It was a weekend of odd gigs. I’ve finally realized that any gig in France is an odd gig.
The first, at an Irish pub run by French people, in the city of Angoulême. We walked in and there were two huge TV screens going and some very focused men in sports jerseys watching rugby. The stage had a bodhran hanging on the wall, along with rusty instruments and photos and drawings of grizzled Irishmen enjoying a good craic.
Signs in French on the walls advised that in an Irish pub it is customary to walk up to the bar and order and pay for your drink and then take it to your seat. In France, even in the humblest bar or cafe, if you sit at a table the patron will come over and serve you.
The owners were sweet, demanding immediately that we “tu” rather than “vous” them. It was a little challenging, trying to do a soundcheck with a bar full of people – amazing how just being in the same room as a soundcheck turns the average man or woman into a qualified sound technician.
“The voices, is not loud enough? Your music, it’s very good – but trop fort.”
“This, over here, bring down. And that one, there – bring up. You see? You sing nice but those sounds get in the way.”
“You play music?” This said as we stood there with guitars in hand. I wasn’t sure if the guy was extremely dull-witted or just making a value judgment.
All of a sudden I was starving, and ran out to find a banana or something. I’d forgotten that it was a holiday in France – everything was closed, except cafes. I was starting to shake when I ran into Emmanuel on the street. He’d come to see us play. Angoulême is a pretty town and worth a visit, but probably better when the shops are open. Still, he helped me find a luxe patisserie and their clafoutis (a traditional baked cherry and custard treat) was the best I’ve tasted.
When we finished the soundcheck, the owner had set up a table for our dinner – huge thick slices of ham and pate, some Camembert, bread, and a massive bowl of frites. With a cute little pottery jug of red wine. Not exactly the healthy eating we’ve been aiming for, but it would have been rude to refuse.
Then Mickey our friend the French to English translator showed up and we went for drinks in a chic wine bar. Everything looked “chic” to me – I get used to the country bumpkin style in the deep country of the Limousin, where you rarely see big sunglasses and high heels…they’d look pretty out of place in the middle of a pasture.
The gig was us playing for about twenty interested people and the rest a parade of Saturday night revelers, varying in age from sixteen to sixty. Some would stroll past the stage, gape for a minute, then move on. Some cheered for a while, until it was time to go have a cigarette. There was an older gent who approached the stage politely to tell us we were very good but could we please play quieter, as he was having trouble conversing with his friends.
Two sets later, after ample hugs from the owners, the female half especially, who rumor has it was a “hostess” in North Africa in a former life, we drove through the moonlit countryside: past a few chateaux, a kooky lit-up antique car showroom in the unpronounceable La Rochefoucauld, villages and sleeping cows. Left the car full of equipment parked out front, for the next day when we’d be setting off early for another show – a record fair in Perigueux. Sunday…France…I made a plan to pack a banana.