Amougies Festival, Belgium 1969

Amougies Festival, Belgium 1969
Authored By John Nicholson

This was one of the first major European festivals and it had a brilliant 5-day line up of acts. Yes, it was called Europe’s Woodstock! 

It was organized by the French label Byg Actuel and sponsored by Actuel, the flagship magazine of underground culture which was owned by Byg. The festival took place in the village of Amougies , Belgium, from October 24-28 , 1969

The Actuel Music Festival of Jazz, Rock and New Music was originally planned to take place at Paris' Les Halles. It would have been the first festival of its kind in Paris, and all advance advertising and performing contracts had been drawn up with Paris as the festival location, as you can see from the poster.

But the Paris cops didn’t like the idea of freaks from all over Europe descending on the city and vetoed the City of Light as the festival site. The police were certainly not discouraged by the various established local promoters, record companies and TV corporations who were not especially eager to see any competitive "happenings" nor wished for new blood to enter the rather closed show-business setup traditional to Paris. Boo to the squares, man.

The authorities really did fear hippies, this can’t be forgotten or ignored, especially in France which had a long history of revolution and of the general public getting up on its hind legs and being rebellious. So they denied permission for events which might attract large groups of young people claiming they’d be violent and stoned, even though, as we all know, if you’re well toasted, violence is not on your agenda. 

All the producers wanted to do was to get young people together to hear music and get their Euro groove on, baby.  So the organisers, feeling The Frenchie Man was a downer, relocated the gig to a big tent near the Belgian country town of Amougies. 

Over 75,000 people attended during the 5-day festival. Now, 5-day fests are a rarity, in fact I can’t recall another. But it all passed off very peacefully. Frank Zappa played with several bands including Sam Apple Pie, Blossom Toes, Caravan, Pink Floyd, Archie Shepp and Captain Beefheart.

The whole thing was filmed but got nixed by Pink Floyd and couldn’t be shown until the relevant monies were stumped up, which they were never so it remains un-screened officially to this day. That’s got to be unearthed, possibly by Floyd themselves because Zappa jammed with them on a 20-minute Interstellar Overdrive - who wouldn’t want to see that?! And oh, look what I found.  Nearly 3 hours of film of the event, including FZ with PF.

Other hits of the festival were Ten Year After on the Friday night who were really tearing it up across Europe and USA by now and gigged almost incessantly. I bet they played I Can’t Help From Cryin’ Sometimes where Alvin detunes and retunes the 6th string of the guitar in an extended improvisation. East Of Eden were one of the most popular bands to play.

The newly assembled Yes apparently woke people up on Monday afternoon, and Caravan - who had also only just formed - went down well.  The Art Ensemble of Chicago guitarist Joseph Jarman performed naked. Oh do put it away Joe, we’ve all got one.

Looking at the list of performers, so many bands were less than a year or two old, making the Pretty Things, who had been gigging for 5 or 6 years at that point, positive veterans. Alexis Korner likewise. 

With its unique mix of nascent rock and progressive bands with free jazz honk-honk-beard-gong-gong-bangers this was a really special festival and a successful one artistically. Whether anyone made any money was never really the point. This was a true underground festival about moving the art form forward and doing something new and revolutionary. And in that, it succeeded completely. 

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