39th Interceltique Festival, Lorient, Brittany
Thursday June 30th
Just after 1:30am our coach left Edinburgh Academy, groaning under the weight of 17 pipers and their pipes, 12 drummers and their drums and all the essential luggage required to survive for 10 days in Lorient. Travelling through the night we headed south to Portsmouth and caught the mid-afternoon ferry to Roscoff. Arriving in Brittany at 10:00pm, it took us another 2 hours to finally reach our accommodation, just north-west of Lorient’s town centre.
Friday June 31st
The Lycee Marie Le Franc student block at 128 Boulevard Leon Blum was to be our new home for the next 10 days. Meals were served at the Lycée Dupuy de Lôme, a 10 minute walk into town, adjacent to the Stade de Moustoir where we would be spending five nights performing the Nuit Magique concert. We had our first rehearsal for this show just after lunch and quickly learned what we were expected to do in terms of formations, etc during the show.
Around mid-afternoon, two further pipers joined us in Lorient. Rob McKenzie and Brian Williamson had flown over from Toronto to Paris before getting the TGV down through Brittany to meet us. Rob competed with the band in 2008, helping us win our four Championships and Brian was a good friend of Rob; a top sound man and a well-respected judge on the Ontario pipe band circuit. Both would be helping us with our sound and tuning for the duration of the trip.
Also in Lorient, for their fifth Festival appearance was the Scottish Highland Dance group Keltika – good friends of the band, some of their dancers had accompanied us on trips to Italy, France and Mexico – and we were looking forward to working, as well as socialising, with them over the next few days!
After a leisurely dinner we then did a full dress rehearsal, beginning with a concentrated practice with the two other Scottish bands, Methil and Toronto Police, to establish the selection of tunes we would be playing. This done, there was time for a few beers in the Student Bar at Dupuy. And with some of us still a bit weary from the trip, it was a fairly quiet night all round.
Saturday August 1st
Saturday dawned wet and miserable, putting pay to any intentions the organisers or ourselves may have had about rehearsals! With nothing scheduled throughout the day most people wandered into the city centre and explored the Celtic Village at the Marina.
The rain eased off towards the end of the afternoon much to the organiser’s relief as tonight was the opening night for the Nuit Magique concert, all three hours of which was to be held outdoors. Previous years had seen acts cancelled, especially the dancers, but things looked to drying up as we headed do to Dupuy for dinner before another rehearsal with the other bands.
Soon it was “quick march” over to the Stadium to then wait near the entrance tunnel for our call. We were doing three appearances during the show, one representing the Scottish section of the show with the three bands and a slot in the middle for Keltika and then two separate performances with all the other groups for Highland Cathedral and Amazing Grace.
The Stadium was packed to capacity, and would remain so for all five nights, and as the curtain lifted we played out into the centre of the arena under giant spotlights and formed up for our show. All went well and within 15 minutes we were back under the tunnel and dismissed until the second slot. Time then, for a beer or two before assembling again and marching on for Highland Cathedral, then once again another short break and then back on for the Finale.
The whole show culminated in a five minute firework display set off from the roof of the Stadium. A seriously impressive ending to the evening’s entertainment and one that never got any less interesting or spectacular as the nights rolled by. And as is customary in Lorient, after the fireworks were over a motley amalgamation of Scottish and Irish musicians formed a large massed pipes and drums and headed down into the city centre before breaking off into various bars for several well-earned beers!
Sunday August 2nd
Sunday’s main event, and one of the highlights of the Interceltique Festival, was the Grand Parade. Numerous Bagads had been invited to attend from all over Brittany, many of whom had been competing at the second half of the Breton Championships the day before, and, joining forces with the guest bands and groups at the Festival, we all marched across the city.
The first band set of at about 9:30am and the last of the 30 or so bands finally made their way into the Stade de Moustoir just before 2 o’clock. Despite lasting almost five hours, the parade route was lined continuously with crowds 4-5 deep. National and local TV channels broadcast the parade live as it made its way down the city’s wide tree-lined boulevards and narrow streets.
After arriving at the Stadium it was straight over to Dupuy for lunch which was followed, for almost everyone, by a welcome siesta. However, two lucky pipers, Mr Milligan and Rob, were escorted down to the marina to play atop one of the sailing vessels berthed at the quay as part of a small promotion within the Festival itself.
That evening, the second Nuit Magique went a lot smoother now that everyone knew what to expect. And with better weather the whole experience was much more pleasant; all the Irish and Scottish bands mingling at the back of the stadium, enjoying the mild evening climate whilst sipping beer bought from bars tucked away round the base of the stands, before briskly assembling and marching out into the spotlight.
And once the music had stopped and the echo of the last firework finally died down it was off, en-mass, down to the Port for more music and merry-making. And it didn’t stop there; once the bars and clubs closed up for the night the party made its way back to the dorms and carried on until daylight.
Monday August 3rd
Luckily, Monday had no scheduled events so the bleary-eyed were able to catch up on their much-needed beauty sleep before being woken for an afternoon practice. On Tuesday we were scheduled to perform a one-hour long concert at the Espace Marine, a massive tented structure capable of seating 5000 people. We’d spent a lot of time back in Edinburgh learning new material for this concert so now it was time to fine-tune everything in preparation for the main event.
Unfortunately it had been raining hard all day so our rehearsal was held under a large cycle shelter; not the most acoustically sympathetic venue for a band to play under but dry non-the-less! And with no Nuit Magique performance to do, most people took advantage of the many other musical activities and concerts going on in the city and enjoyed a quite convivial evening around the Palais de Congrés and the Quai des Pays Celtes.
Tuesday August 4th
Another mid-morning rehearsal blew the last of the pre-concert cobwebs off the instruments before we grabbed a quick lunch and headed to the Espace Marine. With little time for a sound check we had about an hour to get the stage set up the way we required, check the sound and tune the band before the audience began clapping our arrival on stage.
Joining us for this event were some of the dancers from Keltika who had learnt special routines to accompany some of our sets.
All the sets went well with the whole band playing for the first half and then a smaller group of pipers and dancers accompanied by guitars, drum kit and congas performed some more up-tempo sets for the second half. About 2000 people paid to watch us perform and we were very pleased with how well the sound lasted for the duration of the show and also how well all the band members performed as for some of them, this was their first time on stage in front of such a large audience.
Nuit Magique number three followed that evening with everything falling into place again on the night. One wee difference this evening though; as part of the main Scottish section, Keltika performed a 5 minute set on the main stage with their piper Andy Gibb and Drummer Lee Lawson. On this occasion, our PM and PS joined Andy onstage to accompany him for part of the performance. And it went without saying that the residents of Lorient were again treated to rounding renditions of various pipe band tunes as the massed band made it’s way through the city centre for more merriment and late night revelling!
Wednesday August 5th
After a busy day previous, we were granted another day off with only the Nuit Magique to prepare for in the evening. Our youngest piper, Lewis Blyth, was on performance duty at a local Art Gallery in the afternoon to help promote the work of a Scottish Artist exhibiting at the Festival. Otherwise we all took it easy and enjoyed some more of what the Festival had to offer.
Thursday August 6th
The full band was up and in kit ready for a short parade first thing on Thursday morning. Starting somewhere in the depths of the sleepy old town, we marched down into the marina finishing up near the Palais de Congrés where we played a few sets. Lunch quickly followed before we headed back down back down to the Quai des Pays Celtes, this time to play a few relaxed set in front of the Scottish Tent. A good crowd gathered as we ran over our competition sets in preparation for Saturday. Many thanks to the Scottish Tent proprietor, Maggie Dewar, for making us most welcome.
After a few beers, it was back to the Dorms for a quick change into kit, then down to Dupuy for dinner before a quick tune-up and the now well-rehearsed assembly at the Stade de Moustoir for our fifth and final Nuit Magique. The hours between dinner and our actual performance seemed to disappear on these nights as we sat around the campus drinking and chatting. Before we knew it we were back in the tunnel and as the familiar words of command echoed up the steps we set off across the pitch and into the spotlights for one final run through.
And for one last time a die-hard crew of pipers and drummers from all six Scottish and Irish bands formed up for one final parade into the town centre for another night of mischief, mayhem and music-making!
Friday August 7th
With nothing scheduled for Friday morning, the sound of snoring could be heard right up until lunchtime as the revellers recovered from the night before. But after a quick lunch, all were up and presentable for another trip down to the Scottish Tent mid-afternoon for a performance with the Keltika Dancers. A much bigger crowd gathered today, possibly due to the sunny weather or maybe due to our skilled dancers, and this time, as well as practicing our competition sets we ran through our stage show material, aided ably by Andy Gibbs and the dancers.
And with strict instructions issued for a quiet night, we all settled in relatively early in preparation for the next day.
Saturday August 8th
Saturday dawned bright and early with a practice for the afternoon competition scheduled just after breakfast. After a few runs through both the MSR and Medley and some fine tuning by Rob and Brian we headed off to get kitted up prior to lunch.
The competition was held at the Péristyle next to the main port entrance on a grassed arena surrounded by trees. A sizable audience had already gathered by the time we tuned up for the first competition, the MSR. Four bands had entered this, Toronto Police, Cap Caval, Methil and ourselves. We had a decent run, ably bolstered by our guest piper Andy Gibbs, and were pleased to be awarded 2nd equal with Methil. Toronto Police and Cap Caval drew for 1st place.
Next up was the Medley competition with nine bands entered; four ‘Scottish’, two Irish and three Bagads including Cap Caval. Cap Caval played their G2 World Championship winning medley whilst Toronto played their 2009 Idiomatica medley, pipping Cap Caval into 2nd place. We played well and were pleased with a 5th place after Methil and another Grade 3 bagad.
This left the Drummer’s Fanfare competition; our drummers had been working on their fanfare for months and having performed it on stage and at the Scottish Tent, were confident of a good run. All went to plan and they were pleased to win 3rd place behind Toronto Police and the G3 Bagad.
A few beers later and the Prize giving took place in the evening sunshine. After this we all headed back into town for a final meal out together before the young-uns took off for some serious partying. Needless to say, as it was the last night, the partying continued well into the daylight hours on Sunday leaving some people only minutes to pack their cases and board the coach home.
Sunday August 9th
A delightfully early start saw us back at Roscoff and on the ferry for lunch, with a lengthy trip across the channel spent catching up on well-earned rest! Journeys home after a trip away with the band are never fun but we made it back to Edinburgh in relatively high spirits, with everyone delighted to arrive time for a pre-World’s practice on the Monday evening!
Many thanks to the Scottish Organiser Tom Johnston, who set up our trip to Lorient, to Andy Gibb and the Keltika Dancers for their help, friendship, support and cheerful banter and also to Arnoud, our Celtic-music mad guide!
And finally a huge “Thank You” to McCallum Bagpipes who kindly sponsored our trip Polo-shirts.