A new column that looks at life, and the search for Americana music, on the other side of the Channel.
On the 9th December 2020, my wife and I put a couple of suitcases, and our cat, in the car and said goodbye to the UK. Strong supporters of the E.U, we were devastated by the result of the 2016 referendum and campaigned vigorously against it. When it became apparent that no amount of campaigning would deter Johnson and the ERG from pursuing a policy of hard Brexit, we decided we had to go. We had sold up in the UK and the belongings we’d decided to hold onto were already on their way to France. We had taken a six-month lease on a property in the Charente region and that’s where we headed. Relocating to another country in the middle of a pandemic, with both countries in lockdown, meant we couldn’t break our journey with stays at a hotel or even with friends, it was head down and drive for the 10 hours or so it took to get from our UK home in West Kent down to the small village of Bayers, in the North Eastern Charente. To cut a very long story short, we eventually found a house to buy in the Northern Dordogne, the Perigord Vert, and we moved here in the June of 2020, and it is idyllic. I love life in France and our village is a little piece of paradise that looks out across a lush, green valley of woodland and fields. I have no regrets about leaving the UK, I really couldn’t live in Brexit Britain and especially not under the “leadership” of the man I consider to be the single worst Prime Minister in living memory – and it’s not like there’s a shortage of competition! But I’d be lying if I said there weren’t some misgivings. It’s always a bit intimidating when you move to a new location, let alone a new country. Our rental place in the Charente had been found for us by friends who lived in the neighbouring village but, here in the Dordogne, another 90 minutes further south, we didn’t know anyone. The language was an issue – I had schoolboy French and my wife is Russian born; she speaks perfect English and can more than get by in German, but French wasn’t even on her radar. Then there was the music! How would I feed my Americana addiction in a country known more for the music of Edith Piaf, Sacha Distel and Daft Punk?! The French excel at Gipsy Jazz and Chanson but are not readily known for the quality of their country and bluegrass musicians. Was there a wider Americana network to be found in continental Europe, outside of the UK?!
Well, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Our village is a centre for creativity and seems to pull in musicians and artists from around the country and from the wider reaches of Europe – and there seems to be many such villages in France. I’ve found a fellow Brit and a Dutchman to play Alt Country and bluegrass tinged music with and, while we’ve yet to unleash ourselves on French audiences, our one gig between lockdown periods to a bunch of Belgian and Dutch tourists went well.
What I have discovered is that the French really like and appreciate music. They’re not so much bothered about genres, they just like something that sounds good and that people enjoy playing. French radio isn’t particularly inspiring and plays a lot of what would probably be classed as Euro-pop, though there is a fondness for soft rock, much of which dances around the edges of Americana, but get out into the markets and around the bars and there’s no shortage of live music being played and it covers a wide range of musical styles and an appreciation of Americana and American roots music is clearly on the increase over here. There’s an annual country music festival in Mirande, to the South East of Toulouse, that has been running since the early ’90s, and an annual Cajun & Zydeco Festival in the Bourgogne region as well as a very well established blues festival up in Cognac (I’m assured the definition of blues blurs considerably and more than a little country and Americana creeps in). The French do love a music festival, or any sort of festival, come to that, and I suspect there may well be more Americana events to be uncovered. This is something I want to delve into further, both in France and in the wider region, and I hope to be able to report that there is a lively Americana scene in continental Europe and bring some of these European musicians a little more into the spotlight.
I also hope to give you a bit of a flavour of life here in the Perigord Vert and some insight into what really goes on across the Channel – often very different to what the likes of The Express and The Mail would have people believe. With a Presidential election coming in April, the months ahead should be lively.
Having said all that this will, of course, be primarily about the music and what I’ve been listening to that helps me make it through the night. This week, as far as mainstream Americana goes, I’ve been listening to Billy Strings’ latest album, “Renewal”, which I think shows considerable growth in his musical style. It rightly, in my opinion, got a 10/10 review here on Americana UK, courtesy of David Jarman, who praised it for the new sense of depth Strings has brought to his music. He identified ‘Heartbeat of America’ as a standout track and it is one of the great highlights of a genuinely excellent album.
In keeping with my planned investigation of European Americana, I’ve also been listening to German band, Markus Rill and The Troublemakers. The band have been reviewed at Americana UK but that was back in 2019. Markus himself has been around a fair bit and put some time in over in America. His style is quite eclectic but I’m featuring a very nice live performance with fellow German musician, Maik Garthe, of ‘How I Roll’, taken from Rill’s 2020 album, “New Crop”. Finally, a little closer to home, I’ve been getting into the very intriguing music of La Maison Tellier. Formed by Raoul and Helmut Tellier back in 2004, the band started out as an Indie rock outfit but have steadily taken on more and more of an Americana style. In addition to the usual guitars, they also include a trumpet as a featured instrument, this gives some of their songs a slight Tejano sound but they are unique in their French take on the Americana genre and perform in both French and English, sometimes in the same song, as on this featured track, ‘Chinatown’.
I’m genuinely excited to discover more of what is happening in the world of Americana, outside of the English speaking countries that dominate the genre, and I hope I can take you along with me.
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