A couple of weeks ago, medications I was sifting through work emails and idly wondering how my forthcoming weekend was going to shape up; it seemed to be taking on the familiar pleasures of the default setting – drinks, pilule lazing around Shoreditch Park, case catching a gig or two, having a coffee at Columbia Road flower market; the same old same old essentially, and then an email dropped into my inbox that quickly made me revise my plans. It was from Ben, an old friend of Amelia’s Magazine from French-Music Org, and Liz from Brittany Tourism who were both involved in the French music festival des Vieilles Charrues in Brittany, and wanted to know if Amelia’s Magazine was interested in coming along to check it out. Being a champion of all kinds of festivals, both in England and abroad, but at the same time staying true to the ethics of not flying wherever possible, I was pleased to see that the festival encourages all non-flight forms of travel, and had a good deal with Brittany Ferries worked into one of the ticket packages that also includes transfers to and from the festival. I had a quick look at the line-up, which included performances from Phoenix, Midlake, The Raveonettes, Fanfarlo, Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip and Julian Casablancas. Then I checked my ipod and saw that apart from a little Francoise Hardy and Charlotte Gainsbourg, it was woefully lacking in French music and decided that this Gallic version of Glastonbury could be my guide to France’s vibrant music scene, especially seeing that Chapelier Fou, Revolver, Indochine, Fefe and the brilliantly named Sexy Sushi were all headlining. So that was that. All I needed to do was grab my trusty pillow and I was off to France! A few hours later, after a bumpy ferry ride that unfortunately took place on the windiest day of the year, I found myself in the picturesque town of Carhaix, home of the festival, and about 45 minutes inland from the coast.
Sune and Sharin of The Raveonettes give us a shock and awe performance.
Watching The Raveonettes with my friends – wet and bedraggled but happy.
It was straight to the festival and to the front of the crowd to watch The Raveonettes do a typically kinetic set of howling, fuzzy guitar riffs, liberally sprinkled with lots and lots of noise. Just how the audience like it. The Danish duo, made up of Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo are a dark force to reckon with and played an incredibly tight set, featuring songs from their fourth album, In And Out Of Control. I hadn’t see them play before and I came away thinking that the bands waiting in the wings such as Pains of Being Pure At Heart, Crystal Castles and Vivienne Girls still have a long way to go before they steal the crowns off of these two. Later I managed to get in some talk time with Sune who refused the offer of dinner with his bandmates in favour of shooting the breeze over mugs of vodka cranberries for a whole hour. (Interview to come in the next few weeks)
The next day, when I was a little less exhausted from twelve straight hours of travelling, and no sleep, I was able to properly explore the festival and see it through renewed eyes. Truth be told, it was refreshing to find myself at an overseas festival. The crowd were relaxed, extremely friendly (stand next to any random group of strangers and within a few minutes you will be conversing away happily in a garbled mix of Franglais) and the FOOD (and drink)! It doesn’t matter how many boutique festivals are springing up over England, festival des Vieilles Charrues trumps us with champagne bars all over the site (to be sipped insouciantly while you watch French rock gods Indochine) and food tents which can provide you cheese plates and fruits de la mer to go with your choice of wine. It being slightly earlier in the day, I was trying out the regional cider which was so tasty it practically made me weep, and made my way over to watch the Fanfarlo set. Unexpectedly, this was probably my favourite performance of the festival. Having toured constantly for the past year (watch the mini documentary on their website which painfully documents their incessant and exhaustion-inducing schedule), the performances of the songs from their 2009 release Reservoir have taken on a whole new level. Each band member seamlessly flitted between a myriad of different musical instruments; no-one ever held onto a guitar, trumpet, violin, mandolin or musical saw for more than a few minutes before doing some musical-chairs. I’m not sure how well France was aware of Fanfarlo, but the full audience loved every song they played, and noisily demanded an encore – which unfortunately they didn’t get, but then, the band do only have about twelve songs in their back catalogue.
Fanfarlo talk about life on the road and divulge the little known fact of lead singer Simon’s childhood love of ham radios.
Traditional Breton music. Everyone knew the dance moves but me.
Night time gave me a chance to flit between the bands playing. I watched Midlake, the indie Texans who are fast gaining popularity over on this side of the pond, serenade the audience as the sun set, their hazy Americana sound drifting over the breeze and through the fields. Then it was a hop, skip and a jump to watch Sexy Sushi, the raw Parisian rap of Fefe and – I didn’t see this coming – some traditional Breton music involving some old men, a couple of accordions and a lively crowd who were all versed in the dance moves that accompany the traditional folk style. Then the midnight hour was upon us and the audience was heading in droves to watch Phoenix, who are clearly the prodigal sons of France. I’ve heard before that some of the French don’t appreciate the fact that Phoenix record all of their tracks in English, as opposed to their mother tongue, but there was no such bad feeling in the crowd that stood around me that night, sending waves of love and adulation towards the stage which prompted lead singer Thomas Mars to briefly lie on the stage in slightly dazed wonder at this epic night.
It was frustrating to have to leave on Sunday, as I missed performances by Pony Pony Run Run, Julian Casablancas and Etienne De Crecy, but work commitments dictated an early departure. Nonetheless, I had such a great time that I am already planning next years Festival des Vieilles Charrues (which will be the 20th anniversary of the festival). Brittany was the perfect setting for such a chilled festival, and a welcome addition to the festival calendar.
- Festival Preview: Vieilles Charrues
- Let’s Go Extinct: Fanfarlo introduce the video for current single Cell Song
- Festival Review: Field Day 2010
- Soko- So Kool