AGITATION FREE - Portrait of a Band
Road to Cairo
· The Year 1972
Sine January '72 we had been inviting Berlin music teachers and their classes to our "Beat Studio", intending to turn them on to our improvisational rock music and initate them into the world of avant-garde und elektronische Musik . The program had been popular, but we called it off in March, needing the time to prepare for Cairo.
On April 4, 1972, we took off from West Berlin's Tempelhof airport for Munich. A few hours and glasses of whiskey later, we were on our way to Cairo. The plane was full of Greek "guest workers", on their way home for the Easter holidays. There was an intermediate stop in Thessaloniki; parked next to the grassy scar of a runway were two jet fighters, the only aircraft besides our Boeing 727. The terminal was still under construction. The Greek passengers disembarked, leaving only ten people on board besides us. Then the wait. Two cases of smallpox had just been reported in Germany. It became evident that several Greeks had not been innoculated before boarding the aircraft, so our plane had to taxi back to the terminal to pick them up; as possible disease carriers, it was unclear if they would be allowed on Greek soil, or if they would have to get back on the aircraft and return to Germany. The pilot complained over his microphone. But then everything was sorted out, and we were allowed to take off for Cairo (without the uninnoculated Greeks on board).
A lovely flight; Lüül und I flirted with a pretty girl who unfortunately was only changing planes in Cairo, on her way to central Africa to see her fiancé. Pity.(Shouldn't you have been brushing up on your Egyptian? -Transl. ) To my right, across the aisle, sat a big shot from the armaments concern Krupp. He was traveling "incognito", he said. We finally arrived in Cairo in good spirits. The very first moment in Egypt already blew our minds: ten o'clock in the evening, but still 30° Celsius (86° Fahrenheit) outside - in Berlin this time of year it would be freezing. A mad swirl of humanity, strange-looking people, the sweet smell of perfume and incense. Hartmut Geerken from the Goethe Institute turned up to greet us, a great guy and very different from what we expected. A free jazz fan - wonderful, we thought, that's pretty much our thing, too! The Institute's VW bus took us to the hotel. Part of the bus's windshield was missing. Children, stones, and mischief, very normal in Egypt. Afterwards, we renewed our acquaintance with Christian Nakonz and met his wife. At the Geerken house we talked and celebrated until the wee hours.
The next day we were supposed to give our concert; our equipment, which had been sent as air cargo instead of as excess baggage (due to the expense), had to be coaxed out of the hands of Customs. Things unfortunately went a little wrong; we had to beseech the two nice gentlemen, who at the behest of Mr. Sadat (a friend of the Goethe Institute and himself a jazz musician) had with Herr Geerken already guided us though the customs formalities the previous night, to assist us yet again. But before they could spring into action, Customs closed for the day: bad luck.
We stood in front of the hall where we were supposed to play and explained to the concert-goers in English why the performance had to be postponed. Okay, they responded, " malesh ..." that was the first time we heard this word; eventually we would use it as the title of our first LP. " Malesch " means, take it easy, it doesn't matter. The most important word in Egypt. " Malesch ." So we didn't let the situation bring us down, and quickly got to know a couple of German people our age: embassy kids. Within a half-hour Joshi had met his new flame and constant companion in Egypt, a chic, breezy young lady of, let's say, sixteen. Unsure of what to do next, we decided to go eat. We decided on a nightclub located in a place called "Sahara City", inside an old tent which King Faruk had given his most favorite wife as a gift. On the way there we had our first glimpse of the pyramids, not far from the nightclub. Twenty years later we might have said, "awesome": we were truly knocked-out.
Afterwards, in the Sahara City tent, we enjoyed good food, belly dancing, and music (including an Egyptian who spontaneously sang along with the group). I turned on my tape recorder, which from then on I would carry with me constantly. The tapes were later used as ambient source material on the " Malesch " LP.
The next day, April 6, 1972, we gave our concert, in the Eward Memorial Hall of the American University. From the fellahen to almost the entire American embassy staff, everyone was there. The atmosphere was great.
The day after that there was a "party" at Nakonz's. We took our equipment with us. An Egyptian dance band played first, then came "chaos", brought to you by Agitation Free. We played wild improvisations, and near the end Hartmut Geerken got up and joined us on the piano. After our set the dance music resumed, cocktails were consumed, and the whole affair smelled of "jet set". We felt a little out of place. By the end of the evening only Nakonz, Geerken and escort, and our Chaotentruppe , our little band of anarchists, remained. We got back to the hotel at five a.m..
The next day we went to the movies in an open-air theater. Unusual but nice. There we met a development aid worker named Hubertus von Puttkamer , who today lives in Berlin and is a professor at the Technical University. He filmed us in super-8 in front of the pyramids at Sakkara, selections of which can be viewed in this website, and generally took care of us during our stay in Cairo.
The following days brought constantly new impressions. I met Nina, a nice Bulgarian girl who attended the local German school. She was my constant companion over the next days; for her I let down another (Sorry, Nadja, I was a jerk! - Fame ), Lüül and Burghard were attending to a picture-perfect Egyptian girl who spoke accent-free German: Laila. Lüül wrote a song for her of the same title (Didn't Eric Clapton as well? - Transl ). It's on Agitation Free's second LP, "Second" (Catchy title! - Transl ).
On April 11th we travelled to Alexandria. After Cairo nothing could impress me; on the contrary, I found it boring. But the Nile River Road was fascinating: MIG fighter planes by the roadside hidden in hangars, camouflaged to look like huge farmhouses. The war with Israel had not been so very long ago.
The Alexandria concert: instead of a p.a., a hi-fi system had been set up to cover a 1000-person capacity hall. On top of that, all of our drum hardware had been left in Cairo. Improvisation was the motto of the band, and we rose to the occasion. Music stands and fruit crates were quickly found and used for mounting the drum kit. If that wasn't enough, the electricity failed during the concert. As I was following the main power cable in search of the fuse box, Burghard applied himself to the task of entertaining the audience on his orange-crate-and-music-stand drum kit! The power outtage was caused by a local who had stumbled across the main cable, causing the plug (actually just two loose wires) to fall out of the wall socket. Malesch !
Fortunately, by the next day we were on our way back to Cairo.
Returning to Cairo, we found out that our concert in Damascus had been cancelled. An important politician back home in Germany, Herr Lübke , had just died, and the embassy was observing a day of mourning. Great, another free day to explore Cairo!
On April 15th we flew to Beirut. Tears were shed at the grand farewell ceremony, and the words " we'll be back someday" were often spoken.
Chaos greeted us in Beirut; the concert date had been moved up a day, the venue changed as well: we were to play in Tripoli instead of Beirut, 80 kilometers away. And our equipment was still in the friendly hands of Lebanese Customs. As in Cairo, a few palms were strategically greased. And again the nice gentlemen from the Goethe Institute were more than helpful: they knew how to size up their adversary and not stop smiling. Höni had to demonstrate to Customs that his synthesizer was a musical instrument and not a piece of espionage equipment (or even a bomb!). By seven p.m. on the evening of the 15th the equipment was free and clear. Hubert Eichheim from the Goethe Institute in Tripoli picked us up in his Mercedes 280 SE limousine. The equipment followed in another vehicle. Hubert was a capable driver and very familiar with the coast road. I hardly dared to look out of the window at the sheer cliffs and the ocean 80 meters below, not to mention the heavy traffic; the road was only four meters wide and Hubert was doing about 140 km/hour. I tried to keep my eyes shut as much as possible (lucky Joshi slept through the whole thing). Hubert steered the Mercedes unerringly though the bombardment of oncoming autos (I said to myself, "If I live though this, I'll...") However, we arrived in one piece. When our equipment turned up somewhat later, members of the patiently waiting audience even helped unload the gear. We played, then enjoyed a good meal after the show. Lüül , Burghard and Höni had rooms at a local hotel, and Joshi and I were staying at the home of our hosts in Beirut, the Eichheim family. My first order of business was a bath; I needed to wash off the fleas I had brought with me from Egypt. Frau Eichheim, orginally from Greece, was a treasure-trove of dependable flea-removal techniques.
On April 16 we drove back to Beirut for the next gig. Waiting for us in front of the old church in which were play was our pal Franz, from the Kommune 1 in Berlin. He greeted us with a smile, and it was like running into him on the Kurfürstendamm. It was good to see a familiar face.
Fame and Lüül at the
concert in Beirut For further informations please click
After the concert we were approached by a reedy Lebanese fellow named Assaad Debs . He spoke French and told us that he lived in Paris. In fact, in the future he would eventually set up tours in France not only for Agitation Free, but for Tangerine Dream , Ash Ra Tempel , Klaus Schulze and Can . At one point or other he represented in France all bands under contract to Virgin Records.
We spent the day of April 17th on the beach, recharging our batteries for the gig in Nicosia, Cyprus, on the 18th.
As we climbed aboard the airplane, instruments in hand, the pilot smiled and said, "I fly the airplane, you play for us today, a deal?" . Fortunately my tape recorder was on; our LP, " Malesch ", begins with these very words.
Cyprus was very quiet; the hotel, run by two English ladies, featured terrible English food. Being one of the first rock bands to set foot in these parts, we were subjected to television interviews, chauffeur-driven cars, etc. We felt like the Rolling Stones. (That bad, eh? - Transl )
Admission ticket to
Agitation Free concert sponsored by the Goethe Institute,
On the last day in Cyprus I got terribly drunk from our Goethe Institute's host's gin (that's all he had). I threw up in the sink back at the hotel. God, how embarrassing, especially in front of Burghard (my roommate)!
On to Athens, Greece, where we played on April 21st. We got to know some local Greek rock bands, who lent us some decent p.a. equipment for the concert (finally!). Thanks, guys. Everyone complained about the ruling Junta (The Greek military seized power in a coup in 1967; at the time of Agitation Free's visit, the country was ruled by the "Junta", which consisted of several generals. - Transl ). We were taken to an underground club called " Kitharo ", and in the wink of an eye Joshi had found a new girlfriend. The enterprising and energetic fellows from the Goethe Institute supported the underground as much as they possibly could. (With the exception of one gentleman in Alexandria, all of the Goethe Institute people were truly first-rate.)
The concert in Thessaloniki, Greece was cancelled, it being the anniversary of the "Revolution" (the day the Junta seized power). We'll drink to that! (We'll drink to anything!)
Full of new impressions, sated with distinctive foods and beverages, and with the praise of our new friends ringing in our ears, we were soon on our way home.
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