The months of pulling things together, the anguish over the rain, the uncertainty for a long time of the venue, were all put to bed as the Agiotfest happened on the night of the 12th September, in the plateia of Agios Ioannis, Corfu.
I’d dreamt, literally, of possible scenarios in the many nights leading up to the event. One scenario had us all huddled together under shelter, watching lightning streak across the sky and rain plummet down.
The 12th was a busy day. The phone never stopped ringing in the hours leading up to ‘open doors’. Janet was in to work for her first Saturday shift, after nearly two years of working at Ocay Services. She was going to be on the gate tonight and was sorting tickets and answering the phone and giving me sedatives simultaneously.
Several callers were asking ‘is it raining? ‘No’, I answered, looking anxiously at the darkening sky. ‘Oh, it is here’, says the caller. ‘Where are you ringing from?’ ‘Town’. As town is only five miles away this was a bit worrying. Somebody rang from Gouvia. It was raining there too. A few prayers later and the clouds drifted on, unmolesting us. I just began to relax when the sound of a crash came from the square below. The robust eight by five metre stage had been erected over the last couple of days.
The builder was crossing the square in his truck. Crash! He drives straight into a stack of monitors. They lay in several pieces on the ground. And I had just finished thanking God for the weather.
The technicians got to work, reassembled their equipment, and during the afternoon it was fired up for testing. The groups came along for their sound checks. Miraculously, there seemed no noticeable impairment of the sound quality.
Andy and Karen were busy during this carnage, decorating the stage with various buntings. And a fine job they did too. Dave and Trevor were shopping and Barry and Stella and Cecilia and Rich were preparing the ‘hut’ (Municipal Building) for the catering which would feed and water the crowd on the night.
Chairs were delivered Friday and laid out on the Saturday .Food and drink in, barbecue firing, lastminute appointment of toilets as the taverna was not opening tonight. Three waiters prove to be great workers as the evening unfolds. Giorgos the Mayor and Giorgos (Rika’s son) volunteer as bbq chefs.
Jackie was schmoozing the artists, Martin and Doug appear to run the gates with Janet, Lakis brings ‘security’, four young Greek lads lean on years, but diligent in their duty.
Suddenly it is six o’clock and people are turning up. The Good Old Boys start proceedings to warm up the audience. Numbers are low to start, but soon more and more music enthusiasts are drifting in. The Good Old Boys [Russ and Frank] alternate on stage with Omega Five, down from the north of the island. Their music is raw, atmospheric. Steve has a gravel voice perfectly suited for their brand of rock. Paul Stenton wows the audience with his lead guitar, ably backed up by solid rhythm and vocal from Barry Packman. Steve is also compere for the night, and is a total natural with charm and infectious enthusiasm. Elegant Natasha ably assists him with a Greek translation of events. There is a tribute to old Agiot Dave Smith, who sadly passed away in England earlier in the year.
Darkness descends and the crowd swells to near-full, the night is on. All those worrying dreams are changing into a pleasant but unreal reality. Russ is back on stage, this time with his pretty daughter Jemma. Shy at first, singing alongside her Dad, it is swiftly evident that she has a great voice; audience bowled over again.
East Of Memphis are on. They have a mellowness and strength about them, Richie’s strong guitar and vocals complementing the sweet powerful voice of Sheila McWhirter.
Richie is a stalwart of Agiotfest; again he delivers.
The Dylan Project are delayed by previous sets, but finally they are away. I’d never seen them live before, so was hopeful but slightly apprehensive for them, following such a strong supporting cast. I needn’t have worried. Consummate professionals, they had the audience in their palms and people up and dancing on the improvised dancefloor below the stage. What performers, what a tight sound. Yes they played Dylan, but not exclusively. Numbers tumbled out effortlessly, some of which were probably unfamiliar to the appreciative listeners.
In the midst of this Lucy Steele conducted the raffle, the numbers being picked by local children.
The Dylans come back for their final set. They are obviously enjoying themselves, as they go way past ‘closing time and then beyond one o’ clock, before wrapping up with ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, during which they invite all artists up onto stage for a grand finale.’More, more’ is being shrieked at the end.
It is over, like a dream. The crowd disperses, all smiles.
Such a kaleidoscope of happenings, it is hard to single out an outstanding memory of the night. It was all so good.
But I must mention a few highlights; Steve Gibbons calling for ‘a little more on the floor’ to Bill, who was highly-commended by the Dylans for his proficiency on the mixing desk. Brendan Day, late replacement for Gerry Conway on drums. He was playing to a group of young village boys in the wings. They were agog. In ten years from now Agios will produce a rock drummer or two. P.J. Wright gave me his slide guitar; nothing can be added from me to that kindness.
I want to thank everybody who played, helped, witnessed or sponsored this great, great night. If they are not mentioned in name above they know who they are and will surely forgive the omission.
Three people deserve a special mention here.. Firstly, Jackie Dickinson for her great efforts in communicating with the Dylan Project in the months leading up to the Agiotfest. Secondly to Dave Pegg, who ‘kept the faith’ and came over to the time that land forgot. And last but not least to Lula, without whom none of this would have been possible. Her sometimes chaotic methods may befuddle the casual British observer, but like a magician she always pulls things successfully from her hat.
It just happened. Almost no-one being aware of the event except for the local English-speaking population. A wonderful evening at the family-friendly plateia of Agios Ioannis, where you had the once-in-a-lifetime chance to see quite a few legendary figures from mainly seventies folk-rock and blues bands.
The Good Old Boys, aka Frank Bloomfield and Russ Bartlett opened the festival with a short set of soft, American-friendly acoustic balladry, the pedal steel guitar playing a prominent role in the duo’s sound. Sweet renditions of Bread and Eagles tunes warmed up the atmosphere, “Make It With You”being the nicest moment of the set to these ears.
Omega 5 followed with a mixture of sixties and seventies rock. A mean lead guitarist stole hearts with stunning crystal-clear solos, notably Hotel California’s all-time-classic second part. A harsh-voiced long blond-haired vocalist added a heavier, old metal aesthetics element. A wide range of selections made it interesting trying to guess what sort of a song the next number would be (The Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall, Thin Lizzy’s Whiskey in the Jar, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama, Free’s All Right Now, Gary Moore’s Parisian Walkways, Cutting Crew’s Died In Your Arms Tonight and Rod Stewart’s I Don’t Wanna Talk About It).
Both the Good Old Boys and Omega 5 took to the stage taking turns twice, the former reappearing as a full band – though much younger now, a surprisingly mature-voiced 19-year-old Jemma Bartlett added, whose rendition of Roberta Flack’s The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face will linger for quite a while in my ears. More covers by the band included the classic Superstition and one Duffy number. Omega 5 came up with more 70’s and 80’s stuff, namely Dire Straits’ Money For Nothing, Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird, Hendrix’s Purple Haze, Steppenwolf’s Born to Be Wild and Guns’n’Roses’ Sweet Child Of Mine before concluding with a frenetic Johnny B. Good. Well played, with a lot of electric and acoustic guitar work but how about some original stuff guys?
East of Memphis, the Scottish duo of Richie Henderson and Sheila Mc Whirter brought quality trad folk to the stage, covering standard folk numbers as well as modern pop ones, like Seal’s Crazy. It seemed like the whole place was vibrating colourfully while everyone sang along to “We’re Never Gonna Survive Unless We Get a Little Crazy”, but it was Simon Dupree’s psychedelic pop gem “Kites” from 1967 that brought the duo’s performance to its highest point, perfectly sung by Sheila’s powerful but tender voice, accompanied by Richie’s guitar. Other covers included compositions by The Everly Brothers, Ann Peebles, Simon & Garfunkel, Sandy Wright, Sonny & Cher, the Beatles and a modern rock surprise, the Killers’ Human.
OK, what about the headliners then? Well, here comes history itself. Steve Gibbons (yes, the same Steve Gibbons of the S.G. Band), Dave Pegg (when I met him at the band’s reception I couldn’t believe I was talking to the bassist whose band Jethro Tull along with the whole British prog thing made my teenage years a happy period to remember, and his other band Fairport Convention made me start investigating the roots of British folk when I first heard the tremendous Liege & Lief LP of folk covers), P.J. Wright, Steve Gibbons’ guitarist (you should definitely check out his excellent collaboration with Dave Pegg titled Galileo’s Apology) and an astounding Phil Bond on keyboards. This bunch of old mates is responsible for what is known as the Dylan Project, who cover Dylan better than Dylan himself now that the latter’s voice has become hoarser than the old bluesmen and folk singers of his roots. I wouldn’t really have to recite all the great numbers we heard on their well-focused, brilliantly worked out set, but one thing is for certain; Unless it’s Dylan’s poetry and word puns and tricks as well as a great band to perform, you wouldn’t get middle-aged or even older people sing along and dance to lyrics like “everybody must get stoned” so happily at the square of Agios Ioannis in Corfu.
I hope – and I believe this is everybody’s wish – this year’s Agiotfest was only the beginning. We need more please. Or in Jethro Tull’s own words we have “reasons for waiting and dreaming of dreams”. Spyros Hytiris