- Essays: On The Road (And A Little Off)


photo by Frederique Torres

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(Editor’s Note: These dispatches are dated some time previously to their being published, so please be advised that Panama is no longer in France, so he cannot take a message to your tante in Paris)

Rochefort, France, August 24, 2007 -- Yesterday we did the bridge gig. There was time for only one song apiece on the way across the Charente or on the way back. And the bridge was crowded, so we players had to take turns going across with our songs, or toss the civilians overboard, which probably wouldn’t have sat well with our bosses Karel and Philippe.

Lotsa river songs; you name it, it was probably played. I don’t remember where I was in the lineup with “O Shenandoah”, but I did it with my bon amis (bons amis? Amis bons?) George Wolfheart and John Lester. I have to say about Rochefort that I love coming here because everybody is so very effing good at what they do, but George and John are standouts among standouts, and immediately grasped what was going on when I said “It’s in E, but never gets to B.” You had to be there, but these guys turned what could have been a ho-hum performance of an old chestnut into something very special and even weepy for me…I must have taken a sensitivity pill that morning.

photo by Barbara Langer

But what really got me off, and what turned out to set the tone of the whole festival was Nick Harper’s re-writing of the Clash tune “London Calling”, which he transmogrified into “Rochefort Calling”, and performed with Paul Tiernan accompanying on guitar, while my friend Captain Julie held the new lyrics.

photo by Barbara Langer

Fortunately, though not surprisingly, there was wine and beer available, at a small bar next to the bridge. So when my bridgeload got back to the starting side, I headed there.

I was standing at the bar drinking my beer when I heard behind me the gentle lilt of a Welsh accent. Turning around, I was delighted to see that the source was my great and good friend Geraint Watkins, keyboardist extraordinaire

photo by Frederique Torres

We hadn’t seen each other since the first Rochefort En Accords two years ago. I like Geraint because he has a gentle sense of humor, combined with a ferocious musical talent, and what I recognize as a genuine friendship for me, poor devil. He’s been around the musical block a few times and his list of credits, which I won’t go into here but which you could look up, is staggering. I’m astonished that I occasionally get to pick with him. He is also a wonderful repository of stories about the old days of rock’n’roll in Cardiff and those other Welsh rock’n’roll foundries where a goodly portion of English rock was created. Wales cranked them rockers out for sure.

Geraint and I finished our beers and wandered over to the Bridge. When we got there, we were astounded to see an actual Doomsday Machine. Okay, it wasn’t really a doomsday machine, but a Crystal de Baschet, just about the strangest acoustic instrument on the planet fersure. And, on top of being one of the most unique acoustic instruments on the planet, it was being played by one of the most unique acoustic musicians on the planet, Monsieur Michel Deneuve, recognized throughout le monde as one of maybe five masters of the instrument.

It is a complex yet simple arrangement of plexiglass rods of different lengths attached to metal cones which are kind of analogous to the cones of speakers. Difficult to describe…you’d have to see one. So go here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=denMYUu8DhI and see a performance by Michel on crystal de baschet and BJ Cole on pedal steel. Once you’ve got that going, come back here.

Michel was very, some would say overly, protective of his instrument…one poor sod had the nerve to ask if he could touch the device.
“Non!” said Michel, with enough Gallic force that Geraint and I jumped back from where we had been gawking at the thing, and, alright already, getting ready to tentatively touch it ourselves. Actually, there cannot be a great number of these truly and I mean it marvelous machines around, so M Deneuve was probably doing us all a big favor by guarding it so closely.
Next day, along with BJ Cole on steel, Renaud Pion on reeds, and Fay Lovsky on theramin and musical saw, Michel would kick some psychedelic butt at the Temple back in town.

The river song idea was a popular event with the punters, and when it was over we went to the movies. Ukulele Club de Paris provided sound for “Tabu”, a silent flicker about love or something like it in the South Pacific. Originally it had been scheduled on the poster for the Jardin du Theatre, one of the open air music venues, but owing to the threat of rain, the showing was moved to an upstairs theatre in town. I went with Barry and Barbara, but it was wa-ay crowded, and the editing coulda been a little tighter, so I left early. Sure that I could find my way, I walked down the street, took a left, then a right, headed for the square and a little nightcap, and then, not finding the square, decided to go back to the Roca Fortis and so to bed. Couldn’t find the Roca, either.

I was standing on a corner looking perhaps somewhat more confused than usual when a car pulled up and I heard a voice saying, “Panama, are you lost?” “No,” I replied, “but the Roca Fortis is.” The voice belonged to my grand et bon ami and official photographer of the festival, Jean-Francois (Jef) Drean.
“Well, get in the car and I’ll get you there.”
The Roca, of course, was right around the corner. I went to bed.


NEXT: Our hero waxes on and on about the scary, lovely, intelligent and talented Fay Lovsky.