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Smoke on the water: Funky Claude puts Montreux on map

Smoke on the water, fire in the sky
Smoke on the water
They burned down the gambling house
It died with an awful sound
Funky Claude was running in and out
Pulling kids out the ground

Those lyrics by Deep Purple were never supposed to be published.

The song was written as a personal gift to ‘funky’ Claude Nobs, the legendary architect of the Montreux Jazz Festival, after the fire at the casino, the first venue for the festival. But he encouraged the band to record it and issue it. They did and the rest, as they say….

Claude Nobs was famous for creating an event and it made him an icon in Switzerland. But in Montreux, as in the memories of the world’s greatest music celebrities, he is a legend. Claude’s address book is worth its weight in diamonds. But Claude also demonstrated something spectacular – that just one event has the power put a destination on the map. The Montreux Jazz Festival is one such.

The Montreux Jazz Festival is actually a misnomer. It is a music festival. I don’t have the space here to tell you which stars of blues, rock and roll and every other genre of music have appeared in Montreux but I have seen Sting and Paul Simon on stage there. That gives you an idea of the stellar quality of the programme on offer. This summer Elton John is due to appear (you read it here first) and there are free concerts as well as ‘paying’ concerts in addition to, yes, jazz boats on the lake and jazz workshops, if you like that sort of thing. But the event is more about the Montreux vibe for a two-week party that takes over a city of just 20,000 people and doubles its population for a fortnight.

I was in Montreux last week for the AccorHotels customer facing meetings workshop called Global Meetings Exchange and part of the programme included a visit to Claude Nobs chalet. This is now effectively a museum, since Nobs passed away six years ago, and contains the digitalised recordings of all the Montreux Jazz Festivals since 1967. And for the final night dinner we were introduced to how Claude’s determination and focus had created the event with little budget and less know-how with unique video excerpts from some of the world’s greatest performers on stage, including a cameo appearance by a very young Adele, wearing a sloppy jumper and swigging beer from a pint glass during her performance!

Claude’s fame is guaranteed but, more importantly, Montreux’s iconic status is even more assured because of his legacy. It is a stunningly beautiful destination on the shores of Lake Leman (not Geneva, as the British insist on calling it) and event organisers love it for good reason. It is an easy train ride around the lake from Geneva Airport and you can walk from the station to the fabulous Montreux Palace Hotel, home to Funky Claude’s Bar.