The Mont de Marsan Punk Festivals were held twice in August 1976 and 1977, in a small city in the deep South West of France, Mont de Marsan. A small city not known for much more than Bull Fighting and it’s annual Fete de Madeline. More remarkable is the fact that they took place during a time when the conservative President Giscard D’Estaing had outlawed music festivals entirely.
The first took place in August 1976. Marc Zermati was, at that time, the Director of Skydog records, and was in close contact with Malcolm McLaren and the burgeoning British music scene. Whilst Paris boasted a hub of Punk fans and followers, devotees of the New York Dolls and keen observers of the scenes brewing in London, the choice of location was far from arbitrary. Due to the banning of outdoor music events, Zermati hooked up with his contacts in the sleepy city of Mont de Marsan in order to keep a low profile and avoid persecution. To make matters worse, youth movements in France at that time were feared more so than they were in the UK- with Punks being quickly likened to Neo-Nazis, or worse.
The Arenes de Plumaçon, a bullfighting ring, was chosen as the venue, and the festival was marketed as the first Punk Rock Festival in Europe. Headlining were Eddie and the Hot Rods, and the Pink Fairies, but the highlight was an appearance by The Damned. Supposedly, the Sex Pistols were invited but refused, having seen Eddie and the Hot Rods headlining and owing to some prior beef with Zermati. But amongst the attendees, quoted somewhere between 600-1400, was a young Ian Curtis, with his wife Deborah.
The second festival in the bullring saw 4000 attendees gather under the blistering Landes sun, to see The Damned return, alongside other British acts like The Police, The Clash, Dr Feelgood and Eddie and the Hot Rods who also returned to headline Sunday. French acts included Strychnine, Marie et les Garçons and Asphalt Jungle. The Jam were unable to perform, but much to the enjoyment of the audience, Lou Reed played the arena on the Monday night.
In 1978, the authorities prevented the festival from taking place and it was “relocated” to La Rochelle. It was necessary for the organizers to wait for the arrival of the new mayor, Philippe Labeyrie, in 1983 to bring the festival back to Mont-de-Marsan for three more editions, in 1984, 1985 and 1986. It was then more rock, with punk being a little out of fashion. The Pogues and Nina Hagen participated. However, without financial support from the city, the festival disappeared after the fifth edition.
In the summer of 2016, a concert by Eddie and the Hot Rods and Bijou on the Town Hall Square of Mont-de-Marsan commemorated the 40th anniversary of the first festival.