Highly strung hibernation.
It appears this is my tenth report on our life here in France and it marks the approach of our second anniversary of the move across La Manche. We relocated early in December 2020, so this will be our third winter in France and our second here in the Perigord Vert. Yet again, I’m struck by how different life is in rural France, with the changing seasons. In the UK life goes on in pretty much the same way year-round, just with more or less coverings, depending on the weather. Here, the changing seasons have their own rhythms and their own peculiarities. Winter is the big shift that sees people in the countryside almost go into hibernation. Many restaurants and bars close down for the winter and those that stay open will have reduced hours and reduced offerings. The smaller markets will also cease for the winter months though, thankfully, the larger markets in the established market towns usually continue. We’re lucky that our market in Thiviers is one of the most popular in the Northern Dordogne and is active, and busy, year-round. In our village, we really notice the downturn in activity. In the summer months, particularly July and August, the place is buzzing and there’s so much going on – it can be hard to equate that to the winter, when people you have been seeing on a daily basis, you now might not see for a couple of weeks at a time. Of course, this area is a popular tourist destination, particularly popular with the hiking and camping fraternity and it’s also popular for second homes, especially among the French themselves, so that obviously has an impact. Our village only has around a hundred of us who live here all year round; that will at least double at the height of the summer season. The only events yet to happen in the village calendar are the ‘Chants de Noel’ (Carol Singing) and the Christmas Market, for those that are interested (not me in either case) and that’ll be pretty much it until Easter rolls around (April 9th, apparently) and everything kicks back into life again.
So, what to do over the winter months? Well, there’s always plenty of activity around the house and garden and things that need doing. We have hedges to cut (these can’t be touched, by law, between the end of March and the beginning of August in order to protect nesting birds) and general garden maintenance to do, plus one or two projects around the house. I have articles to write and a novel that I might get back to but probably won’t – and I have two new toys to get to grips with. An Octave Mandolin and a 5 String Banjo!
I already play mandolin, so the Octave Mando isn’t a big difference – just a different way of playing because the scale is so much bigger. Octave mandolins seem to be quite fashionable at the moment, with the likes of Sarah Jarosz, Chris Thile and a host of other players making use of them on recent recordings, it’s a great sound that sits somewhere between a guitar and a mandolin – and should you want to change instruments mid-song, slap a capo on the 12th fret and your octave mandolin becomes a standard mandolin. The banjo could be another matter entirely. It was given to me by a friend who decided it wasn’t for him and he’d let someone else do battle with it. I’ve never attempted to learn banjo before, but the fact that they’re tuned to open G makes it easy to get started. The big shock with banjos is just how loud they are, so learning from scratch, with all the mistakes that entails, can be pretty hard on other members of the household – the cat seems particularly disgusted by my attempts! Could be a long, noisy winter and a lot of watching YouTube tutorials.
Of course, there’s always plenty of music to listen to and that’ll help me through the winter months. I thought I’d take a look at the current EuroAmericana chart ( http://www.euroamericanachart.eu ) and see what’s hot on the continent right now. There are a number of debut appearances in the chart for November and it’s encouraging that a few of these are European americana acts. The highest European debut appearance comes from Copperhead County, entering the chart with their second album, “Homebound”, at number 7. Hailing from the Netherlands the band cite their main influences as Blackberry Smoke and The Outlaws, and their music is firmly in the Southern Rock category, as you might expect. They’re definitely a band to watch out for, combining the classic sound of country guitar and Hammond organ behind a charismatic vocalist, they’re convincingly channeling the influence of Charlie Starr and company, as can be heard on this track from their album, ‘Tonight We Ride‘.
Debuting at number 10 is another Dutch band, Tip Jar, with their album “Songs About Love and Life”. The band is a musical collective built around the duo of Bart de Win and Arianne Knegt, and they describe their music as “Americana on the hippie side of country, with influences of pop and jazz”. Which is pretty accurate as you can hear on the track ‘Kiss Me’. Bart de Win is an interesting musician who has been around the Dutch music scene for many years. Originally trained as a jazz pianist at the Rotterdam Conservatory he started out in jazz and fusion bands before falling under the spell of americana and roots music in general and he has worked with the likes of Iain Matthews, Walt Wilkins, and The Birds of Chicago, among others.
Finally, debuting in the EuroAmericana charts at number 20 is Edinburgh band The Wynntown Marshals with “Big Ideas”. This is the latest in a number of albums from a Heartland Rock band that are going over extremely well in continental Europe, particularly in Holland and Germany. Our very own David Stevenson, when reviewing their 2017 album, “After All These Years”, for AUK said they were, “worthy of their unofficial title of Europe’s best Americana band”. Here we have a track from the new album, ‘Tourist in My Hometown‘. While rural France may be going into hibernation for the winter months EuroAmericana would seem to be very much awake and active. Enjoy the holidays and see you in the New Year.