No-one quite knows why Bridgwater is twinned with the elegant Mediteranean yachting resort of La Ciotat-but thanks to whoever did that 55 years ago. Last year we kick started the link with a joint Anglo-Czech football invasion -successfully losing every game, and this year we took a multitude of choirs from the Bridgwater area to link up with a choir from La Ciotat.
The result was another well earned credit for Yvette Staellens and her globetrotting ‘Voice of the People’ team based at the Bridgwater Arts Centre. Each year they come with us to a different country, imprint Bridgwater culture with a dainty slipper mark on the hearts of all they meet , make a few friends and leave with a song on their lips. Even at 5am in the morning. And in this case, even when they were circling Bristol airport unable to land due to bad weather and having to be diverted to Cardiff.
|The French choir Citharista take the etage|
This year 54 people joined the trip. The lovely Yvette runs several lovely choirs dotted around the region but this time she was joined by the talented and mildly gorgeous Claire Anstee and her own team of world music beatniks from the sticks, making an incredible collection of natural voice talent on one stage. Add to this the tremendously professional ‘Citharista’ choir from La Ciotat -prominently featuring town councillor Jean-Marie Vandamme- especially adept at ad hoc doo-wop scat singing and you couldn’t move for music!
Flying from early morning rainy Bristol to early morning Nice – slightly skimming feet above the waterline as we landed-and driving through sunny Provence past St Tropez, Cannes and the rest of the Cote D’Azur it actually felt like you were somewhere in the region of Highbridge but with slightly more sun, sand, seafood and baguettes.
|Councillors trying to convince the French to come to Bridgwater|
La Ciotat is a perfect tourist destination from which it’s hard to get the inhabitants to leave. So on this occaision we took along some books about Somerset and, for good measure, the rest of Britain, as gifts to show them what we had to offer. It didn’t have too much affect. But what did was when they met up with those Bridgwater ambassadors of the Voice of the People choir who, after a couple of days singing and partying together almost convinced the French to pay a return visit to Bridgwater next summer…so well done there!! Reality comes at a price.
In French they take their Jumelage seriously. (That’s twinning by the way). And when they heard that a Bridgwater choir was coming to visit them they booked the Spectacular 17th century Notre Dame church which overlooked the harbour for them to perform in. The perfect acoustics were caught on video and the youtube clips included below.
|Claire and Yvette square up|
The range of the Choirs material spanned the globe with songs from the Baka people of Equatorial Africa through Australian aborigine lullaby’s by way of a song from Bridgwater’s Czech twin town Uherske Hradiste , a Hawaiian Earth blessing , a 16th century English madrigal to the topical Moon River .
Top of the hit parade this evening was a spontaneous blues soul duet performed by Yvette and Claire , delivered with such feeling that you almost imagined they were going to punch each others lights out.
The packed audience cried out for an encore. Fortunately Yvette had forgotten to include one song in the set list and so they did that one.
|La Ciotat- a bit like Bridgwater|
But even more singing continued into the early hours as both Bridgwater and La Ciotat choirs adjourned to a council function room for a Camembeart and Pastis frenzy while singing each other into the ground. Not to be outdone by Yvette and Claires stunning performance, the French choir leader Carine Verdu suddenly burst into an unprovoked version of some Aria from Carmen with a degree of sensuality and gusto that one senior councillor almost choked on his fromage du chevre.
La Ciotat council had made a big effort . Deputy Mayor Patzlaff had constantly worn his Bridgwater tie for the entire year past , refusing to remove it in case he met anyone from the twin town. Tonight he was in luck!! Sadly he didn’t speak any English. Madame Leonardelli, the president of the Jumelage committee had a bit more, and Virginie Giaccone, the International links officer a bit more still. But still they thought they better roll out their friend Thomas-who did his best. On the other hand the Choirs brought with them numerous members whose schoolgirl French led to an evening of uncompleted sentences , cheerfully resolved by another glug of wine , hand gestures, or in the case of the Dutch chorister, entire re-enactments of classic scenes from history in order to make her understood. But that’s the joy of twinning-trying to communicate rather than give up and build walls.
|Plumetting the depths|
Once the singing was over (if that’s ever likely) the travellers sampled the merry joys of La Ciotat. Having ‘done’ most of the harbourside restaurants, bought up the waterfront market and witnessed the startling site of elderly women dressed in that Medieval way tying each other up with ribbons and then trying to dance, the only direction was seawards. Almost everyone chose to visit the nearby Calanques (interesting Jurassic headlands) by boat. And got incredibly wet. Even the experienced seafaring Cllr Tucker hadn’t experienced anything like it , even on the mountainous waves of Cape Horn. Singing while drowning I mean.
On the final night the group had a party at Croix De Malte hotel where 3 of the singers formed an impromptu version of the Beverly Sisters to sing their thanks to Yvette – who responded in song – which caught on – until half the room were ad-libbing lines thanking each other.
|Singing it like it is|
The only way such a pleasant weekend could finish was something going wrong. An unexpected visit to yet another country. The perfectly timed flight from Nice reached Bristol, hit English weather and the plane had to land in Wales. The group -amongst 4 other plane loads of travellers – had to be bussed back to Bristol in 12 specially hired coaches. The Bridgwater group chose the driver that reversed into an airport lamp-post.