Juniper Hill Blues Band, Fete de la Musique, Labastide d'Anjou, 20-21 June 2003

Five middle aged men in search of a dream


An early start, 20/June/2003

Accustomed to rising early, rooting out dozy children from all corners of various houses on the way to the day job, the intrepid and slightly time-challenged members of the Juniper Hill Blues Band set out on their first international "French Wilderness" tour. A chance invitation from an old friend was grasped with both hands, feet and teeth before it could be retracted and here we were setting off for Stansted (where ?) at 05:30. It is still possible to travel from Stansted to Europe without mortgaging the house first, this time with the lovely Ryanair.

First step, the check-in. We were led to a grandly titled "Fragile" section to check in a couple of thousand quids worth of Fenders, keyboards and Selmers. The "Fragile" section is worthy of note. First of all the instruments are dumped unceremoniously on a conveyor belt, irradiated and then accelerated to a sort of ski jump at the foot of which was a black hole. "Fragile" objects are launched (there is no other word for it), plunge down the hole and land several seconds later with a huge crash at the bottom. To be fair to Stansted baggage handling, it simply says "Fragile objects here" - nowhere does it say they will take care of them.

Off we go on our merry no-frills Boeing 737. With no-frills flying, you first of all get on a bus at the terminal, drive for several hours and then stop. The seating plan is very easy. The driver says "On your marks" and then the doors burst open as holiday makers kick, push and bite their way to a seat. Take-off and flight uneventful giving us time to attend to the minor injuries sustained in the happy seat jostling but landing in the lee of the Pyrenees at Carcassonne much less so. First of all you get thrown all over the sky and then the pilot has to land on a tiny airstrip. This time we appeared to finish up in somebody's garden. We all waved gaily as the pilot blipped the throttles to clear the lettuces out of the engines and then backed out with a smile so this was clearly a normal occurrence.

Our genial host and old friend Frannie was waiting with a Mercedes and two taxis trying to hide his concern at inviting an unknown bunch of old farts to play so close to his home.

No airport is worth a photograph so you don't get one.

Groundwork and the search for a drum-kit

Arrived at Frannie's house and immediately complained at the view, I mean just look at all those fields of corn blocking the view of the main road 10 km. away. Decided grudgingly to put up with it. Presiding over this idyll is the ever-patient and lovely Angela.  
Well, here we go with the group photograph unfortunately still missing Colin the drummer and family who at this moment were asking a rather surprised taxi driver where they could buy a fluorescent attack budgie, or alternatively tell them where the hell they were. In this picture are from left to right, Don, Richard, the visiting troubadour and baritone, the ever-patient Angela, Frannie, Cath, Les, Malcolm and Jerry.  

Spent much of the afternoon trying to track down enough of a drum kit for Colin. The early attempts were somewhat disappointing revealing a kit played by Napoleon's drummer and a much crapped-on cymbal which actually raised clouds of dust when you hit it. In between trying to think of what to say to Colin, it was revealed that a French "Who" tribute band (yes, really) were also performing and their kit would be available. Phew.

Not all of us spent the afternoon searching garages for old drum-kits. Here "Desperate" Don the saxman practises visualising his evening's performances.  

Off to the gig for Friday nights performance at 20:45, (I've gone all European with times temporarily). The village is gorgeous, right by the Canal du Midi. Later on in the evening, the parked boats were to take off like the Cowes Powerboat race when the Juniper Hill Blues Band hit their groove. Cowards.

The stage is centre left and the audience of getting on for a thousand souls will grace the tables and chairs of the bar on the right later. This photo was taken at great risk from arguably the most collided-with bridge we have ever seen. It drew this incisive comment from Malcolm our bass-man extraordinaire and civil engineer, "Christ". According to local tradition, most people hit the bridge apart from one unfortunate farmer who failed to do even this and went straight into the canal. With this kind of expert opinion, we treated it with a little more respect.  

Friday night, Performance number 1

Hugely enjoyable but a precursor for the Saturday night as it turned out. We followed two rather good opera singers and various bands. Played a standard set, had a great time and got a really good reception. Instead of the ancient Premier drum-kit excavated in mid-afternoon, Colin got to use a very tasty but highly eccentric Tama kit belonging to the rather good "Who" tribute band which followed. Unusually, the drummer of this band was around 6'10" so every time Colin played a crash cymbal, he had to stand up. This may lead to a new school of drumming designed to relieve the pressure caused by tiny drum seats. The author of this missive had to give up drumming before it became necessary to remove the seat surgically.

A few snapshots follow:-

Still light at 9:30pm, Jerry lets rip with "Do you ever wake up in the morning ?". Well its close enough.  

Colin, trying desperately to see over the crash cymbal. The other crash cymbal is a short walk to the left.  

Don and Colin letting rip in lockstep. The objects on the floor are not lingerie but, hey, a man can dream.  

All in all, a very gratifying evening. In fact we were so gratified we got rather pissed in time-honoured tradition and set off to walk back 3 km. in the middle of a smoke-black French countryside at 2 am. I should perhaps set the scene here. When the ever-patient Angela finally found us in the middle of a French field at 3:30am, the author of this missive opened the door of the car and then plunged backwards into a ditch. Frannie, husband of the ever-patient Angela failed to recognise either her or the car. Meanwhile Richard, our resident baritone and polymath rambled incoherently until we finally got back to Marandou just before dawn. Ah, the musician's life for us.

Saturday morning

The day dawned, beautiful again. For morning in a bowl of light has cast the stone that put the stars to flight. Only people without huge hangovers can write stuff like this. Meanwhile, we mortals stumbled down to breakfast during which the England rugby team defied a centures long tradition of inventing sports and then getting stuffed by everybody at them, by turning the tables on New Zealand and Australia. What a strange feeling.

The day passed as so many Saturdays in France do by eating a local delicacy consisting of French sausage, super-glue and bitumen. Jerry was not up to this and so did not have his jaws glued together for several hours.

Saturday evening, Performance number 2

Now this is where it really starts. The evening seemed interminable. We were on late, (1am, 12pm, 2am and then finally 1:30 am). By this time, we were knackered but the evening was dying to be grabbed hold of and a thousand people were ready. So, up on stage, no messing, no widdling, (guitarist's term for playing aimless tunes whilst drooling through vacant stare), and straight into a high-octane set, B.B. King, Commitments, Jailhouse Rock and so on. Audience really behind us, or they might as well have been as the smoke machine took the opportunity to simulate East Germany as it was so we couldn't see anything. Everybody started dancing and from the point of view of five middle-aged men, the evening became stellar. We played our hearts out. I'm still on an adrenalin high 4 weeks later. This is what it looked like in pictures.

Malcolm playing a gut-wrenching Chicago bass line which B.B. hisself would have approved of. Meanwhile the smoke machine attempts to recreate November in Manchester for the adoring fans.  

Yes, this really is the best fun you can have with your clothes on.  

Harp and bass thunder on - no surrender. This little ditty is called "Built for comfort, ain't built for speed", so amply demonstrated here by Les on harp.  

Here, Les spontaneously combusts half way through "The thrill is gone". The amp simulator is set to somewhere between Stevie Ray Vaughan and Vesuvius. 50m. away, Jean-Pierre, sound maestro has just pulled his cans off and is pouring cold beer into his ears. What a waste.  

Aftermath - Le saxo anglais magique

First of all, a huge thank you to Frannie and Angela for so very much more than mere hospitality.

Would we do this again ? Oh, YEEEEESSSSSSS PLEASEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE .................

Finally. the press had this to say, so here he is again, this time on just one saxophone. If you can't read it, the caption to the picture says, "le saxo anglais magique". You can probably figure out what it means.


Now its back to the day jobs :-(

From the Juniper Hill Blues Band, to all our fans. Hi Mum.

12th July, 2003.