Friday, June 16, 2023

Rocker Roy Gallagher Concert in Athens in 1981 (And the Ticket of Orthodox Theologian Panagiotis Nellas)


On September 12, 1981, a great musical event took place in Athens: It was the first major rock show in Greece, which took place at Nikos Goumas Stadium in Nea Philadelpia in Athens. The artist that performed that night was the great Irish guitarist, singer and songwriter Rory Gallagher (1948-1995).

Gallagher is known for his virtuosic style of guitar playing, which strongly influenced other guitarists such as Brian May and Eric Clapton. But, due to his lack of commercial success, he is often referred as "the greatest guitarist you've never heard of". Gallagher was voted as guitarist of the year by Melody Maker magazine in 1972, and listed as the 57th greatest guitarist of all time by Rolling Stone magazine.

In the 1960's, he was in the band Taste, but found greater success as a solo artist in the 1970's and 80's. In January 1975, when the Rolling Stones gathered in Rotterdam, Netherlands, to continue working towards their album Black and Blue, they auditioned new guitarists, to replace Mick Taylor, as they recorded. Gallagher went over for a jam with the band "just to see what was going on," but did not join the group, happy with his solo career.

Someone who attended the event in Athens recently wrote about a well-known Orthodox Theologian and Professor, Panagiotis Nellas (1936-1986), a professor at the Theological School of Athens, who also had tickets to the event in 1981. He wrote:

"More than 40,000 spectators turned out that night in Nea Philadelphia. It was considered by many to be the artistic event of the year. Needless to say, my friends and I made sure to get the tickets on the very first day of release.

During that time, as a second-year student, I was working at the well-known bookstore-hangout, MENYMA, in Solonos. At one point, I see Panagiotis Nellas enter, furious, as he always was.

Nellas, in addition to being a full-fledged theologian (to him we owe the existence of the magazine SYNAXIS) was also a professor. He knew how to communicate with young people. He spoke their language. He had no insecurities, no fears. He didn't know about close-mindedness. He dove deep. He was in on everything. Knowing the craziness I was into, he said to me: 'Andrea, are we going to the concert? I want you to find me a ticket? I'm going to pick it up tomorrow. I lost them.' I was more accustomed to some theologians being afraid of their shadow.

I got the ticket, but Nellas couldn't come to the concert because some difficulty arose at the last minute. My ticket remained unused, reminding me that the theologian must be in on everything, to dive deep, to be a person who can converse with everyone and about everything, fit in everywhere but also nowhere."

The Concert in Athens
At that time, Greece was in a pre-election period. Andreas Papandreou's PASOK was on the verge of power and the word "Change" was on everyone's lips. The effort of New Democracy and Prime Minister Georgiou Ralli was in vain. They were fighting a race that was already lost.
It was a warm autumn evening when Rory Gallagher (guitars), Jerry McAvoy (bass) and Brendan O'Neill (drums) took the stage shortly after nine. The Irishman with the first note took the audience with him and took off. Many of his fans did not hesitate to go on stage during the concert to touch their idol and express their love to him. The security guards were very busy.  
The first episodes had begun outside the AEK stadium. Protagonists, several thugs and the Police, who started shooting and throwing tear gas. Very quickly the streets of Nea Philadelphia turned into a battlefield. The smell of tear gas made the atmosphere suffocating inside the concert venue as well.  
An Account of the Events Given by Gallagher Himself 
"I didn't know where to protect myself from. Backstage there were some people in police uniform who looked menacing. So we quickly got into a car and started to go to the hotel. On the way, however, we ran out of gas and so we found ourselves in the middle of the incidents, with the tear gas having crushed us and we were obliged to return on foot. The concert itself was amazing, but also dangerous. I just didn't want to leave my bones in a football stadium in Greece, not even knowing what was going on."  
The next day, the newspapers ran with headlines like "Nea Philadelphia Burned by Rockers." The concert was later released in a pirated version titled Live in Athens 1981. 

A Description of Roy Gallagher's Concert in Athens in 1981

"September 1981, Athens. The train of change is descending by the thousands, it has passed Tempi. Change and chaos, that is. The youth, dizzy and troubled, in the post-junta era, is looking for its way out. Where else? In rock music. You see, nothing was happening in Athens, if you exclude the Rolling Stones concert in 1967, at the Avenue Stadium. Who would dare to come after these events here? There was something like an embargo. And here Sting with the Police broke it first in 1980.

But, the youth was hungry for something more unadulterated, more direct, more devil's rock... And the news exploded like a bomb. The record label Happening proudly announces the arrival of Rory Gallagher, for two concerts in Greece. One in Athens, at the AEK stadium (Nikos Goumas) and one in Thessaloniki, at the Pale. A five hundred drachma ticket, expensive, but the first real guitar hero, would be fully alive in front of you. Rory, the soul of Rock.

Forty thousand people crammed into the stadium and here I was with two friends. The atmosphere generally smelled of gunpowder and Units for the Reinstatement of Order had surrounded the stadium, having also the experience of Thyra 7, which had preceded it in February. As soon as the first whistle fell, smoke filled one side of the field, everything was burning outside, shops, patrols, everything.

We lost it, we said, oh my god, they're going to spoil our live show. Before long, there was suffocation from smoke bombs while Rory was playing Moonchild. The people, bewildered, slowly began to leave, fearing the worst. Outside the stadium, there were savage beatings, then we also made the big decision to leave.

The concert we learned ended with half the crowd and the battlefield outside the stadium lasted for hours. Since then, the water flowed in the groove and the rest of the rock stars of the time began to honor us little by little. One thing I was upset about was when in a recent move I lost the ticket stub."

The Set-list and Video for Athens 1981

Shin Kicker / Moonchild / Do You Read Me / Nadline / I Wonder Who / Tattoo'd Lady / Wayward Child / A Million Miles Away / Double Vision / Western Plain (Fades Out).
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.