MATT WALKER

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THE COGNAC DIARIES

(Written with Ashley Davies)

 

Tues July 26 MW

Arrive into Bordeaux and we’re happy to see a man with long white hair and a headband waving a festival poster at us through the window. Jean Michael, along with Manu the driver, is here to collect us. First thing’s first they say, ‘You want to eat?’ We stop in at a place on the outskirts of the airport called Buffalo Grill. Hmm that’s not French. I say to Jean Michael that I don’t eat meat and he raises his eyebrows. I predicted that it would be difficult being a vegetarian in France but this surpassed all expectation…I had a salad and a plate of cheese…and some wine of course. Jean Michael’s eyebrows raised again, even more curiously when Ashley said he didn’t drink.

We then had to pick up our gear we freighted over. When we get to the customs office to clear it I realise I left my passport in the car, but no problem. Voila! Jean Michael whips out the festival poster again and it’s all sorted.

 

Then it’s on to Cognac.

 

After the drive and checking in I start to feel a long way from home…and a long way from understanding French. “Bonjour” and “merci” are actually not going to get you far. I make a mental note to spend some time with the phrase book with my coffee and croissant in the morning.

Go to sleep with the sound of mopeds drifting up through the window.

 

Wed July 27 MW

Open the shutters. 7:30 am. A soft mist hanging over Cognac but you can tell it’s going to be a scorcher… Later I go for a walk and see what’s happening round town. Bump into Jean Michael and he shows me around the festival as the finishing touches are made. I grab a bread stick and some things from the supermarket and retreat to the hotel to play some guitar. I later find out that the Imperial Crowns are playing a warm up show tonight so I track Ash down to tell him. We don’t have mobile phones with us but it turns out it’s not that hard to find a guy wearing stubbies and an AC/DC t-shirt here in Cognac.

 

View from the hotel window in Cognac

 

Wed July 27 AD

Night time, it’s real balmy here. Been a hot day. Having a coffee watching the kids scream round on their motorbikes. I don’t think the bikes are registered or that they have licenses. They ride crazy and fast and as close as they can get to the cars they are following. Loco young French kids. They are setting up stages all around town. First gig tomorrow night. Can’t wait to play

 

Thurs July 28 AD

Cognac township is starting to buzz. The festival is set up like Queenscliff music festival. Some main stages then gigs going on in clubs and bars all over the town. Lot of people at our first show and the gig goes great except the acoustic guitar breaks down and we have to do a mostly electric set. They like the toe tappers here. We finish and a blues band called bulldog gravy get up and do a set, they are a bit left of centre and have a percussionist that gets his instruments from the junkyard.

 

Thurs July 28 MW

My friend Laure back home translated a couple of songs into French for me before I left and the time has come to see if she has played a cruel joke on me or not. The crowd respond well enough so I guess I’m singing what I think I’m singing. This was a good start to the festival tonight…it was also very nice to meet our booking agent Dominique for the first time (in person).  I catch the last half of Joe Cocker down at the main stage. An outdoor amphitheatre that looked quite amazing with a sold out crowd having a good time. Joe plays all the old stuff as you’d expect and I guess it’s a nostalgic experience for most of the people here…and I can’t help feeling it too on this summer night in Cognac.

 

Friday July 29 AD

Early start for 10.30 sound check and 12 pm gig. An outdoor show and everything was going well and then it starts raining, and thunder, and then the wind picks up and blows everything apart. Tried to cover the gear up with tarpaulin but the wind blew them off. Show was brought inside. The water affected everything, guitar tuners, effects pedals, Matt’s hairdo

 

Friday July 29 MW

Hung out with Dominique (booking agent) and her friends drinking Cognac & Tonics. Caught some music…Lots of ‘Bompa - Bompa’. The crowds are wonderful here. Lots of drinking but no fights…From what I can gather, French people love there own wine, cheese, cooking, culture etc…but when it comes to music they appear to be very interested in looking outside their borders. They really love the mystery and magic of it all…Good tonic for a musician. 

 

Saturday July 30 MW

I still don’t have a lot of confidence speaking French. It’s OK when I’m playing or hanging out with friends at the festival, but I go to do something like post a letter or go to the bank I feel like a real tourist. Yeah I know I am a tourist, but I’m just not used to feeling like one. And I’ve developed this ridiculous habit of just speaking English with a fake French accent to people in the hope that it will help them understand me. Tonight’s gig was great.

 

Saturday July 30 AD

All day free to see some music. A few favourites were a blues duo singing classics from the Kansas region on acoustic guitar and tuba. A Captain Beefheart version of the Melbourne combo The Band Who Knew Too Much called Voodoo Skank. Le Bluetones, one helluva rockin’ and swingin’ French R&B band and The Maxwell Family. A straight ahead blues/boogie three piece family combo with mum on bass, dad on guitar and 10 year old son on drums. Met the little fella in the elevator, had something in his hand. “What’s that?” I said. He could not speak English very good. “BOOM” he goes. And a few minutes later from the hotel room in the street below we hear a loud bang and some people screaming and shouting. Don’t know about that kid…next morning I caught him harassing the hotel poodle.

 

Sunday July 31 MW

I enjoyed our early morning show on the Tonic stage. We were able to play a few of the slower tunes in this setting… and it can be a very nice thing to sing into a PA before you’ve even spoken your first words for the day.

 

Sunday July 31 AD

Lots of parties and music going on around here. It isn’t just the festival that has the bands. All the venues in town have something going on, and pretty much into the early hours of the morning. Then there’s the cognac which everyone is drinking. Last nights gig finished at 2, got home at 3. Got up at 8 in the morning for sound check, then played at 10. Went to The Bluetones that night at a small pub, a bit like The Rainbow in Melbourne. Got there at 10.10 for a 10.30 start but they came on at 11. My feet were killing me but the joint was going off. I could not get any closer too them unless I was going to do some backing vocals. The music was loud and it was packed and sweatin’ in there. The highlight of the festival.

 

Monday August 1 – Wednesday August 3

Hanging out in Cognac.

 

Thursday August 4 AD

Hit the road for Holland shows. French countryside is beautiful. Nearly hit semi trailer.. must remember to drive on right side of road. Expensive petrol, tolls and then there’s the traffic jams. Stay in some roadside hotel in Belgium for the night and the room smells like foot odour. Next morning we smell like foot odour coz there is no windows in the joint to open. Glad to get out of there.

MW note: I think this motel is actually part of the witness protection program.

 

Friday August 5 AD

Holland! Excellent. Have to get to a place called Vaals. 500 metres from the German border and 3 kilometres from the Belgium border. After some circle work on the highways we make it there and drop off the gear and head to Amsterdam to pick up a drum kit.

 

Saturday August 6 AD

Catch up with some mates in Amsterdam then head back to Vaals with drum kit in hand. Strange show compared to the gigs we had been having in France. Everybody was talking so loud it was distracting. So we played louder. Then they talked louder.

 

 Ash & Matt in Amsterdam - Photo by Hilde

 

Sunday August 7 AD

Maastricht - Was wondering about this gig coz of the nights before but did not need to. This was a great pub and a great night. The club was packed and they opened the side doors onto the street where people watched from the footpath outside. We were crammed onto a tiny stage and it was hot and loud in there. The room thick with the heavy dope and beer smells of Amsterdam cafes and people hollerin’ and jumping around. The best show of the tour.

 

Monday August 8 AD

Eindhoven is a big town and we get lost in it and have to call the bar owner to come down and get us or give us some very good directions. he comes down and we follow him back to where we are staying and the club. It’s small bar in the backstreets of town and they are right into their music. Not as crazy as the night before but everybody had a good time.

 

Tuesday August 9 AD

Gemert - Last gig for the tour and we are feeling good coz we are coming home, but it’s a bummer to be not doing more shows. Europe gets to you because of that great culture difference in the people, places and things. You need some time to soak it up and feel it. The duo has had a real good time here, the audience seem to get what we are trying to do with our music. Played the last show in a smoky little club then headed back to Amsterdam that night to get ready for the trek home.

 

 

Photo taken by Appie Weijers at Maastricht gig

writing

the duo feels good

history - the early days

the cognac diaries

navigational skills

america west coast

matt saved by a

honky-tonk woman

the necessary few

dave mc comb

the rainbow hotel

band of brothers...alone

ghost who walks dog

 

 

 

 

 


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