Visiting new places has a thrill all of its own. But there are also pleasures to returning to somewhere that you’ve been before; to learning more about it, experiencing more, growing to know it more.
On previous visits to Collioure, we’ve never really come away with any musical impressions. But this trip produced more than one musical experience.
The first came courtesy of Hot Club de Torderes – or at least, three of their full line-up of six.
Lola Lesné (clarinet and vocals), Jacques-Emmanuel Ricard (guitar and vocals) and Victor Badze (guitar and mandoline) were playing at the market on our middle Wednesday.
After standing around to listen for a while, I picked up a CD for €10. They play an enjoyable mix of “jazz/latin/swing” and the disc has been our dining music since our return.
You can find out more at their myspace site, here.
But on our last day, as the holiday seemed to be tapering toward a slightly gloomy anti-climax, we headed up to the chateau, having seen adverts for a day of Catalan music and fun.
We had little idea of what to expect and assumed that it was pretty much an end-of-summer party.
Well, it was to an extent. The event – Els Ben Parits – was also organised in conjunction with Les Restaurants du Coeur, a regional charity as a fundraiser.
Not that anyone was using that as an excuse to rake in the cash. Admission was €10 and you had a stamp on your wrist so that you could come and go as you wanted (it was something like a 10-hour event). We bought souvenir plastic cups with lanyards to hang around your neck – after that, a portion of food was €1 and a half of beer was €2, although the latter was reduced when the man serving it decided that it was getting a little flat.
The food was extraordinary – slabs of bread with tomato on them (a local speciality) and topped with huge anchovies. Massive boxes were repeatedly carried in, full of pissadadiere , the regions own version of a Provencal, pizza-like dish with a doughy base, a covering of tomato and then a diagonal design of anchovies, with some carefully placed black olives; more slabs of bread with local sausages …
You can do fast food without it being junk.
And you can raise money without ripping people off and economically excluding many.
With food and drink, we perched ourselves on a staircase with a decent view of the stage.
After a wait, we were introduced to L’Agram – one ebay seller describes an early album of theirs as “French-Occitan-folk-psych-prog”, which is a genre I can’t say I’ve come across before.
A sizeable outfit with three singers: one, a middle-aged man with a shock of white hair; then a delightfully curvaceous younger woman and a bird of a woman, of indeterminate age, who has bags of energy, dresses in wonderfully eccentric fashion and reminds me of a sort of cross between Su Pollard and Terrence Stamp in drag in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
All had their individual turn at the mic as well as taking singing together on some songs. But it was the latter who most strongly struck me.
In France, chanson simply means ‘song’. In the UK, we tend to think of it as a specific genre, with Piaf as the apotheosis of the style.
My birdlike singer, with her red trilby and her red glasses, can perform just such songs, wonderfully, with an earthy, robust quality.
But my favourite song from their set, which had The Other Half in stitches, was about making aioli, complete with actions to illustrate the stirring required. What a way to celebrate a wonderful regional delicacy!
As the group emerged from the back of the stage after their set, I managed to speak to the birdlike singer and ask if they had any CDs. She didn’t seem sure, so she led me to the front row of the raked seating that had been erected in front of the stage. There, I was introduced to another woman, to who I asked the same question. Helpfully, given my poor French, she could speak English.
She then brought three more women into the conversation. They were utterly fascinated that someone from London would want local music. Which in turn became a four-way conversation about exactly what, of L’Agram’s repertoire, constituted ‘traditional’ local music.
Eventually, the decided that they could get together two CDs and would send them to me. They found paper and a pen for me to write down my address, but refused payment, saying I could send that when the CDs arrive.
They were friendly and helpful – and it didn’t appear to occur to them to be suspicious that someone might not send any cash. Their generosity of spirit was wonderful. I’m looking forward to any post from France – but I know perfectly well that it might take some time.
The next act was Les Madeleines, described on the event leaflet as “ambiance guinguette”. Now ambiance means in French pretty much what it means in English, while guinguette is apparently a small café where live music is played.
Trust the French to have one word to say all that!
Also a large group, they turned out to be a sort of anarchic jazz punk combo, with occasional bits of politics thrown in, led by another small woman with insane amounts of energy and a mad accordionist.
Bonkers. Completely bonkers. And utterly fabulous. For their second song, the woman invited people to dance a sardane, a Catalan dance, where people join in circles. There are proper steps, and it traditionally goes from a sedate pace to a frenetic one. We’d first seen it danced earlier in this stay, when we saw some sort of party taking place in the open.
This was a bit different and turned into something a little closer to a conga, followed by a hokey cokey. Dust kicked up by scores of dancing feet; laughter and an intoxicating sense of community. And the energy; the boisterous good spirits; the sheer joie de vivre ... It was infectious and completely life-affirming.
Where other acts had left the stage when their set time was over, Les Madeleines ignored the gestures of the MC (who looked like a despairing Sgt Bilko) and set off on a crazy, musical whirlwind of an encore that lasted something like 15 minutes and left us feeling delightedly breathless.
And there was no sense of anti-climax left in sight.
To get a bit of the flavour, you can find Les Madeleines on myspace too, by clicking here.