May 26, 2022

May 16, 1972: Radio Luxembourg

A sign of hope

In the past few weeks one has seen Radio Luxembourg progress an aeon in one bound from its tenacious image of the Ovaltiners and Horace Batchelor. 
By encouraging first the Beach Boys and then, a week later, the Grateful Dead to broadcast live throughout Europe, Lux has both conclusively shown that the enterprising future of rock radio lies with the little duchy and drawn the milk-teeth from the flabby gums of BBC's Radio One. 
In fairness to the BBC, it's true to say that under the rules of the Musicians' Union here, American musicians are forbidden to play (though they can sing) directly on British radio. A fact of broadcasting life that dates back to the wholesale Merseyside invasion of the American music markets, when it was felt that some protection was required on both sides of the Atlantic. 
To let it go at that, however, is to condone the meek acquiescence of the mighty media monopoly. It should not be allowed to take credit away from a commercial station which at least appears committed to what it is doing. 
Bear in mind that Luxembourg's broadcastings of whole programmes devoted to Tamla Motown, the Beatles, and Presley have all subsequently, and in a miserably belated fashion, been scavenged by Radio One. 
Thank God for people in the music business with gumption and guts to match. To present a band performing live for three hours, as was the case with the Dead last Tuesday, involves obvious technical difficulties of ensuring no unscheduled breaks in playing time. 
This is difficult enough in the context of festival and concert performances, but to be willing to cope with the unexpected in such circumstances on radio deserves a pat on the back in my opinion. 
Just think, there are people who do believe radio should be exciting, and that its spontaneity is not confined to a telephone call to provincial housewives about their zodiac signs or culinary habits. 
Radio Luxembourg has been bold in more than a technical sense, however. Like all commercial stations, it exists on sponsorship, but the decision on these live shows was to feature no advertising. 
Certainly, in this instance loss of revenue equals increase in prestige with the public, but why not accept their explanation that it was done because "we knew the kids would dig it"? 
The important point to remember is that the success of these two shows creates a foundation for future ventures. 
It's already been suggested that what has begun as a casual experiment may lead to permanent broadcasting of all major American artists who arrive on the shores of Europe and wish to play free for what amounts to virtual publicity before a 40 million-strong audience. 
And not just Americans. There's no reason why The Stones, say, or any British group couldn't play to an audience here that is fed up to the gills with Night Ride. 
It's not that easy, of course. Lux's officials at the British end have yet to overcome entirely the entrenched petit bourgeoisie mentality of a tiny European state, which looks on at the recent parade of long-haired visitors to its radio station in the old castle with a mixture of perplexity and hesitation. 
A neutral country, prominent, like Switzerland, for its banking interests, it doesn't need the hassles that occasionally become associated with rock artists and their followers. 
Regretfully, the programme with the Dead had this unfortunate aspect to an extent. Because of a rather silly announcement on the French service of Luxembourg, several hundred Deadheads travelled from France thinking they would see a free concert with admission to all. 
They found that the station's small theatre, where the recording took place, held only 350. Some were left outside. There were scuffles with the two security men (really, just jobsworths). One guy in the crowd tried to climb in, fell ten foot into the waterless moat, and suffered spinal injuries. 
There was fifty quid's worth of damage to a door. Doubtless, seen through the eyes of many Luxembourg citizens, for whom the major spectacle in their lives has been the signing of the EEC papers there, it appeared like some riot. 
How can they know it was merely a lack of French foresight and a blatant inadequacy of security? How can they be made aware that reaction to the Beach Boys show came in from as far away as San Francisco and L.A.? 
It's a pity these bankers, restaurant owners, and shopkeepers could not have been inside that recording theatre last Tuesday. To see Jerry Garcia smile and smile and smile is something on its own. 
Still, if you were tuned in, you must have got the picture. There's almost a visual element about live radio. You dig?
(by Michael Watts, from Melody Maker, May 27, 1972) 
* * * 
In concert with Radio Luxembourg: 
 Riots at the entrance of the Villa Louvigny 
The "Grateful Dead" concert last Tuesday (midnight to 2am) will be remembered by many as the worst possible organization in the Villa Louvigny auditorium. Something that cannot be said of the concert with the Beach Boys that took place a week ago. How did this mess come about? A few questions arise.
Why was the entrance moved? Why weren't the umpteen people who stayed in front of the wrong entrance until midnight (the start of the concert) and longer, and who all had an invitation card, not informed about this? Why, and this seems to us to be the most important thing, was Radio-Luxembourg's Hangwellen transmitter used for a "concert gratuit", as it was called, and why weren't the listeners made aware that an invitation was required? Why were about 100 French people admitted before those who had been invited were seated in the Villa Louvigny?
Of course, you can't blame a Frenchman who came from Paris in response to the tempting offer of a "Free Concert" - that he really wanted to see the Grateful Dead after he'd already come here. The gentlemen from Radio-Luxembourg would have saved themselves smashed windows if they had kindly informed the French not to force their way in, since they were willing to let them in once everyone who had an invitation had been seated.
The "L W." critic was fortunate to enter through a back door at around 1:15 a.m. and still be able to see the "Dead". Under these circumstances one can hardly expect a detailed assessment of the concert from him.
On a colorful stage and in front of a surprisingly not even fully occupied hall (?), about two dozen community members of the Grateful Dead sat down next to the musicians and their instruments and amplifiers.
The "electric cowboys" from San Francisco, as they are often called in the trade press, had built their entire repertoire very much on the guitars of Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir. Garcia often let a very delicate lead guitar be heard, but the sometimes too loud volume of the whole group shouldn't be able to excite us beyond measure. The approximately 60 million listeners (according to the organizer) on the radio were given a far better sound quality than those present in the hall.
If you continue to plan such concerts, which would be very gratifying, you should take into account the mishaps of last Tuesday.
(by Rene Thill, from the Luxemburger Wort, May 19, 1972) 


1 comment:

  1. This being a radio broadcast, these aren't really "reviews" of the show per se - you get the feeling that it's incidental what band is playing, and there's not really a particular interest in the Dead. But both writers were in attendance - along with a host of French Dead fans demanding free entrance. They agree on the resulting tumult: perhaps a "riot" in the eyes of the concerned radio station, but a familiar picture for the Dead. But in the end, it seems not everyone could come in; the show went on; the Dead started at midnight and held the air for three hours.
    The first piece gives an idea of why the Dead might have preferred to play a 3-hour live show on Radio Luxembourg rather than the usual few pre-recorded songs the BBC would have aired. English listeners were happy to tune in anyway - and, per the second article, got a better sound than the audience in the small theater. (The disgruntled critic felt they were turned up too loud. The French fans probably didn't mind.)