Amougies Pop & Jazz Festival 1969 (Sigma 279)
Mont de L’Enclus, Amougies, Belgium – October 25, 1969
(78:15) Astronomy Domine, Green Is The Colour, Careful With That Axe Eugene, Tuning Up with Frank Zappa, Interstellar Overdrive (with Frank Zappa), Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, A Saucerful Of Secrets
The Actuel Festival had troubled beginnings, it was originally planned to be held in France but the organizers were unable to secure a license in three different cities. The organizers settled on an area near the Belgian borders of Flanders and Wallon near the small village of Amougies. The stage was housed in a large tent and the bill was a mix of Underground Rock and Free Jazz, the event was MC’d by none other than Frank Zappa. It is known that Zappa sat in with several acts throughout the festival, Aynsley Dunbar’s Retaliation, Caravan, Blossom Toes, Sam Applie Pie, The Pretty Things, Captain Beefheart, a Free Jazz band that included Philly Joe Jones and Earl Freeman, and of course, The Pink Floyd.
The festival was covered by RTL Radio, Europe 1 Radio, ABC-news, Gaumont Pathe TV, and RTB TV yet surprisingly it took years for any of Pink Floyd’s performance to make the rounds, when it did it was Green Is The Colour and Careful With That Axe Eugene being part of a documentary called Music Power. Eventually an audience recording surfaced of Pink Floyd’s set and began making the rounds on both vinyl and digital formats. Early vinyl titles were Inter-Zappa Overdrive (Turnip-001), Pink Floyd Meets Frank Zappa (PF 102432), and its clone Pink Floyd Meets Frank Zappa (Shadow Man Records PF 102432). Compact disc titles have been sparse, On Stage With Zappa (Unknown) and Astronomy Domine The Godfathers Of Invention (Moonage Daydrean Records). In 2016 Pink Floyd released portions of the set as part of the massive box set entitled The Early Years 1965-1972, the 35 minutes are the middle portion of the concert in near excellent quality. This new release by Sigma takes this soundboard fragment and uses the original audience source to complete the performance.
Astronomy Domine The Godfathers Of Invention (Moonage Daydrean Records) came out in 2007 so I was interested to see if there is an upgrade to the audience portion of the show and I am pleased to say that the audience portion is a very nice improvement. The sound has not been excessively amplified and the sound is clearer and slightly less distorted. For a 1969 audience recording the sound is acceptable. The vocals and guitar are prominent in the mix, the bass is not as defined and the keyboards do occasionally get lost in the mix. Typical for a field recording of the age, the drums are pushed to the back especially while the whole band is playing. The soundboard portion comes from a video source and is very nice, fairly well balanced, all instruments and vocals can be heard in the mix. There is distortion present in the upper ranges of the vocals, Careful With That Axe, Eugene suffers the most, the vocals overtake the music. The song is beginning to grow and will continue to stretch out, the band will soon have a longer lead in that will add to the tension of the piece. The blending of the two sources is well done, while there is a noticeable difference between the audience and soundboard recording they do compliment each other enough, the splices at the source changes are well done.
The Amougies performance is interesting to listen to, the concert was two weeks before the release of Ummagumma whose live tracks were recorded six months prior to this gig. The song list is the same but the pieces have evolved greatly. Astronomy Domine is always a strong opener, the band play a very tight and focused version, again this song features the heavy guitar riffing but it is Richard Wright’s organ that is the star. The addition of Green Is The Colour from the More soundtrack as a segue into Careful With That Axe, Eugene is a thing of brilliance, in all actuality I prefer the audience version of Eugene to the soundboard as it captures the atmosphere better.
The star of the concert is Frank Zappa sitting in with the Floyd during Interstellar Overdrive. Zappa was not only a master musician but a master of improvisation and has no trouble fitting in and actually adding to the middle free form section. The tuning takes a few minutes to get together but the audience are patient and give the musicians a huge ovation at the conclusion of the jam. The live footage is worth a watch, for those who do not own The Early Years set, it can be watched on Youtube, this is highly recommended as it gives the listener an idea inside this event.
The soundboard is an excellent opportunity to listen to Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun. Richard Wright’s keyboards are certainly the star but you can hear David Gilmour beginning to expand his guitar during the fast swirling portion, it’s simplistic in this version but you can hear it is beginning to become the intriguing part over the next two years. Roger’s bass also has a slightly faster tempo and sounds not far off from the middle section of Interstellar Overdrive, he would soon start to slow this down to a much better effect. The final song is an 18 minute version of A Saucerful Of Secrets, this song and Astronomy Domine are the only songs from the audience source. The more primitive sounding audience recording is perfect for this piece, and to my ears is perfectly captured. Roger’s bass sounds like a monolith moving through the mists while Nick Mason’s cymbals accent Dave’s electronic cries beautifully. The Syncopated Pandemonium is at its corrosive best, thankfully Nick’s drums are decent in the mix, while it does take careful listening, you can actually hear all four musicians. Celestial Voices starts off a bit awkward but soon becomes very focused, the distortion of the recording actually adds to the dramatic feel, Dave’s vocals are superb. Pink Floyd’s performance is undoubtedly a triumph.
The packaging is typical for Sigma, all the photos used are from the actual event, live shots of the four Floyds, several with Zappa and concert posters as well. This is a very nice release as Sigma does not venture much in the late 60’s Floyd era for some reason. I also think this release could have been better, the audience portion is superior to older versions and including the complete and improved audience recording on a second CD would have made this the definitive version of Pink Floyd’s performance at the 1969 Amougies Pop & Jazz Festival.