Attila playing bass with Contingent in Brussels again after 27 years!
Live footage and photos from our April 20 2007 reunion gig, plus some old
demos, now at http://www.myspace.com/contingentbelgiumpunk
RIP Eric Lemaitre, Contingent guitarist and dear friend, 1958-2012
Three months ago we were on tour in Germany together..... On January 17 I spoke at his funeral.
Eric had been suffering from cancer, but he always had a smile on his face and always lived life
to the full, both as guitarist in Contingent and PPZ30 and as the main
motive force behind Magasin 4, the alternative rock venue in Brussels which he started nearly 20
years ago. A truly lovely guy who will be much missed.
Wonderful gig at Magasin 4 in Brussels on 20 April 2007, rolling back 28 years at
the reunion gig of Contingent, the band I played bass with in Brussels in
First off, me with Barnstormer. We're not known in Belgium at all, really,
but went down very well. There was a certain air of distracted expectancy in
the audience while we were playing though!
Contingent were on next. The spacious venue was suddenly packed. The
atmosphere was electric. After 28 years, and just two rehearsals together,
the most notorious band in Brussels punk rock history was back on stage -
and the place went ABSOLUTELY NUTS.
It was an extraordinary feeling in all kinds of ways for a self-confessed
control freak like me. There I was, as I started out, a bass player again,
not conducting operations from the front, as I normally do with Barnstormer,
and obviously have done solo since 1980. It was as though 28 years had
simply evaporated! Bob is and will always be a superb frontman and Eric and
Dan have picked up a few more tricks over the years. People said afterwards
that they thought, if anything, the band had even more energy than we had
back then, which is saying something - it certainly felt that way to me.
Getting back together after 28 years means taking a risk - you can end up
looking really sad if you're not careful - but this was the direct opposite.
Contingent was, and is, the finest band I ever played the bass in, and one
of the best I've ever heard. No risk at all.
There will be a CD (hardly anything was released at the time) and more gigs,
in Belgium obviously, plus a weekend on the South Coast of England at the
end of July, with a Belgian beer fest at the Duke of Wellington in Shoreham
in their honour..... And there is already a Myspace as well.
You may well be asking: what do Contingent sound like?
Imagine a frenetic hybrid of the MC5, Motorhead, The Clash and the Dead
Kennedys fronted by a black Iggy Pop, and you've got some idea!
And here is the frankly astonishing story of that time in Brussels, taken
from my in-progress autobiography 'Arguments Yard':
To set the scene: I did a degree in French and politics at Kent Uni,
finishing in 1978 (well, actually a degree in organising loads of punk rock
and Rock Against Racism gigs, fighting Nazis, getting pissed and playing
bass, but I do speak French) and while working a summer job at a language
school in Brighton shortly afterwards a student called Eric invited me to
come to Brussels and play bass in the punk band he was getting together. I
thought I could combine all of the above quite well over there so I agreed
that I would, a few months later, after an Xmas job at Gilbeys in Harlow to
earn some dosh to keep me going. Read on......
One evening I was sitting in the local punk hangout in Harlow, which at the
time, rather bizarrely, was the foyer bar of the Playhouse (the local
theatre) having a beer before starting my night shift. A long-haired bloke
in a Ramones T-shirt turned up handing out leaflets for a gig he was doing
at Triad that weekend with his new band, supporting the Poison Girls.
'Poison Girls?' I said. 'I know them - they're from Brighton. I'll
come! What's your band called?˛
'Newtown Neurotics. It's our second gig. I'm Steve, by the way'.
Newtown Neurotics - what an absolutely brilliant name, I thought. We
had a good chat, I made sure I turned up in time to see them that weekend,
and the band were as good as their name: for a second ever gig, it was
great. I told Steve I was going off to Brussels in a few weeks and if things
worked out, I'd try and set up a gig for them over there. I'm sure he
thought 'yeah, right!' but we said we'd keep in touch. It was getting near
Christmas, more and more retailers wanted extra booze and my overtime became
longer and longer - I didn't get to many more gigs. Over the festive period
I went back to my mum's for a short visit, and in early 1979, aged
twenty-one, I phoned Eric in Brussels and told him I was on my way.
A few days later I was at Eric's place, feeling rather let down. I'd
never been to Brussels before, which was part of the appeal, as was the
pleasure of speaking French on a day to day basis, and, of course, the
prospect of large quantities of Belgian beer! Principally, though, I wanted
to explore a different music scene and, at first, I trusted Eric to show it
to me: sadly, he wasn't any use at all. He didn't have a proper drummer or
singer for his 'band', and despite what he said, he didn't seem to know
anyone in the Brussels punk scene, or indeed anyone outside his own bedroom!
Within a couple of days I realised I was going to have to sort things out
I'd got a contact number for the newly formed Brussels branch of Rock
Against Racism, so I gave them a call, introduced myself as an activist from
England, and immediately (literally an hour or two later) was in a bar in
the pleasantly seedy area of the Rue de la Samaritaine, near Brussels'
famous Grande Place, having a beer or twenty with some of the local punk
musicians and would-be RAR activists. It was there I met another Eric, but
this one was the real McCoy - Eric Lemaitre. (He's stayed the course for
sure, having spent the last 25 years playing guitar in loads of influential
Belgian bands, and is also currently the promoter at the Brussels
underground venue Magasin 4.)
When I told him I was a bass player, he smiled. 'We've got a band,
Contingent, and we need a bassist - come and rehearse with us!'
I couldn't believe my luck.
A couple of days later I turned up at a Contingent (pronounced
Con-Tan-Jhon) rehearsal and immediately knew this was the band for me.
Powerful, melodic songs, interesting political lyrics, great musiciansand
they liked my bass playing. I was in, and not just in the band - they had a
punk commune in the Schaerbeek district of Brussels, and they invited me to
come and live there with them. It was amazing that things had worked out so
quickly: I needed no second invitation.
I went back to the other Eric's place, picked up my stuff, thanked
him, apologised for leaving (though he couldn't have expected anything else)
and moved in with Contingent. Looking back, they weren't just the best band
I ever played the bass in: they were one of the best 'unknown' (outside
Belgium) punk bands I've ever heard, and I can say this without any
self-aggrandisement since I co-wrote just two of their songs and had left by
the time they recorded their one EP.
Everything about the band was striking. Bob Seytor, the singer, was a
Black guy from Guadeloupe in the French-speaking West Indies, with an
incredible accent, unmistakable vocal style and real stage presence. Eric,
originally from Mons in southern Belgium, was one of those rare guitarists
who manage to combine extreme power and real musicality. The drummer, Jo
Fontainhas from Portugal, was equally technically proficient and explosive.
And for the first time, the melodic bass runs, which had always been my
stock in trade actually suited the stuff we were playing! Four musicians,
four nationalities: musically, think Magazine meets Motorhead with
We soon did our first gig together, went down very well indeed, and I
met loads more people from the Brussels scene: Spermicide, Phallus Band (!)
the legendary Mad Virgins (!!) and many others. Quite a few people weren't
just punk musicians or fans, but activists as well, some involved in a
radical group called 'Pour le socialisme' and its weekly newspaper POUR,
others part of the anarchist movement '22 mars' (March 22nd). Many were
keen to get involved with the newly formed Rock Against Racism branch, and
we started planning a major RAR punk festival.
Before that, however, we were involved with an event that was to
provide the late, great John Peel with what he always claimed to be his
favourite record of all time.
The Counter-Eurovision Festival was organised at the Cirque Royal in
Brussels on 31st March and 1st April 1979 by the weekly newspaper POUR (see
above) to coincide, obviously, with the annual Eurovision abomination
itself, which that year was taking place in Israel. Headlining
'Contre-Eurovision' were Misty In Roots, whom I'd seen already at the big
RAR carnivals in London and contacted with a view to them doing a show for
RAR in Canterbury, although they never did in the end. Many local musicians
and RAR activists were involved in the planning and stewarding: I did a
stint taking money on the door.
I can remember how good Misty were, and I remember the gig was being
recorded: it later became the now legendary LP 'Misty In Roots Live at the
Counter-Eurovision'. A few years later, when I got to meet John Peel during
my first session for his show, he was amused to hear that I'd witnessed and
played a tiny part in the creation of his favourite record.
Belgium boring? No way! Perhaps if you go to Charleroi, but nobody
says Britain is boring because of Croydon. Brussels, then and now, is one of
my favourite cities, ancient and atmospheric, and when you leave the
administrative centre and the tourist traps around the Grande Place and head
for areas like La Samaritaine and Scharbeek you're in a different world. We
used to hang out in a punk bar called 'La Limace Mystique' (The Mystical
Slug) in La Samaritaine, near the so-called 'cafes tuberculoses' which, as
the name suggests, were full of people suffering from that awful disease,
and in a really grotty café by Scharbeek station in which, as far as I could
work out, we were the only customers! We lived in the commune in a nearby
street, Rue Anatole France, rehearsing in the cellar.
Contingent gigs were very well received but sporadic, and though we
pooled every centime we got, there was no way the band was going to provide
any of us with anything approaching a living. So every day I got out my
violin, made my way to the tourist crammed streets around the Grande Place
and started busking, playing cod-Irish jigs and all the well-known tunes I
could think of. At first my efforts just about provided me with enough money
to eat, then a young Arab punk I knew suggested he held my violin case and
we went round the restaurants and bars and tried to put on a bit of a show.
I painted my violin gold (don't worry, it was a mass produced Chinese
job!) and got hold of a top hat and tailcoat from somewhere. Mounir, who
looked young and baby-faced enough to begin with, stuck a dummy in his mouth
and assumed a plaintive 'please help us' expression, and we were an instant
hit, wandering round the open air restaurants in the ancient, narrow streets
of the city centre, serenading the diners, gone before the proprietors could
throw us out. The violin case always ended up full. Ok, I had to play
snatches of light opera over and over again for hours and I looked a
complete idiot, but no matter - that was my first experience of earning
reasonable money playing music, and I was very pleased indeed.
Contingent started to get more gigs outside Brussels, occasionally
even venturing into the Flemish parts of Belgium (perpetual petty linguistic
bickering and mutual incomprehension between the Dutch-speaking Flemish and
French-speaking Walloons is, then as now, part and parcel of Belgian life).
We got Brussels Rock Against Racism well and truly organised and put on a
very successful two-day festival with twelve of the new Belgian bands.
Encouraged by this, we booked a central Brussels music venue for another gig
and, true to my word, I phoned Steve Drewett of the Newtown Neurotics and
invited them and fellow Harlowites Urban Decay to come and play a RAR all
dayer alongside Contingent, Spermicide and Phallus Band.
Then an unlikely and incredible turn of events took place which would
propel the Brussels punk scene onto the news pages of daily papers right
across Europe and even merit a half page story in the New Musical Express,
hardly noted for its coverage of all things Belgian. We, of course, were
right in the middle of it. That August, Belgium wasn't boring - I can
In 1979, the city of Brussels was officially a thousand years old,
and, of course, many events were held in celebration, including a series of
open-air summer concerts. One of these, in July, featured the great reggae
singer Peter 'Legalise It' Tosh, and, needless to say, many people in the
huge crowd took the opportunity to openly enjoy large quantities of the
substance in question. But dope had certainly NOT been legalised in
Belgium, and in those days the police took a very hard line: given their
attitude, it's obviously incredible that the authorities didn't realise that
an open air Peter Tosh gig was a confrontation waiting to happen, but they
When the ganja clouds started to form, the police waded in and
started arresting people (who were doing nothing more than getting
peacefully stoned and enjoying the music) in an arbitrary and brutal
fashion, which of course provoked the crowd, and there was a fair bit of
trouble. Afterwards, the concert area looked like a battlefield, albeit one
strewn with the remains of a thousand spliffs! And if the police action was
stupid, unprovoked and heavy-handed, what happened next defied belief.
Following the predictable headlines in the respectable Belgian press,
the mayor, van Haelteren, immediately cancelled all the remaining summer
rock events planned by the city council in a fit of rage - and, incredibly,
announced that ALL rock music events everywhere were banned and that
henceforth the live performance of rock music was illegal in Brussels! He
was plainly a senile old git off his rocker, and such a measure was
obviously unworkable, but to the massed ranks of punks, reds and anarchists
of the city, especially those still nursing bruises inflicted by the police
at the Peter Tosh gig, it was a declaration of war. And the gauntlet was
picked up with gusto.
There was no way we were going to cancel the Rock Against Racism gig
we were planning with the Newtown Neurotics, for starters: we went to the
venue and they assured us that they thought the mayor was an idiot and were
100% behind us. Then it was decided that on August 3rd, the day before our
gig, there would be a free 'anti mayor' punk festival on the official summer
stage that had been erected right in the middle of the Place de la Monnaie
in the city centre!
It couldn't have been more provocative: the mayor declares rock music
illegal, so a bunch of punks declare their intention to gate-crash the
official municipal stage in one of the most famous squares in Brussels at
6pm in the middle of the tourist season! To put the icing on the cake,
large posters appeared everywhere. 'Millenaire Bruxelles, tous les mille ans
la fete', 'La violence des flics est gratuite, ce concert l'est aussi',
'Bruxelles, ville de merde' ('Brussels' millennium, every thousand years
there's a party' 'The violence of the pigs is gratuitous, this concert's
free too' 'Brussels, shit town!')
Everyone knew there wouldn't actually be a proper gig, because the
main stage P.A. equipment would most certainly not be made available by the
city council! But, given the track record of the Brussels police and the
fact that their main headquarters was very close, everyone was pretty sure
that there WOULD be a riot.
Into this maelstrom walked a Transit van load of punk rockers from
'Hi, you lot! Good to see you! Had a good trip? The gig starts at 3pm
tomorrow: sound check's about one. And tonight we've a special treat planned
for you. A riot.'
Yes, that's right, a riot. The riot starts at six o'clock. We've got
time for a beer first.'
Everyone in Brussels with the slightest rebel streak made their way
to the Place de la Monnaie that evening: it's a big square, but it was
completely packed. And, sure enough, many of the side streets were also
packed - with riot police.
At precisely six o'clock, a few punks climbed up on the big stage
with acoustic guitars, to huge cheers, and started to strum and shout. Not
exactly a terminal menace to society as we know it, to be honest.
At precisely one minute past six, the riot police charged.
All hell broke loose. If the police had just stayed where they were,
I don't think very much would have happened: certainly, there was nothing
going on to merit such a response. But 'softly, softly' just wasn't in their
vocabulary: heads were cracked and batons flew. Some of the assembled
throng fought back, others fled in anger and panic through the shopping
areas nearby, smashing windows as they went. Battles raged all around, the
city centre was trashed, and the riot made the news all over Western Europe.
But, for us, even that paled in comparison with what was to follow.
The next day, as planned, we went to the venue of our planned RAR
gig, La Vieille Halle aux Bles (The Old Wheat Hall) and started setting up.
Given the events of the previous evening we had half expected the owner to
meet us and tell us it was off, or for there to be a load of police outside,
but no. All the bands sound checked, some people went off to get something
to eat, the doors opened to the public and soon the place was pretty full,
some people nursing bruises, everyone talking about what had happened the
night before. Contingent was due to go on shortly, and someone opened the
door to see where the rest of the band was. They - we all - got a nasty
shock. The entire venue was surrounded by riot police with dogs and water
No-one was allowed in and anybody trying to leave was immediately
arrested and taken off to the cells. Many people were trapped on the other
side of the cordon, and none of the bands had a full complement of members.
So, while some of the other organisers tried to work out what the hell we
were going to do, I got up on stage and did a few songs on my own,
accompanying myself on the electric mandolin. In some ways, you could call
this the first Attila the Stockbroker gig, although I hadn't come up with
the name yet and most of the songs were covers or still in the try-out
stage. But adrenalin and anger meant that at the very least I put on a show,
and I went down pretty well.
By this time, we'd worked things out and come up with a plan. The
police were self-evidently there because of what had happened the day
before. Who was behind it? The mayor, van Haeleteren, obviously. We knew a
good, sympathetic journalist called Daniel at the Brussels evening paper, Le
Soir: Daniel didn't like van Haelteren one bit, and he had lots of contacts.
Fortunately, there was a telephone in the venue: we rang the paper and told
him what was happening. He was beside himself with fury. 'Leave this to me!'
The Neurotics' drummer Tiggy Barber was on the other side of the
police cordon, so Spermicide's drummer stood in and they made a brave
attempt at playing a set. Bits of Urban Decay had a go as well. And then,
suddenly, to massive cheers, the police packed up and disappeared, as
quickly as they'd come. Everyone who had been trapped outside charged into
the venue, the people in the cells were released, the bands all did proper
sets and the evening turned into a massive victory celebration! And in the
middle of it all, Daniel from Le Soir turned up.
'I found out that the police action was unofficial and sanctioned by
van Haelteren, so I rang him on his private number. I told him that unless
he ordered them to pack up and go that instant, I would contact every press
agency in Europe and tell them that every prejudice they had ever had about
our country had just been proved right, and that Belgium was now officially
a boring, geriatric, pinched-face, miserable, nasty, petty-bourgois little
police state. I also told him that none of the trouble would have happened
if the police weren't such a bunch of prejudiced, ill-disciplined thugs and
that he, the mayor, should start to try and live in the 20th century!'
I hope that Daniel is now a hugely successful journalist. He deserves
This strange, surreal story had two positive results. Not long
afterwards there was an enquiry in Brussels into police practice and
behaviour, and not before time: I can safely say that the behaviour of the
Brussels police in 1979 was the most stupidly brutal I have ever seen. And,
on a personal level, I really got to know the Harlow contingent, and
especially Steve Drewett and the Newtown Neurotics: they were to play a huge
part in the next ten or so years of my life, and Steve is a great friend to
this day. It was they who got in touch with the NME, making sure the events
of that weekend reached thousands of UK music fans.
There's a postscript. During my time in Brussels I heard the work of
the great Brussels-born singer and songwriter Jacques Brel for the first
time, and ever since then I have been a massive fan. Recently my mother and
I paid a visit to the Jacques Brel Foundation in Brussels city centre.
'I know this building!' I said to her. 'I'm sure I do'.
I found an attendant.
'Excuse me, did this place used to be called the Vieille Halle aux
Jacques Brel, one of the most perceptive, biting, satirical,
wonderful songwriters who ever graced this earth (he died in 1978) wrote
many songs castigating comfortable prejudice and middle class pomposity: I
think he would have been proud of the stand we
took on that day in the building which was now dedicated to his life and
work. He certainly wouldn't have been a big fan of Mayor van Haelteren - in
fact, I think he would have dedicated his song 'Les Bourgeois' to him.
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