Turn Up the Heat!
Here in France, June has been all about rising temperatures, both meteorologically and politically. As I am British, let’s start with the weather first.
As I’m sure most will know, France has had its first bona fide heatwave, la canicule, of the year, with temperatures rising to 42C in some areas and around ten locations around the country recorded new record highs for the temperature at this time of year. Here, in the Perigord Vert, it hasn’t been quite that bad but we did hit 38C on a couple of occasions and it was hotter in direct sunlight. Thankfully, French houses are built with the weather in mind. Closing the shutters and keeping the windows open behind them means that what breeze there is circulates the air quite well and the house can remain reasonably cool, especially if you have metre-thick walls, which we do in the older part of the house. We’re also lucky that we get a fair bit of rainfall here, so we didn’t have a hosepipe ban imposed and were able to keep plants watered. Having planted 40 fruit trees earlier this year, with the intention of creating a mixed fruit orchard, we really don’t want to lose young trees to the heat while they’re still getting established. Of course, that sort of heat can’t last, particularly as it’s unusual for this time of the year. The storm that came with the break in the weather was one of the most spectacular I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen thunderstorms in the tropics where large scale is expected. We had a “son et lumière” build-up that included lightning flashes that seemed to come from every direction and rumbling thunder that grew and grew. When the storm finally hit it was an absolute deluge that lasted the best part of an hour, included hailstones the size of small marbles and tripped out the house power, which we couldn’t restore until the storm had passed. Wonderful stuff! We remain on a warning list for serious storms, though the indications are that, at least for us, the worst of the weather has passed.
Politically, the electorate lit something of a fire under Macron’s plans, that will see the recently re-elected president struggle to push through many of the reforms on his wish list of policies. His attempt to raise the retirement age in France is likely to prove a particularly difficult policy to get passed. Following the low voter turnout for both the presidential election and the first round of Assembly elections, a third poor turnout was expected when France voted in the second and final round of Assembly elections on the 19th of the month. It wasn’t helped by the spiralling temperatures in the south of the country and the developing storms to the north. Unfortunately, the far right always seem to be good at taking advantage of poor electorate turnout and this saw Le Penn’s Rassemblement Nationale make unexpected gains, ending up with 89 MPs and the third largest presence in the National Assembly. Macron’s ‘Ensemble!’ coalition, made up of his newly rebranded Renaissance party and other Centrist and Centre Right parties, were predicted to get anything between 255 and 300 seats, needing 289 for an outright majority. In fact, they fell well short, gaining only 245 seats and losing several ministers and key Macron allies in the process. Nupes, a left-wing alliance that included the Greens and the French Communist party, are the second largest block in government, with 131 seats. It makes for a very strange parliament and one that few of the politicians involved will be particularly happy with. If he’s to get his policies through the Assembly, Macron will need to make alliances with other parties or convert elected individuals to his cause. The conservative Les Republicans are the fourth largest group and hold some 60+ seats. A coalition with them would give Macron his majority but it’s unlikely to be a comfortable alliance as they’re not natural bed partners. In fact, Macron is more likely to find support for some of his policies among the Nupes membership but there’s no room for a coalition there given that his central policy, the raising of the retirement age, is directly in opposition to the Nupes’ own policy of lowering it.
Analysts are suggesting that Macron may well decide to dissolve the Assembly in 12 to 18 months’ time, on the basis that it’s an unworkable parliament, call a new election and go back to the country in an attempt to get a mandate for his reform policies, but it would be a risky policy in the current political climate. The low turnout suggests a level of voter fatigue that won’t be overcome by calling early elections. Much will depend on what he manages to do in the early months of the new Assembly and whether he can put together a group of partnerships that will help him to promote his policies.
As someone who is new to French politics, I find its fluidity interesting and attractive. The fact that Macron could completely rebrand his own party, and form a new alliance, just weeks before the Assembly elections is impressive, particularly when you consider the entrenched attitudes of the UK political establishment. Similarly, the Nupes, and their broad left alliance, bringing environmentalists and traditional left-wing parties together, suggests that the Labour Party back in the UK could learn a lot about the value of working with others and setting aside their policy of always contesting every seat (as results in the recent UK by-elections bear out). In modern politics, one size most certainly doesn’t fit all and progressive parties adapt and collude to bring about better results. I’m sure that, as I learn more about the French political system, I’ll find the things that don’t work so well and they clearly need to address the problem of voter apathy, something that plagues so many countries. But, for now, I’ve really enjoyed my first up close encounter with French politics. Of course, it would be even better if we could vote.
On to the matter of music and I recently became aware of the Euro Americana Chart. Yes, such a thing exists and can be found here https://www.euroamericanachart.eu/euroamericanachart It looks like it originates from Holland and is described as being “compiled by DJs, journalists, retailers, promoters and other people who are interested in Americana music from all over Europe”. It seems that, each month, these people are invited to submit their top 6 Americana CDs. The results are published on the chart site and in different European fanzines. Clearly, by Europe, they mean the continental mainland, since there appears to be little input from the UK or Ireland that I can see. I took a look at this month’s chart to see what’s burning up the European Americana scene and, perhaps a little depressingly, you have to go to number 12 in the chart before you find a European artist, and that’s British Bluesman, Ian Siegal. Good for Ian, flying the flag for UK roots music, but it’s a shame not to see more focus on European talent. In some mitigation the excellent Jesper Lindell puts in an appearance at number 14, showing that Sweden continues to lead the field when it comes to continental Europe and americana. Then it’s all American artists until you get to their “Ones to Watch (and Listen To)” where the interesting Ajay Mathur puts in an appearance.
Ian Siegal has long been one of the UK’s best blues musicians but, on his most recent album, “Stone By Stone” he’s taken a definite shift towards a more country and folk-influenced blues sound. I particularly like the duet with Shemekia Copeland, ‘Hand in Hand’ but the album is full of good music that’s well worth seeking out. Jesper Lindell recently received a 9/10 review, here at Americana UK, for his “Twilight” album. Fellow writer, Jonathan Smith, said “this is just quality. One listen is likely to be enough to want to hear more”. Jonathan hits the nail on the head; this is a superb album full of great tracks that get better with every listen, and it’s really good to see European americana artists trying to do something a little different with the genre. When it comes to different, Ajay Mathur definitely ticks the box. Describing himself as “Swiss by choice and with Indian roots”, Mathur was born and grew up in New Delhi but relocated to Switzerland after he left University and has been there ever since. He’s now a Swiss national. His music is reminiscent of some of the psychedelic folk of the 60s and there’s an interesting mix of influences in his work, including nods to his Indian origins. These influences have clearly paid off and his music is well received, seeing him get a Grammy nomination for Germany’s “Best English Language Album of the Year 2018” award.
American artists are always going to dominate the americana genre, obviously, but it’s good to see European artists bringing their own influences to bear and it’s good to see growing confidence in this music across the continent. I’m going to keep an eye on the Euro Americana chart and hope to see more European musicians making an impact in the coming months. À bientôt.