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.
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.
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…
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.
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!