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30 Sep 2013

History and heavy metal in France

It seems to me to that wherever one goes in France, there are causes for astonishment. If it is not a sudden view of a huge chateau, still privately owned and not open to the public (almost everywhere), it is a village you have never heard of which is still entirely medieval (like Sainte Suzanne in Mayenne), or a tiny little place with a three times life size statue of a 17C man in a huge wig called Anne – the man, not the wig (Tourville-sur-Sienne, Manche). But there are other surprises as well.
If you keep off the autoroutes, and stick to the N and D roads, you will encounter places well worth a stop. We were returning north from a holiday in Provence, and stopped for lunch in a town called Clisson, in Loire Atlantique 44, 15km to the south east of Nantes. We chose it because we came to it en route, and it was lunch time. What we discovered was a splendid old town, beside the confluence of the Sevre Nantaise and Moine rivers. It has one of the best preserved 15C covered markets, where the woodwork causes keen carpenters to come over a bit faint and dizzy with admiration. It also has the remains of a very imposing castle, which is open to visit. The town was damaged in the 18C in the war of the Vendee, and has an interesting history.
The 15C market hall at Clisson
The castle ruins at Clisson

We went through Clisson again in June, and stopped for a coffee. As we entered, there were a number of signs saying roads were closed. There were also signs advertising a three day heavy metal rock festival in Clisson that weekend.

The festival is an annual event, and is called Hellfest. This year, the top of the bill bands were Kiss, ZZTop, Def Leppard and Whitesnake. There were nine stages, and about 100 bands in all, so serious stuff. There were a lot of hairy heavy metallers wandering around, many of them carrying tents and bags.
We sat outside a cafe looking into the market hall, and ordered our coffees. A group of half a dozen men walked towards the cafe. They all had long straggly hair, long straggly beards, torn jeans, dark t-shirts with band names, and a real swagger. I hoped they were not going to stop and sit at the other tables at the cafe. The last time I encountered heavy metals fans in the UK, there was a lot of swearing, abuse, and threats of violence.
But these were French heavy metal fans. As they got to the tables, they all said 'Bon jour, monsieur-dame' and sat down. They ordered, between them, two coffees, one beer, two of those horrid looking pink alcoholic drinks the French like, and one glass of rouge. They chatted away about bands, the festival, the weather, and their friends. When we left, they all said 'Au revoir, bon journee'.
Another cause for astonishment.

Update December 4, 2013:
The line up of artists for Hellfest 2014 was announced today.  Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith and Deep Purple are the main attractions (?), with 130 odd other bands, or 130 odd bands as the case may be. The dates for those interested are 20-22 June, tickets on sale but apparently going fast.

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