October 1, 1976, Temple du Bas, Neuchâtel, Switzerland
I was 24 years old when I launched the Neuchâtel show and very, very enthusiastic about Gentle Giant. I followed the band on my motorbike and then (from Bern), guided their gear-truck into the city of Neuchâtel. This was very difficult at that time of year because the whole city was into its traditional wine festival, so it was almost impossible to access the venue with a big truck.
Anyway, there was also a friend of mine, Alex Rabus, a great painter, who made a huge painting called "Gentle Giant" and we shifted the painting downstairs close to the dressing room, where we also laid out a formidable catered feast for the two bands, Gentle Giant and openers Banco. Then there was Alex's wife, Renate, who made this big five-story cake (it was excellent) and they decorated it with the motives of all the GG records recorded so far (up to "Interview").
In the photos, you can quite clearly recognize all of the motives. My girlfriend did the rainbow from "Interview" in wood, upon which was fixed the "Free Hand". Another pair of tied-up hands, in white, was placed on the right side. Underneath, there was a Chianti bottle covered with marzipan (the king from "Power and the Glory"), from which a marzipan tongue was sticking out ("Acquiring the Taste"). On top of the cake was that great "Octopus", also in marzipan. Only "In a Glass House" was less obvious. You can see a few scattered pieces of glass in the black and white shot.
The painting in the background is that "Gentle Giant" painting/fresco of Alex Rabus (he worked about 2 years on that one!) It was really funny to see the musicians staring at that cake. None of them dared to cut the cake because it was too beautiful, but Derek (or Ray) threw himself onto the three little knitted friends, knitted with loving detail, with "Three Friends" motives on the back, and pocketed them as souvenirs. Only later did Banco swallow the cake almost in one gulp!
Never mind the two statues on the side in one of the photos. They belong to the infrastructure of the venue.
And it sure wasn't just another gig for me. I mean, even with all the work that had to be done to launch the show itself, with all the obstacles you encounter always when you do such a thing, with all the animosity coming from the "jealous others" (after all, this was only Neuchâtel's second "big" concert - otherwise the town had been as provincial as a Swiss town can be), I was determined to make it an unforgettable happening. And it became that in many ways. I really was alone on board with the small number of friends that helped me, mostly family members, in order to be sure that I was safe and not misled by anyone. Nothing was left to hazard, with everything being meticulously planned.
But this concert wasn't even the only thing on my mind at the time. On that same day, October 1, I opened my Jazz Club, the "Jazzland". I was exhausted!
But anyway, there was this other incredible story that I'll never forget. On GG's technical rider there was a point that I couldn't fulfill. It was a call for an electrical safety box that was to be placed right beside the stage. One person was to sit at this safety box during the group's performance. Now, if any musician were to get "stuck" to an electrical current (a lot of musicians have died that way - Keith Relf and others), then the person at the safety switch was to shut it off, so a life could be saved.
However, the venue (the renowned 'Temple du Bas' - a beautiful church in the heart of the old city, as seen in the photo of the stage) was just completey renovated and was built to lodge concerts. In other words, there was a brand new infrastructure in terms of lights, stage and, of course, all electrical wiring was new - and Swiss-safe. We have these F1 plugs built into the wall wiring that makes the fuses jump when there is a short circuit. Besides, it was the wine festival and the all the crews of the city's electrical services were on the run to install all the wiring for those little stands in the streets where they'd sell wine, barbeque etc.
When I told Giant that at the soundcheck, they made grim faces. A little later, I went down to the dressing room and I saw the roadies dressed in the band's stage costumes. I said, "What the hell is going on here?" And I was told, "Well, you see, Gentle Giant is on the verge of taking off internationally in terms of success, like Tull, Yes, or Genesis, so they can't take the risk of going on an unsafe stage." The roadies said they would perform the show instead.
Then they gave me some live examples of how skilled they were by playing me licks from the band's repertoire (and actually, quite well did the roadies played those). They said to me, "You don't have to worry - the people won't know that it's not GG themselves but just us roadies." The audience would get the music of Gentle Giant and that would suffice.
As I was very excitable (and exhausted from all the preparatory work), I totally cracked. I had a nervous breakdown and wept like a little kid! Then I was warmed and heartened at how they "picked me up" and let me know that this was just English humor and a little revenge for the scene at the soundcheck earlier in the afternoon.
Another funny thing - I remember when they set up the vibraphone (I had never played one before), I couldn't help but go and tickle it. As I knew the music very, very well, I ventured to play that incredible melody from "On Reflection". Suddenly, one of the musicians turned up behind my back and, of course, my conscience took over and I shivered with embarrassment.
Maybe a year later, I saw the band again and showed them the great photo album I had made of the Neuchâtel show and had them sign a record of the show which I had made at a friend's. He had one of those fantastic wax-engravers with which you could make an LP. You had to cut it LP by LP, so it was a very personal, individual thing - nothing to do with commercializing the music. I would never want a show that I taped appearing on a commercial bootleg. I wouldn't ever sell it for any money in the world. I'm a musician myself and can very well relate to how unscrupulous that would be.
Anyway, we had a good laugh at the remembering of the Neuchâtel show with all its magic little details that I hope were certainly a plus in the hectic, and probably sometimes boring, touring schedule of Gentle Giant at the time.