Eric Lemaître: 1958-2012

We met in 1975, in boarding school.

For some reason, the director had decided that there was to be a band of students playing at the end-of-year celebrations and had gotten in touch with Eric to make it happen.

Since he was in the same class as my older brother (a budding keyboard player, back then), it was only a matter of time before the both of them informed me that I was to be the drummer in the new (unnamed) band. Not that I was known anywhere for my drumming, mind you. I had a vague idea that I could do it and my brother, in his infinite wisdom, had decided that my “career” needed a push. I never remembered to tell him that playing with him was fine, but that I was scared witless of having to play with Eric, whom I regarded as a “real” guitar player. At age 14, unsurprisingly, I had never played with any other musicians before.

And thus, in the rush of having to start rehearsals, I quickly bought the drum kit I could afford at the time, a contraption which can best be classified as a mixture of a sophisticated toy and a very, very cheap kit. It was loud, and that was good enough for me.

We rehearsed in the school’s chapel which until then (and probably since) had probably never endured such an aural aggression. It was certainly a good thing that the only time the director (a priest) decided to check up on us and found Eric doing windmills on his guitar, jumping on the benches, was just the day before “the concert”.

I can’t remember the set list at all, except for a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Woman”. It was the very first song I ever played with anyone, and also became the very first song I’d give as an exercise to the few students that I’ve taught. It is burned into my brain forever. Be it as it may, it is also fortunate that the headmaster wasn’t too agile with the English language, as the song’s lyrics are hardly appropriate for a Jesuit boarding school party.

We became a band of bandits, holding a secret that no else knew, or dare know about. I, being the youngest, was immediately cast as “the mascot”. I didn’t mind that at all. Eric seemed to have a faith in my skills far beyond my own, as if he knew something I didn’t, and proceeded to patiently and radically change my musical education; Mott The Hopple, T-Rex, David Bowie (the Hunky Dory years), Deep Purple (mark II, the good version), Led Zeppelin (I, II, III and IV), and basically all the crème de la crème of late 70s rock. It is telling that, to this day, I cannot say if my inclination for 3 minute, 4/4 songs in E flat are a result or the cause of those days. I do clearly remember, however, Eric’s laughter when one day, he put on a record and told me: “listen to this”. My jaw must have dropped to the floor, and again when he announced: “now you play it”. How the hell am I, I thought, going to reproduce John Bonham’s intro to Rock’n Roll? But he knew I could, and after lots of practicing, I did.

Of course the band evolved, people left, other people came, but the three of us stuck together. We even had a classic-rock-history moment of “artistic differences” which made the band split in two, change name and veer into the budding punk scene of the very late 70s and very early 80s. This was to be an ominous episode.

The band was renamed Contigent, and became, possibly, one of the most significant cult bands in Belgium, with a legion of obsessed followers (my brother wasn’t playing in the band at that point but stayed on as our manager/sound-technician/driver/body guard). We played in tiny halls and big festivals. Bars and concert-halls. We played to hostile audiences, and friendly audiences who went crazy. We played while the police charged. We played impromptu gigs from the back of a truck. We set the amps at 11 and played like there was no tomorrow. We weren’t a band anymore, we were a movement. I’ll let John, our then political comandante and bassist describe it:

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(sé) 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 French-Antilles lyrics.

Attila The Stockbroker – Contingent

For a few years, we lived as a family, discussions and all. We traveled to London, to buy a PA, where we saw Brian James’ (of The Damned fame) new band, an unexpected Police concert and Ultravox at the Marqueee (and I mean John Foxx’s Ultravox, not the whiny, teenage sighing, Midge Ure version of it). On the ferry coming back, over the Channel, amidst a storm, we jammed an acoustic version of “By The Rivers Of Babylon” with a reggae band whose name I can’t remember. We went into a studio and self produced a record (vinyl, kids) which we self distributed. I have a few copies, that have now become trophies.

All the while Eric stayed constant. He never got into a fight, never lied, always stayed true to his principles, and never allowed us to sell-out. He always kept the direction painfully clear; stay true, take no bullshit and play fast and loud. Whenever I had a doubt, I knew I could count on him to show the way, even if he himself was lost, at times. Life took us to different places, and to play with different musicians, but I always knew he was around even if he physically wasn’t. A few years later, when living in a different country, not a single day would pass when I wouldn’t hear him in my mind, scolding me for playing session work for money. I knew what I was doing wrong and I knew he knew.

He became, after many ups and downs, an icon in the belgian music scene. Contigent gave way to Walpurgis Volta, then a longer period of introspection and travels and finally to the creation of Magasin 4, the place of reference for alternative live music in Brussels. Said Magasin 4, which, with the help of some friends, he literally built with his own hands, all the while creating and playing with the hugely successful PPZ30 project.

It was at the Magasin 4 that Contingent reunited for a concert in 2007, of which I was not physically part, as I was the only one living further away. Eric was still my second older brother, though. I knew I needn’t ask if I could play, he would have told me to shut up and fly over. So much so, that when the 30+ year reunion came along, in 2011, I did in fact fly to Brussels and played a few songs with, yes, my band. As was to be expected, even after not playing together for 30 years, we rehearsed the songs two times each, and were ready to make noise.

I’m fairly certain that words alone cannot express what it meant; you end up re-living, re-imagining and re-assessing your whole life, so I’m not even going to try. It’s a milestone which requires distance and wisdom to be merged with your current life. As I’m still doing that, Eric is suddenly gone and I don’t quite know what to do next, except to write this text. Which he would hate, come to think of it.  Je t’emmerde, je l´écris quand même, voilà.

Objectively, I have yet to meet anyone who has anything bad to say about Eric. Subjectively, I have yet to meet someone who played as he did, who was strong as he was, and who refused to flinch as he did.

He was the guy who I could look to, in the middle of a concert with a rotten stage sound. If I could see his hand and his foot tapping the beat, I knew exactly where we were. And if I didn’t, he’d silently mouth one or two words. I think he knew he could likewise rely on me. I hope he did.

He was a brother of mine, and now I can’t see on which chord his hand is, or his foot tapping the beat. And the sound on the stage hasn’t become any better.

I can’t tell if we’ve reached the chorus yet and it’s a terrible sensation to feel lost mid-song.

#Contingent#Eric Lemaître#PPZ30#Walpurgis Volta

Comments

  1. Andre Torgal - January 18, 2012 @ 0:36

    Sinto muito.
    Belíssimas palavras.
    Godspeed e um Abraço

    • - January 18, 2012 @ 0:56

      Obrigado

  2. Américo Dias - January 18, 2012 @ 1:03

    Zé, sinto muito pela tua perda. Um forte abraço.

  3. Daniel Wang - January 18, 2012 @ 7:55

    Salut Jo,

    Merci pour ce beau témoignage biographique!
    Nous avons été nombreux à rendre hommage à Eric hier, ceux qui étaient présents et ceux qui étaient avec nous en pensée. Le Magasin 4 a accueilli les pèlerins du culte Rock avec un montage de 300 photos projetées sur le fond de scène, dont les clichés archives Trademark/Contingent que tu avais publiées. Yeux rougis, mais larges sourires!

    Obrigado, Zé!

    • - January 18, 2012 @ 9:54

      Je pense à vous tous et vous embrasse très fort. Surtout Lydia, bien-sûr, mais aussi Muriel et Grazi, sans oublier l’armada: toi-même, Bob et John. J’espère que lá ou il est, la Telecaster P38 est à fond de caisse.

  4. Henrique Abreu - January 18, 2012 @ 13:30

    R.I.P . Eric,…

  5. Ryan Markel - January 18, 2012 @ 14:28

    Condolences, my friend.

    Rock on; rock hard; rock loud.

  6. David Beaken - January 18, 2012 @ 16:49

    Wow Dan, I loved reading this and being in bands and knowing Eric know how you must be feeling.

    R.I.P Eric
    x

  7. Yoav - January 18, 2012 @ 20:28

    Sorry for your loss Zé – and thank you for this text.

  8. Henri Van Durme - January 19, 2012 @ 13:41

    Je suis désolé d’apprendre ça. Eric a été celui qui m’a donné envie d’être guitariste.
    Prends soin de toi, José…

  9. patrick rombaut - January 21, 2012 @ 10:24

    au revoir l’ami ! une pensée pour Muriel,

  10. Jean-Marc Vos - February 5, 2012 @ 9:41

    Que de souvenirs ! Un super témoignage … 🙁

  11. Fred bassoline - November 22, 2012 @ 14:29

    Je viens de l’apprendre bien tard(autres chemins)musicalement c’est toujours le meme “bazar” que je fais, ou bien du bruit comme il aimait le dire.
    J’ai connu eric a la rue bistebrouck a anderlecht,il m’avais dit que Bob(saytor)cherchais un bassiste je n’ai point hesité et voila que j’etais membre du groupe”SONS OF VOODOO”apres quelques temps Eric et moi avons formé le groupe”WALPURGIS VOLTA” avec Bob aux chant.J’avais trouvé ce nom car un certain moment j’etais en train de feuilleter dans des bouquins de l’inquisition.Ensemble on a fais plein de morceaux bizaroides.Dont t’il me reste une cassette.De toutes facon Eric est toujours present dans mes déboires musicaux et le restera toujours.Fred.

  12. Fred bassoline - November 23, 2012 @ 6:16

    Het nieuws is me pas nu gekend,op 10-01-2012 overleed Eric Lemaitre(53) muzikant, ik heb samen met hem een intense muzikale(bruitage zoals hij het noemde)periode meegemaakt.In mijn gedachten is hij altijd aanwezig geweest en zal hij waarschijnlijk altijd blijven.Voor mij is hij een spirituele stuwkracht wat muziek betreft hij betrad een ander genre dan ik maar als we samen aan het “jammen”waren za
    ten we meestal op dezelfde golflengte “alles mag,niets moet”in de “punkfilosofie”was individuele vrijheid de uitgangsbasis gij doet u ding en ik doe mijn ding om zo samen muziek(geluid 😉 te creéren.Contingent,Walpurgis volta(midden in de punkperiode) en PPZ 30 waren de groepen waar hij zijn “RAGE” ten volste kwijtkon.Ik kan niet anders dan een “bruitage sessie”op cd vast te leggen ter nagedachtenis van zijn zijn dat alomtegenwoordig in mijn “getormenteerd”muzikaal brein aanwezig is.
    J’aime ·

  13. Fred bassoline - November 23, 2012 @ 9:21

    Cette nouvelle m’a marqué au point ou j’ai du me consoller et par la suite “pondre” un morceau qui est pour Eric,tu l’aime ou tu l’aime pas je m’en fout,c’est pour toi .Le morceau en question s’appelle”MECANIC VOODOO” Je sais bien que tu détestait les boites a rythme,mais moi avec mon esprit musical déglingué je suis sure que tu me le pardonne(souviens toi du morceaux “MEA CULPA”ou”Mike”(Schelter)et la boite a ritme sovietique comme Bob(Seytor) appelait cette machine infernale,m’avait aidé pour l’enregistrement.Dans ma tete j’ai commencé un projet “MECANIC VOODOO”je ne sais pas ou ca vas me menér,mais comme tu me disais souvent “tu vas loin toi”(en musique bizarre)je suis decidé d’aller la ou le vent me portera.Rien que pour toi,… et pour tout ceux qui écrasé par cette foutu réalité s’envolent au toucher des cordent…il est en train de se foutre de ma tronche en me disant “tu te mets a la poésie maintenant?Aussi j’en appelle a ceux qui se rappelent , Bob,Phil,Jo,Manu… les oubliés et ceux que je ne sais pas qui ils sont de me contacter.(fcbook par ex fred dessauvages)

  14. graziella zampieri - October 10, 2015 @ 11:42

    et maintenant, grâce à Eric qui m’a fait découvrir la trompette, Fred et moi on joue ensemble !!! merci Eric <3

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