Soft Machine at Parking Foch, Paris – 1967 ? 1969 ?

This is the kind of detective work I find really enjoyable and frustrating at the same time. In this case, despite my best efforts I have yet to reconcile various people’s memories and pieces of evidence.

The first mention I saw of this concert was on Michel Polizzi’s website. Michel attended this show and is positive that it took place in June 1967. And he should know, as he was 14 at the time and remembered attending the event with a classmate of his at the time in Lycée Claude Bernard.

I got in touch with Michel and he offered more details which seemed to corroborate the date – while he was pretty sure Daevid Allen wasn’t in the band (which he should have been), he distinctly remembered talking to Kevin Ayers who needed advice on how to drive to the Autoroute du Sud and head off to the South of France. In retrospect, Michel rationalised that they were on their way to Saint-Tropez, so late June or possibly early July 1967 would have made sense.

The context was, Michel added, a “Paris-style Sixties happening” also featuring Les Variations, a French band who went on to become popular for a few years. It would seem pretty early days for them but I have been unable to determine when they first began playing.

An intriguing aside to Michel’s account was his memory that a pornographic photo montage involving then-Prime minister Georges Pompidou’s wife was circulating among some of those in attendance, which would place the event significantly later in time as this ties in with the famous “Markovic affair“, i.e. late 1968 or later.

I am mentioning this because the next stage of my investigation seemed to confirm the latter date. An article by Jean-Pierre Lentin in Actuel (issue 12, September 1971) placed the Parking Foch concert in “late 1968”, adding more information : it was organised by l’École Centrale and featured not only Les Variations, but fellow French bands Triangle and Tac-Poum Système.

Soon after discovering this I had the opportunity to interview Lentin (who has sadly since passed away) but sadly he by then remembered very little about this particular event.

Neither did Hugh Hopper when I asked him about it :

I definitely remember the name Parking Foch, but can’t remember if it was when I was roadying in 67/68 or later when I was playing.

Since Hugh didn’t start roadying for Soft Machine until September 1967 (he wasn’t part of the Saint-Tropez trip), this alone seemed to rule out the June 1967 option.

Of course, late 1968 was a theoretical impossibility – Soft Machine were not gigging at all between September 1968 and their “comeback” concert at the Royal Albert Hall in February 1969, their first with Hugh Hopper on bass.

The latest in this ongoing investigation came a couple of years ago with an e-mail from a former Soft Machine roadie named Muz Murrell. Interestingly he was intrigued by the lack of information on my website Calyx about a specific gig… you guessed which one.

I can remember one mad gig in a car park in Paris called Parking Foch. We were trying to find the gig, not realising it was in an underground car park ! Robert collapsed from heat exhaustion if I remember correctly.

He added that this was the trio with Hugh, not Kevin.

I wrote back and told him about the “late 1968” suggestion. He replied that this didn’t square with his memory of the weather being so hot that day, and that 1968 wasn’t a possibility since “Robert’s drum kit at the time was a present from Mitch [Mitchell] at the end of the Hendrix tour”.

A web search about Parking Foch also produced the interesting detail that it had opened in September 1968.

I suggested to Muz that, although placing the event a full two years after Michel’s recollection (he would have been 16 rather than 14), it would have made sense for the concert to have taken place around the time of the Bataclan concert, on 25th June 1969.

This prompted the comment :

I think that the tour I did with Soft Machine lasted for about three or four weeks, mabye less. The Stones gig in Hyde Park was the 5th July 1969, and I think the Softs tour was just before that gig.

Of course it’s difficult to reconcile this with Michel Polizzi’s memory of being 14 at the time or having a discussion with Kevin about driving to the South of France. But the overwhelming evidence seems to be in favour of June 1969, not 1967. I would of course welcome any corroborating evidence !

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