We had the privilege to be in the centre of France for the big annual hurdy-gurdy / bagpipes festival in July. And what an amazing experience, quite unlike anything in New Zealand.
Some years ago, this event outgrew it’s original home in the village of St Chartier and moved just up the road to Chateau D’Ars. Given new life this year as ‘Le Son Continue‘ (the music continues), it collects together enthusiasts from France and combines this with musicians and instrument makers from nearby countries as well.
There is a big stage for the evening concerts, but for me the magic happens around the chateau and woods alongside. There are stages and dance floors constructed either side of the chateau where there is an almost constant stream of music, dance and workshops every day.
Almost hidden among the trees are rows of temporary stalls where some of the best luthiers ply their trade. Although there are many hurdy-gurdy and bagpipe makers, this is mixed with accordions, drums, epinettes, nickelharps and much more.
Music seemed to spontaneously erupt in little groups among the trees, with a variety of instruments and all of the highest standard. The bagpipes are a variety of european types, all with a more mellow sound than the scottish pipes we often hear. In French they are called corne-muses (literally; horn musics) and on the last day there was a parade of pipers all playing the same tune around and even through the little chateau
What also impressed us was the age mix; there was perhaps a majority of younger people, who often played brilliantly and knew the old tunes and dances. They know their own culture and have an enthusiasm for it.
We camped, in a tiny tent, and quickly made friends among our neighbours from France, England and Holland. Add to that good local catering while surrounded by beautiful countryside. Utterly fabulous.
With such variety of musical instruments, it was a nice link to the previous week when we had visited the museum of music in Paris. If you get the chance, do go. There is a bewildering array of instruments from the last 1,000 years, but what really made it special was being able to use the audio guide to listen to recordings of the actual instruments playing music of the right era.
Across the English Channel after France and we stumbled across a local music session in a great little pub in Devon. Like a singaround but mainly instrumentals, some of the musicians were very good but were welcoming of newcomers and the less experienced.
Interestingly, this was almost all English music. Not a single Irish tune and with a different flavour to the ‘diddly music’ sessions we are familiar with. The people were friendly, the music very enjoyable (we did join in and kicked a few tunes off as well), the pub atmosphere quite unlike anything in NZ and the beer superb.
If you are ever in Totnes, Devon, check out the Bay Horse. There’s often folky music of various sorts.
Next musical stop was one day of a folk festival in Wiltshire. The Village Pump is in a park under a white horse carved into the chalk hillside and it had a familiar and friendly vibe. The acts were very good (especially Steve Knightly), there are several stages and it had a bit of an ‘Auckland Folk Fest’ feel about it.
The local sheep’s milk ice cream was also amazing in the scorching weather; peanut butter and chocolate is my new favourite.
And guess who we should bump into almost as soon as we arrived? Pat Smith and Ned Clamp; these two lovely people toured NZ recently including a local house concert. Some very friendly faces to make the festival even better.
We chatted for some time while the Peatbog Faeries thundered their heavy folk rock and frenetic scottish pipes in the distance.
More to come.