Théâtre 140, Jo Dekmine and his fairgrounds shack


Théâtre 140, 140 Avenue Plasky, 1040 Brussels. (Since 1963)


At 140 Chaussée d’Ixelles, at the back of a tiny Belgian fries joint called the Auberge du Cheval Blanc, there was a small dance hall where Jo Dekmine (who named the place “La Poubelle”) organized shows for different actors and musicians in the style of a traveling cabaret. Barbara felt at home there (as she recounted in her autobiography, Il était un piano noir : Mémoires). Jacques Brel thought that the place was too on the fringes, but Dekmine found his calling there, and he continued to put his talents as a culture broker to use while serving in the military in Germany, and then in 1955 at the Tour au Babel, at 7 Grand Place, where singers, song-writers and poets such as Robert Desnos and Henri Michaux performed. 1960 saw the opening of L’Os à Moelle, a cabaret close to the Place Meiser, where singing and jazz were performed. Apart from some friends who were already loyal to the man thanks to his previous successes, you could also find Dexter Gordon, Bobby Jaspar, Nicole Louvier, and Ricet Barrier at the venue that alternated jazz and singing in an inclusive frame of mind.


In 1962 came a big jolt to his journey: Dekmine was named captain of a mighty ship—which the director himself nicknamed the “fairgrounds shack”—with 600 seats and just a stone’s throw away from his cabaret. Chances are that while organizing the first season in 1963, he never imagined that he would not being bowing out until 2015, passing the torch to his former assistant, Astrid Van Impe.


What remains of his flamboyant presence at Théâtre 140 can be expressed in one word: audacity! A kind of imaginative nerve, unified in focus, which Piero Kenrolls openly acknowledges in the second chapter of his book Gravé dans le Rock: “The dullness of its name, due to the fact that it was located at 140 Avenue Plasky in Schaerbeek, sheds no light on its often bold program. Aside from the avant-garde plays, the stand-up comedian acts, and the various cultural events that were as gratifying as they were unexpected, Dekmine was the first to have the nerve to book pop music at his venue.”


It was with vigor that the editor of Télémoustique saw Dekmine show up at the magazine’s offices to put to him an idea that he had a knack for having, the first in a long series to come: the Pop Event in Deurne. In Belgium, the first foray on a large scale into a realm comprised exclusively of pop music is not something that was taken lightly. Genres were often mixed to dilute the passionate reactions of young listeners and moderate the scene. Faced with Jo’s daring choices, the press was nevertheless divided and consciously decided to disassociate themselves, even showing scorn, as shown in this excerpt from an article that appeared in the Dernière Heure on May 7th, 1968, a few days after Pink Floyd’s first performances at Théâtre 140: “Added to that, there were light projections that formed a backdrop on which the designs were supposed to complete the emotions stirred up by the sonorous part of Pink Floyd’s show. As for the music, which was terribly noisy, it belongs to the category of pop favored by the very young.”


The need to manage the not always synchronous rhythms and desires of pop stars and to endure at times the startled reactions of journalists did not stop Jo in his determination to give due attention to the tastes of this new audience, a young crowd looking for modern, innovative, and challenging shows.


After the first conclusive experience in Deurne, it was indeed difficult to not The need to manage the not always synchronous rhythms and desires of pop stars and to endure at times the startled reactions of journalists did not stop Jo in his determinationsee the climax of the Actuel Festival and its program that mixed cool and free jazz with the best that pop had to offer at the time. This episode of highly symbolic and political significance is recounted in minute detail by Jean-Noël Coghe (then just a young journalist, he was one of the pioneers of French criticism) in his Autant en emporte le rock (Gone with the rock) and reproduced on the well-documented Website Mémoire rock 60/70 by Jean Jième.


Aside from his program that year at Théâtre 140 where he continued to deliver a mélange of creativity, innovation, and a good amount of provocation, Jo Dekmine made different, more comprehensive attempts to open the floodgates, bring other things to the table, and find the way back to the sense of celebration—to make the underground weeds sprout up between too faded cobblestones.


That was particularly the case during Schaerbeek libre au théâtre et dans la rue, which went from April to June in 1971 (in collaboration with the Algol group) where the desire of the director was “to rouse in the usual strolling visitors to this park (Parc Josaphat), the occasional onlooker, or the crowds of Schaerbeek residents a passionate, critical attitude with regards to the social-aesthetic-cultural system that is put before them by second-rate merchants and by a certain type of teaching that lacks real communication.” From Higelin to Gong in a free concert for 6,000 people, from the pranks by the Ridiculous theater company from New York, grabbing passersby, to the visual impact provided by Tokyo Kid Brothers (a Japanese musical theater troupe) at Théâtre 140, nothing seemed too crazy to succeed in getting the whole community to snap out of their funk.


Notable Dates (Incomplete list)
From January 22nd to the 25th, 1963: Léo Ferré

February 20th, 1964: Mouloudji
From February 12th to the 16th, 1964: Serge Gainsbourg (with Alain Ricar and Romain Bouteille)

From October 14th to the 23rd and November 5th, 1965: JAZZ FESTIVAL
Jazz jam session and a ballet directed by Benoit Quersin (with Jacques Thollet, Lubin, Jacques Pelzer, Michel Roques and the “Jerome Andrews Dance Modern Company”)  + a star of American jazz each night with Walter Dickinson.

October 17th, 1965: three blues sessions with Memphis Slim and The Dixieland Stars.

November 5th: The Gerry Mulligan Quartett, with the trumpet player Roy Eldridge.

February 7th, 1967: “Maman j’ai peur,” a musical comedy with Brigitte Fontaine, Jacques Higelin, Rufus.
From November 15th to the 19th, 1967: Maurice Vender and his Sextet + Normando (bossa) + Nicole Croisille + Pierre Barouh + Claude Nougaro

May 4th and 5th, 1968: Pink Floyd “the first psychedelic Londoner light show »  + Roland and his Blues workshop + Dragon Fly. Cancellation of the Saturday night concert.
October 19th and 20th, 1968: Pink Floyd

October 16th, 1969: Georgie Fame
June 21st, 1969: POP EVENT program in Deurne: Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & TichFleetwood MacChicken Shack (replaced by Colosseum)The NiceProcol Harum (absent)FreedomYesPebblesWallace CollectionDavy Junior and The Guess WhoRoland and the Blues Work ShopJ.J. BandTomahawk Blues Band

September 26th, 27th, 28th,1969: Pink Floyd

October 24th to the 28th, 1969: FESTIVAL “ACTUEL” program in Amougies
POP: Ten Years After – Colosseum –Aynslee Dunbar – Alan Jack
JAZZ: Art Ensemble of Chicago – Sunny Murray – Burton Greene
POP: Pink Floyd – Freedom – Keith Relf  (Renaissance) – Alexis Korner
JAZZ: Grachan Moncur III –Arthur Jones – Joachim Kuhn – Don Cherry
POP: Nice – Caravan – Blossom Toes and French bands
JAZZ: Archie Shepp – Kenneth Terroade – Anthony Braxton
POP: Yes – Pretty Things – Chicken Shack – Sam Apple Pie
JAZZ: Dave Burrell – John Surman – Clifford Thornton
POP: East of Eden – Fat Mattress – Captain Beefheart – Soft Machine
JAZZ: Alan Silva – Robin Kenyatta

October 3rd, 1970: Black Sabbath (TV broadcast of Pop show)

January 17th, 1971: Soft Machine
April 22nd, 1971: Free Show at the Tir à l’Arc in Parc Josaphat: May Blitz – Burning Plague –Arkham – Kleptomania


May 13th, 1971: Emerson, Lake and Palmer


September 18th, 1971: events in Parc Fou and Parc Josaphat – 2nd annual Free Show: Gong – Tribu – Jellyfish – Daily Life.
October 12th, 1971: The Velvet Underground (headed by Maureen Tucker) – Jellyfish


November 12th, 1971: Magma (recorded live)


November 14th, 1971: Redbone


January 1st, 1972: Gong – Nico


January 2nd, 1972: Kevin Ayers – Gong – Nico


February 25th, 26th, 1972: Matching Mole


April 14th, 1972: Flash, John Martyn


October 2nd, 1972: Pretty Things


December 11th, 1973: New York Dolls

October 1st, 1974: Electric Light Orchestra
December 10th, 11th, 1974: Queen

From October 5th to the 13th, 1976: After “Sacco” by Ricardo Caporossi (Teatro Club from Rome), an eclectic musical program followed:
10/5, 10/6, 10/11, and 10/12: Jacques Doll (informal singing performance)
10/7: Kleptomania & Friends (pop)
10/8: Abraxis (new jazz)
10/9 + 10/13: Dany and Wim (contemporary folk)
10/10: Tucker Zimmerman

December 18th, 1978: The World Saxophone Quartet: Hamlet Bluiett, Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake and David Murray (jazz)

December 20th, 1978: Public Image Limited (the group’s first concert)

December 3rd, 1982: Bashung performing Gainsbourg songs