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Live Music

A European tour

January 8, 2021

An acoustic performance next to the Halle aux grains in Auvillar

With Brexit on its way, in 2017 I organized a small European tour for local band Rattlebox (for which I am sound-engineer). This was an exercise entirely determined by fun and entente cordiale: free gigs in some fairly random and mostly very small places in France, Andorra and Spain, largely determined – though not in all cases – by one of us having some connection; and six families, and a few extras, with us on what would be their summer holiday. Even so, there were practical issues to sort: arranging gigs (much helped by my French-speaking and living elder daughter), accommodation (largely campsites: this was a budget tour), power supplies, intermediary stops (this was part holiday, remember) and, of course, the PA. Anyway, here’s to the gigs:

Fri 28 July: Sainte-Sévère-sur-Indre (central France, midway between Bourges and Limoges). A fitting start to the tour: the gig was in the open-sided market hall in the square of the village made so famous by Jacques Tati’s 1949 film Jour de fête. We were a little nervous about the gig as we had no previous contact in the village, and had just had a few – hard won – emails with the mayor’s office. But they came up trumps, and had set out the market hall with benches (which filled up), put up posters, and even produced a few slabs of beer. We felt as welcome as the fair folk in Jour de fête. After a little electric shock (a reminder that wiring isn’t always what it should be), the technical side went OK: the PA was a combination of Alto and Proel speakers, with a Soundcraft mixing desk, all fairly basic but fine for what is a slightly raucous folk band. Beers after at a bar, then all of a hundred yards to the village campsite with its profusion of Swallowtail butterflies. Perfick, as Pop Larkin would have said.

Sat 29 July: Auvillar (Tarn-et-Garonne, south-west France). A weekend here in this most beautiful of small towns, courtesy of an old friend (a retired French general) and the indefatigable efforts of Gilles Compagnat. Unknown to us beforehand, Gilles organized everything, from a short taster acoustic session by the circular Halle aux grains (where our carefully transported English cider – yes, we took a present of booze to France – went like lightning), paella for all in the square, the main evening gig to an audience of 200 (then a record for Rattlebox) outside the church with its natural ampitheatre (with lights set up specially too), and a Sunday morning acoustic gig in the Place du Château. Having no PA to run on the Sunday morning, I set up a couple of omni mics and recorded the band outside, ambience and all. Goodness, were we sad to leave.

Tues 1 Aug: Vinça (Pyrénées-Orientales: southern France, near the east end of the Pyrénées). After stops at Carcassone, Lagrasse and, for some, the Med, this more workaday small town had a great lake and, by the side of this a lively bar  – the ginguette d’Aquagliss au lac. A compressed stage, but, who cares, there was more paella and dancing for the first time on the tour.

Thurs 3 Aug: Andorra la Vella. It had always been an ambition of Danny (of Rattlebox) to visit Andorra, and as we pitched up in a very urban campsite next to the national football stadium in insanely hot and humid conditions, we wondered why? But the evening gig in the Harlem Bar (organized by the remarkable Pierre Infante Lagrave and the bar owner Josu Adanez) was a great success: small, extremely sweaty and with enthusiastic dancing. What more can you ask for?

Sat 5 Aug: Junzano (near Huesca, Spain). Courtesy of  the sister of Simon (also of Rattlebox), a long-time resident, of this small village, we were part of the municipal fiesta, and welcomed enthusiastically yet again. A bigger stage and, for the first time, other acts: yet more paella (at least in Spain this time), dancing and, afterwards, sad farewells before the long journey home.

During all the mayhem of keeping things on track, running the PA, being the roadie, and occasionally snatching bits of holiday – all in the unremittingly fantastic weather – there wasn’t really any time for serious filmmaking, but here’s an extremely rough film (largely an aide-mémoire for us) that captures something of the fun and, indeed, the welcome: the eternal question down the pub is where next?

Film Projects Live Music

Busking in Andalucia

January 7, 2021

As live music goes, this was about as easy as it gets for the sound-engineer: the band (Rattlebox) decided on a long weekend in the south of Spain in May 2019, to play a largely acoustic gig at a bar and to busk for the first time. That meant no PA and no mixing, but I tagged along for the craic and took the chance to make a short film. Not as simple as you might think: the handy flight from Norwich to Malaga was delayed, and we only arrived in La Tahá in the Alpujarras in the early hours, and there was never a chance to catch-up on sleep. The band kept pace with the lack of sleep and the booze, but, goodness, I felt rough: getting too old for the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle? And equipment-wise, things were tricky: it was nearly all hand luggage to keep costs low and to squeeze into the single seven-seater hire car, with underpants and socks stuffed into musical instruments, and my cabin baggage allocation mostly given over to the band. So I bought a Páramo Halkon traveller jacket with 15 pockets, which I stuffed with gear for that low-rent Hulk/shoplifter look. As for the gear, well that was mainly a Lumix GX80 camera with a Zhiyun Crane M gimbal, and a Sony M10 recorder with a stereo pair of Primo EM172-based Clippy mics): can’t get much more minimal than that.

It was a lively gig at the La Cueva de Mora Luna in Mecina Fondales on the Friday night, even if slightly surreal with cars driving past between the band and the audience. Spectacular pizzas afterwards on the house. The next night we were invited to a wake in the neighbouring hamlet of Ferreirola (never met the chap alive) and ended up muscling a grand piano down impossibly narrow streets followed by a local on her penny whistle. And on the Sunday we made it to Granada for busking. No time to visit the Alhambra, but made enough for dinner. Satisfying.

Anyway, here’s a rather rough and ready film that captures something of the weekend. The first song (Hares on the Mountain) was recorded back home in Norfolk, outside in the woods with a pair of Rode NT55s with the omni NT45-O capsules.