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4 December 2011

On this day in history: Montreux Casino fire, 1971

The Montreux Casino opened in November 1881 to provide entertainment for visitors to the Swiss resort on the shores of Lake Geneva. The casino developed a reputation as a music venue, attracting Stravinsky and Ravel. In the late 1960s, it also started hosting concerts by jazz, blues and rock artists, becoming the venue for the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1967, under the direction of Claude Nobs.

On 3rd December 1971, Frank Zappa and the Mothers were playing a concert in the casino's ballroom when one of the audience fired a flare gun at the ceiling. The flare ignited the rattan covering of the ceiling and the fire soon spread, destroying the entire casino complex. Claude Nobs rescued several young people who had been sheltering in the casino. Fortunately, the fire caused only a few injuries and no fatalities.

The incident inspired Deep Purple to write "Smoke on the Water". They were in Montreux at the time, intending to record their new album in the casino using the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio as the tourist season ended. The band eventually managed to record their album, Machine Head, which included "Smoke on the Water" at the Montreux Grand Hotel. The rebuilt Montreux Casino reopened in 1975 with its place in rock history assured.

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