Frank Zappa - Montreux 1971 - "Smoke one the Water" concert

Alain Rieder

Silver Member
I had just turned 16 on December 4, 1971, and I went to Montreux with my friends, to attend the Frank Zappa concert that was going to take place in the afternoon.

The rest is history, and I tried to tell the story on my blog, as I remember it 50 years later.

I'm not a native english speaker but I hope you'll enjoy it.

 

GetAgrippa

Diamond Member
Cool I turned 16 same year and that had to be a fabulous experience. Attending concerts “back in the day” was so much fun -thanks for sharing Alain it’s bringing back old memories of my own. I never saw Zappa however.
 

Sebenza

Member
It's funny, the past weeks I've been reading Zappa's biography by Barry Miles while commuting and just the day before yesterday I came to the part where they describe the Montreux events. I looked up the lyrics to Smoke On The Water afterwards and had them in my head the past few days. And now here you go and write a blogpost from your perspective about it. Life is full of strange little coincidences.
 

opentune

Platinum Member
Neat story. You saw a LOT of classic music there as a teenager. Most of those bands you name were in their formative years.
 

Alain Rieder

Silver Member
It's funny, the past weeks I've been reading Zappa's biography by Barry Miles while commuting and just the day before yesterday I came to the part where they describe the Montreux events. I looked up the lyrics to Smoke On The Water afterwards and had them in my head the past few days. And now here you go and write a blogpost from your perspective about it. Life is full of strange little coincidences.
Funny indeed! I don't know this book, could you take a picture of the paragraphs about the Montreux concert?
 

GretschedHive

Gold Member
Here you go:

On Saturday, 4 December 1971 the Mothers arrived from Milan to play the Montreux Casino in Switzerland. The concert was held in the faded glory of the casino’s ballroom, the last event of the season before it closed for the winter. Frank had suggested that Flo and Eddie deliver some of their lines in German for their German concerts. Zappa: ‘I tried to convince Mark and Howard that it was a good idea to learn these things phonetically, because most American groups, if they go and play in another country, make no attempt to communicate in the native language.’ (It seemed to have escaped Frank’s attention that Montreux is in the French-speaking part of Switzerland.) So large sections of Billy the Mountain were performed in German, including the prescient lines: ‘Sheets of fire, ladies and gentlemen / Lachen von Feuer/ Sheets of real fire/.’

In the last few minutes of Don Preston’s synthesiser solo on ‘King Kong’ – the encore to a 90-minute set – flames broke out on the third row of the balcony; someone had fired a Very pistol and the flare had lodged in the ceiling, short-circuiting the electrical wiring. The Mothers could see the sparks and fire from the stage, but it didn’t look serious, so they carried on. But the audience panicked. People in the front row climbed on stage and pushed past the band, heading for the exit. Frank tried to calm the audience of 3,000, which was well over capacity, by referring to Arthur Brown’s hit single ‘Fire’: ‘FIRE ! Arthur Brown, in person!’ Then, speaking slowly: ‘Well if you just calmly go toward the exit, ladies and gentlemen. Go toward the exit, calmly. Please calmly, calmly towards the exit.’

The band left the stage and watched from the wings as part of the burning balcony broke away and fell on the seats below. Then they realized it was serious. Smoke billowed out and people started scrambling over the seats. The owners had chained the exit doors because people had been trying to get in, even though the hall was full. The Mothers’ driver led them downstairs to a kitchen area safe from the crush of the crowd. But the smoke still reached them – it was an old building and burning fast. There was no exit where they were, so the quick-thinking driver smashed a glass wall with his fist and led them to safety. In less than two minutes they were standing in the street.

Only outside did they realize the seriousness of the situation. The flames had caught hold and, shortly after they had escaped, the heating system had exploded, blowing several people through a window, including a Mothers roadie. Fortunately there were no fatalities. The band returned to their hotel and Frank stood on the veranda and watched as the casino burned to the ground, along with all his guitars, three synthesisers and an organ; equipment valued at $50,000, but fortunately fully insured.

The English band Deep Purple were in the audience and had booked the casino ballroom for the following three weeks to record an album. They returned to their hotel and watched from the safety of the restaurant as flames rose hundreds of feet into the air and sheets of fire erupted from the building like solar flares, fanned by the wind from the surrounding mountains and blowing a plume of smoke far out across Lake Geneva. Bass player Roger Glover grabbed a napkin and scribbled down the lines of ‘Smoke On The Water’, one of their greatest hits.

The next day, as the Mothers walked through the smouldering rubble of what used to be the stage, Frank uncharacteristically allowed them to vote on whether to continue the tour. They still had several weeks of sold-out concerts remaining, but it meant starting from scratch and hiring or borrowing new instruments, lights and sound equipment. They voted to continue. Frank had apparently wanted to abandon the tour and cut his losses, but he understood that with Christmas drawing near, the band wanted to earn as much as possible. The French and Belgian leg of the tour was cancelled and they went straight to London where they were due to play four shows on 10 and 11 December at the Rainbow Theatre, the old Finsbury Park Astoria and the site of the Beatles’ Christmas Shows.
 
Top