Grace and Humility

I am grateful that the French/German channel ARTE provides footage of the concert of Brian and Roger Eno at the Acropolis in Athens of August 4. The circumstances, in times of Covid, the most terrifying heat wave in Athens since 1987, and even more terrifying bush fires which had reached the outskirts of the Greek capital, must have been extraordinary. Peter Chilvers who was part of the, well, familiy band, wrote the next day, on the Manafonistas blog,

I can’t quite believe we actually played at the Acropolis last night. There were so many, many reasons why we might not have. Any of the band or crew could have tested positive or been told to self isolate any time in the two weeks up to the gig. Brexit makes moving musicians and equipment profoundly challenging. And then there was the heat! It hit 43 degrees in afternoon on Tuesday while we were setting up, the highest Athens has experienced since the 1987. Even with shade and fans running, laptops became unusable, and we have a lot of them. They only started cooperating at around 8pm, chopping out set up time to pieces. To add to the drama, wildfires burnt out of control to the north, and ash started to fall on stage.

But it did go ahead! A particularly exciting concert for me, as mid way through I switched from being an on stage technician, and started playing keyboards on some wonderful new material from Brian, plus some classics like By This River, Julie With, And Then So Clear. I realise I’ve worked with Brian for 15 years, but getting to play those songs live was extraordinary.

Despite of all the disasters – or perhaps because we spent so much time anticipating them – everything went without a hitch. There was a nice family feel on stage with Roger playing a set from Mixing Colours with live treatments from Brian, followed by a some beautifully atmospheric songs with Roger’s daughter / Brian’s niece Cicely. Leo Abrahams, who’s been playing with Brian for 20 years also provided beautiful guitar soundscapes from halfway through.

Lovely as it was to play, I’m very glad that it’s over, and that I don’t have to spend every waking minute expecting equipment to melt.

Brian’s music has accompanied my entire life as an adult (I’m a few years younger). In particular his warm songs with at times enigmatic lyrics have, at times, helped me in difficult times. I was in particular pleased to hear By this River of the Before and After Science album of 1977, a song which, according to Brian, had not even been performed live ever before. And, And Then So Clear of the comparable Another Day on Earth album of 2005. The latter contained Bone Bomb (not performed, of course, at the Acropolis) about the thoughts of a desperate Palestinian girl which makes very much clear Brian’s position in the conflict.

The rare concert (Brian may perform to bigger audiences every ten years or so; I have never had the opportunity to see him live) started with some pieces of the most recent collaboration of Brian and Roger on the Mixing Colors album. Brian then had to read from his notes the lyrics of a number of very old and two or three so far not performed new songs as he could “not remember the words” (either too old or too new).

The concert was extremely unpretentious. After almost every piece, Brian thanked the auditorium for kind applause. Given the simplicity of the music whose deeper level qualities cannot easily be perceived, in particular not by most either trained ears in classical music or pop, the band members, that is long time collaborators Leo Abrahams and Peter Chilvers as well as Brian’s lovely niece (and Rogers’s daughter) Cecily Eno, were remarkably low profile and utterly congenial.

Unfortunately, the concert can be seen on ARTE only from Germany and France until January 2022.

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