Friday 11 January 2013

Claude Nobs

Claude Nobs has died, aged 76, after a skiing accident. There's info about Claude online, his achievements, his contribution to the music world etc... but all you really need to know is that he started the Montreux Jazz Festival, and he knew how to throw a truly memorable party.

I played the festival twice - back in the day - once with my band, and once just me and the cellist known as Oli Kraus. Those heady days of major labels, when it seemed as though anything was possible: reaching a big audience, playing the big festivals, hanging with the stars. So it was that the day before the opening night of the Montreux Festival 2005, Claude Nobs invited me, Oli, my tour manager - the infamous Quinner - and the best front of house sound guy in the world, Johnny Laing, to a party at his chalet, at the top of a mountain over looking the lake.

Now I know I'm a seriously great person to invite to a party. I'll be funny, charming, not fully drunk until the last guest is leaving, I will never play guitar unless begged, and I'm often there to help with the washing up next day, if needed - but even me, in all my awesomeness, assumed this would be a big shindig that only politics told me it would be good to attend. I was still ambitious in those days and I knew how to network. Sure I'd be one among hundreds, but what the heck, free drink is free drink.

So I went. Getting out of the limo at Claude's place I was instantly aware that there was only one other car - and getting out of that was The Corr family. Not a big party then, just me and The Corrs, and two others... oh yes, that's Shania Twain over there, with her then husband - Mutt Lange.

So just us then. An informal do. And I'd put on my best jacket. Only jacket.

What followed is one of my most bizarre memories of those days - and sadly for you, I'm not going to reveal many details of the night, partly because some things are just for me, but mainly because The Corrs have really good lawyers. Suffice to say that Claude Nobs brought together, in one room, a group of people whose paths probably would never have crossed (except perhaps the worst episode of Later ever). During a night of amazing hospitality, I sat opposite at dinner, then played pool and fell in love with Andrea Corr (it's not optional, she's funny, smart, and not perhaps what her music would lead you to surmise)... argued, hugged and became best pals with the man who produced AC/DC's Back In Black, Mutt Lange, and almost talked Shania Twain into covering one of my songs. Almost. And let's not forget they co-wrote "still the one"... and if you don't think that's a great pop song, don't even try and get on my raft when the big wave hits. Mutt even said he'd come and see me play the next night, which is something everyone says, and never does. But I was flattered anyway.

It's rare that you ever see big stars relaxed, when you see them from back stage at festivals or tv shows, or after show parties, they are always "on". Aware of the camera, the audience, the critic. But that night, we were hammered. Maybe it was the mountain air. Or maybe the cocktails before dinner - but make no mistake, it was a case of quiet sound checks for all the next day. Alright, mine don't really get loud, especially when it's just me and Oli K. But you take my point.

The Corrs jammed in the music room downstairs, Johnny Laing played the world's greatest theremin solo, then we all sat and watched unseen footage of Nina Simone from the festival years before. We sat in awed silence watching what only people who had been at that show had seen, a woman possessed, playing great song after great song, the darkness (and heroin) oozing out of her. I can't have been the only one who left that home cinema changed for life.

The night ran on, the next day's festival show was great, I was presented with flowers by Claude - always nice, and Mutt Lange was as good as his word, he sat there from the first note to the last, and said nice things afterwards.

SO farewell, Claude, I can't say I knew you well, but you were a fine host, you always threw great parties, the rooms we stayed in overlooking the lake are logged in my rock'n'roll memory bank for when I'm staying in a Travel Lodge off the M40, and need a better view to call up from my past. But more than that, you started one of the greatest festivals in the world, where you would be guaranteed to see great acts, big and small, but none of them would be the safe, obvious choices that make the modern festival circuit look like the same old boring Radio One playlist. And to die, at 76, after a skiing accident - well, that's pretty rock'n'roll. Here's to you.


  1. I miss these posts. You write so well. You'd think someone would give you a colomn in a paper or some magazine. Even Gary Neville has one...

  2. Huh huh huh. You said "Nobs".

  3. I suspect he won't get a better write up anywhere, thanks.

  4. Bonjour,
    Excusez moi d'écrire en français mais je voulais vous demander si il ne vous serait pas possible d'augmenter un peu la fréquence de vos publications sur ce blog car ce que j'en perçois me laisse penser que cette qualité et cet humour me ferait progresser rapidement...


    Thanks for what you give

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