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Home arrow Reviews arrow Concerts arrow Pink Floyd - Olimpiyskiy, Moscow, 1989
Pink Floyd - Olimpiyskiy, Moscow, 1989 Print E-mail
Written by Alexander Zheleznov/Dasha Dykhanovska   
Saturday, 16 November 2013

Pink Floyd, Olimpiyskiy, Moscow, 1989With the 25th anniversary of the release of Pink Floyd's Delicate Sound of Thunder upon us, celebrating the Momentary Lapse tour of the late 1980s, it seemed a perfect time to share the following article with you.

In 1989, as part of the Another Lapse tour that year, Pink Floyd played their first concerts in Moscow. With the delicate financial situation there at the time, the band were offered goods in lieu of cash for staging the concerts - as you'll see below, much to David Gilmour's shock, they were offered items such as wood, oil, and black caviar for their services!

The majority of the ordinary people in Russia were unable to get tickets - even if they could afford them - but as you'll see below, in Dasha Dykhanovska's kind translation of Alexander's article, there were ways to get around this, as unpaid government workers...

What do You Want from me? Or Gilmour Behind the Wall of Olimpiyskiy
Article by: Alexander Zheleznov (aka Raven)

In 1989, I worked as a principal engineer at the Radio Technical Research Institute, which was situated in Dzerzhinsky district of Moscow. It's an important point, since Olimpiyskiy Sports Complex is situated in the same district. When I found out that Pink Floyd were coming to Moscow and that they will perform at 'Olimpiyskiy', I enrolled in the People's Volunteer Squads straight away. It's a kind of a squad, compulsory but made to appear as voluntary, which in Soviet times helped police at large evening time events. It was unpaid work, but volunteers got two additional days off and an opportunity to be on duty at some interesting events, like concerts and film festivals. Although I was much older than police helpers usually are, the squad leader was a friend, so I was accepted without any problem. There was only one reason for such enthusiasm about public safety: our enterprise was constantly on duty at all 'Olimpiyskiy' events. I couldn't miss a chance to attend ALL Pink Floyd concerts for free and be in ANY part of the hall I like.

Pink Floyd, Olimpiyskiy, Moscow, 1989There were huge troubles with tickets. Personally, I didn't see them on sale at all. Ticket price at the touts' was up to 100 roubles while face value was 9-10 roubles! At that time tickets for rare concerts of foreign stars were distributed among city councils, district committees, Komsomol and other "public servants'" gatherings. There were 'All tickets sold out' announcements up at the ticket offices, but the tickets hadn't even been on sale! I remember when we were on watch in turns for two days at 'Russia Hall' ticket office, where Elton John had to perform. Only 100 tickets out of 2500 were for sale! Only two tickets per person, so only the first fifty buyers were lucky.

On the 3rd of June, at 5pm, two hours 'till the beginning of the first Pink Floyd concert in Moscow, there was a preliminary gathering in front of Olimpiyskiy (by the way, the only (!) concert poster was there. It was just a simple inscription against a white background saying: "Pink Floyd concert (UK)", the dates, the time the concert starts and that's all!), there was a document check (volunteer squad IDs) in order to prevent unauthorized people entering. "Volunteer" armbands were issued. There was also a briefing with examples of passes to different areas, so that we would know, whom to let in. After that, we were let into the hall and assigned to our posts.

Pink Floyd, Olimpiyskiy, Moscow, 1989We went into the hall, and inside Pink Floyd were playing an excerpt from 'Learning To Fly'! It was the last soundcheck before the concert! 'Delicate Sound…' VHS had just came out and it wasn't on sale in Moscow yet, so no one had any idea of what awaited us. The perfomance was completely mind-blowing! I stood there, literally open-mouthed. You could easily imagine my state. Listening to Pink Floyd for 15 years, not even dreaming of ever seeing them live (now you can buy a ticket and fly wherever you want, but then… yeah, today's youth won't understand it, thank God), but there they were – in the flesh, literally 5 metres from me, in a completely empty hall (the audience was let in 40 minutes before the beginning)! I even had an impression that they were playing just for me! Just when we were let in (there were fifty of us, from different squads), Gilmour angrily asked over speakers why the audience had been let in early. One of the organizers ran onto the stage with a translator and told him that we were the security. David cooled and they played different excerpts without vocals for another fifteen minutes. I saw that there were no backup vocalists or other musicians during this soundcheck; only the main trio was onstage.

In fifteen minutes or so, this fantasy - or rather, a prelude to it - came to an end. The trio went backstage, and we went to our posts. I had been assigned to a tunnel-like passageway to the right of the stage, which turned out to be a service exit from the stalls to the administrative rooms of the complex. I hadn't calmed down from the excitement yet, and was eagerly waiting for the concert itself, when I suddenly saw someone approaching me, someone extremely familiar. I could not believe my eyes: it was Nick Mason!

There's need for a tiny digression here. When I was at home, preparing for the concert, I decided to bring something Floyd-related with me – who knew, maybe I'd manage to get an autograph after the concert? It was almost unreal; Pink Floyd coming to Moscow was a fantasy in and of itself! As the press then reported, "If a UFO would have landed at Clean Ponds [central park zone in Moscow, where informal circles are used to hang out – Trans.] in the center of Moscow, we'd have been less surprised than at the arrival of Pink Floyd!" I can't think of better words! I'd brought 'A Momentary Lapse Of Reason' album (I've bought it at good ol' 'Gorbushka' [music black market in Moscow which was placed near the Gorbunov Palace of Culture. – Trans.]. I clearly remember that the LP album cost me 55 roubles (a third of my monthy salary at that time) and an inlay postcard from 'Wish You Were Here' album.

Pink Floyd, Olimpiyskiy, Moscow, 1989Mason approached and I hectically searched my bag for the cover, gave him a marker and after a greeting, asked him for an autograph. How I managed to say anything at all, let alone in English, is beyond me. Nick smiled, signed the cover and said he hoped I'd love the show. I relaxed a little bit and replied that we love their music and that Pink Floyd's arrival is a dream come true, etc. The whole conversation was held as we walked, and then we reached the tunnel to the barrier, where I had no entry. After wishing me good luck, Mason went on and I headed back to the hall, looking at the coveted signature on the cover and not believing my luck. As it turned out, that was only a beginning. I had barely come out of the tunnel, when I saw that David Gilmour was coming towards me! After meeting Mason, I'd grown somewhat bolder and, expecting everything to go smoothly, got the cherished 'A Momentary…' cover out, eagerly anticipating a second autograph (and then, who knew, maybe I'd meet Wright and get all three!). Unfortunately, when we came abreast, Gilmour stopped, smiled tiredly and started somewhat nervously looking around. At that moment I told him, how happy I was to see Pink Floyd live and that I hadn't even dreamed that it would ever happen. I wished him good luck with the Moscow concerts, and offered him the cover for the cherished signature. At that point it seemed that Gilmour had found the person he'd been looking for and coldly said "No autographs", and went further down the corridor. Before I could even drop my jaw with amazement, a huge guy rushed up on me from behind and pressed me against the wall rather roughly. As soon as he had made sure Gilmour was a considerable distance away, he set me free and mumbled something like "Sorry, mate, just my job" and ran after the boss. As I understand, the man was Gilmour's personal bodyguard.

To be honest, I was surprised by how events unfolded. Protective behavior is understandable in the middle of a wild crowd of fans, but it was just me alone! Didn't Dave know his arrival was anticipated here in Moscow? Didn't he know that Pink Floyd's arrival was a huge event for all of us? He knew it perfectly well; even if he hadn't guessed it before (which is unlikely), the journalists at the press conference that day had depicted everything so vividly that Gilmour was listening with his mouth open.

In fairness, I'll note that one of my good friends, a well-known Floyd fan by the name of Sergei Kozlov (the one, who bought the rights for translating and legally publishing Schaffner's 'A Saucerful of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Odyssey' with his hard-earned money), managed to get all three autographs. He spent three days at the 'Sheremetyevo' airport, meeting all planes from Greece, where Floyd was flying to Moscow from (he didn't know the exact date). However, these autographs played a low-down trick with him later. It was 'The Wall' cover which was signed. Thirteen years later, Roger Waters had a concert in Moscow, and Sergei got a chance to get the fourth signature. I won't say how he waylaid Waters, but when the latter saw that someone was giving him 'his' 'The Wall' with Gilmour's autograph, he didn't even take the cover, let alone sign it!

Back to Olimpiyskiy Arena. Thirty minutes before the beginning of the concert, some weird sounds started coming out around the whole perimeter of the hall: birds singing and wind blowing. No one knew yet that it was Pink Floyd's trademark soundscape. By the way, there were few police in the hall at those Pink Floyd concerts. I'm not even talking about the absence of soldiers in poor tracksuits. I found this strange because there were many of them two years prior at the Uriah Heep concert.

Pink Floyd, Olimpiyskiy, Moscow, 1989And then there was the concert itself, which I won't describe – there were enough rapturous reports in those years' press. I'd just cite some quotes by our rockstars and journalists:

    Alexander Gradsky (Russian cult rock singer): "Oh boy, America… [In those days 'America' was synonymous with 'as cool as possible' – Raven]. The playing and singing is fantastic, and what about the light and the sounds – I just can't normally talk about it…"
    Chris Kelmi (leader of Rock Fashion House): "Just insane impression. You simply want to send everyone to hell and find oblivion…"
    Alexander Sitkovetsky (leader of Autograph): "I wish I didn't see it all… You get the feeling of being completely useless…"
    Igor Zaytzev (Soviet Press News Agency): "You know, you think that you know everything by heart, since you heard it about 100 times on record. But what was seen – it's just the other side of the Moon!"

Taking advantage of my official position, so to speak, I had an opportunity to watch the show from every part of the hall. I spent the first concert at the stalls, near the stage or the mixing desk. At the following concerts, I enjoyed the experience from the stands and the upper circle. I got a completely different impression: it's much better to listen at the stalls, but lighting effects and such are more striking from afar. Thus, when I recall those momentous days, there's some kind of a concert film going in my head, filmed from different spots. It's a pity that there weren't any video cameras on sale; I'd have filmed the whole concert. Nobody would have searched me or put through a metal detector. But you weren't allowed to take pictures: those who did were quickly detected by the flashes and ejected without chance of re-entry. Only authorized photojournalists were permitted to take photos, and only during the first three songs at the first concert.

There were five concerts in total: on the 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th and 8th of June. The concert on the 8th wasn't in the original plan and only happened because of the mourning in the country announced on the 5th of June (there was a huge rail disaster with many victims). It was funny to read an announcement near Olimpiyskiy that all interested could return the tickets to the office. I wonder if anyone actually did it. It was hard to talk the Floyd into moving the concert to the 8th of June, since they had a gig in Finland on the 10th. I was present at 3 concerts: on the 3rd, the 4th (when I was on duty) and on the 7th of June (by ticket, invited by a friend). I couldn't make it on the 6th and the 8th, as I was told by the squad that I had already been there two times and there were a great number of people wishing to go. A fellow volunteer, not a Pink Floyd fan at all, pondered for a long time whether to go, and told me after the concert: "Yeah, After such a concert, you can die without worry!" I wholeheartedly agreed with him. We often thoughtlessly say things like this when something extraordinary happened. When he was killed in a car accident a month later, I unwittingly started avoiding carelessly spoken words.

Pink Floyd, Olimpiyskiy, Moscow, 1989The Pink Floyd concerts were the first and last time the whole hall was used, rather than half, as per usual. That's 35,000 seats! For Roger Waters' concert in 2001, for example, only half of the hall was. There were no standing places, only seats. It's interesting that the price of one Pink Floyd concert exceeded the annual foreign currency budget of 'Gosconcert'– the only USSR organization at that time which organized foreign stars' concerts (not only pop ones, but also classical music concerts, opera, ballet etc)! Since our roubles were no use for Floyd, they were offered barter: wood, oil, black caviar to be sent to any company in any country specified by them. The goods would be sold and all the concert expenses covered! As Gilmour recalled later, he was in shock, "We're musicians, not oil traders!" He shrugged it off and said that they'd perform for free if the expenses for their hotel stay and the transport of their gear from Athens to Moscow and then to Finland were covered. Soviet promoters were ecstatic! But they were offended in 1993 when they were told that freebies were over: they had wanted to bring Floyd to Moscow again, during their Division Bell Tour, but 1 million dollars for the concert plus overhead expenses simply could not be covered at that time. In '89, our organizers weren't even able to pay for official tour programmes. Programmes should have been paid for in advance, in the same currency, and only then sold at concerts. But with the official rouble-to-dollar rate of the time, the programmes would have been sold for 150 roubles each. And that's while an average salary was about 120 roubles! Who'd have bought those? Storm Thorgerson's designers tried to please us in vain, writing 'Pink Floyd' in Russian on one page of the tour programme, but no one could see and appreciate it.

But let's come back to Olimpiyskiy Arena. The show was over at approximately 10pm. A crowd of the most eager fans gathered around the service entrance of Olimpiyskiy, wishing to see their idols up close, and - with luck - get a cherished autograph. There were about 150 folks, maybe more. It turned out that there were fans from all parts of our immense homeland: from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok.

At that time, I have to say, star security and escort systems not only weren't established, those just didn't exist! During the previous decade there were only Elton John, Boney M, Space, Uriah Heep, Billy Joel and that's all! There were no barriers or additional security near service entrance the first day, only a watchwoman and a lone local policeman, who was looking at us with amazement, not understanding, what do we want and why are we gathered. He had no idea who Pink Floyd were and since we were pretty peaceful (so far), there was no need to call any help (it was the next day, when a load of policemen was hectically called and all approaches and entrances to the lower floor of the complex were blocked, so that you couldn't approach closer than fifty metres to the entrance). There was an ordinary 'Ikarus' bus [those were used for foreign tourists – Trans.] in the site, which has driven all the musicians together. No any limos at that time!

And so we were waiting in anticipation. Apparently the Olimpiyskiy Arena management was informed that there was a crowd waiting outside, since one of the administrators came to us after an hour or so and said, "Guys, don't waste your time. The band is having a rest after the concert now, then there will be a soiree. Besides, they won't sign any autographs at all. That's what I'm officially asked to tell you! You'll be waiting for two or three hours in vain". Then somebody from the crowd yelled to him, "Come on, we were waiting for twenty years; we'll manage to wait two more hours!" The crowd buzzed in approval and applauded. However, the number of fans thinned out after an hour and a half . They wanted to get to the subway before its closing, and the taxis were really expensive in those days; to top it all off, it started drizzling. In the end, there were only about thirty of us steadfast fans left.

Pink Floyd, Olimpiyskiy, Moscow, 1989After 1am, some stirring set in: the wall above the service exit was made of glass so that you could see who was descending from the upper floors. We saw backing vocalist girls descending and then the rest did! They stopped at the first floor, since they noticed us through the glass, then they had a talk and only a bunch of roadies continued descending, with the already familiar black guy in the lead. Under his strict direction, the bus was driven close to the entrance. A one metre wide passageway right to the 'Ikarus' doors was constructed with the barriers and the guy gave the go-ahead to the others. And there we go! There were not many of us fans, but what kind of fans. There was a thunderous roar, and everyone wanted at least to touch the musicians, who rushed to the bus. The backing vocalist girls loved it – they were shaking hands and blowing kisses – but I can't say the same for the rest. Scott Page, the saxophonist, was fairly smashed at the banquet and was throwing 'fuck off!' at everyone with an atrocious face, and was beating outstretched hands. Wright paced, somewhat concentrated and weary; Mason was waving his hand, wearing a toothy smile; Gilmour ,whose appearance was met with especially wild cheering, roared 'Fuck off!' with a displeased face (just like in 'The Dogs Of War' video), and stormed into the bus.

If Pink Floyd thought that everything was over, they were definitely wrong! Sturdy fans were standing in front of the bus chanting, "Pink Floyd, Pink Floyd…" The poor driver couldn't even set out, and the policeman had no idea what to do (nowadays, the crowd would have been instantly pacified with truncheons). Eventually, a translator got out of the bus and asked what we were looking for. The fans wanted just one thing: autographs!

The translator was back in five minutes and said, "Hell, get all the stuff you want to be signed together; I'll pass it to them myself". It seems to me that after some talking they decided that they rather sign autographs than stay overnight in a bus. Some gave their ticket, others gave the poster which was on sale at the concert (it was released by our cooperator and is evaluated extremely highly now. It even sat as the example in Vernon Fitch's encyclopedia, although it's incomprehensible in what language 'Moscow' is written – 'Moskow'), someone pulled off his t-shirt, one man even gave his passport, in short, whatever anyone had with them. Frankly, I didn't dare to put the 'A Momentary Lapse of Reason' cover with Mason's autograph in that clutter, so I gave the postcard with a diver from 'Wish You Were here' instead. The translator gathered all the memorabilia and disappeared into the bus. The blinds were drawn, so that we couldn't see what was going on inside. In approximately 10 minutes, the doors opened and the translator simply threw everything he had on the wet asphalt, as far from the bus as he could. You could imagine, what then began! If somebody had thrown a bundle of $100 banknotes at the subway station during a rush hour, there would have been an effect of a smaller degree! Miraculously, I managed to tear my already-crumpled postcard from someone's hands. On the postcard, just like on all the other memorabilia thrown out of the bus, was Gilmour's signature! While folks - close to a fight - were proving whose this or that ticket was, the bus quickly departed.

Pink Floyd, Olimpiyskiy, Moscow, 1989Actually, that's the whole story of the one, or rather, two autographs. In conclusion I'd say that I got home at 3am. I barely got to the subway in time, and then I had to go roughly seven kilometres on foot. I had the money for the taxi, but I wanted to calm myself after all of this, and a nice walk is the best remedy in this situation. I finally got home at 3am. By that time, my household were almost out of their minds – I'd gone to a concert and disappeared. There weren't cell phones at that time, and I didn't guess to call home from a telephone box…

Over the years my collection has been widened with new Floyds' autographs – both individual and by the whole band – but that one, acquired, quite literally, with a fight, is still the most precious to me.

P.S. The story convinced me of the accuracy of the saying 'don't create an idol for yourself'. Talented people, even geniuses, are human beings, not gods, with all the whims, shortcomings and bad moods characteristic of all humans. However, this does not diminish the merit of their creative work. Also, even in a situation which is offensive to me, no one should be judged too harshly. Certainly, my meeting with Gilmour was a big event for me, but for him I was just one of thousands and thousands through all his years in the limelight. It must be extremely tiring and bothersome. Perhaps he had some incident in the past, with a similar situation or maybe he was scared of the wild, unpredictable Russians. I'm not kidding, at that time, the opinion of us was far worse, and even now it is hardly different.

When I was talking to Mick Box of Uriah Heep about their first visit to Moscow in 1987, he said that he was sure, that bears were really roaming Moscow streets at night, and that all the people wore bast shoes, were roaring drunk, and sung songs with their balalaikas all day! At least Gilmour is not Robert Fripp of King Crimson, who doesn't sign autographs at all and furiously hates autograph hunters. There's an infamous incident in which he simply threw a pack of early King Crimson LPs, given to him for signing, on the floor, and said it was complete rubbish, since it was a thing of the past for him and one should live for the day. When King Crimson got to Moscow, Fripp was the only member of the band absent from both press conference and autograph session! David Gilmour is a sweetheart compared to him.

The article was first published on the fan site and Russia's 'In Rock' magazine. Our thanks to Dasha Dykhanovska for the translation, and to Alexander Zheleznov for the permission to publish this here.

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