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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » November 29, 2012
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The Rolling Stones: Playing Warsaw in 1967
November 29, 2012   
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As The Rolling Stones celebrate their 50th anniversary with a new album entitled Grrr!, a new publication recounts the legendary band’s first concert in Poland 45 years ago.

The coffee-table book, entitled The Rolling Stones. Zza żelaznej kurtyny (The Rolling Stones Behind the Iron Curtain) and written by Marcin Sitko, has been out since Nov. 13 and includes reports from those who organized the now legendary event. It has been published by the C2 publishing house.

While the Rolling Stones’ spectacular shows are a major challenge for contemporary concert producers, it all pales in comparison with the tremendous task facing the organizers of the Warsaw concert in 1967, which was the band’s first gig behind the Iron Curtain. When the Stones came to Poland that year, the entire country was swept by a ticket-hunting frenzy, the band damaged their musical equipment in rehearsal and then they were unable to take their royalties out of Poland. The musicians themselves nevertheless have fond memories of the concert, which made music history in Poland. The new book features facts, myths, memories and eyewitness reports of the event.

The British band performed at the Kongresowa Hall in Warsaw April 13, 1967, giving two gigs at 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. The support act was Czerwono-Czarni, a highly popular Polish band at the time. Getting The Rolling Stones to come to Poland and the concert itself were a “heightened risk” operation. Back in the day, The Rolling Stones on tour meant wrecked hotel rooms around the world, crowds of frenzied fans and incidents involving the police. As they arrived in Poland, Mick Jagger and Co. were seen as both the world’s best rock band and a symbol of unconstrained freedom. The official media were careful in their reports leading up to the concert, with just a two-sentence mention in the Sztandar Młodych newspaper: “London-based big-beat group The Rolling Stones arrived in Warsaw April 12. The band members received flowers from girls who gathered at Okęcie airport.”

The news of the band’s upcoming concert spread like wildfire across Poland and other countries of the communist bloc. Tickets to the event were never officially available, distributed among communist dignitaries and state enterprises instead. Admission cost the equivalent of half the average monthly salary, but many journalists, musicians and fans nevertheless managed to find their way inside the Kongresowa Hall. An estimated 5,000 people got in, more than twice the number the venue could officially seat.

Both concerts featured the same short set featuring hits such as “Paint It Black,” “Lady Jane” and “Satisfaction.” A major problem occurred when the band damaged their equipment, convinced that Poland used the same voltage as the United States—110V instead of 220V. Approached by Jagger himself, Czerwono-Czarni agreed to share their own instruments with the Brits.

As The Rolling Stones took the stage, fans gathering outside the Kongresowa Hall clashed with the police (called the Citizens’ Militia at the time) when those who had been unable to get a ticket tried to barge into the venue. Many later claimed the incidents were provoked by the police. The incidents made headlines in the press: “Hooligans Hit Out” wrote Sztandar Młodych and the Słowo Powszechne newspaper printed reported on a “brawl before The Rolling Stones concert.”

The band received royalties in American dollars and Polish zlotys. The part of the sum in zlotys was equivalent to the price of three Polish-produced Warszawa cars (around zl.300,000). The Stones, however, were not allowed to take a suitcase full of Polish money abroad and exchanging the money into foreign currency in communist Poland was out of the question. The story has it that the Stones exchanged the money for a wagon of Polish vodka which they subsequently never collected, as the duty they would have to pay in Britain was several times higher than what the vodka was worth.
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