In which we look at Spring, Campaigning and French Country Music bands…
A week may be a long time in politics, but a month would seem to be a lifetime where politics is concerned! When I last wrote we were all looking forward to life getting back to normal here in France, as the Covid restrictions were scheduled to be lifted early this month. None of us thought we’d be looking at a Russian invasion of one of their neighbours and a world teetering on the precipice of another World War – yet, here we are! It was impressive to see the way Johnson leapt into action and did his level best to justify the amount of money the Tory Party has accepted from Russian interests over the last few years! Here, in France, most people are phlegmatic about the situation – que sera, sera. The country is a little less dependent on Russian oil and gas than many and better able to absorb any shortfall in energy supply. On a local level, there’s been an impressive response to the Refugee problem, with many French communes organising collections for the refugees. These collections are well organised and with lists of specific items needed, so that time, effort and money isn’t wasted on providing items that won’t be used. The majority of these collections are organised by the local Mayor’s office (the Mairie). The Mairie network in France is extensive and ideally set up to organise something of this nature, so there has been an impressive response throughout the country that has seen a lot of good intentions turned into focussed support providing the things that are most needed – mainly health and sanitation supplies for the people displaced from their homes. Such a tragic thing to happen, especially after everything else that has taken place over the last couple of years. Suffice to say, we all want to see the situation resolved as soon as possible and the Ukrainian people able to resume safe and peaceful lives.
On more domestic issues – Spring is very definitely with us here in the Perigord Vert, with flowers starting to appear in the gardens and in the fields, and leaves starting to bud on the trees. The first cuckoo has been heard and the first hoopoes sighted and even swallows and swifts are starting to be reported around the region. The butterflies started to appear a couple of weeks ago and the carpenter bees, with their big, black bodies and delicate blue wings are out and descending on any flower that has already opened – it’s a beautiful time of the year.
In the markets around the region the campaigners are out, distributing the leaflets of their presidential candidates. It’s a slightly surreal experience since they all seem to get on so well together. We were in a café by the weekend market in Thiviers on Saturday, watching the supporters of extreme right-wing candidate, Eric Zemmour, chatting quite amiably with supporters of centre-right party, L’Union Populaire and the left-leaning Europe Ecologie, the Greens. Perhaps it will all get a little more animated as the campaigns proceed but it all seems quite civilised at the moment. President Macron didn’t declare his candidacy until almost the 11th hour, but few thought he wouldn’t stand again and he already looks likely to be the strongest candidate. Though he’s not exactly liked by the populace he is widely respected, and his presidency has marked significant achievements in lowering unemployment and overseeing something of an economic boom in France, despite the problems of the pandemic. By the end of April we will know who France’s next President will be and I, for one, will be amazed if it’s not still Emmanuel Macron!
Now, let’s talk about the music. The lifting of Covid restrictions here has seen the music scene start to come to life again and even my own little Alt-Country band has already played two bar gigs this month. It now looks likely that many of the country’s music festivals will happen again this year and one of those will be Country in Mirande, billed as Europe’s largest Country Music Festival, which will take place on the 14th to 17th July after a two-year hiatus. I hope to write a bit more about this event another time but, on this occasion, I want to talk about three of the local bands that will be appearing this year, starting with The Cactus Candies. French musicians have always had a good connection with Gipsy Jazz and you hear a lot of this music played by small bands throughout the country. Not surprisingly, this also makes them quite good at playing Western Swing and it’s this style that is prevalent in much of The Cactus Candies music. Hailing from the Nantes region, in Brittany, the full band is a seven-piece that includes lap steel and fiddle and the band look to recreate the Honky Tonk bar sounds of the 40s and 50s, and they do an excellent job. You can see this bunch being a big hit with French audiences, who love a band they can dance to. They look like they could’ve stepped out of any mid 20th Century Nashville Radio show, but with band members including names like Pascal Freyche and Vassili Caillosse, they’re European through and through.
Another band I’ve been very taken with are the wonderfully named Hawaiian Pistoleros. Started by Vassili Caillosse in 2011, yes – the same Vassili Caillosse who is in the Cactus Candies – the Pistoleros started out as another Western Swing outfit but with a nod to Hawaiian music. Their direction has now changed to take on a more modern, European influenced approach to the music and they describe their sound as coming from “an imaginary America where disillusioned folk singers, hula dancers and country guitar pickers blissfully mingle”. It’s a great description and actually sums up their music very well! Finally, for this month’s column, I’m featuring something from the Mariotti Brothers. While their name might suggest more of a Dean Martin & Frank Sinatra tribute act, Philippe and Laurent Mariotti have put together a very credible country-rock outfit, as can be heard on the track I’m featuring, a cover of the John Anderson hit, ‘Seminole Wind’. The brothers are particularly interesting since they’re both classically trained musicians, both prize winners from the Superior Conservatory of Music, who run their Americana band in parallel to their classical music careers. The band also includes their father, Jean-Pierre, a nationally known guitarist who has worked alongside the “French Elvis”, Johnny Hallyday. These three acts will all be appearing at the Country In Mirande festival in July, alongside many others drawn from Europe and the U.S.
Country and Americana music isn’t huge in France but it is gaining ground. There aren’t a lot of country musicians here, it’s a case of quality over quantity.