"The show was vilified by the record companies because artists were insulted on a regular basis": In 1974 Captain Beefheart appeared on Dutch TV show Van Oekel's Discohoek: Even by his standards, it was weird

Captain Beefheart on Van Oekel's Discohoek
(Image credit: VPRO)

In April 1974, Captain Beefheart released his eighth studio album, Unconditionally Guaranteed. It was not a happy time, and he would later describe the record – and its follow-up, Bluejeans & Moonbeams – as "horrible and vulgar", urging fans to return them to the point of purchase for a refund.

More importantly, in the immediate wake of the album's release, the Captain was fired by his long-term backing musicians, The Magic Band. But promotional chores still had to be attended to, so Beefheart set off on tour with a bunch of studio musicians whose unfamiliarity with the complexities of his work led to performances that were as streamlined as they were perfunctory. The so-called Tragic Band was born.

After a run of US dates, the musicians headed to Europe for a tour marked by postponements and cancellations. Leapfrogging the continent with crazed abandon, they played the long-running Pinkpop festival in the Netherlands in early June alongside Status Quo, Steeleye Span, Rory Gallagher, Fungus and Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, then returned three weeks later to appear on the TV show Van Oekel's Discohoek.

"It was a very peculiar program, which was initially vilified by the record companies, because artists were insulted on a regular basis," show director Ellen Jens remembered in 2010. "Usually, they talked right through the music. The program turned out to be extremely popular with young people, so they changed their tune. Beefheart thought it was a nice experiment and decided to lip-sync exaggeratedly badly."

Footage of the broadcast shows the man born Dion Van Vliet (introduced as "Captain Beefsteak") having a lovely time indeed, stumbling onstage to interrupt another singer in the company of show host Sjef van Oekel and his assistant, Evert van der Pik, before "performing" his own Upon The My-Oh-My (from Unconditionally Guaranteed). So far, so weird, and it gets weirder.

"We also awarded him a silver trophy," remembered Jens. "I had bought a lot of them at a shop on the Singel [a canal in Amsterdam]. Captain Beefheart was extremely happy with it."

The good Captain does indeed appear happy with his trophy, which, he's told, is a reward for his "progressive success." He bites it, then thrusts it triumphantly in the direction of the camera, before turning to the show's organist and requesting the Beatles' classic Yesterday, which he whistles along with, much to the apparent bemusement of the singer whose performance he interrupted earlier.

After two more shows in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, the rest of the tour was cancelled. Captain Beefheart wouldn't perform again until November.

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.