22 September 2017
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Plovdiv State Orchestra and Choir
conducted by LEVON MANUKYAN

'Sounds of The Ages 2017'

Roman Theater, Plovdiv, 

22 September 2017

words by Vassil Varbanov, translated by Nasso Ruskov, photo: Elena Nenkova

Just as I'm about to sit down and begin writing this report, I burst into yet another bout of hearty laughter...

Stories often begin by stating that what you are about to read "happened by accident"...

This is not one of those stories.  

There was nothing accidental about "Devin Townsend Project & Orchestra at the Plovdiv Roman Theatre."

The idea came to us in September 2014 while PARADISE LOST were in Plovdiv to perform on the centuries-old stage. Then, twelve months ago, on the morning after KATATONIA'S epic show at the hallowed venue, operation "Bring the crazy Canuck to the Roman Theatre" was a go and the real work began in earnest. 

However you add it up, the bottom line is that it took three years of hard work to make a 3 1/2 hour show happen, but WHAT AN UNFORGETTABLE SHOW it turned out to be! We even managed to get it filmed for release on Blu-ray and DVD! 

22 September 2017

6pm - Roman Theatre doors open. Almost immediately fans begin pouring inside the venue from all directions - a mad dash for the front seats ensues. 

We go backstage to see Devin and find him in his dressing room, in what seems to be a contemplative mood. That’s because even though he only had a mere three days (of grueling 8 hour sessions) to get acquainted with Levon Manukyan’s orchestrations of his music and with the orchestra itself, rehearsals went very well, everything clicked and so instead of apprehensive, Devin is now confident and optimistic about the show. 

Still, his body language gives him away – the bald headed genius is soon gripped by feverish excitement and was raring to get out there and play because he simply lives for his music! “This is beginning to sound like a solemn epitaph”, I think to myself, but just then I see Devin darting towards the stage behind conductor Levon Manukyan who has to be in position first. In a flash they appear out front, bathed in spotlights, greeted by a deafening roar from the 3,000 capacity crowd! 

8 pm – Devin opens proceedings with a lengthy no-nonsense speech which is basically his version of the Oscar thank yous:

"I want to get this over with now, so that there's less talking during the show, although knowing me that's easier said than done..."

He then goes on to thank each and every member of the DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT, his manager Andy Farrow and Vassil Varbanov for making it all happen.

More rapturous applause greets the introduction of The Plovdiv Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir with conductor Levon Manukyan, whose “Tangra Mega Rock” yellow skull'n'bones t-shirt peeks out through his unbuttoned formal jacket.

The concert begins with a 60-minute set of fan-requested Townsend compositions orchestrated exclusively for tonight's show by Levon and pianist Georgi Miltyadov, who is the only one wearing white onstage, his suit lending a Las Vegas vibe to proceedings. 

Devin meanwhile, is playing and singing his heart out! We know he can play like a demigod, but the man is also a truly incredible vocalist! 

The Roman Theatre is a sea of flags from all corners of the globe - Australia, Canada, The Netherlands, Scotland, Wales - a truly international gathering of love for our hero! Strapping young Devin, meanwhile, owns the stage and has the audience in the palm of his hand, which, judging from their ecstatic reaction to everything he and the band do, is exactly where they have always dreamed to be! 

This event has brought about rock tourism on a scale not seen before in Bulgaria. Thousands of fans have descended upon Plovdiv, enjoying its lovely restaurants, bars and the beautiful Old Quarter. Two days before the show, the streets remind one of the day Bulgaria played Sweden in Sofia and the capital was awash with the yellow of the visiting footie fans from Scandinavia, only this time, instead of replica tops, we witness a legion of various Devin Townsend related t-shirts – SYL, DTP, ZILTOID etc etc...Devin himself asked me if I hadn’t also seen any real aliens, to which I replied that he’d be better equipped to recognize them. 

Next up, the Satanic swing of 'Bad Devil' and the entire Tangra crew forms a swaying row, as if dancing at a wedding…or an enemy’s funeral...

The Roman Theatre is a heaving cauldron of pyro and fireworks, as Devin and the crowd scream “FIREEE” in unison during 'Simple Lullaby' and 'Deep Peace'….The applause is earth-shattering as 3,000 people almost levitate! 

photo: Facebook

I won’t even try to describe what makes this show so incredibly special. Everyone who was there saw and felt it. The rest, of course, is a matter of opinion and taste. I must admit though, even I didn’t expect it to be this epic! 

9:05 pm – a 25 minute break to rearrange the stage, during which some of Europe’s music press and record biz elite mingle backstage, discussing what they have witnessed thus far. A top UK promoter inquires how on earth we can put on a show with such massive production on a hilltop without freight elevators! My answer is a pointed sigh…

As Devin’s record company people give me a warm friendly hug, I decide this isn’t the time or place to tell them that I thought the bass player missed a beat or two, or that I can’t hear much of the orchestra, let alone the choir. I am, however, well aware that this is all necessary for the sake of a top quality recording for the Blu-ray and DVD versions of the show. It’s being filmed with 12 cameras + 2 go pro and director Paul Green has already done this for Paradise Lost, when they played the Roman Theatre

My suspicions regarding the sacrifices made in the name of a better video release are reinforced by the fact that the people who look most pleased backstage are Devin's record company representatives. This is further explained to me and confirmed by sound engineer extraordinaire Phil Brown when Marillion play the same venue a couple of days later. 

There's a deluge of photos and video clips on social media with the most common reaction from around the globe being:"I'd give my right arm to be there!" and "God, I hope this gets released on DVD!". Well, we can guarantee the latter will happen. 

9:30 pm - it's SHOWTIME again and the band are back onstage, this time sans orchestra, to perform the legendary 'Ocean Machine' album in its entirety, marking the 20th anniversary of its release. 

Bass duties are now in the hands of John "Squid" Harder, who appeared as Squid Vicious in Devin's solo debut ‘Punky Brüster – Cooked on Phonics’. Due to his medical condition Squid plays sitting down and from what we gathered, this could, sadly, be his last live performance. His playing is flawless. Our crew carefully help him to and from the stage, as a few tears are also shed for the great man...

The show is now in full flow and Townsend is an effervescent dynamo, a musical berserker - a state he remains in for the entire three and a half hours of this live extravaganza. Walking across the central tier of the Roman Theatre, I run into some of our more enlightened compatriots. Some give me props for the radio interview, others express their delight at Devin's highly entertaining TV appearance on one of Bulgaria's prime time talk shows. There are also those who simply high-five me. 

11:30 pm - the show ends. 

We play Monthy Python's 'Always Look On The Bright Side of Life' over the PA (I nicked this from Iron Maiden about ten years ago) and the crowd sing along in full voice, reluctant to leave the venue. Devin's sound engineer, however, soon fades the Chuck Berry hit selection programmed in the mix following 'Bright Side....' as it's now time for the venue to be cleared, so that the crew can get to work dismantling all the gear and lights, which are to be transported back down that steep incline

Backstage everyone's in party mode, with beer and champagne flowing freely. Time for the musicians to unwind. Time for the roadies to hump gear. Scores of fans are waiting to meet and chat with Devin. He won't be long. 

From the merch stall we hear the rustle of money being counted. All the merch - save for a lone tank top - has sold out! That's 400 t-shirts and 200 posters! No wonder the tour manager has a huge grin on his face. 

I make Devin say one of the most melodious Bulgarian words - "potnik" (tank top, vest) - and we give each other a big hug, because I won't be around to see him to the airport the next morning at 7 am.

"Vassil, you're completely off your head!" - he says and I know what he means, although he is a far bigger nutcase than me. . 

"Isn't it strange that people like us, who are so honest and genuine in what we do, are looked upon as weird and crazy by the rest of the world!" - laughs Townsend in that inimitable, contagious manner of his. 

His only slight regret is that we coudln't shoot him out of a cannon and over the audience, which he was really up for. Alas, experts from the local circus infromed us that it's been decades since this particular number was last performed in Europe and in any case, the Roman Theatre isn't a wide enough venue to allow such a stunt. 

On this note, I leave Devin to bask in glory and feel the love from his fans, friends and colleagues, while I join up with our crew (already dismantling the stage), to oversee and coordinate the "load out" of the DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT's gear and instruments, brought here  from the UK by TIR trucks. 

The band is due to fly to Tel Aviv for their first ever show there, on Tuesday, 26 September. 

"Careful at Israeli customs boys, you know they're likely to give you the rubber glove treatment" I quip and we all laugh, although theirs is a more pensive laughter. 

Meanwhile our band of brothers is already hard at work setting the stage for Marillion. The tour manager insists on taking a photo of the entire Tangra Mega Rock crew, claiming he'll write a tech review for a specialist mag. We'll see about that. 

Some of you may recall that Devin's Bulgarian adventure began last December, when he came over to see the venue and do some filming. This time round we had the pleasure of his company for three full days. Devin isn't really cuckoo though - he has a restless mind, that's all. He's constantly thinking. About anything and everything. A real live wire who’s imagination knows no bounds! 

He can perhaps be diagnosed as hyperactive. He's constantly playing word association with anyone who happens to be around. I don't always get what he’s saying and when that happens I ask him to explain, which also helps improve my English. This much is clear: the man simply loves puns! 

Any time he's not holding a guitar, our exuberant guest can be seen playing around on his phone with various funny face effects or other such image modifying apps. He'll even stop halfway through lunch or dinner to amuse himself thus. 

Probably how Devin sees us...

Mr. Townsend, you see, likes larking about and does it all the time - something Bulgarian TV celebrity Slavi Trifonov was to experience first-hand when he invited the Canadian on his hugely popular bTV talk show. The host looked completely baffled throughout the interview and is most likely still wondering what hit him.

These people aren’t like you and me, my friend”, a beaming Devin reckons as we walk off the set after his live acoustic performance of 'Let It Roll'

I inform him that he's practically completed a Grand Slam of appearances on all the major Bulgarian TV stations. 

Prior to the press conference at Plovdiv City Hall on the day of the show, Heavy Devy asks me somewhat sheepishly if he could have a Tangra Mega Rock t-shirt, as he would like to meet the press decked out in our colours. How could we refuse! 

The fact is he knows everyone at Tangra by name and has done since his first visit here in December when he even joined our street team on a cold winter night, helping us put up stickers and posters for the Tangra Mega Mullets Lemmy Tribute. We actually watched some videos from that very show earlier on. 

22 September 2017

Noon - the press conference begins with a round of applause for Devin. This isn't your average group of journos either. These chaps know their music and they know Devin's music and history inside out. Plovdiv's finest are here: Velin Stanev and Lubo Stoychev have been Townsend aficionados ever since first hearing him sing on Steve Vai's 'Sex & Religion' back in 1993 and they've brought the paraphenalia to prove it too. 

Krasi Panayotov, meanwhile, looks exhausted, having spent two whole days outside the Philharmonic Hall, listening to Devin and the orchestra rehearse. 

Those who came to the press conference expecting a straighforward Q&A session, are in for a shock. That's not to say Devin’s being difficult or rude. He happily answers everyone's questions, but regularly strays off topic, engaging  in long digressions, impassioned rants or charming and funny anecdotes. He basically talks about whatever the fuck he wants, without actually ignoring any questions.

After the press conference he stays behind for quite some time, signing autographs, posing for photos, chatting to fans and signing a ton of cds, albums and other paraphenalia. 

Afterwards everyone agreed that you won’t meet a kinder and more radiant person than Devin in this or any other life. Nor one as cheerful! Still, in light of recent lead singer trends in rocknroll, I felt it my duty to ask him in private whether he feels susceptible to impusive suicide acts and am happy to report that no such idea has ever crossed his mind, nor is it ever likely to. 

Next on Devin's itinerary are two more interviews, starting with Bulgarian National Television (their morning show) and followed by the country's biggest metal TV show "Fraktura". Upon its conclusion host V. Katincharov gets Devin to pose for a photo which he does with all his guests, no exceptions. Then we're off to prepare for the show. 

Some autograph hunters ambush us outside the municipal hall. Quite obviously personal hygiene isn't high on their list of priorities. Not fazed, Devin stops for a chat, signs their stuff and leaves them beaming with joy, if not cleanliness. 

And no, he's not nuts - he simply loves what he does for a living! Take, for example, the orchestra rehearsals - both days he was there an hour and a half before everyone else. We made sure no one bothered him during that time and when we l;ooked, he had a guitar in his hands instead of a phone. Him and our famous conductor clicked instantly, like the two phenomenal professionals they are. 

Levon later informs me that Devin invited him to collaborate on a future Townsend symphonic project, which Mr. Manukyan told him he would be happy to take part in, but it needs to be done through our management team (haha), so we'll see how that pans out. 

"Devin is an incredible musician. How on earth does he come up with all that amazing stuff he composes? He's also a really wonderful person." - is Levon's diagnosis. 

photo: Martina Miltenova

Ultimately, it all boils down to a love of music and devotion to it. Every member of the Tangra crew will tell you their own little Devin story and they're never boring.  

Mila StNv, who's closest to Townsend and his entourage for the duration of their Bulgarian adventure, claims she had Devin singing old Georgi Minchev rocknroll classics in the minibus on the way to the venue. Says she has the video to prove it too. 

As we were making our quick getaway from the Slavi Trifonov show in my car, Devin turned to me and asked: "Vassil. which was the first band you fell in love with as a kid?"

"Van Halen" is my immediate answer and it takes me less than a minute to plug a speaker into an ipad and have FAIR WARNING blasting at full volume. Devin joins in, playing air drums and bass. We both hoin Diamond Dave on vocals! Later we listen to '5150' and even 'Josephina' from the Cherone-era, on my insistence. After that we reacquaint ourselves with Steve Vai's guitar work on PIL's 1986 album...


Devin takes us back to the sound of The Doobie Brothers to much grumbling from the back seat where his guitar tech Nick and cameraman Zimm keep nagging us for put on Fear Factory instead. It doesn't take them too long to convince us, but we enter Plovdiv to the sound of Ministry's 'N.W.O.'

Actually it should have been Right Said Fred, who appeared mix out of nowhere, but Devin convinced me it would be bad karma to enter the city with 'You're My Mate' blasting from the speakers. .

And so, Devin Townsend's first ever show in Bulgaria is now historical fact. My 11-year old son Philip is perhaps the only fan feeling slightly disappointed, as he was expecting to see his favourite pink Poozers from the Royal Albert Hall DVD march and dance at the Roman Theatre. Alas, they belong to an entirely different show. Kids are a big and important part of Devin's life.

"I try not to use the F word in front of my son. Most of the time, Ifeel like an 11/12 year old myself" he assures me one morning as we sip cucumber water. 

Things happen for a reason. Still, most people would tell you the world belongs to adults. I actually know people who judge artistic merit by what net worth…

Devin Townsend doesn’t strike me as someone who can’t afford to pay his bills. He does, on the other hand, have a wealth of followers. Some of the people in the audience at the Roman Theatre had flown over 10 000 miles to see him.    

Out of the 3,000 tickets we sold, not more than 800 were bought locally, with just over a hundred of those in Plovdiv itself. 

The Devin Townsend phenomenon proved very beneficial for the local economy. Here I will copy/paste a quote from the title page: “This event has brought about rock tourism on a scale not seen before in Bulgaria. Thousands of fans have descended upon Plovdiv, enjoying its lovely restaurants, bars and the beautiful Old Quarter. Two days before the show, the streets remind one of the day Bulgaria played Sweden in Sofia and the capital was awash with the yellow of the visiting footie fans from Scandinavia, only this time, instead of replica tops, we witness a legion of various Devin Townsend related t-shirts – SYL, DTP, ZILTOID etc etc...”

Our good friend Ivaylo “Art” Manev told us that on the night of the show, his rock bar was Bezisten bursting at the seams with tourists till 4 a.m. 

This international fanbase is what made Townsend’s show a success. Without them we may have seen a repeat of what happened to the scheduled Manfred Mann’s Earth Band concert, which was cancelled due to lack of public interest – only 370 were sold. 

Will rumours of DTP’s awesomeness spread like wildfire throughout our land after all his unforgettable appearances on prime time media?

Everything in Bulgaria is tits up. The people who carry the punk spirit for example, are those who insist on rules. At the “top” it’s mostly ignorant fraudsters…” I explain to Devin and it gets him thinking, probably about writing a bombastic opera with a tragic ending…

And before you ask – yes, he likes Bulgaria – the nature, the wine and the women. And he knows about rakia. He does appreciate his Bulgarian audience, a lot. Plus he’s probably the only musician of his calibre who would take the time to come here nine months before his show, to do a 20-minute film promo for it for worldwide use. Not to mention dressing up in traditional costumes and headgear…

Here I would like to thank my accomplice in all this madness – Andy Farrow from Northern Music

I don’t suppose any of this will have a significant impact on the geopolitical and cultural scheme of things here. Still, all of us at Tangra Mega Rock, would like to think we’ve contributed a little something in making Bulgaria just a little bit better. In any case, we can all look forward to another worldwide release from the series of special concerts filmed in our country. 

And finally, I would like to read out – in Michael Ehrmantraut/Better Call Saul style – the names of all those who have and always will be with me in the trenches:  

Andrey Vladov, Aleksander Boyadzhiev, Mony Panchev, Vasko RaykovAlexandra Nenkova, Pepi BodilovMarin BankovNikola Stoynov, Velislav Stoyanov, Iliana BoychevaAlexander Obretenov Nasso RuskovMila Stoyanova, Martina MiltenovaMartin Stoyanov, Kossio StanchevBobi AtanassovElena NenkovaStephan Popov-Purcy, Daniela Filipova and Vassil Varbanov!