The history of mikelangelo and the black sea gentlemen
Whilst fleeing the purges of the Tartars across the Russian steppes, the young Mikelangelo was separated from his family. It happened this way…during a perilous night crossing of the upper Dnieper River, Mikelangelo was washed overboard by the turbulent flow. His family could not but continue their flight into the west, in the certain knowledge that Mikelangelo had drowned.
Miraculously, Mikelangelo survived the conflagration, dreaming he had been saved by a beautiful mermaid, and was washed up hundreds of miles down river on the shores of the Black Sea. There, still unconscious, he was found by Carpathian monks who took him to their isolated monastery and slowly nursed him back to health. After a year at the monastery, Mikelangelo grew restless and set off in search of his family.
In the city of Odessa he met the handsome and dissolute Baron, broken hearted genius of the Kontrabass.
Photo by Mick Vovers
They immediately formed a strong friendship and Mikelangelo affectionately named the Baron ‘Babyface’ in memory of his youngest brother ‘little Ivan’. A lost weekend became a lost month, then a lost year, and early one morning after a night of carousing and whoring, the Baron von Babyface and Mikelangelo stumbled into a café on the Bosporus, where they encountered a man who styled himself The Great Muldavio. Muldavio, a descendent from a long line of taxidermists to the Ottomans and quite a fine clarinet player, agreed to join the expanding entourage and informed the other two that they could not possibly do without the services of his old friend Senor ‘Handsome’, a renowned performer of the Polish music hall, currently appearing at the Royal Theatre in Romania.
Photo by Eryca Green
The three made a fruitless journey to Bucharest where Senor Handsome turned down their offer to join the band. ‘They love me here. I have just finished a record breaking season of my one man musical “The Universe Weeps For Me”, why should i leave?’ he was reported to say.
The next day the disappointed trio boarded a train to Istanbul. They shared a carriage with a richly dressed woman in a large hat who remained aloof until the train line reached the shores of the Black Sea, where she became suddenly animated and entreated them to play her a song. As the Gentlemen began their song, the woman produced a violin and played along in a style strange and captivating. She then began to sing in a baritone voice and, taking off her hat, was revealed to be none other than Senor Handsome! ‘Things suddenly became uncomfortable for me in Romania’ was all that he would say. I will join your band and we shall become Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen.’
Photo by Robert Guth
For decades the group toured Europe and Asia Minor receiving ovations and accolades. All was well until the sudden and tragic demise of the beloved Senor Handsome on the eve of the groups’ debut at the Kirov Opera, St. Petersburg. Though details remain shrouded in mystery, it is believed he was thrown from his horse while hastily leaving the residence of one of his many lovers…and in that awful moment it seemed that the Black Sea Gentlemen would be no more.
Despondent, the Gentlemen left St. Petersburg and made their way to the Bulgarian Black Sea town of Varna, hitting the drinking houses to drown their collective sorrow. It was in a particularly seedy gambling den, at some unfathomable hour, that the Gentlemen lost all their worldly possessions to a sly young Catalan Casanova named Rufino.
Photo by Mick Vovers
The inveterate gambler and confidence man was bemused at having won himself a piano accordion, a clarinet and a kontrabass, and announced, ‘I once swindled the devil himself for his infernal violin only to lose it in a card game a few days later, all I have left is the bow!’
Half mad with grief and drink, Mikelangelo then brought out the last thing the Gentlemen had, Senor Handsome’s violin, and placed it on the gambling table. Instantly, tears welled up in the eyes of Rufino and he began to shake quite uncontrollably. Calming himself with a walnut brandy, he opened the case, gently picked up the instrument and played a lament so heartrending that the whole room fell silent. He then cleared his throat, ‘my friends, this was once my brother’s violin, just last night I dreamed that he died, tell me this is not true.’ The Gentlemen all stared into the eyes of Rufino and saw that same fire that had danced in the eyes of Senor Handsome, and in that moment they knew that he too was a Black Sea Gentlemen.