Tallinn is a sweet, gentile town on the outskirts of Europe. Far enough removed from the West that is has avoided a great deal of bad architecture. And between the old town and the old Soviet warehouses it has enough to drown out the occasional billboard. When Sunday comes it is perfectly serene.
In a restaurant drinking Georgian wine - no, me neither, but it's good - a group of bald fat men in puffer jackets walk in. The type you only really see at Europa League matches. Big thick eyebrows, skinheads with little man bag – but instead of football chants its Georgian folk and a male voice choir. So when one sits down next to me I ask if he knows who he's just performed to. He doesn't and I point to Peter Jenner Pink Floyd's manager who's sitting across the room. That the man has seen every Floyd show and has just applauded my new friend. "Oh, I love Pink Floyd, they're my favourite band." The singing continues and Mari Kalkun who's sat opposite encourages some oratory folk songs. And the men, who are not naturally music-minded, slowly join in. It's a moment of pure, easy music where the synthetics of a conference are lost in the snowstorm outside.
The highlight of the event was to be found in the classical side with Páll Ragnar Pálsson; the Icelandic composer unveiled a knockout chamber piece of warping progressions and immaculate metre. The work was designed for a similar event in Amsterdam but it never materialised. Left in a drawer, neglected, it was only when Estonian Music Days heard of the piece's existence did it finally find its performance. The complexity of it was its ability to create rolling emotive sound without falling back on tired symbolism and familiar structure. 'Undir yfirráðum kyrrðar' (tr. 'Supremacy of Peace') performed by the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra.
There is good music to be had and Barry Andrewsin Disko is another favourite. Signed to world beating Tampere label Fonal, this new signing is the lofi set up of Jukka Herva. Balancing between the grit and the glistening he's making incredibly fluid music and could find cozy shelf space next to Islaja. But all this is really beside the point. A delicate backdrop, much like the April snowfall.
I'm fortunate enough to be invited on export trips, and the reason I keep saying "yes" is because these events are an education. An opportunity to see the world and speak to people I'd never normally be allowed in a room with. At a Music Finland event in collaboration with the Finnish Embassy conversation turns to Eurovision as the guy who judges the Lithuanian entrants is talking about it to a small entourage. Although there's music on, the real excitement is these conversations. So when people complain about the music industry talking at the bar and not watching the bands it's because the conversations are, broadly speaking, better than the music.
So the advice is that if you love stories get yourself out. Now on the plane home and as I type this, and I'm not exaggerating for literary effect here, the guy next to me is explaining how under Soviet rule he drank tonnes of cheap champagne. Because it was coming from Odessa. "They've got delicious grapes, red and white, sweet semi sweet, dry, you know, they are very, very good…" I'm typing this live.
This effect is becoming lost at festivals because their decreasingly diverse crowds are becoming increasingly reverent to the bands. On these trips it's possible to learn more about the world than a year in school. And Tallinn Music Week is great because of its grace and tenderness. Qualities that echo out of its organiser Helen Sildna and through all involved.
Words by Samuel Breen
Photo by Si Hawkins