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Monday 30 January 2017

My Best Gigs of the EIghties, all in France.

I spent all of the 80's living in south-east France in two rural situations, one in a small holding which we tried to live off selling our vegetables and poultry and one in a modernised farmhouse from where I ran my language services business. Alongside these main activities, I also played in bands which provided a second income, particularly necessary in the first house. We were quite a long way from anywhere that had concerts so they had to be quite special for me to make the effort.
But the first of my eighties great concerts was in fact not too far away and by someone I knew so a no-brainer.

8. Motorhead, Montelimar, 1983.
I heard about this one by seeing a huge poster that suddenly appeared not far from my market stand in our local town of Valreas. And I told my son Sam and he said could he come and some of his mates; he knew about Lemmy and the Hawkwind connection and presumed I would be able to get some free tickets. I knew I would be able to if I could find out where he was staying so I drove into Montelimar, famous for nougat (and a line in a George Harrison song) and went to the Tourism office to find out about hotels in the town likely to receive a visiting rock band. They gave me three addresses and I struck gold at the second, an old, stylish place just outside the town centre. There I immediately bumped into a guy with long hair and sked him where Lemmy was and he took me up to his room which was very old-world dainty and not a  place where one would expect to find one of the world's most famous hard-living rockers. He was sat at a desk reading a magazine but welcomed me with a smile and offered me a glass of Jack Daniels. We chatted for a while and he asked me if i was coming to the gig so I explained that I was hoping for a few free tickets and I ended up with two all area access and 5 other free tickets.
Another father helped me drive all the boys (14 year olds) to the sports field on which was pitched the huge marquee in which the gig was happening but during the support band, Sam and I headed for the front. After the usual wait between bands, Motorhead's guitarist and drummer came on stage and launched into the first number at amazing volume but then Lemmy came on, hit the bass and the guitar and drums were completely drowned out. It was spine tingling, stomach churning volume and I was used to that having toured the States with Dave Brock's guitar amp just behind my left ear. But the crowd loved it and were soon jumping around like idiots and this continued for the whole set. This was a 90% young male crowd who wanted this sort of music and nothing else. Lemmy had found a formula that worked in the post-punk world. It was a long time since I had seen this level of enthusiasm at a concert.
After the gig, Sam and I went back stage and Lemmy gave us quite a bit of his time, particularly answering my son's questions, which was nice of him, particularly in view of the loud party happening in their bus a few yards away. It was to be the last time I saw him play. Definitely my loudest concert!!

With the change of daytime activity to teaching English and then running a successful language services business and with the children being both old enough to be left (although often Sam came with us) we had the money and possibility of going to lots of concerts. And we did, and sometimes I went alone. And I had discovered that by phoning the appropriate office I could usual get myself on guest lists by using the Hawkwind connections, which is something the three remaining eighties gigs have in common, free entry for me plus one.

Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart of Eurythmics
9. Eurythmics, Big Audio Dynamite, Roman Arena, Frejus, France, 1986
This was a summer concert in the stunning, circular, Roman arena in Frejus, an historic town but perhaps best known for the 1959 Dam burst disaster which claimed 400 victims.
It was heatwave hot and there were queues everywhere as I parked illegally and jumped out to find the guest ticket office leaving an unconvinced wife in the car.  Tickets claimed, we went in and managed to get allowed into the protected area round the sound desk, often the best place to be. BAD came on and played a good set to a largely unresponsive crowd. Eurythmics attracted a mainstream crowd because they had become a hit producing machine, and BAD were definitely 'alternative', with their mix of drum machine beats, samples and sequencers, heading towards a hip-hop sound.
Then suddenly they were gone and there were the Eurythmics, quite a large band with their brass and backing vocalists. From the first note, the audience went quiet, wanting to hear each note of this very classy and well-rehearsed outfit. With Dave Stewart at the heart of things, using his guitar to maximum effect around the synths, Annie Lennox was in total command with her physical presence and superb voice.
As they pointed out, this was the last date of their highly successful world tour, an outfit on top of their game as they played hit after hit to loud applause. It was a pleasure to see such a well-honed act playing their own compositions so well and to such an appreciative crowd. Quite frankly, it was what one expected of Americans and it was great to see Brits showing they could do it too.
We went backstage after the gig and I had a quick word with the lads from BAD and then I was dragged over to get us near to Annie who was obviously totally knackered but still friendly whereas Dave Stewart quite obviously wanted out of there as quick as possible.

The nearest place for us to go to see big concerts was Montpelier, about an hour and a half away on the autoroute to Spain. There is a big open space there often used for concerts and my next two both took place there a year apart and in both cases I got special guest tickets.

U2 strutting their stuff in 1987.
10. U2, The Pretenders, UB40 and Big Audio Dynamite, Montpelier, 1987.
This was one for me and my son Sam and a couple of his friends. This was back when U2 were still alternative and rather punk. I loved Chrissie Hynde and her crew were also pretty punk. UB40, in spite of the hits were basically rather punk and BAD were definitely not mainstream. All this was mirrored in the audience which was young and rather punk too. As usual when I took my son to concerts (he was now going on 17) we tended to split as soon as we arrived so we didn't have to embarrass the other with our individual dope smoking.
I went back stage straightaway and discovered that 'All Area Access' meant everywhere except U2's Green Room which was off limits to even all the other bands, word being that it was so nobody could see they weren't as clean as they were supposed to be. Had a quick chat with Don Letts before BAD went on stage and I watched them from the side: they had definitely improved since the previous time I had seen them. I gathered there was some panic because UB40 had lost a couple of their members who had apparently gone off to see the sea whilst waiting which, although only a few miles away was a few miles of busy city streets and although the sea was well signposted, the way backk to the stadium was not. Anyhow, they arrived just in time and the band were off and running to the first big reception of the day, their reggae giving a happy, sunny mood which matched the day.
I had moved out front during their set and got down the front centre stage, aided by my photographer's badge. And Chrissie Hynde spotted my camera, I was one of the only ones, as soon as the Pretenders came on stage. and she was playing to my camera right throught their set allowing me to get some of my best band photos ever (sadly lost when my marriage came to an end). I'd always liked the band and totally enjoyed their set and Miss Hynde's posing.
By now the crowd was well warmed up and ready for the headliners who, as so many do, made the crowd wait just a little bit too long. And they were buzzing, the crowd were pushing hard towards the stage and I was forced to put my camera away for a bit and help protect some young girls who were getting pushed over in the crush. Then they were on stage and launching into the opening number to an incredible reception. This was rock stardom personified and keeping my feet became quite a task as this youngish crowd tried to get as near the front as possible. Bono had already mastered the rock star thing whilst Edge came to the front of the stage to join him in appropriate places leaving Adam and Larry to keep the drum and bass rocking steadily in the background.
The whole thing was masterful, and this was back before Bono had become so annoying with his mission to save the world single-handed, so I was mightily impressed. Intelligent songs, great anthems, a defined and unique sound and a public that knew all the songs, sang them all along with the band and took me to another planet. And, this was the Joshua Tree album they were touring, for me, probably their best work.

Oink Floyd on stage 1988.Lemmy,
11. Pink Floyd, Montpelier, 1988.
The following year I managed to get VIP guest passes to the Floyd gig in Montpelier and took my wife who was also a big fan. Another sold out gig at this big venue which holds around 16000. This was to be my seventh Floyd concert and my first since the famous exploding plane gig at Earls Court about 12 years earlier. With our VIP passes we were taken to a small raised section of seats which also contained the famous Mayor of Montpelier and his party who looked at us rather askance as if we didn't belong and it soon became clear it was really just us and them in this well appointed viewing place.
There was no support band just recorded music to entertain the large and very congested crowd and I think there could have been some trouble if the crowd had been as young as the U2 one. The Floyd didn't rush to start, obviously waiting for dusk so that their lights etc would be seen in the best light (sic) and people on the ground began to boo us people in our favoured position. Some people began to make signs to me about helping them climb up to join us so I did and soon we had been joined by a good dozen people dressed like us and not in suits like the mayoral group. And I was quickly handed a large joint in thanks for my action. There was still lots of spare room so we all helped some more people up: the security were all down the front and couldn't get near to what was happening except for two guys guarding the steps up (which is where they stayed). And the crowd realising what was happening began to cheer as each new person made it up to join us. Oh what fun and the band hadn't even started yet.
Then with no announcement the band started. It was a very big Floyd with great black backing singers, some brass and extra keys and guitar and percussion. After a few glitches in the opening song, the sound was loud and perfect but the mayor used the cover of the opening song to leave the closeness of the great unwashed, to be escorted elsewhere by the two security guards. So by the middle of the second song, the VIP seats were all full of ordinary punters determined to enjoy a) being seated and b) having a perfect view. And the band were good, almost too perfect, with few deviations from the recorded versons of the songs but they played for over 2 hours (not counting the encores) and with some clever pyrotechnics and other such.
For me the highlights were the solo voices of the black singers and some of Gilmour's solos and it was definitely the best I had seen of what was for a lot of my life one of my favourite bands.
A foot note : as we were leaving the stadium down a long lane with stalls selling food and souveniers, the CRS (French professional riot police) decided to hurry the crowd up by attacking people who stopped to buy items with their night sticks. This caused the opposite effect as people stopped to help those being attacked and in fact engendered chaos.....a bit of the dark side.

Next post, my three favourite concerts of the 90's, back in England again.

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