UK time on the Sunday evening utterly exhausted. Oh the glamour!