The sites

Smoke On The Water

Back in Blighty, and time for the final report on the Montreux trip.
As we mentioned, one of the reasons for the visit was for myself and Stephen to try and nail locations associated with the Machine Head sessions.  We were fortunate in this to have the help of Jean Paul, who worked with Claude Nobs for over a decade, and was a good friend ever since they met at scouts as teenagers.
JP, as everyone knows him, performed any number of duties, and shared an office with Claude from the late 60s and was there during Deep Purple’s stay in late 1971. As such he helped book hotels, and was instrumental in the hunt for alternate recording sites after the Casino fire (having been one of the crew who helped shove the Stones Mobile to relative safety earlier). And if you know the Didi Zill shot of Roger getting his teeth into a tasty looking burger during the recording, then JP (who was a Michelin starred chef) cooked those as well!
We met with any number of interesting people and numerous current residents, even the owner of the building, and got lots of detail about their stay in in 1971.
It is clear that there is a lot of goodwill from all concerned to make sure the building is suitably signed in future, as well as making some kind of trail for the sites associated with the album sessions (and a map for visitors to download).  After I had given everyone a quick history lesson (they sprang this on me just 48 hours in advance), Roger Glover told his side of the story to the assembled guests, before the chap who handles the area’s residents association then explained how he saw this going ahead. It is tricky because they do not want to disturb the privacy of the residents, but they would like to have the history better known. There is a plan for a large plaque or interpretive panel of some sort, but getting permission is complex as it is a listed building.  This visit had to be kept private, but if all goes well it might be possible to arrange future official pre-booked visits open to all.
Originally both Ian Gillan and Ian Paice had wanted to come as well. IP as you might imagine is being very carefully looked after, his wife Jackie travelling with him, and on the day they decided he needed the extra rest after the show the night before. Don Airey did come along though (and was as much taken by JP’s beautiful vintage MG outside the foyer as anything else!).
After the formalities, everyone had a chance to explore the corridor and the Doctor who lives in the far end (which is partitioned off now and forms part of his study) kindly opened his flat so Roger and everyone could work out where the band were all set up.
After an hour or so, when people had begun to leave, we were able to tour the rest of the building (which is listed) and then spend a couple of hours in the company of Yvon, one of the apartment residents who had helped organise the visit, and interviewing JP informally to get his take on the events and answers to many of our questions.  I’ve done a few rock interviews in my time, but sat on benches under the trees on the Lake Geneva shoreline (!) beats them all.
We then spent some time trying to take photographs to match up with those from the time. The above photograph shows the corridor as it is now for example. It was always hard to grasp the size of the blaze, but the photo below gives us an idea; the red awning on the left is the current Casino.  When it went up, the flames at one stage reached to the top of the apartment block on the right, and it was feared it too might catch fire.

casino, Montreux, 2016

We did have one reporter and photographer attend, and some of their material has already appeared in the local press.  There is also a report online in the Geneva Tribune (in French), with more professional photographs (the link to Smoke live is not from this year’s show.)
One reason for all this was to push me on to wrap up work on the upcoming Machine Head book, and if you want to keep in touch on this then it would be wise to scoot over to the publisher’s website and sign up for the newsletter if you have not already done so.  They are hoping to get the book out before Christmas.
In the meantime a big thanks to Stephen Clare who made some of the initial contacts for us; to everyone in Montreux who helped get this together, and Roger Glover for agreeing to take part. It was nice also to meet up with Mike Wiklund again (for the first time since Jon’s memorable farewell show in Ipswich), he was in Montreux for his 99th Deep Purple concert!, and photographer Sue Burton, who like us had decided just to make the trip as it was something she felt she ought to try and do at least once as a Deep Purple fan.

Lastly, I like quirks of fate.  While the Casino burnt out and was demolished, apparently some of the fire crew did pull fixtures and fittings out.  Some of the chairs survived.  And are still being used today!  I was quite sceptical, fearing we were being wound up by our hosts, but underneath it still has the Casino address property label…  though quite why anyone would want to risk their lives for something like this is beyond me.

smoke on the water

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5 Responses to “The sites”

  1. Bruce Metcalfe Says:

    Well done Simon! In true Pythonesque fashion you should have stated you located a mouldy fragment of bun in an unknown floor crack in the corridor area. “An actual piece from the actual bun consumed by Roger Glover 45 years ago!”

    • simon robinson Says:

      There was one room at the end of the corridor with glass doors which is still unowned due to a long running legal issue with the building next door, there could be anything in there!

  2. Leftin Says:

    An excellent write-up on what must’ve been a fun trip. The Smoke on the Water story never gets old (as they say), and if you happen to like Deep Purple as well… Thanks.

    Smoke on the Water works on so many levels, but the slightly menacing feel to it really does lend gravitas to the story. (It also works in Woman from Tokyo with its more upbeat lyric – a puzzle.)

    I’m not sure what Switzerland was like in the early ’70s with regard to H&S, but schools in Wiltshire were very gung-ho. There was a fire in the basement (appropriate), and we pupils were given buckets of water and sent to battle! It was a case of spontaneous combustion, and was happily confined to one room, but maybe it set us up to appreciate Purple’s fiery oeuvre.

    The Grand Hotel looks beautiful.

    • simon robinson Says:

      Love the fire story! Maybe we were just tougher back then; we used to play with the blocks of dry ice round the back of the school kitchen after it was ice-cream for dessert…

      • Leftin Says:

        Thanks. Glad your fingers survived the dry ice! When you see people holding the horn of a CO2 extinguisher… Cringe. We had a reunion earlier this month, and the room where the fire happened still has an eerie echo from then (’72/3).

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