FÊTE DE LA CRAU, FOS-SUR-MER, PROVENCE, 17TH – 18TH MAY 2008
Saturday 17th May
During May eighteen band members, two Highland dancers and five Scottish heavy-weight athletes left Edinburgh bound for the south of France for a two-day festival in the Mediterranean town of Fos-sur-Mer.
This was a slightly unusual event for us, as we had been asked to provide not only a pipe band and Highland dancers, but also some heavyweight athletes with a view to recreating a typical Highland Games in Provence.
We were joined once again by Fiona Knox and Lynsey Ward from the Jane Knox School of Highland Dance, and also by five of the Scottish Games Association’s best-known athletes: Pete Hart, Craig Sinclair, Grant Sinclair, Roy Valentine and John McLeod.
It was an early start, especially for the athletes who travelled down from Glen Isla, as we left Edinburgh at 5am and travelled down to Prestwick. After a smooth two-hour flight we landed in a pleasantly sunny Marseille, where we were met by our host Geraldine and taken the short half-hour journey by road to Fos-sur-Mer.
It’s worth noting at this point that we were one – essential – member of the band down; our new leading tip, Andrew McCaig, had locked his passport in his office the previous night and couldn’t get access to it in time for check-in! So we left him behind, to desperately try to find an alternative route from Edinburgh to Fos-sur-Mer.
The Hotel Azur was our base for the duration of our stay and once checked in, we were taken to a restaurant near the centre of the town for an excellent three-course lunch complete with aperitifs and rosé wine!
However, there was no time for a siesta, as we were due to play at two supermarkets that afternoon to advertise our main show in the evening. Kitted up and tuned up, we played our way through both establishments to some curious looks from the shoppers and staff alike.
Once back at the hotel, we did have time for a quick beer before heading across to the Arènes, or bullring, for our evening show. The athletes set up on one side of the bullring, the band and the dancers on the other, and for an hour we recreated a Highland Games for the several hundred spectators seated around the arena. Whilst the dancers and ourselves ran through our repertoire, the athletes hurled the weight over distance, lobbed the weight over the bar and tossed the caber.
It was a beautiful sunny evening as we entertained the crowd but the whole event had a slightly surreal edge to it! A French commentator mc’d our performance and the crowd, viewing us from the raised terraces, cheered and clapped enthusiastically. But at any moment we expected a bull to be let loose, the band to scatter and poor Pete, who’d chosen to wear a Red Stuart tartan kilt, to be faced with the task of taming the beast!
Needless to say, nothing like this happened, and once finished, we all headed down to the sea for a final performance to the mayor and his assembled guests before being treated to another excellent meal at a nearby restaurant.
At around 9pm, 14 hours since we last had contact with our leading tip, he arrived in a taxi, just in time for dinner. Having caught a last-minute flight from Edinburgh to Nice, then the TGV from Nice to Marseille, and finally a €100 taxi ride from Marseille to Fos-sur-Mer, a weary Andrew arrived to face the teasing, jesting and sympathetic ears of the band, not to mention the wrath of the less-than-happy drummer who had to tip in his absence. Needless to say Andrew won’t be so foolish in future, but we appreciated the trouble to which he had gone to ensure he was there for the next 24 hours!
Sunday 18th May
Sunday dawned bright and sunny and after a quick breakfast, we tuned up and made our way into the heart of the pretty old town for the beginning of the festival parade. A curious mix including antique cars, period-costumed individuals, jazz and folk ensembles, ourselves and several hundred local sheep had been brought together for a march through the old town and up through the narrow streets to the foot of the medieval fort.
The culmination of the parade took place on a make-shift stage with views out over the town to the Camargue beyond. In the shadow of the fort, each group entertained the assembled crowds with music, dance, and festivities. Each group that was, except, for the sheep! They were the reason, apparently, that the festival took place; the herding of sheep through the town historically marked the beginning of summer as the sheep moved to higher pastures and this tradition, whilst perhaps not now practiced, forms the backbone to this short festival.
Over the course of the day, and between regular libations, the band entertained crowds on stage and off as we enjoyed the sunshine, mingled with other groups, browsed the medieval market, and finally wound up back at our hotel in time for dinner.
Our evening meal was provided courtesy of a local bar and restaurant, and now finally relieved of all our playing duties, the band relaxed for the night. Music was made, dances were danced and foolish duels with musclebound Highland heavyweights were lost!
And before we knew, it was Monday morning and we were heading back east toward Marseille and our flight home to Edinburgh. Many thanks to Andrea D’Erme who organised this trip and Geraldine Galvin of the Fos-sur-Mer tourist office who looked after us exceptionally well during our stay.
Thanks also to Fiona and Lynsey, our delightful dancers from Dunbar, and to Pete and the gang of heavyweight athletes from up north who kept us all in high spirits.