Thursday, 27 August 2015

Rock In Athens 85

What we're going to do right here is go back. Back into time. 30 years in fact. A "Throwback Thursday" kind of thing. 30 years ago, In July 26 and 27 of 1985, the first major rock festival took place in Greece. Rock concerts in Greece until then had a very short history. The first one was in 1967 by The Rolling Stones which was disrupted by the police. 4 days later there was a coup and a military junta took place which lasted for 7 years. Because of that, the next rock concert took place 13 years later in 1980 by The Police. From that moment on, bands and artists started playing in Greece, including The Boomtown Rats, Roxy Music and, in what is believed by many to be the greatest rock concert at that time, Rory Gallagher.
Rock In Athens though was the first festival to take place featuring 8 different artists spread over two days. The correct line up, in order of appearance was this:

DAY 1 (26 July 1985)
The Stranglers
Depeche Mode
Culture Club

DAY 2 (27 July 1985)
Talk Talk
The Cure
Nina Hagen
The Clash

I am stressing the word "correct" here because most blog posts dedicated to this festival are listing a wrong line up, copied from the initial festival poster which was wrong. Makes you wonder if these bloggers were actually there... This poster also mentions "Musical Brigades" (Mousikes Taxiarchies), a Greek band who refused to appear. 
However, by searching through the internet, I was able to find a lot of visual and audio material from the festival, partly due to the fact that most of the festival was filmed and was broadcast (in... installments) by Greek state television (ERT). Depeche Mode and The Clash refused to be filmed so there are no videos of them. Somebody in the audience though did record the Depeche Mode set, so there is audio material from that. I don't know if the Nina Hagen set was taped, but I only managed to find backstage footage of her from the television documentary. Finally I managed to find only one (1) photo of The Clash from that night. (While researching this post I found more, but still no visuals from Depeche Mode).

Day 1 was therefore opened by Telephone, a French band, quite popular in their country at that time. This had probably something to do with the fact that the main organizers was a French company ("Nouvelles Frontieres"). At that time, I knew only one of their songs which was featured in a Greek compilation LP (and they didn't play it). Before they came "officially" on stage, they were soundchecking in front of the crowd which was mostly indifferent causing one of them to shout "You treat us like shit, and we will do the same to you".

 Next though were The Stranglers. Back then they had a "bad boys" reputation. In fact they were scheduled to appear in Athens 3 years before but they cancelled because they were arrested in France (or something like that). Theirs was a great set consisting of new (at that time) and old songs which were the crowd favourites. All three singles from their then current album "Aural Sculpture" were played ("No Mercy", "Skin Deep" and "Let Me Down Easy"), those from their previous one "Feline" ("Midnight Summer Dream" and "European Female") and older classics (like "Nice N' Sleazy" featuring a long instrumental intro that made it sound like a 12'' version). We had a great time even though the band were insulting the audience between songs (they told a particularly nasty joke about how you can tell the difference between Greek boys and all other boys which I will definitely NOT repeat here). Thankfully the level of English among the concertgoers was not that good so they did not understand the jokes anyway. Unfortunately The Stranglers' bad reputation caught up with them again, when we noticed black smoke rising from outside the venue. We did not pay that much attention inside but we learned later that they were riots between the police and people who wanted to get in for free (That was a common occurence in rock concerts in Greece at that time). 
A few cars were burned and they did let some people in at the end something which was to prove catastrophic when the time came for Culture Club to appear. But more of that later...
Next up were Depeche Mode who back then were more electronic than they are now. A very tight set with lots of hits the highlights of which were "Shake The Disease", "Blasphemous Rumours", "Everything Counts" and of course "Just Can't Get Enough" as the finale where Dave Gahan was rubbing the mike stand between his legs while many people were claiming that he was singing "Just can't get it up" instead... I was worried about how the crowd was going to react when they realized that Martin Gore was wearing a black leather dress. They were probably confused and a bit perplexed but there was no indication of what was going to happen next...
Just at the stroke of midnight Culture Club came on stage. And then all hell broke loose! The crowd started throwing  water bottles, wood planks and rocks at them, specifically aiming for Boy George. After his initial surprise he started making fun of the situation: "If I wasn't a lady I would have shown you my ass!" he told them. Meanwhile the bass player was playing bass with one hand only, using his other one to give the middle finger to the audience. I still remember the Kipper Williams cartoon in the next issue of Smash Hits where Boy George is pictured trying to dodge the stones while holding an English-Greek dictionary and shouting "ouchos! ouchos!". There was also a Sun or Daily Mirror front page the folowing Monday "Fans stone Boy George". To their credit the band completed their set (no encore of course) since there were many people among the audience who had come to see specifically them, singing the hits like "Karma Chameleon" and an amazing rendition of "Black Money".

It was later said that the organizers shouldn't have mixed up bands like The Stranglers and Culture Club in the line up. Greek rock fans have a long tradition of slagging off pop bands, or those that are not deemed "rock enough" for them, but this was probably not the complete truth in this case. It was clearly a homophobic reaction. Greek society back in the 80's was not very tolerant towards different sexual orientations (and towards other things but this is clearly a different discussion). As another blogger has said, perhaps the "revolutionary liberal young rock Greek crowd" of the 80's wasn't as revolutionary or as liberal as they claimed to be. I still believe that Culture Club should have played a stand-alone concert, on their own.
That was all for day 1, day 2 was much more peaceful. First on stage were Talk Talk who had a big hit in Europe at that time with "It's My Life", but they were still not very successful in their home country, the UK. My favourite song though (and probably the highlight of their set) was "Such A Shame".
 Next up were The Cure and what can I say, I feel privileged to have seen them at that stage in their career. Probably every song in their set was a highlight, where do I start? "A Forest", "The Walk", "Let's Go To Bed". My favourite was "A Forest" though probably because a local band consisting of some school friends of mine used to play it in their set.
Next up was Nina Hagen. This was more of a show rather than a gig. From what I remember she had come to Greece before, probably for a concert of a TV appearance, I can't remember which. At that time I only knew "Universal Radio" the single from her then current album "Nina Hagen In Ekstasy" as did most of the crowd who were singing along with its "talking to myself" hook line (and urging her to "take her clothes off" throughout her set). That album though did feature a very nice cover of "Spirit In The Sky" which would, in the following year become a huge hit for Doctor And The Medics.
After the Nina Hagen set was over I took a walk around the arena. There were several people sleeping and others had lit fires, all waiting for the main event: The Clash. If I said before I was privileged to have seen The Cure what can I say about The Clash? And as I found out years later this was the last ever Clash appearance. I am proud to have witnessed such an important part of history!
It was 1:15 am when The Clash came on stage. Mick Jones had long ago left the band but Joe Strummer was there and their sound had gone back to their punk beginnings. I remember they played a punk rock ultra-fast version of "Rock The Casbah" and they did NOT play their commercial hit, what most people were waiting to hear "Should I Stay Or Should I Go".
When it was all over it was around 3am and I had to go back home and catch only a wee bit of sleep, since early next morning I was leaving for a working holiday in Corfu. When I came back in the autumn The Clash released a new single "This Is England" and an album "Cut The Crap" but as a live band they took their last bow in the early morning hours of the 28th of July 1985 in Athens...


The Stranglers
01. Nice 'N' Sleazy
02. Hanging Around
03. Bitching
04. I Feel Like a Wog
05. Uptown
06. Dead Ringer
07. No Mercy
08. Souls
09. Skin Deep
10. Let Me Down Easy
11. Golden Brown
12. Midnight Summer Dream
13. European Female
14. Strange Little Girl
15. Down in the Sewer
16. The Raven

Depeche Mode
01. Master and Servant (Intro)
02. Something to Do
03. If You Want
04. People Are People
05. Leave in Silence
06. Shake the Disease
07. Blasphemous Rumours
08. Told You So
09. Master and Servant
10. Everything Counts
11. Photographic
12. Just Can't Get Enough

Culture Club
01. I'll Tumble 4 Ya
02. It's a Miracle
03. Heaven's Children
04. God Thank You Woman
05. Time (Clock of the Heart)
06. (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher
      (Jackie Wilson cover)
07. Karma Chameleon
08. Gusto Blusto
09. Black Money
10. Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?
11. Victims

Talk Talk
01. Talk Talk
02. It's My Life
03. Tomorrow Started
04. My Foolish Friend
05. Does Caroline Know?
06. Dum Dum Girl
07. Such A Shame

The Cure
01. The Baby Screams
02. Play for Today
03. Secrets
04. Kyoto Song
05. The Hanging Garden
06. In Between Days
07. Primary
08. Cold
09. Let's Go to Bed
10. The Walk
11. One Hundred Years
12. Give Me It
13. A Forest
14. Three Imaginary Boys
15. 10:15 Saturday Night
16. Killing an Arab
17. Forever

Nina Hagen
01. Ekstacy Drive
02. New York, New York
03. African Reggae
04. My Way (Claude François cover)
05. Beat It
06. Carmen
07. The Ballroom Blitz (The Sweet cover)

The Clash
01. North and South
02. Straight to Hell
03. (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais
04. Janie Jones
05. Safe European Home
06. Hate & War
07. The Guns of Brixton
08. Pressure Drop
09. The Magnificent Seven
10. Bankrobber
11. Police on My Back (The Equals cover)
12. Johnney Too Bad
13. Brand New Cadillac (Vince Taylor and His Playboys cover)
14. White Riot
15. I Fought the Law (The Crickets cover)

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