Mysteries unraveled: the illegal AC/DC concert in Kontich (and the stolen kepi from the gendarmerie)

Radio 2 will unravel mysteries from Flanders and Brussels all summer long. With the help of listeners and experts, we try to provide answers about mysterious stories.

On October 9, 1977, an illegal concert by the Australian rock band AC/DC took place in the Thier-Brau hall in Kontich. The concert was organized by the Mechelen branch of the Outlaws motorcycle gang. Two gendarmerie managed to stop the concert. A concertgoer made off with the kepi of one of them. Radio 2 went looking for that kepi all week.

The canceled concert in Kontich was the inspiration for AC/DC to write the song Bedlam in Belgium in 1983. At that time, singer Bon Scott who was there in Kontich had already passed away and was replaced by Brian Johnson. In Bedlam for Belgium he sings: There was a cop with a gun/ Who was runnin’ around insane/ Three fifty arrests/ No bullet proof vest/ Now ain’t that a shame/ We wanted to play/ Play for the crowd/ Law said no way† But are the claims of the Australian rockers correct?

Looking for eyewitnesses

The former gendarmerie Ward Liekens and Nico d’Hooghe remember the evening in 1977 as if it were yesterday. Despite the massive presence of motards in the parking lot, they decided to chase the thousand concertgoers home with two men. Nico went to the basement to pull the main switch down. Ward moved through the crowd toward the stage to silence the rockers. For safety reasons, he took his weapon close to him. You can discover the whole story in the video below.

“Angus Young Was Playing Basketball”

Malinois Paul ‘Shorty’ Van Camp was the support act for AC/DC on October 9, 1977 with his band Mothers of Track. “Unfortunately, that performance could not take place. The hall turned out to be anything but suitable for a rock concert. There was no sound insulation and the electrical installation could not handle so much light and sound. That is why the management of AC/DC had hurriedly looked for an extra generator. That took hours, so we ran out of time for our performance with Mothers of Track.”

Paul had no real contact with singer Bon Scott and the band AC/DC. “We exchanged a few words. I remember guitarist Angus Young and his brother Malcolm playing basketball while waiting for that generator. That room was more of a gym than a rock temple.”

The poster announcing the concert with Mothers of Track as the opening act for AC/DC

“Penske” and the Mechelen Outlaws

Paul Van Camp knows more about the Mechelen Outlaws who organized the concert. “I often visited a Mechelen café, the Gollem, if I remember correctly. The café owner Willy, nicknamed ‘Penske’, was one of the founders of the Mechelen Outlaws. He had been offered the opportunity to book AC/DC for a concert. Willy had therefore hired the Thier Brau and asked me if I didn’t want to come and play with Mothers of Track. That’s how it went.”

To this day, Van Camp is a welcome musical guest at meetings of the Outlaws of Mechelen. He has been the frontman of Killer, the Belgian metal band with the longest track record, since the early 1980s. Through his connections we learn that Willy is still alive and wants to talk.

Willy "Penske" Van Den Weghe, organizer of the AC/DC concert in 1977

I meet Willy ‘Penske’ Van Den Weghe in a residential care center in the Mechelen region. With his hat and sweater from the Outlaws, the 75-year-old biker immediately stands out among the other seniors. “Unfortunately, I can’t play AC/DC loudly here,” he laughs. “The Outlaws have determined my life. A good life,” he says while the caretaker of the residential care center comes by and asks which residents are going to mass.

The Outlaws have become much calmer now than they were in my time

Willy Van Den Weghe, founder Mechelse Outlaws

Willy remains ostentatiously seated because he only adheres to one belief: that of the Outlaws. Penske explains to me how he founded the Mechelen chapter of the infamous motorcycle gang in the 1970s. “We saw in a bookish a photo of the Outlaws in America. That seemed like our kind of people and that’s how the motorcycle club was born. We got together, grabbed pints and did a tour with our moto. People thought we were sassy because of our looks and the chains around our necks, but that was just image.”

Willy dismisses the recent house searches and weapon finds at the Outlaws of Mechelen as “whipped stories” because “they have found almost nothing there” and “the Outlaws have now become even calmer compared to my time.”

Back to October 1977 and AC/DC. Willy tells the now well-known story. AC/DC was offered to him by a booker from Kempen. They asked 80,000 Belgian francs for 45 minutes. All the halls in Mechelen were full, so Willy rented the Thier Brau in Kontich. The Outlaws sold the tickets and handled security at the door. The Australian rockers would eventually perform for an hour and a half until the gendarmerie intervened.

My brother had that kepi on his head, that was too far for those gendarmerie

Willy “Penske” Van Den Weghe

Without me asking, Willy starts talking about the kepi we are looking for. “My brother then received those gendarmerie. Those men immediately started to make things difficult and my brother thought it was no better than to take that kepi off and put it on his head. That went too far, of course. Everyone had to his pass Willy’s brother is called Hubert, not a member of the Outlaws and now deceased. The kepi never saw “Penske” again, not even in the clubhouse of the Mechelen Outlaws.

Who has the kepi now?

What started as a scary Indian story has led to the name of one man who had put the kepi on his head. We try to contact the family of the late Hubert Van Den Weghe via Facebook. “We don’t have that kepi anymore”, one of his daughters sends me a short message. But then it goes silent.

My daddy told me about that cap, but I never saw the cap at home

Debbie Van Den Weghe

Moments later, a new notification from another family member appears. “I am indeed the youngest daughter of Hubert. I have heard the story of the kepi and my daddy, but I have never seen the gendarmerie cap. I was only born in the year of that AC/DC concert,” it sounds at Debbie VandenWeghe. Jenny, Hubert’s sister, also responds. She knows the story but has never seen the hat. “We are going to inform the family well.”

It is certain that Hubert had the kepi of gendarmerie Ward Liekens on his head on 9 October 1977. Where the headgear ended up after that, and whether someone still owns the kepi 45 years later, remains a mystery.

Can you own a kepi?

Anyone who loots a gendarmerie kepie at an AC/DC concert will most likely not just throw it away. Yet it is not a piece of clothing that you can wear every day. Can you actually own and set up a real police or gendarmerie cape? Wouter Bruyns of the Antwerp Police knows the answer.

Jan Leyers and Expo ’58

There is another nice detail in the margins of this story. As a young boy musician Jan Leyers lived almost next door to the Thier Brau hall on the Koningin Astridlaan in Kontich. Leyers himself was not at the AC/DC concert because he experienced his first weeks as a philosophy student in Ghent.

He gave the tip to visit his friend Romeo Spinelli, with whom Leyers played in the mythical band Beri Beri in the late 1970s, together with Bart Peeters and Hugo Matthyssen. On the day of the AC/DC concert, Romeo Spinelli was working in clothing store Superconfex, right below the Thier Brau hall. You can watch and listen to the whole story below.

The location of AC/DC’s legendary performance was also special. The Thier Brau hall in Kontich had the appearance of a Bavarian beer court. The building first stood under the name Löwenbrau on the Heysel plain for the 1958 World’s Fair. It served as a restaurant for the thousands of visitors to Expo ’58.

The hall was completely rebuilt after the Expo in Kontich and received a new brick facade with an adjacent large hall. In 2015, the Thier Brau was demolished to make way for a series of retail warehouses. In its last years, the building was a wok restaurant. In this capacity, the Kontichse Thier Brau also appears in a scene of the novel Expo 58 by the British writer Jonathan Coe.

Restaurant Lowenbrau at Expo '58

The hall was rebuilt after Expo '58 in Kontich and got a new brick facade

The interior of the Thier Brau

British author Jonathan Coe talks about his novel Expo 58, which also includes the Kontichse Thier Brau

On the lap of Agnetha by ABBA

The reactions of many Radio 2 listeners showed that AC/DC was not the only world band to ever perform in a lesser-known concert hall in the province of Antwerp. U2, Dire Straits and many others passed in the late 1970s and early 1980s in Zaal Volksbelang in Mechelen.

The auditoriums of the Antwerp University RUCA were also transformed into concert halls for Madness and Paul Young. The Arenahal in Deurne was able to welcome Fleetwood Mac, Procul Harum and ABBA. While the Ramones also made themselves heard several times. You can listen to the full overview below.

The poster of the U2 concert in 1982 in Mechelen, photo via Kenny Demaeght