The Night Frank Zappa Jammed With Pink Floyd … and Captain Beefheart Too (Belgium, 1969)

Recent­ly an old­er musi­cian acquain­tance told me he nev­er “got into ‘Inter­stel­lar Over­drive’ and all that,” refer­ring to the “first major space jam” of Pink Floy­d’s career and the sub­se­quent explo­sion of space rock bands. I found myself a lit­tle tak­en aback. Though I was born too late to be there, I’ve come to see “’Inter­stel­lar Over­drive’ and all that” as one of the most inter­est­ing things about the end of the sixties—the com­ing of Cap­tain Beef­heart and the Mag­ic Band, of The Soft Machine, of Hawk­wind and oth­er psy­che­del­ic war­riors.

Too oft over­looked in the pop­u­lar Wood­stock/Alta­mont bina­ry short­hand for fin-de-six­ties rock and roll, these bands’ brand of prog/­jaz­z/blues/psych-rock exper­i­men­tal­ism got its due in Amou­gies, Bel­gium, in a 1969 fes­ti­val meant as Europe’s answer to the three-day “Aquar­i­an expo­si­tion” staged in upstate New York that same year.

Spon­sored by Paris mag­a­zine Actuel, “The Actuel Rock Fes­ti­val” fea­tured all of the bands men­tioned above (except Hawk­wind), along with Yes, Pharoah Sanders, Don Cher­ry, and many more. MC’ing the event, and serv­ing as Beefheart’s man­ag­er, was none oth­er than impre­sario of weird him­self, Frank Zap­pa, who sat in with Floyd on “Inter­stel­lar Over­drive,” bring­ing his con­sid­er­able lead gui­tar prowess to their dark, descend­ing instru­men­tal.

Just above, hear that Zappa/Floyd per­for­mance of the song. The live audio record­ing is fuzzy and a bit hol­low, but the play­ing comes through per­fect­ly clear. Zap­pa, in fact, jammed with near­ly all the artists on the ros­ter, though only a few record­ings have sur­faced, like this one from an audi­ence mem­ber. Of their col­lab­o­ra­tion, Pink Floyd drum­mer Nick Mason said in 1973, “Frank Zap­pa is real­ly one of those rare musi­cians that can play with us. The lit­tle he did in Amou­gies was ter­ri­bly cor­rect.” I think you’ll agree.

Dan­ger­ous Minds records many of Zappa’s rec­ol­lec­tions of the event, includ­ing a char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly sar­don­ic account he gave in an inter­view with The Simp­sons’ Matt Groen­ing in which he com­plains of feel­ing “like Lin­da McCart­ney” and about the scourge of “slum­ber­ing euro-hip­pies.” Zap­pa appar­ent­ly did not remem­ber jam­ming with Floyd but “the pho­tos don’t lie and nei­ther does the record­ing.” He does recall play­ing with Cap­tain Beef­heart, who says he him­self “enjoyed it.” You can hear Beef­heart’s set with Zap­pa above.

Accord­ing to a biog­ra­phy of found­ing Pink Floyd singer and gui­tarist Syd Bar­rett—gone by the time of the festival—footage of the Zappa/Floyd jam exists, part of an unre­leased doc­u­men­tary of the event by Gerome Laper­rousaz. That film has yet to sur­face, it seems, but we do have the film above—slipping between black-and-white and color—of Pink Floyd play­ing “Green is the Colour,” “Care­ful With That Axe, Eugene,” and “Set the Con­trols For the Heart of the Sun.” It’s a must watch if only for Roger Waters’ bone-chill­ing screams in the sec­ond song.

The fes­ti­val is notable not only for these ear­ly per­for­mances of the new­ly Gilmour-front­ed Pink Floyd, but also for the appear­ance of Ayns­ley Dun­bar, future Zap­pa drum­mer and jour­ney­man musi­cian extra­or­di­naire. Alleged­ly Zap­pa met Dun­bar at the fes­ti­val and was quite impressed with the latter’s jazz chops (though Dun­bar first joined Zappa’s band on gui­tar before mov­ing to drums). You can hear Zap­pa jam with his even­tu­al star drummer’s band, Ayns­ley Dunbar’s Retal­i­a­tion, above.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Frank Zap­pa Play Michael Nesmith on The Mon­kees (1967)

Frank Zap­pa Reads NSFW Pas­sage From William Bur­roughs’ Naked Lunch (1978)

Psy­che­del­ic Scenes of Pink Floyd’s Ear­ly Days with Syd Bar­rett, 1967

Jimi Hen­drix, Pink Floyd, Traf­fic & Oth­er Bands Play Huge Lon­don Fes­ti­val “Christ­mas on Earth Con­tin­ued” (1967)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.


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