Montreux Jazz Festival: Forget Glastonbury, this is the real bucket-list festival

Alice Cooper performs on stage at Montreux Jazz Festival, Switzerland
Alice Cooper on stage at Montreux in an endlessly entertaining set - VALENTIN FLAURAUD/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/VALENTIN FLAURAUD/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

What better place to hear one of the most famous riffs in rock ring out than the shores of Lake Geneva, a stone’s throw from where Deep Purple wrote Smoke on the Water? Returning to the Montreux Jazz Festival for the 10th time, the Seventies rockers delivered a serving of their thudding bass, epic, stretched-out keyboard solos and trippy guitars, which made everyone present feel like they were witnessing music history in the making.

The London band’s relationship with Montreux began in 1971. In the midst of recording Machine Head, their sixth album, in the city, they were woken one night by smoke streaming out of the Montreux Casino, which had caught fire during a Frank Zappa gig. On Monday night, 53 years after that fateful event, Deep Purple took to a specially constructed, partially open stage on the lake with sprawling, panoramic views.

The band is now missing the talents of one-time lead guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. But Deep Purple’s current lineup – vocalist Ian Gillan, guitarist Simon McBride, keyboardist Don Airey, bass player Roger Glover and drummer Ian Paice – still enraptured with a set spanning more than five decades, from Machine Head favourites Lazy, Highway Star and Space Truckin’ to recent track Portable Door, taken from forthcoming album =1. At 78, Gillan now struggles to hit some of his more ambitious high notes, but the roar of the crowd more than made up for it.

Montreux’s strength lay in its dazzling variety: 11 stages set along the shoreline – most free to enter – playing everything from traditional jazz to bluegrass, Latin and rock. Monday night belonged to the septuagenarians: before Deep Purple’s headline show, 76-year-old Alice Cooper bombarded the crowd with a visually overwhelming but endlessly entertaining set that included wrapping himself in a writhing snake and a straitjacket, performing in a mock execution of himself (complete with guillotine and fake head) and chasing a giant Frankenstein inflatable around the stage.

Of course, it wasn’t just the old guard who were able to show off their talents. Away from the Lake Stage, the brilliant contemporary jazz composer Yussef Dayes was busy lighting up the Casino. Tuesday evening belonged to double Mercury Prize-winning singer PJ Harvey, resplendent in voice, musicality and ethereal white gown, followed by US indie rockers The National, who garnered mass singalongs with a victory lap through their back catalogue: Bloodbuzz Ohio, Graceless, Terrible Love. Over the next fortnight, the likes of Kraftwerk, Massive Attack, Lenny Kravitz and Sting will also perform.

Ian Gillan and Ian Paice of Deep Purple
Ian Gillan and Ian Paice of Deep Purple

Most of the magic is found away from the main stages, however, with fresh talent waiting to be discovered in the Memphis-themed jam bar, an open-mic event which invites festival goers to sing, strum or drum. I saw a young fan perform a stunning cover of Jorja Smith’s Be Honest, her pure vocals dripping with nerves as her friends cheered her on.

This is a perfect event for night owls, with parties into the early hours. But above all, it’s a trove of talent for anybody who loves music. Forget Glastonbury – Montreux is the very definition of a bucket-list festival.

Until 20 July;