Our Small Part in the Fall of
General Jaruzelski and the Soviet empire...
In which - after the Subs' long tour of the USA concludes - Alvin ponders the circumstances on which the U.K. Subs were chosen in 1983 to tour behind the Iron Curtain ahead of the communist-considered violent Village People, Alice Cooper's vandalism, the neo-fascism of Julio Iglesias, the racism of Judas Priest or the sex of Tina Turner?
Prior to Poland there's a brief stay at his new pad in London betwixt these 'extreme' tours, in which the latter sees the Subs playing 'Inflammable Material' off-stage!
Out of all the possible bands the presiding communist regime of Poland could have chosen to try to placate its increasingly rebellious youth why, oh why, did they deem the U.K. Subs suitable candidates for a tour there in the early months of 1983? Well, in order to determine exactly how this official summons was extended, we need to re-examine the wider context that existed in this politically turbulent Soviet Bloc state during a momentous phase of national upheaval.
Having endured Moscow’s tacit rule of their nation via a succession of Russian endorsed Polish communist party first-secretaries after the enforced Sovietisation of a number of Eastern European countries by Joseph Stalin in 1946, the advent of the 1980s saw the majority of the Polish populace increasingly desirous of liberation from Soviet control. At the forefront of this national rebellion was the establishment of a trades union entirely free from communist party interference that sought, through nonviolent means, to disrupt, resist and eventually supplant the prevailing oppressive political system.
The Solidarity union was founded in the Lenin shipyards of Gdańsk in August 1980. Led by one of its instigators, Lech Walesa, it set about organising a series of strikes and anti-government actions with the aim of compelling the ruling forces to implement, among other objectives, guaranteed workers rights, the end to Soviet interference in domestic political affairs and an open democratic electoral system devoid of government manipulation.
This union, despite being violently suppressed by the ruling apparatchiks via their utilisation of the brutal ZOMO paramilitary riot police and the hated SB secret service, rapidly became a popular movement that accrued over nine-million members nationally – a truly representative popular alliance whose membership was composed of not only industrial and agrarian workers but artisans, businessmen and women, writers, teachers, artists, scientists, health workers and leading elements of the academic and intellectual community.
By 1981 the Russian leader, Leonid Brezhnev, and his ministers in the Kremlin, had reached the view that this organised and widespread Polish insurrection was a serious threat to the Warsaw Pact (the Soviet version of the West’s political and military alliance, NATO, of which Poland was a compulsory member) and feared it may spread and activate similar insurgencies in other USSR politically dominated states – particularly Hungary and Czechoslovakia (pictured right), which already had anti-Soviet form with rebellious challenges to Russian authority in 1956 and 1968 respectively. Although ruling out directly sending in Russian troops to quell the burgeoning revolution as had happened in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, Brezhnev nevertheless wanted a more effective and uncompromising response to the Polish push for change and insisted that first secretary, Stanislaw Kania, be replaced by the more ruthless and famously inflexible minister for defence, General Wojciech Jaruzelski.
This new Kremlin enforcer put military units on the streets of all major cities and permitted the ZOMO to open fire on striking miners in Wujek, killing and injuring twenty-two protesters. He then increased media censorship and ordered the SB to arrest over five-thousands Solidarity members in a single night, including Lech Walesa. Furthermore, a state of martial law was imposed and the Solidarity union outlawed.
The severity of these measures led to unified worldwide condemnation of these new, ultra authoritarian policies; an integrated and sustained chorus of disapproval so thunderous that even the dictatorial General Jaruzelski was compelled to react. In November 1982, Walesa was released and shortly thereafter martial law was lifted.
It was in the aftermath of this reactive reversal of Jaruzelski’s hardline policy that some apparatchik in the Polish corridors of power must have thought it would be a generous and propaganda-useful idea to invite a western rock band to play for the younger generation who had hitherto been forced to secretly listen to British and American popular music on the prohibited Radio Free Europe broadcasts, or through purchasing poorly recorded cassette tapes on the black market. They understood this youthful Polish population demographic was the most vigorous and energetic the Solidarity rebellion could call upon and perhaps being able to alter their negative view of the government through a munificent offering of decadent western modern music might be worth a shot.
The U.K. Subs, suitably dressed for the Polish winter. Warsaw, Poland 1983 - click to enlarge
Although there had been a number of Eastern Bloc musicians that had managed to be exposed to Western rock music and had formed bands and even played secret gigs based on what they’d succeeded in hearing on forbidden radio frequencies – Plastic People of the Universe in Czechoslovakia, Brutus in Croatia, Time Machine in Russia – I’ve only been able to uncover two Western group that actually got to play Soviet satellite countries before the U.K. Subs, one of these being the Rolling Stones, who had a show in Warsaw in 1967. Certainly, no Punk rock band had played behind the Iron Curtain before us – Iron Curtain being the term coined by Winston Churchill in 1946 to hauntingly articulate the proscribed confinement of millions of people after the Soviet Union set about instigating its post-war domination of Eastern Europe by preventing satellite states from open contact with the West and all non-Soviet regulated or sympathetic nations. But why the U.K. Subs?
A number of things coalesced at the same time to make this historic event transpire: the aforementioned desire of the Polish administration to placate their youth after being pressured to revoke martial law; the fact that we, curiously, did not appear on a governmental list of banned western music groups formally entitled ‘The approximate list of foreign musical groups and artists whose repertoires contain ideologically harmful compositions’, complied by the Komsomol – the communist youth wing – which among its varied inventory of bands and artists had blacklisted Donna Summer for eroticism; someone named Kenet Hit for homo-sexualism; Madness and the B52s for Punk violence; and, would you believe, Julio Iglesias for neo-fascism. I’ve provided a portion of the English translation of this list for your entertainment below...
Each of the above was an important factor. But our tour of Poland would still have never occurred if it wasn’t for the burgeoning business relationship between a Polish anti-Soviet mixed-media prime mover who was determined to facilitate the entry of western rock bands into his country as a means of opening it up to outside influences, Grzegorz Kuczynski, and Dave Leaper, a Yorkshire based entrepreneur who had created a record company, Supermusic, which had licenced U.K. Subs’ recordings for a compilation album, as well as having provided its PA system for past Subs’ tours.
The relevant Warsaw-based ministry, having knowledge of Kuczynski as a western rock music enthusiast and aspiring promoter, approached him and set him the task of finding an appropriate band for what they at least hoped, would be a usefully pacifying visit. Scornful of the administration’s motives and sensing a rare opportunity to shake things up and galvanise additional anti-Jaruzelski sentiments, Gregsky (the name abbreviation that we would all soon be referring to Grzegorz by), contacted Leaper and asked him to nominate a suitably outspoken and fiery outfit. Having worked with the band and being fully aware of our capacity for anarchic mischief, onstage and off, Dave Leaper proposed booking the U.K. Subs.
Shortly thereafter, Nicky Garratt received a 'phone call from Leaper asking if the Subs were interested in participating in this extraordinary tour and relayed the terms of acceptance – the trip would be fifteen days long in total, taking in eleven cities, five of which required two shows per night at their venues. We were to be paid half the money upfront in US dollars and receive the other half in Polish Zoltys (the Zolty being utterly worthless as a currency in western countries at that time) to be divided between the band members for spending money upon arrival. Despite this giving us a mere two days of rest in the UK after our mammoth tour of the USA before being obliged to travel again, we all agreed this was a singular and historic opportunity that couldn’t be refused.
We flew into Heathrow airport From New York on the 17th of February 1983, collectively exhausted from the ten-and-a-half weeks we’d spent travelling the length and breadth of the North American continent. Regardless of our road fatigue, the band, along with other invited guests, convened at my parents' house in Croydon on the 18th for my 25th birthday party.
Above: Trying to make the most of my one day in the new Cranley Gardens' apartment
before having to travel to Poland, post USA tour, London '83 - click to enlarge
On the 19th my wife and I moved into the new apartment she had found for us whilst I was away in the USA that was integrated in a large Georgian house. Various rent rises on the Sloane Square flat had ultimately made it financially unviable, so we relocated a short distance west to 52 Cranley Gardens, South Kensington, which was situated between the Old Brompton Road and the Fulham Road, a mere ten minute walk from South Kensington tube station.
Above: Mary Jordan and I outside the front door to the Georgian house where our new flat was located. South Kensington, London, 1983 - click to enlarge.
The next day, the 20th, I was compelled to say farewell to Mary again and returned to Heathrow to fly out with the U.K. Subs to the capital of Poland, Warsaw. Travelling with the band on this Air Lot flight was Dave Leaper, who would be our sound engineer for the trip; our roadie from our previous year’s European tour, Chris Johnston; and the charming and capable Laura Lorey as designated tour manager. In the hold of the airliner resided all our usual touring equipment: speaker cabinets, amplifiers, drum kit and instruments; we had also brought along some T-shirts that had been printed up in England whilst we were still touring North America for handing out to gig attendees from the stage as the tour progressed.
Upon our arrival in Warsaw there was a group of uniformed immigration officials to contend with. This went quite well as the government had sent a bureaucrat down to welcome us and smooth our entry into the country. Then we had to deal with the customs officers, stern looking certainly, but a group of officials we now assumed would give us as easy a time as their departmental brothers in immigration. Wrong. They immediately swarmed over the equipment with intent, opening flight cases, guitar cases, drum cases, presumably looking for hidden contraband or any inflammatory western propaganda material we might be trying to sneak into Poland.
We knew the real incendiary items were housed in the two cardboard boxes to the rear of the heap of our equipment hoard, and it now became imperative that we got to them before these containers were opened up for inspection. While the customs officers continued rummaging through the musical gear, each of our touring party took it in turns to stealthily grab some T-shirts out of these boxes and transfer them into suitcase and carry-on luggage as surreptitiously and rapidly as possible.
The reason why such drastic action was necessary was because we sensibly figured the design for these garments would not go down too well with these governmental agents – around the central imprinted U.K. SUBS, POLAND 1983 we’d had the printing company add the Solidarity Union logo in sizeable lettering along with various images of Lech Walesa and period pictures of the Russian tanks that had rolled into Czechoslovakia and Hungary being challenged by brave nationalist protesters; pretty inflammatory stuff.
We had just about managed to relocate half of these T-shirts when one sharp- eyed official came over and demanded to see what was in the boxes. I guess there was now around twenty to thirty shirts in each box and he selected one of these garments and unfurled it for inspection. ‘Oh no’ I thought, ‘this could prove to be the end of our tour before we’d even played a single show’.
It wasn’t looking good. The customs officer called his colleagues over to check out his discovery and they were now collectively nodding their heads disapprovingly and muttering some evidently punitive words in Polish. It was with uncanny timing then that Gregsky suddenly appeared in the customs area and came to our rescue.
Above: Our brilliant Polish facilitator and promoter, Grzegorz Kuczynski (Gregsky)
aboard the bone-shaker bus, Poland 1983 - click to enlarge
Our promoter eventually soothed their concerns by agreeing to leave both boxes with remaining T-shirts in their care until we returned to the airport to fly back to London, two weeks’ hence. He also consented to pay a cash fine for attempting to bring prohibited goods into the country. We would never see this merchandise again. After we finally exited the airport without, thankfully, having had our luggage searched, Gregsky told us that these items would find their way onto the black market at some later date; a nice extra earner for the customs department.
I’m sure the time of year didn’t help of course, it being late winter and all, but my first overriding impression of Warsaw was just how grey and grim it looked. It was just like one of the cliché representations of Soviet dominated cities that appeared in 1960s’ Cold War feature films such as the Spy Who Came in From the Cold and Funeral in Berlin – rows of featureless concrete apartment blocks, sombre office complexes and governmental buildings; and judging from the condition of the bridges and roads we encountered, a degenerated infrastructure badly in need of investment and repair.
The hotel we were booked into was OK though, considering what I had begun to anticipate based on the dominating dourness of its host city. It was a hostelry primarily used by visiting Soviet and other foreign Communist party VIPs and dignitaries; and although the prevailing décor was that of shabby original mid-1960s kitsch throughout, it had a bar and a restaurant with a very basic menu of three meal options, which became magically reduced to two after we sat down to dinner because they’d run out of chicken for the boiled poultry option. My room was warm, clean and comfortable enough though, with a somewhat battered but working TV and large windows that offered a great view of a prominent city landmark building entitled the Joseph Stalin Palace of Culture and Science.
While dining, Gregsky handed each Subs band member a very large envelope containing our personal spending money for the trip: no less than one-hundred and fifty-thousand Zlotys apiece in cash. I had been told by a reputable source that the average wage in Poland at that time was somewhere around six-thousand Zoltys per month, which meant Charlie, Nicky, Kim and I had more money to spend in two weeks than a median Polish employee could expect to earn in two year, plus a month.
The next morning we got to meet the rest of our touring party in the lobby of the hotel. This comprised of our Polish support band for all shows, Republika (pictured right); a government dispatched interpreter and guide, whose name has evaporated from my memory depository, so I will simply refer to him in the future as ‘the Interpreter’; another two men who were to be general help and extra road crew for the duration; and the driver of the dilapidated archaic coach that we would all be travelling in as we traversed Polska together. After formal introductions by Gregsky had concluded, this disparate cast set off in the rusting, rasping vehicle for the second biggest city in Poland, Krakow.
Above: Dave Leaper (in foreground) looking disconcertingly like Dave Lee Travis.
Our soundman for the Polish tour '83. Click to enlarge.
Our venue there was a cavernous sports hall. Having witnessed the size of it, Charlie, Nicky, Kim and I agreed that we would be fortunate to draw enough people to occupy even a third of such a large space. We were properly shocked then to be informed that we would be playing two performances that evening and that the four-thousand tickets for the dual shows (two-thousand being the permitted amount of attendees per show) had already been purchased in advance. Both were sell outs.
Despite our initial scepticism, such healthy audience figures, and even vaster numbers were to be the norm; for although we had no way of being able to grasp this as we watched the venue in Krakow fill to capacity twice over on our second day in Poland, we had just embarked on what would turn out to be the U.K. Subs’ most well attended tour, ever.
Below: An article on the band's shows with the Polish band Republika was featured in the Polish magazine Magazyn Muzyczny March/April 1983 - click the images to enlarge...
A few photographs of the tour are also available to view on a Polish Rock Archive website HERE from which the below selection are taken... (click to enlarge)
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