Steve Drewett solo | Newtown Neurotics | The Indestructible Beat | Gigs | Lyrics | Social Media
Today is our first opportunity to get some shopping done and we spend most of the day wandering about East Berlin's main shopping centre, the Alexanderplatz.
The Neurotics relax after a hard day pulling the Zeppelin out of its hanger to make room for the PA gear
Everyone ends up with a camera or two while Simon buys an accordion and Attila gets a beautiful 200-year-old violin. East German toyshops incidentally are notably absent of toy soldiers and other symbols of war.
We rendezvous with the Bragg mob at Hotel Berlin, where George tells us he's had some hassle from the authorities over our unscheduled departure from Suhl the previous night but has managed to sort out the visas. There's only one snag: We have to go back to West Berlin to allow our current visas to expire and then come back in again with the new ones stamped onto our passports.And so for the second time in 24 hours, Will and I find our-selves marching back across Checkpoint Charlie.
In the light of early evening the West seems much less foreboding than at night. There is more activity going on at this time and sight see-ers are gathered to peer at the Wall. We take a leak and a brief stroll along the wall, noting with derision some of the graffiti. Next to a picture of the Statue of Liberty are the words "Freedom, democracy, liberty." I consider adding "Aids, McDonalds, Cruise Missiles" (Americas three biggest exports, and all of approximate equal value to your health) but decide not to risk jeopardising our chances of getting back.
An East German is peering across at us through binoculars.
We get back all right, this time needing no cash and the visa extensions are finally OK' - there's only one snag: No expiry date has been put on my visa. Such a thing does not officially exist but further enquiries by George reveal that it should be a simple matter of getting an exit visa whenever I want to leave. One hopes.
With Ute navigating this time we head off in the van through rain to reach Leipzig by late evening. The town has a high concentration of hotels to cater for the twice-yearly Trade Fair and in the night mist the cluster of neon lights on the hotel rooftops create a curiously futuristic appearance like a scene from Bladerunner - odd.
Wednesday morning marks our first week in the DDR and Ute guides us through the town. As with Halle, there is the contrast between the old town and the new; the pre-war narrow cobbled streets running between crumbling dark brown buildings and the more recently built city centres with the Soviet influence much in evidence. Large blocks of high buildings strung along wide streets and large colourful open squares.
Tonight is the penultimate gig of the tour and is the first indoor venue, an ex-Zeppelin hanger no less. We get further experience of the local music scene and again hardly an inspiring one. The band are dressed entirely in black and cover Joy Division songs; the singer tries desperately hard to look as moody as possible, while two loonies with bowler hats and faces completely bandaged prance about on stage behind the band splashing paint over a canvas.
"Yer usual art school band, same the world over," observes Billy Bragg from the overlooking balcony. "It's all so contrived. Remember that band we saw at Suhl, that quasar-rock band? They probably go down a storm at dances 'cos there's always going to be room for bands like that.
But there ain't really an East German music scene. What is allowed on radio is by the very fact that it's been officially blessed dead from the neck up. As an example of the dated nature of the musical field, I spot a young herbert who couldn't be over 15 with 'Neil Sedaka' on the back of his denim jacket. Not an unusual sight in the DDR.
Attila: "German musical culture is rooted phenomenally in the classical tradition. The rock culture didn't really begin until the DDR had already started becoming a socialist country so by the very fact that they were rebelling against everything that happened in the West, they tended to be against rock music as a product of Western culture. And they're only now beginning to catch up with that. At the moment the music scene seems pretty appalling but I think it'll improve, as the general culture becomes more open and relaxed. I think the inviting over here of Billy, the Neurotics and me signifies a real change in their attitudes towards rock.
A large percentage of punks and hippies are present in the audience tonight and Attila's five numbers are received with deafening acclaim. Someone's put something in The Neurotics drinks and they kick off playing like there's no tomorrow with possibly the tightest and most energetic set of the tour. There is a slight hassle at the end with some and Steve is asked to announce that the punks have to stop jumping around or the gig will be cancelled.
Billy opens appropriately with 'Lovers Town Revisited' and pummels his way through 'Bring My Baby Back to Me', 'Levi Stubbs Tears', 'Milkman of Human Kindness' ("One for all you sperm donors out there") and 'The Myth of Trust', holding back 'A New England' against a constant wail of requests until the end. Introducing 'Between the Wars', he again passes a prudently coded message across: "I don't believe we can solve the problems of North and South until we solve the problems of East and West. The encore as usual is the now established 'Garageland' and 'Living With Unemployment'.
Down the front, the audience, heed-less of the earlier cautions are going berserk and in the middle of 'Living With Unemployment' a moment of inspiration (or suicidal lunacy depending on your viewpoint) overcomes Billy Bragg; he grabs hold of Attila and the two of them vault through the air off the stage to hurtle recklessly into the audience, where they disappear for several minutes amongst the sea of madly pogoing punks.
This for me is a magical moment, summing up in one wordless action Billy's entire attitude towards the pop star ethic. Name me one other performer of Bill's status who pogoes like mad with the best of 'em down the front and I'll show you a genuine Conservative manifesto promise. Clambering back onstage afterwards however, Billy's probably changed his mind about repeating THAT move again - at least until the bruises heal!
More hassling is required to get food from the cafe next door as were late again, while Attila has an additional set of poetry in an upstairs room to English students, during which we kindly finish off his Bulgarian champagne for him. Well, we are thinking about his diet, even if he's not.
Back at the hotel the entire entourage join together in a late night drinking bout, during which Colin attempts to order 50 beers and a bottle of Cognac from reception.
No guessing what HE'S spending his money on.
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