Press Crusade Blows Saxon Show

Middle East political tensions put another squeeze on the region’s live music.

The Guardian reported that Roger Waters is under pressure to pull his Tel Aviv show and Saxon had to cancel its gig at Dubai Desert Rock because a local paper printed an Arabic translation of some of the act’s lyrics.

The U.K. paper and rival The Independent both ran March 10 stories saying Waters refused to cancel his June 22nd Hayarkon Park show despite being lobbied to do so by political and cultural activists protesting Israel’s policy toward Palestinians.

“I would not rule out going to Israel because I disapprove of the foreign policy any more than I would refuse to play in the U.K. because I disapprove of Tony Blair’s foreign policy,” Waters told The Guardian.

Saxon’s March 16th performance at the Dubai festival had to be pulled after the local Arab-language version of Emirates Today ran a story highlighting the act’s lyrics, including a song called “Crusader (The 12th Century).”

At press time, it wasn’t possible to get Emirates Today journalist Zaid Abdullah’s reaction to Saxon’s accusation that he was stirring things up to create a story.

“He’s a tosser and he hasn’t done any good at all. He was just making a headline,” was Saxon manager Thomas Jensen’s reaction.

He said he has agreed to not comment to any of the region’s media for fear of making things worse, particularly since the international fuss caused by Danish paper Jyllandsposten‘s cartoons depicting Mohammed.

But he said what has annoyed him most is that Abdullah wasn’t reporting a protest by any individual or particular group.

“He’s created the protest himself. I feel very sorry for the promoter because I’m also a promoter and have Germany’s Wacken Open Air. The journalist made the story for himself and needlessly put us all between a rock and a hard place.

Megadeth‘s on the bill and they have a song called ‘Holy War.’ I’m staying silent over there because saying anything could give the issue more space and the whole gig could fall apart. I’ve agreed to just keep my mouth shut,” Jensen said.

“It’s not even a good translation. I’ve had it translated back from the Arabic. He’s just lifted bits out of context.

“Of course the band would rather go to play for their fans. There’s been a great response from the region on the Web site. But now it’s impossible to go,” he explained.

Once the paper ran the piece, Jackie Wartanian from Centre Stage Management immediately agreed that the show at the 15,000-capacity Dubai Country Club would have to be pulled. She said her (and the government’s) main worry was that it would only take one fanatic to react to the paper’s coverage rather than the words themselves causing any real offence to people in general.

She tried to defuse the issue and save the performance by putting out a press release that said: “This particular song is on the Crusader album released in 1984. This song can be interpreted as a commentary on the mentality of the Crusaders at that particular time. It can also be interpreted about ALL soldiers around the world fighting their battles.

“It does not matter where the soldier has come from in the world, what colour skin they have or religion they follow, this is a song about human beings and what they are personally going through as a soldier.”

It concluded by stating, “Rock music is about uniting people, not dividing people. This is why the Dubai Desert Rock Festival exists.” But it seems the damage had already been done.

The March 13 edition of Gulf News reported that the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing had immediately withdrawn its permission to allow the act to play.

“He’s put the whole thing on a knife edge. It’s a peaceful area with no racial or religious tension but he [Abdullah] has just created some,” said singer and lyricist Biff Bifford.

He said the song is a historical account of a war that happened eight centuries ago and that a lot of the act’s material related to historic events, including Kennedy being shot and the conquest of South America.

When asked what particular part of the song was causing this alleged offence, he said, “Pretty much all of it, as far as I can gather.”

Jensen posted a note on the band’s Web site and put out a press release that said, “The songs are not intended to be taken as any form of propaganda, the song is a snapshot of an event in history, the lyrics are intended to give a flavour of what it must have been like in the army at the time.

“Saladin, the leader of the Saracens, was also a mighty warrior and his battles would make a good vehicle for a great metal song as well.

“The journalist who wrote about ‘Crusader’ was obviously trying to cause as much trouble as possible. We don’t write lyrics to incite hatred or racism, we have fans all over the world of every colour and religion and music should be used to break down barriers and not to build them.”

When asked who was going to have to bear the cost of the cancellation, he said he was doing as much as he could to cut down and limit the costs.

“I don’t hold the promoter responsible in any way and we’re working together to keep the financial damage down to the absolute minimum.”

Rival promoter Padma Coram from Talent Brokers said she thinks the situation has become ridiculous.

“I think you could take any lyric from virtually any band and find something that could possibly offend somebody somewhere, but I don’t think that’s a good way to go forward,” she said.

The cancellation was a bitter blow for Saxon, its local fanbase and Centre Stage Management. A year ago, the act had to pull the same slot after Bifford’s house burned down just days before the show and was worried about the traumatic effect it would have on his family.

The situation in Israel, which had eased to the degree that top promoter Shuki Weiss was confidently planning to bring more international acts to Tel Aviv, might have also taken a turn for the worse with the March 14 torching of the British Council office in Gaza.

– John Gammon