Tuesday, 3 January 2023

A Very Special Christmas


My first experience of pop stars singing Christmas songs came in December 1984. It was then that Queen, Wham! and Band Aid all released Christmas singles. ("Thank God It's Christmas", "Last Christmas" and "Do They Know It's Christmas" respectively). In the UK charts Band Aid went to number 1, Wham! were stuck at number 2 (because of Band Aid) and Queen, well, with that abundance of popular Christmas singles that year stalled at number 21. There had been of course Christmas pop hits before that and I got acquainted with most of those that were popular in the UK by acquiring "NOW The Christmas Album" (part of the "NOW That's What I Call Music" series). But then, in 1987, something happened: "A Very Special Christmas" was released with all proceeds going to the Special Olympics. That's the album which brought to my attention - albeit in new versions - the classic Christmas pop songs, several of which had been featured in what was considered the ultimate Christmas pop album: "A Christmas Gift For You", aka "Phil Spector's Christmas Album".


That's where I got "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" (sung in the "rock" way, with emphasis on the first word, the same way that Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band sing it). Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band were in it as well, with "Merry Christmas Baby", which I already had as a B-Side of "War" the first single from the "Live 1975-85" box set. Other members of The E Street Band can be found on the album, namely Clarence Clemons and Roy Bittan playing on other songs. Artists from the Phil Spector Christmas album also make appearances such as Darlene Love who sings backing vocals on U2's cover of the song she herself had performed on the Phil Spector Christmas Album ("Christmas (Baby Please Come Home"). Bon Jovi were also in there with "Back Door Santa", however 5 years later that song was replaced with another from the same band, "I Wish Everyday Could Be Like Christmas". I haven't figured why this happened. Were perhaps the lyrics of "Back Door Santa" considered too seedy for a family Christmas album? Run DMC are also there with what was probably the first hip hop Christmas song, an original called "Christmas In Hollis". But one of the highlights of the album is "Silent Night" with haunting vocals by Stevie Nicks. What makes this version more amazing is something that you would have to refer to the liner notes to discover: The backing vocals by Robbie Nevil. You might of course had easily recognized his voice, since he had a hit earlier that year with "C'Est La Vie".


Since then there have been many more albums in that series (six more at first and then some 25th anniversary and special editions, plus a DVD). And from those sequels, I will single out "Oi To The World", an original by No Doubt, true to their ska/punk roots. 

Wednesday, 21 December 2022

Belle And Sebastian live in Athens September 2022

This was my first indoor concert in almost 3 years! I figured that since I was OK wearing a mask at outdoor gigs and since I had also been on a summer holiday a few days before, wearing a mask while on the ship and whenever I was indoors at a public place, I figured I could finally go to such a concert. It was, after all Belle And Sebastian. I had seen them back in the summer of 2015 in Ancona, at what was for me back then, a legendary concert and one of my top 5 live gigs ever, so I would have liked to see them again. In the last few years they had released an album that combined 3 EP's (How To Solve Our Human Problems), a soundtrack album ("Days Of The Bagnold Summer"), a live album during the lockdown ("What To Look For In Summer") and this year a brand new album ("A Bit Of Previous"). I had listened to all of these during the summer (I even watched the movie - The Days Of The Bagnold Summer) and so I was well prepared.
I set off for the venue immediately after work wearing my mask (which I wear during working hours anyway) and I arrived in time to catch a free place at the front and to the left of the stage). Support was provided by Amalia & The Architects, a Greek band and a welcome surprise (They even played a cover of "Blister In The Sun").


Then it was time for Stuart and his mates. It wasn't like 2015 and I didn't expect it to be like 2015 with the "special circumstances" under which we went to that gig, but it was, after all, Belle And Sebastian. It's all a matter of taste. In fact, a friend of mine who had seen them the first time they had come to Greece almost 20 years ago refused to come because they don't play the songs he wants to hear anymore. As far as I'm concerned I don't care which ones they play. "The Boy With The Arab Strap" is a sure thing and although there was no "The State I Am In" this time, or even anything from "Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance" which, in my opinion, is the best of their later albums, there were however many others to keep me happy (including "Dear Catastrophe Waitress").



One final thing I should mention, is that this was one more concert of those that we were promised for the summer of 2020 when everything was cancelled. It wasn't rescheduled for 2021 and wasn't initially announced for the summer of 2022 so I thought we had missed our chance. It was announced much later in the year (during the summer I think), so it turned out alright after all. And thankfully, we didn't have to go all the way to Terra Vibe to see them, where they were supposed to play two years ago...


01. Dog On Wheels
02. I'm A Cuckoo
03. Young And Stupid
04. She's Losing It
05. Unnecessary Drama
06. Reclaim The Night
07. I Want The World To Stop
08. Piazza, New York Catcher
09. The Stars Of Track And Field
10. Chickfactor
11. Another Sunny Day
12. The Boy With The Arab Strap
13. Dear Catastrophe Waitress
14. The Wrong Girl
15. I Didn't See It Coming
16. Wrapped Up In Books
17. Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying
18. Sleep The Clock Around
19. Le Pastie De La Bourgeoisie
20. Judy And The Dream Of Horses


Wednesday, 30 November 2022

Release Athens Festival 2022 - Iggy Pop & Liam Gallagher

 I chose this, as my last date of this year's Release Festival because, well, I had seen Noel Gallagher before (as well as Oasis just a few days before they split up), so it was fair and proper that I should see Liam Gallagher as well (although Liam may not actually agree with that!). On the plus side, I wouldn't mind seeing Iggy Pop again as well whom I had seen at the same festival and at the same venue back in 2019. I had seen Noel Gallagher play support to U2, so now I would see Liam Gallagher play support to Iggy Pop. And as an added bonus, I'd also see the Sleaford Mods, who had come to Greece before and I had wanted to see them and know more about them since I first discovered them on an Uncut (or Mojo?) cover CD and understood that they were some sort of protest band for Britain in the 2010's.

As you can guess, I arrived in time for Sleaford Mods and once again I met most of my friends that I usually meet at gigs. This time there were more of them as Iggy tends to attract Bruce fans. Sleaford Mods were exactly what I had expected them to be (one of their members was sporting a t-shirt with a rather unflattering message for Boris Johnson), but they had something extra for me: a cover of Yazoo's "Don't Go".


It was then time for Liam Gallagher. During the break I managed to locate some of my closest gig buddies, people with whom we had spent hours in the pit at Bruce Springsteen concerts, so I went with them to the very front (donning a mask of course). I was in fact asked by one of them if I was an Oasis or a Blur fan in the 90's and that brought back some memories! Truth is, although I had started as a Blur fan, I thought they went downhill after "Country House", so I switched to Oasis. And Liam himself didn't disappoint. He came up on stage wearing a rather heavy jacket, certainly too heavy for the Athenian weather which was pretty close to heatwave temperatures. Every once in a while, before launching into an Oasis song he would ask us whether there were "any Oasis fans in the audience'. However he also played Beady Eye songs and of course his solo stuff. Towards the end of his set he asked us whether there were "any Slipknot fans in the audience". And then he played "Wonderwall". Go figure... He also played one song ("Stand By Me") from Oasis' third album, one that Oasis wouldn't touch with a flagpole in their latter days.



And then it all ended wonderfully with "Champagne Supernova"

I went back to get some pizza and beer and by the time I had finished eating Iggy came on stage. It felt like not a single day had passed since 2019. when he had started with "I Wanna Be Your Dog". Earlier on, as we were watching Liam Gallagher, a friend of mine who had looked up his setlists on the internet told me that he kept playing the same setlist night after night and it was mostly comprised of Stooges songs However, the setlist we heard that night was completely different. And what was immediately apparent was that Iggy had a problem with his voice. It later turned out that he had changed the setlist because of this very problem and that he cancelled his further shows for the same reason. Did I have a problem with that? As I'd already told my friends Iggy is at a stage in his life and career that he doesn't have to prove anything to anyone. So even if he had decided to come up on stage and f*rt to the tune of "The Passenger", I would still be happy. He did of course play Stooges songs as well and as he was naked from the waist up as usual. Plus, he had a very beautiful female guitar player in his band!



Back in 2019 I went to see Iggy Pop because he was so popular in Greece and I had never seen him live (I had done the same thing with Nick Cave a year before that). And no matter what voice problems he has I will probably go see him for a third time if he decides to come back to Greece. 

01. The New Brick
02. Shortcummings
04. Spare Ribs
05. I Don't Rate You
06. Kebab Spider
07. Mork N Mindy
08. Thick Ear
09. TCR
10. Jolly Fucker
12. Nudge It
13. Elocution
14. Discourse
15. Tied Up In Nottz
16. Jobseeker
17. Tweet Tweet Tweet

01. Hello
03. Morning Glory
04. Wall Of Glass
05. Everything's Electric
06. Better Days
07. Stand By Me
08. Roll It Over
09. Slide Away
12. Diamond In The Dark
13. Once
14. Cigarettes & Alcohol
16. Champagne Supernova

01. Rune
02. T.V. Eye
03. I Wanna Be Your Dog
04. Lust For Life
06. Five Foot One
07. Mass Production
08. Free
09. Run Like A Villain
10. I'm Sick Of You
11. Death Trip
12. Nightclubbing
14. Gimme Danger
15. Down On The Street
17. Sister Midnight

Monday, 24 October 2022

Release Athens Festival 2022 - Pet Shop Boys & Thievery Corporation

My third Release Festival 2022 date, was one that had been announced three years before. In late 2019 we had been promised the Pet Shop Boys for the summer of 2020. That of course was postponed for the summer of 2021. That one too was also postponed, this time for this summer when it finally took place. What's important to note is that the organizers didn't refund those who had already bought their tickets, but kept their money for when the rescheduled dates would take place. Sensing that something like this was going to happen I did not buy a ticket until the very last moment ie this June. And as I have already mentioned in my last post, I combined this as a double ticket with the London Grammar date. This would be my 4th Pet Shop Boys gig, having already seen them in Birmingham in 1991 when the "Performance" video was filmed, in Athens and in Water Square again in 2013 (but this time at the Ejekt Festival, not Release) and finally in 2017 during the Brussels Summer Festival. This would also be my second Thievery Corporation gig whom I had seen at Release Festival 2018.
We arrived in time for the third act in the bill which was Konstantinos Vita. He used to be one half of Stereo Nova who I had seen in 2018 at Nostos Summer Festival. He played some of his own songs but he also treated us to some Stereo Nova tunes and all this while the sun was still shining. 


Meanwhile we had already started meeting some of my fellow Pet Shop Boys fans from social media (and we kept meeting more during the course of the night).
During the break between Konstantinos Vita and Thievery Corporation we took more time to explore the festival grounds, meet several of our friends who were also there and stock on food and alcohol. Yes, we once again got the free stuff (like Coca Cola Zero and that special Johnnie Walker cocktail) but we also made sure we got chips and beer. As on the previous date with London Grammar we also had our own alcohol which we managed to smuggle in (Metaxa brandy - maybe not a wise choice for a hot summer day) and we mixed that with the cokes on offer. We were literally our own bartenders!
Meanwhile, Thievery Corporation came up on stage and having now had the chance to explore their music since the last time they were there in 2018 I was able now to enjoy my favourite songs such as "Voyage Libre". 

During their set I made my last foray to the bar (we were somehow close to the stage, but close to the bars as well at the same time) to get more beer. And since three separate beers were selling for the same price as the special four beer set, I got the latter. At the height of the Thievery Corporation set I managed to divide the 4th beer among three people. 


After that, it was time to get even closer to the stage because of what we had come for: The Pet Shop Boys! Incredibly, while we were so closely packed together, I managed to phone a fellow Pethead, and by asking her to raise her hand up in the air and wave it, I managed to locate her, get over to where she was, have a conversation and then return to my place and find my friends. Unbelievable!
As their set started the Ukrainian flag w
as displayed in the matrix.
Because it was a festival we got the shortened version of the setlist, meaning, among other things, that we only got one song from Hotspot and that was “Dreamland” the first single. Well, they had to play that since the tour is called “Dreamworld – The Greatest Hits Tour”. But, then again, it was the second part of the tour’s name that made it so enjoyable: “Greatest Hits”. And that’s what we got. However, I do like several tracks off that last album, my favourite two being the melancholic “Burning The Heather” and “I Don’t Wanna Go Out” which became my personal anthem during the lockdown.



All in all, it was simply brilliant! And amazing! Pet Shop Boys do know what we want and keep giving us more and more...

Finally, upon leaving the venue, after a very long time, I succumbed to temptation and bought some of the "dirty" food that was being sold outside. 

01. Suburbia
02. Can You Forgive Her?
03. Opportunities (Let's Make Lots Of Money)
04. Where The Streets Have No Name (I Can't Take My Eyes Off You)
05. Rent
06. I Don't Know What You Want But I Can't Give It Any More
07. So Hard
08. Left To My Own Devices
09. Domino Dancing
10. Love Comes Quickly
11. Losing My Mind
12. Always On My Mind
13. Dreamland
14. Heart
15. It's Alright
16. Vocal
17. Go West
18. It's A Sin
19. West End Girls
20. Being Boring

Wednesday, 28 September 2022

Release Athens Festival 2022 - London Grammar, Hooverphonic & LP

More than two weeks after my first Release Athens Festival 2022 gig, it was now time for the second one. The headliners were London Grammar. London Grammar were due to appear at Release Athens Festival 2018, but they had to cancel at the last minute. So, Richard Ashcroft was called in to replace them and I went because I wanted to see him. And now that London Grammar were finally due to perform in Athens, a friend of mine asked me to go with her because she really wanted to see them since she hadn't been able four years ago. I was reluctant at first, not being familiar with the band, started to think about it again when LP was added to the line-up, but was finally convinced when the next addition to the bill were Hooverphonic. Now, I had seen Hooverphonic twice before (the second time in their native Belgium), but this time it was different. The original singer, the amazing Geike had come back. I really had to see her. And so I bought the latest CD from London Grammar (that's what I do, I don't stream, I'm old-school) in order to familiarize myself with their music.

I took my brand new camera with me (this was the concert where it would make its debut) and we arrived at Water Square a little before Hooverphonic were due to appear. Not a lot of people had arrived by that time so I was able to see them from quite up close. All the favourites were played including my own favourite song of theirs, "Sometimes" (the song with which I discovered them) which I was finally able to hear in a proper version (compared to the acoustic one I heard back in 2014) and "The Wrong Place" Belgium's entry on the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest.

Next up was LP. I, as like most people in Greece, got to know her through "Lost On You" and I'm mostly familiar with that song. Her later songs probably didn't get as much promotion. The start of the set was great, but we got tired after a while, probably because we weren't very familiar with most songs and partly because maybe this wasn't the right slot for her in the line-up. I believe Hooverphonic would have been more suitable to appear before the headliners because their music seems to "gel" more with that of London Grammar. (And perhaps she would have fit the bill better a few days later with Liam Gallagher and Iggy Pop). So we moved towards the back of the crowd on order to combine the alcohol we had brought from home with the cokes that were offered at the festival.

Anyway, it wasn't her fault and she was very energetic on stage, closing the set with the song most people expected to hear: "Lost On You".

And then it was time for London Grammar and the occasion that I had hoped to avoid. We realized that we had the chance to get really close to the stage. So what should we do? Well, we wore our masks. We noticed that there were other people doing the same thing and nobody was looking at them in a strange way, so we went for it.
This was the band's first gig outside the UK for three years (due, of course, to the pandemic) and they enjoyed it as much as we did. They played mostly songs from their latest album and that was alright with me because these were the ones I was mostly familiar with.

By the time my second Release Festival date ended and we started to walk towards the bus stop that would take us to the city center, one thing was certain: London Grammar had a new fan now!


01. You Love Me to Death
02. The Wrong Place
03. Vinegar & Salt
04. 2Wicky
05. Sometimes
06. Anger Never Dies
07. Romantic
08. Eden
09. Jackie Cane
10. The Night Before
11. Expedition Impossible
12. No More Sweet Music
13. Lift Me Up
14. Badaboum
15. Mad About You

01. When We Touch
02. Goodbye
03. Girls Go Wild
04. Everybody’s Falling In Love
05. When We're High
06. Yes
07. How Low Can You Go
08. The One That You Love
09. Can’t Let You Leave
10. Muddy Waters
11. My Body
12. Safe Here
13. No Witness
14. Strange
15. Special
16. Dreamer
17. One Last Time
18. Lost on You

01. Californian Soil
02. Missing
03. Hey Now
04. Lord It's a Feeling
05. Talking
06. I Need The Night
07. How Does It Feel
08. Baby It's You
09. Big Picture
10. Hell To the Liars
11. Wasting My Young Years
12. Strong
13. Metal & Dust
14. Lose Your Head
15. Lose Your Head (Camelphat Remix)