The Montreux Casino fire: From Tragedy to Legend

On the shores of the crystal-clear waters of Lake Geneva, surrounded by the majestic Swiss mountains, stands the charming town of Montreux. This "Pearl of the Swiss Riviera" experienced a resounding tragedy over 50 years ago, which inspired one of the world's greatest rock bands. GAMRFIRST looks back on the Montreux casino fire.

Montreux: Between Culture, Nature, and the Thrill of Gaming

Montreux is an iconic town where stories of casinos, glamour, and entertainment have been woven for over a century.

Montreux, the Pearl of the Swiss Riviera

Located in the canton of Vaud, on the Swiss Riviera, on the shores of Lake Geneva, Montreux enjoys a privileged location. Visitors fall under the charm of this picturesque town, offering a breathtaking view of the lake and the surrounding mountains.

Montreux is known for its mild and temperate climate all year round. In summer as in winter, the town attracts tourists fond of mild temperatures. They enjoy various cultural attractions, including the Château de Chillon, a well-preserved medieval fortress located on the shores of Lake Geneva.

Finally, how can we evoke Montreux without celebrating its renowned festivals? The Montreux Jazz Festival, founded in 1967, is undoubtedly the most famous. Held every year in July, this event attracts international artists and music lovers from around the world. Another major event in the town is the Montreux Comedy Festival. Created in 1989, it brings together French-speaking comedians for a moment of sharing and entertainment.

Montreux: A History of Casinos

The history of casinos in Montreux dates back to the 19th century. The town has always been a popular resort for aristocrats and the upper class. At that time, games of chance were a popular activity among wealthy visitors looking for entertainment. The first casino in Montreux, the Casino Kursaal, opened its doors in 1881. Quickly, it became a must-see location for members of high society and celebrities of the time.

But, Montreux's most famous casino remains the Montreux Casino, inaugurated in 1885. Over the years, this magnificent building became an essential location in the town. It then hosted numerous events, concerts, exhibitions, and elegant parties. Its tragic fire in 1971 would mark the history of casinos and Montreux forever.

Today, even though the original Montreux Casino no longer exists, the town retains its elegant ambiance and tourist appeal. Montreux welcomes visitors from around the world who come to enjoy its magnificent landscapes, rich culture, and modern gaming establishments.

Did you know that Freddie Mercury fell in love with Montreux in 1978 and decided to settle there? He even declared, "If you want peace of soul, come to Montreux." It was also in this town that Queen's last album, "Made in Heaven," was recorded.

The Montreux Casino Fire: A Tragedy in Everyone's Memory

We are on December 4, 1971. At the heart of this picturesque town, the Montreux casino stands on the edge of the lake. The building is then a masterpiece of architecture, with its ornate facades, sparkling chandeliers, and sumptuous interiors.

That evening, hundreds of people arrived to attend the concert of Frank Zappa and his band, the Mothers of Invention.

As the music resounds in the hall, a spectator fires a flare towards the casino's ceiling. In an instant, the plaster collapses, and the building ignites.

The concert hall is plunged into chaos. The fire spreads at a lightning-fast speed, engulfing everything in its path. Frank Zappa, his band, and the audience try to evacuate the building. Keeping his composure, the singer actively participates in the hall's evacuation. This behavior was widely praised by his fans.

Montreux firefighters were called to intervene quickly, but it was already too late. The Montreux casino, an emblem of the town, was reduced to ashes. Fortunately, no deaths were reported. Despite the fear and panic, all the spectators were able to leave the building in time. Only a few minor injuries were transported to the hospital. A tragedy had just been avoided by a hair's breadth.

The Montreux casino Fire: The Birth of a Legendary Rock Song

On the morning of December 5, 1971, desolation reigns in the town. However, this tragedy has just inspired one of the greatest rock songs in history.

A few days before the incident, on December 3, 1971, the British band Deep Purple arrives in Montreux to record their new album, Machine Head. They intend to take advantage of the exceptional acoustics of the concert hall to give their new opus a live sound.

On the night of the tragedy, Ian Gillan, a member of Deep Purple, is in the hall. Evacuated, he finds the other members of the band on one of the balconies of the Eden Palace hotel. From there, they witness the destruction of the famous casino in stunned silence.

Deep Purple's guitarist, Ritchie Blackmore, is inspired by this apocalyptic scene. He starts improvising a melody based on a simple but powerful guitar riff. These few notes will become the introduction to one of the band's major titles, "Smoke on the Water."

The song's lyrics tell the story of the Montreux casino fire. "Smoke on the water, fire in the sky" refers to the thick black smoke wafting over Lake Geneva at the time.

The song, later recorded in the studio, became a huge success, propelling Deep Purple to the top of the world rock scene.

"Smoke on the Water" has become a rock anthem, instantly recognizable for its iconic guitar riff. It influenced many musicians afterward. The song continues to be played in concert, always reminding people of the infamous 1971 Montreux fire.

On December 4, 1971, the majestic Montreux Casino was reduced to ashes. Its legacy endures today through a legendary song. The story of that fatal night is forever engraved in the collective memory.