Trouvere at Large Summer 2014 – Final episode: Bayeux!

Our last weekend in France was spent performing at the Fêtes Médiévales at Bayeux. It was our second time at the festival as performers and our third time in all – our first time was as visitors, when we were massively impressed with the whole thing! Bayeux is a great place for a medieval festival – it’s not too big, there’s a good campsite a short walk from the centre, the centre  is dominated by an utterly magnificent medieval cathedral with several other nice medieval buildings close at hand, and of course the town possesses an iconic medieval relic in the Tapestry. Every year on the first weekend in July, the entire centre is taken over with the Fêtes. Market stalls huddle all about the Cathedral, and the streets – which are generally thronged with people – are packed with entertainments. The cathedral is thrown open all day and into the evening, with extra events taking place inside, and on the Sunday morning there is a massive parade of all participants which draws simple huge crowds. For the first time (I think) this year, the Tapestry Museum was a major venue, and (certainly for the first time) there were events there on the Friday night, in which we played a part.

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There were two elements to our involvement at the Festival. Firstly, we were presenting a short programme of English medieval music in the chapel of the Tapestry Museum – this happened on the Friday evening and on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Then – in complete contrast! – we were presenting masked mimed foolishness in the guise of Reynard the Fox and Tibert the Cat. We had three of these shows on the Saturday – two outside the western doors of the cathedral (an established performance space for the festival) and one on the stage in front of the Hôtel de Ville – the biggest performance area of the festival. And two of these shows on the Sunday. So we had a busy programme right through the weekend.

The performances in the Tapestry Museum chapel were quite special – it is a thirteenth century space and the only surviving element of the earlier medieval abbey which was rebuilt in the eighteenth century and done away with at the time of the Revolution. We had excellent attendance at all three performances and our music suited the space really well. Our programme travelled from a pre-conquest antiphon through to the fifteenth century ‘There is no Rose’, with St Godric’s ‘Sainte Nicholas’, ‘Parti de Mal’, ‘Ja nus hons pris’, a Ductia, ‘Verbum patria humanatur’, ‘Miri it is’, ‘The Song of the Nuns of Chester’ and ‘Brid one brere’ in between. I managed to introduce everything in passable French, and Paul managed to chat in French about the instruments to interested parties at the end of each show. All in all, we very much enjoyed doing these short concerts – it was a real treat for us.

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The only problem for Reynard and Tibert was the weather – which was truly awful on Saturday.  The streets were still busy, but not as busy as usual and it was obviously impossible for some shows to go ahead at all, notably many of the déambulations in the streets. We were concerned about our first show, but then the (excellent) staff told us that if it was raining we should just move inside the cathedral! Well, if needs must… Being all English about it, we still had our doubts about this but as we were setting up one of the clerics came up to make sure we were okay and assure us that yes we should perform inside. It was something special to strike up our sounds within such an amazing space: in the first picture below I am standing more or less where we performed. The great pipes sounded IMMENSE! Our second Saturday show, outside the Hôtel de Ville, proceeded in light drizzle, but proceeded rather successfully for all that – the noble French gallantly gathered to participate in our nonsense. Thankfully on the Sunday the weather was much better by the afternoon, and our final show at the Hôtel stage gathered an sizeable audience and went down really well. We even got an encore! All in all, we felt rather pleased with our efforts to bring medieval mime to the French…

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Finally we should mention the parade on the Sunday morning. The weather was still making its mind up what to do and we weren’t sure whether to wear our masks or not – but in the end we went for it and were glad we did as the rain disappeared and we were able to prance our way happily down the streets in fox and cat mode. We got a lovely reception as ever, and thanks to Stephen and Helen Jones for once again taking some amazing images of us prowling away.

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And so we returned to England with much improved French (let’s hope it lasts) and a new instrument or two, and a lot of great memories. We really hope to get back to France again next year to meet familiar faces and make more new friends, and to experience some more of those amazing French fêtes!

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Quite a summer…

Paul and I are just emerging from a very busy summer which saw us performing from Bayeux in the south to Hamilton in the north. Highlights included…

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Reynard the Fox at Rievaulx Abbey and at Knaresborough Medieval Day. This photo shows us at Rievaulx – an absolutely stunning setting for the fox’s devious shenanigans, and features our work placement Annabel. She was with us for a week and helped us in many and various ways from roadying for Reynard to demonstrating dance steps for our new school resource pack to helping me try out medieval recipes. Her pastry castle was – eventually – a notable success!

We also had a great time at the Fetes Medievales in Bayeux:

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Paul as Tibert the Cat joined me (as Reynard) for capering in the streets of this splendid medieval town, including taking part in the grand parade on Sunday morning. I was interviewed on French radio! These French festivals are just  enormous fun and we met some great folk.

Alongside the jousts at Pendennis Castle – always rather special – we also enjoyed being part of English Heritage’s Clash of Knights at Beeston Castle. This is a great format – four teams of twelve knights each all going hammer and tongs; one member of each team is the captain or king and he wears a dragon crest – the aim is to knock off the crests of the opposing teams while protecting one’s own. We provided musical accompaniment for these clashes and much music at our own tent in between.Image

We loved having our new Burgundian tent this year. The space it affords made it much easier to entertain larger groups especially.

Also in Cheshire we had a really enjoyable day at the Grosvenor Museum, hosted by Sue and Tom Hughes. We presented four different workshops over the course of the day in the lecture theatre and it was simply a pleasure.Image

We must also mention Scotland’s Festival of History at Chatelherault near Hamilton. It’s a multi-period event which always allows for some juxtapositions – our Facebook followers will already have seen this immortal image of Paul sounding his medieval greatpipes while being whisked about the site on Haydn Easy’s Edwardian trike. It’s one of my enduring memories of the season and it made me laugh like a drain…

ImageThis is only some of what we got up to in the summer – we also had some lovely days at Alnwick – performed at some very special weddings – and finished off in stunning sunshine at the Pensthorpe Medieval Spectacular, another incredible event from Black Knight Historical.  Now, after a few days at home we are starting to relax and think about the winter…

Forthcoming…

The next few months are largely taken up with ‘backstage’ work. We need to get down to our instruments and put the shine on some new repertoire. We are focusing especially on 12th century music – we’ve long wanted to expand our range and have been developing more of the tunes from the Ludus Danielis alongside more troubadour pieces; we also have our eyes on some Anglo-Norman repertoire. This new material will also come in handy for our latest recording project which is themed around the Magna Carta – coming up for its 800th anniversary soon!

And there are new instruments too with which we need to become familiar: Paul has his new Goodacre small pipes and also his high medieval lute – the latter is not that new anymore but with being away so much over the last several months it still feels new to him… I need to keep working on my hurdy-gurdy: doing a lot of playing on it over the summer has brought on my confidence on the instrument enormously but there’s a lot to do there. And we’ve just got hold of a couple of wonderful medieval trumpets – one straight and one a very fifteenth-century ‘S’ shape; this second one in particular has a very lovely tone that accords well with Paul’s new Moulder shawm. Even though I am completely new to it, we know from initial parpings that there’s potentially a great sound with these two.

We also have to continue work on our new educational resources – I did a lot of work on these earlier in the year but again had to put it all aside for the summer. I am working on new digital interactive versions of our ‘Medieval and Tudor Dance’ guide and ‘How to Be a Tudor’, as well as a new companion project, ‘How to Live in a Castle’.  Lots of material needing to be dragged together and made user-friendly!

So we are taking a bit of a back seat for the next few months, but not disappearing completely. Dates for the diary:

21-22 September: Medieval Music at Bolton Castle. One of our local castles, Bolton is a stunning venue in the most beautiful Wensleydale countryside.

October 30th: ‘Reynard the Fox’ at The Witham in Barnard Castle. A longstanding venue in the town, The Witham has recently undergone major redevelopment and we will be performing in their new music hall.

December 20th: ‘A Medieval Christmas’ at Barley Hall. We are delighted to be coming back to Barley Hall in York for another Christmas concert. Trouvere really got started at Barley Hall – many years ago! – and it remains a venue we are really fond of. Plus the Great Hall unsurprisingly suits our medieval sound perfectly!

December 27th-31st ‘A Medieval Christmas’ at the Tower of London – more details to follow!