Chateau d’Ars (Mr. Ryall’s Sunday)

Featuring guest blogger Chris Ryall

Over on, Euro-oriented melodeonista Chris Ryall has been posting reports of his own experience at Chateau d’Ars. He has graciously allowed me to post them here.

Sunday morning was so much better – blue sky and a few roundrels of cloud. Wind was over. It would threaten rain all day – including some falling from a blue sky  ??? but you didn’t really get wet. Dolly unpacked a sun dress. I was looking forward to four unmissable acts. The little stall at the end of the lane had coffee, and croissants   :P

Once the château grounds reopened I determinedly sought out Saltarelle, finding them up a somehow missed line of stalls. I tried out a 3 row 3 voice 12 bass – a bit bling with its dazzling grills – but that’s their way. On enquiry, Saltarelle” does come from that Italian dance. I was told that their butterfly was added to (somehow?) evoke that.  The box was pretty good, nice sound, fast, and again excellent bang per buck.  Had a listen to Breton legend Alain Pennec who was guesting on the Maison d’Accordéon stall.  As the place dried there were other little entertainments – eg this mixed Flemish/Calabrian (whole-sheep bagpipes!) impromptu band

Lunch was leisurely and I joined in a little session with Dols and her London pals, then beers with Andy Cairns and his talented son.  Andy Cutting of this parish wandered by and said hello, we all talked about boxes and quality. Seemed la  Chevanée had invited him & Chris to join them – gosh – is it that time already! Wandered down to the concert spot to see the Chavs (in Bande Ménétrière lineup)  do their harmonious “songs of the Loire river boats” set.  Fred’s daughter Catherine and brother Manu have become really excellent singers! Fred and Maxu played … bouzoukis!  :o  You can see our two English cameos were in there too  8)

The evening’s first “unmissable” was Samuraï consisting of Tesi, Lepistö, Le Tron, Laloy, and Munelly. The Holland based Irishman looked to be on a C#/D and was a real star, with strong busts of Celtic rhythm, cool switches between Dorian and Blues, and bass (unisonoric?) rocks. Laloy is a great wit on stage and clearly very clever (a lady heckler was gently demolished). His music is jazzy and quite dark. I felt Lepistö did the best improvisations – again with all the jazzer’s tricks. le Tron … was himself with some great old favourites like Valhermeil.  I was
a bit
disappointed not to hear much of Tesi’s wonderful rhythms – he mainly seemed to be running their bass section. 

Visionary stuff, but they’d not moved on at all from last year’s CD.  An encore simply repeated the first tune :-


Bit of a race up the hill to see Cutting/Wood in the small dance floor. Chris spared the pauvre Galoises any homespun political dialectic (pour le bien, one felt!) and it was pure music and song ;D  Towards the end the boys sort of realised we were on a dance floor, and played a sweet Flatworld, and other classics. Dols was first up (as usual) with an elegant partner, bringing a poignant tear to papa‘s eye. I spotted a lady “in need of a chavalier“, and joined in. It was just lovely .. they got two encores and an ovation.

I’d so enjoyed Naragonia in Otley, and their Quartet was to finish the festival.  The real stars for me were Wouter Vandenabeele on violin and exquisite melodeonist Pascale Rubens – both were commonly “out” of the chord, off the beat, yet every swung note informed what your feet had to do. IMHO one of the best dance bands in Europe, and a perfect choice for the finale. Closedown at 1030 was abrupt and they pulled the plugs. A “boeuf” session band (of about 50!) formed and we kept dancing in the dark.

In classic Comite George Sand manner they’d stopped maintaining the sawdust loo’s next morning :-X  but then in the 90’s, it had all gone straight in the river!  :|glug

Chateau d’Ars (Mr. Ryall’s Saturday)

Featuring guest blogger Chris Ryall

Over on, Euro-oriented melodeonista Chris Ryall has been posting reports of his own experience at Chateau d’Ars. He has graciously allowed me to post them here.

Saturday  woke up to intermittent heavy rain and when that cleared there was a massive column of cloud (looked about 2 miles up) moving rapidly NE to the south of the chateau. Seemed the jet stream was still up there  :-

Basically it was like that all day, so I considered and rejected going back up to Brittany, and set about the salon d’instruments.  The first surprise was that stall #1 “Castagnari” had no members of the family at all*! Tried their stuff and (as last year) really liked the 2 voice 3 row 18 bass Matris and Mas. These are very close to being copies of Guillard’s saphir and are nearly as expensive!  Bertrand was around the corner, ably assisted by daughter Clara. Picking up his melodeons  8)  well it felt like the song’s old “49er” .. kissing the little sister .. quite forgetting his

Castagnari :P  It was palpably better, for only a bit more (+ the 3 year wait). They are quite “without fault” (as one might expect from a self-confessed perfectionist solo maker)?

      Casta have made an innovation! The Matris had an extra (fenestrated) “box” in front of the usual grill at right end. You then get a “plane” of thin wood to slide  in/out from below. It’s a muffler. To me it was reminiscent of the  big plastic muffler I had to put on the bonnet of my 2CV in winter, to reduce air cooling. I have to say this completely changes the tone which then sounds .. “muffled” ::)  I personally kept it out,  but no doubt some people will adore the sound!  Interested melodeonistas can easily enough make their own experiment with some stiff cardboard and Blu Tack …. 

I  couldn’t find Saltarelle at all  ??? but discovered Loffet and co in a corner. I’d promised to look at some middle range instruments and gave his, and the corresponding Casta’s a bit of hammer. As last year I felt you’d pay about 10% less for the same quality of sound and ease of play. Bernard’s tone was also nicer to my ear – but then he’s a “tuner and fettler of reeds”, so that isn’t too surprising.  I do prefer Loffet’s “Italian made to own design” boxes to the ones now being constructed in Brittany. There may be a learning curve in play here, and again, others might feel very differently.  You really do have to try before you buy ;)

Hurdy-Gurdy design is very much in flux at the moment  – a lot of innovation even amongst the traditionalists! Several luthiers offer all electric gurdys. I thought these were really clever. As a gurdy buzzes anyway – the tone sounds OK!  The ampification then permits all sort of new  technique, in particular pizzicato play. I expect some on stage delights in the near future … here’s what Gregory Jolivet can achieve (solo, improvised) with such kit  :D  One model even had a wheel that slid along the shaft – engage or disengage the strings at will!

BTW: met with Aberystwyth based Dylan Cairns-Howarth who is a fiddler, but was incredibly fluent on electric gurdy :o “self taught off youtube”! This is one young talent to watch out  for. The lad’s pauvre papa Andy is gonna expend a fortune kitting him out with instruments!

There was very little in the way of sessions going on, most of what was seemed to be groups/friends. I locked the box in the boot (blessing the NHS card that got my car onto the camp field!) and “carefully” climbed the muddy slope onto the big dance floor. Moussaka hale from Marne/Vosges in the east, but do quite the most energetic Breton I’ve ever heard. Flavien Di Cintio was superb on his 3-row .. all over the place .. try this suite plinn! Dolly May … bopped all night again  :|glug

Dols, scatting with two English bagpipers

* St Chartier “rules” have always been that a luthier gets a stall,
  and free festival for him, family and a musician. Saltarelle(importer) and
  Maison d’Accordeon (shop) don’t “make” – but the latter always had
  2 family members to hand in earlier years! Hohner-France took much
  flak last year, and weren’t there this time.   We’ll see ..

Chateau d’Ars (Mr. Ryall’s Friday)

Featuring guest blogger Chris Ryall

Over on, Euro-oriented melodeonista Chris Ryall has been posting reports of his own experience at Chateau d’Ars. He has graciously allowed me to post them here.

I picked up #1 daughter in London and we set off to the Channel. A couple of technical hitches slowed us up a bit (Dolly May has blagued her way into UK without passport, but never out!) slowed our progress into Kent and we managed to miss not one ferry, but two! Picardy went well enough, and with a delightful lunch stop behind us we got to the edges of Paris .. It started to rain :o

Geoff mentions a bit of weather … classic Britanique understatement! We are talking a wall of water. The spray was so heavy on the A10 that you couldn’t see the Mercedes bombing up your tail at 140+ until they were a few metres off the bumper. (One even had his lights off)!  When a Peugeot pulled out suddenly you couldn’t discern the lorry he was overtaking. Météo-France were forecasting “same tomorrow and at the weekend”.  It didn’t look good …

Downhill to the Loire, and Orléans still had some chambres à bonne marchée. It was even too wet to eat out. We picnicked in our “Formule 1” and turned in. The bloody UK weather had actually followed us – it was still raining in the morning  :-

Our rise onto the plain of Berry was easy enough and we chose to come in from due north, off the chauffard infested motorways.  I can confide that the Routier at Issoudun is very clean, very Berrichon in cuisine, and fantastic value. The D road from there then  miraculously took us right through the old St Chartier village! It was deserted.

There’s a legendary tale of bureaucratic central French bumbledom in the village of Clochemerle. Well – the Comite George Sand who run the festival are of this genre. This year’s innovations were to be sawdust toilets*, and a ban on cars on the camp site. Loyal customers of some 20 years were to carry their bedding ½ mile in the rain from the car park ??? Fortunately I had my walking stick in the car, and a standard NHS card looks very like a carte invalide to a Berrichon  ;) We were there.

Friday afternoon was spent renewing old acquaintances in the salon des instruments. The festival’s on site catering is pretty good (though a small beer is now €3!).  The sages of cGS had decided to save money on the canopy on the smaller dance floor  ::)  I tried the big one, but what with the rain and the mud it was pretty lethal. Patrick Bouffard waved me over for a drink and we swapped stories about breaking one’s leg! He was on crutches but I won’t embarrass by saying how he did it  ;)

The Friday bands were incredibly high tech – virtually all had their sound man actually on stage with them, bristling with computers. Krenijenn laid down layers of Breton sound, and the rondos were safe enough to dance to (though you got very wet)! I can’t find a youtube, but their music developed way out of the simple Breton themes with Rap and other imports, yet remained utterly danceable 8)

Gascony’s Ba’al were equally techo/fusion but that reference to the Sun god didn’t stop the rain. Again, note the integrated sound man on stage.  Dolly (now clad in bubble wrap!) had a great bop to la Clèda (1:30am+) but pauvre Papa had to turn in :|glug

Chateau d’Ars

Featuring guest blogger Geoff Woof!

UPDATE: The official festival website is HERE.

Laurent Geoffroy and Aurélien Claranbaux.
Of the group Zef. (photo Geoff Wooff)

Chateau d’Ars is one of the great festivals for those of us interested in French music, accordéons, vielles, and pipes; with a special focus on instrument makers. Geoff Wooff is a legendary uilleann pipe maker living in France. I “met” him on where we had some good conversations about tunes and tunebooks and such. I’m thrilled that Geoff agreed to report back from Chateau d’Ars sending pictures and stories.

I start here with some pictures of Laurent Geoffrey and Simone Bottasso at the stand of Serafini accordeons. These boys are the new generation of diato players who use three row boxes with reorganized keyboards and 18 basses that allow chromatique music to be played. They follow the principles laid down by the likes of Norbert Pignol and Stéphane Milleret. To hear these guys just search for videos on YouTube.

An old friend — and concertina player — began playing the Diato when he moved from Australia to England more than 20 years ago.  He is now studying under Laurent Geoffrey in Bordeaux and got his new Castagnari a couple of weeks ago which is made to the Bottasso design.  He says it is so different that it will take him all summer to figure out how to play it. On his old two and a half row Diatos he was a very good player so he tried to explain the new keyboard and arrangements of the basses which really meant very little to me as I do not play the Diato. However I was very impressed by the music that these boys played.

I have included a few pictures of other musicians having sessions and some general views to give you an idea of the set up of the instrument makers stands, under the trees in the park of the chateau. Unfortunately the weather did prove difficult at times this year and not quite so much music was being played.

I want to go to there! (photo Geoff Wooff)
A cold day in July! (photo Geoff Wooff)
Some sun among the accordéons (photo Geoff Wooff)

Sunday was a better day but I had friends in tow and they wanted specific information on other subjects and that kept me very busy. I did not get to see any of the concerts but then that is me. I prefer to catch a bit of spontaneous music and spend the day talking to the makers and looking closely at what is on offer.

As you might expect, in a country where the accordéon is ever present, there are a lot of makers and it is possible to have anything made for you in the way of a Bespoke instrument. I talked to several makers about the problems of the accordionist in our band who plays a ‘Mixte’ box… this has a Diatonic keyboard C/G/B and a Stradella type Base end … the problem being that it is old (1928) and in the French pitch of 435hz. So I was asking if they made new instruments like that which would have the sound of the old fashioned musette accordéons of the ’20s and ’30s … I found many of them to be very interested and willing to do such a thing.

At Chateau d’Ars there is a warm atmosphere and a very enjoyable time can be had. Instrument makers from all over Europe and even one from USA … a flute and whistle maker from Oregon who uses Carbon fibre to produce a range of instruments …

Thank you Geoff Wooff! More to come!

UPDATE: Over on, the worthy Chris Ryall has posted his own account of the festival.