Steve Drewett solo | Newtown Neurotics | The Indestructible Beat | Gigs | Lyrics | Social Media
Tourists from western countries are relatively few in the DDR and the locals at the hotel seem to think we're all Yanks. Simon, drinking in the lobby is curtly addressed by the hunchback hotel porter to remove his feet from the table with "You're not in America now you know!" In the morning Billy Bragg, attempting to get into the lift, is forced back at arms length by a woman while her friends get in and then told: "You Americans have been in our country for 40 years. You can wait a little bit longer."
Simon and I wander down the main street but most of the shops seem to close on a Saturday. This is all we get to see of East Berlin for the time being. Following lunch, by the time everyone's ready we're leaving in a rush again and with Bragg's gear aboard there's even less room in the back of the van. Spotting wild boars by the roadside Colin remarks that there was wild boar on last night's menu. "They weren't wild, they were livid," cracks Simon.
At Halle Neustadt (a new town!) we make our way to the venue, which is the Moritzburg Schloss, a 480-year-old castle complete with moat. It's yet another open-air gig and the weather's obligingly sunny again. A variety of stalls set up in the castle grounds are selling everything from clothes to records to beer. Being the fifth consecutive day of virtually continuous drinking I is giving serious consideration to my liver packing up. But what the hell - The Peoples beer is mighty fine stuff. The turnouts of 2,000 or so are not so responsive initially as the previous dates (though after last night anything would appear anti-climactic) but they gradually get going under the weight of Attila's stalwart melodies. 'Green Fields of France', 'Fifth Column', 'Sawdust and Empire' and a cover of 'Trespassers' excellent 'Echoes of Rhodesia' (sung to backing tapes) all go down inimitably and he encores with the wonderful 'Forty Years.'
The Neurotics stick to their tried and trusty set of the night before with Steve utilising 'This Fragile Life' to point out both the precarious state of Britain's health system and the futility of "fighting for a useless piece of rock in the South Atlantic." For the Germans, these gigs must be as much an eye-opening exposition of life in the West as our visit here is of the East.
Billy steams straight into 'Lovers Town Revisited' and is interrupted by a skinhead down the front, wearing a T-shirt with "Britain is Great" and a bulldog on the front. "If you sieg heil again you're fuckin' out!" snaps Bill and there is no further trouble.
Unabated, Bragg ploughs through 'Like Soldiers Do', 'Greetings to the New Brunette', 'Love Gets Dangerous', 'The World Turned Upside Down' and 'It Says Here', pausing before 'Man in the Iron Mask' to attach the ancient hippy instrument, the capo, and cracks: 'This brings out the Bob Dylan in me!' (All the hippies start cheering).
'Thing again' is the one song I didn't expect to get an airing in East Germany but I guess it's as relevant here as anywhere. As Billy explains: I learnt this song to play to audiences in the UK and the USA, where young people do not believe the losses and the sacrifices of the Russian soldiers in World War Two. Some do not even believe that the Russians fought on our side in World War Two. These young people are going to grow up to be the leaders of the USA and the fact that they have such little understanding of political history makes me very frightened.
"Announcing I come from a country that is very proud that there's been Peace in Europe for the last 40 years yet which does not hesitate to declare War on Argentina. Billy dedicates 'Island of No Return' to 'every soldier who's ever held a rifle and wondered why he's holding , wondered why he must go and kill strangers and wondered why he must wear a uniform for someone else's cause. That soldier is my kind of hero. Sam Cooke's 'A Change is Gonna Come', the closing 'A New England' and an encore of 'Between the Wars leaves the crowd well pacified, but more silliness is due.
Again, everyone joins Bragg for 'Garageland and 'Living With Unemployment' and with Bragg playing for the most part on his back on the floor, Status Quo comparisons are rife. 'Rocking all Over the World' threatens to burst out of the speakers at any moment; 'A13' barely manages to surface above that however and merges into 'Johnny B. Goode' ("it was all I could think of at the time") a rousing finale that sees audience and performers equally ecstatic. Commenting afterwards on the sieg-heiling skinhead, Billy remarked to me, "It's really strange, here of all places - You'd think he'd get into trouble but no-one was doing anything. But then again, punks in the UK wore swastikas not 'cos they were Nazis but to shock people. And what's going to shock people the most here?" Indeed it is indicative of the topsy turvy values that have to be assessed here in the DDR.
In the UK the anti-establishment punk ethic means (theoretically at any rate) making a stand against a system that consigns millions to poverty and despair. But, in the DDR anti-established means standing against a system geared towards providing for it's people. Reacting against an admittedly claustrophobic state that does not allow total freedom of expression is understandable to a degree but most of the punks here (like their equivalents in England) simply drop out in the most negative fashion. Rebels without a cause. "Punk bands here don't give a shit about South Africa scorns George.
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