1 Chef du Pont

I can’t remember how everything started. Probably with a Beatles song playing on the radio. I was born in 53, as we said then, long before the year 2000. I grew up in Chef du Pont, a village in the marshes of Carentan, Cotentin, 4 km from Ste Mère Eglise, a small town immortalized by the 20th Century Fox  movie, '' The Longest Day ''.

Chef du Pont, of interest to us:  a church, 2 dairies, an andouille* factory (stench guaranteed), a train station, a grocery store, a hardware store, a girls’ school, a boys’ school, swamps, an open air dump overlooking a fetid pond near the railroad: the most attractive place in the village, by far!

*Chitling sausage. Note from the translator

This pond was one day graced by a raft that I had built with two or three friends, made of big gas-oil cans maintained by boards, navigating between the willows to observe (scare) moorhens . This is also where I prepared my first meal alone by stoning a poor sparrow using my sling and charring it on an Indian style brooch. Later, as a scout,  I would know all these "pleasures" on another scale ...

My interest in the hardware store moved up several notches when I found out that, on Mom’s insistence (she taught at the boys' school), I could order the record I had heard on the radio and receive it three weeks later …

I've never been as interested in pans and other kitchen accessories as I was during those three weeks.

When the album arrived: The Beatles’ Eight Days a Week 45 Odeon Soe 3764, I entered my galaxy never to leave it.

Dad was the director of the Boys’ School in Chef du Pont. Life at home was punctuated by school holidays. Catherine, François and I were each born two years apart, with me being  the eldest. During the holidays the boys' school was our exclusive territory... A unique feeling never to be had since. We could push the desks into a corner of Dad's class and set up the electric train circuit while listening to Ticket to Ride blasting on the Teppaz record player. The idea that we were privileged never occurred to me.

My very first Beatles 45’s

During the big void of July / August, the whole family went to "Sessions" in the four corners of France. The Sessions were eight-day seminars, sometimes longer, organized by the “Equipes enseignantes”, a left wing association created by some catholic teachers who tried to re-think teaching methods. On the way home we always took the opportunity to pay a three-week visit to Papa's parents at "La Vigerie", a property located a few kilometers from Bordeaux, where my grandmother worked as a janitor / housekeeper.  We were therefore away for quite some time. Our return to Chef du Pont invariably went like this: older students, unaware of our arrival, had taken advantage of the large, empty schoolyard to play football, a game formally forbidden by my father during the rest of the year. The unfortunate kids were caught red-handed. In no time, they would all clear out, hoping not to have been spotted …

The one place we never managed to tame was Dad's office, appropriately nicknamed “the bunker” by Vincent, my little brother, the youngest of the lineage who arrived late, 12 years after me. So this nickname came much later, in another house ...

The office in Chef du Pont smelled strongly of cold tobacco and taboo. Dad stuffed his pipe with  “blue tobacco”  that I would get at Madame Ledouit's grocery store, a hundred meters from the school. Taboo was everywhere: the safest bet was to touch nothing. We would feel at fault simply going through the office door. The desk was a square table made by my uncle Robert, a carpenter, one of my mother's brothers. It was crowded but rather tidy. Virtually all the furniture we had at Chef du Pont was Robert's work. Mom has always had a great sense of family. For us, the office / bunker has remained one of the stronger images associated with Dad's psychology.

One of Dad’s constants was his quick irritation when we did not understand quickly enough, as if his attention was exclusively reserved for his students.  One day, as I was clearing the table (exclusively a childrens’ task) I grabbed the meat dish and asked no one in particular: where goes?  Daddy, exasperated:  to the trash! With a determined step I headed for the garage. The maid caught me before it was too late.  Never say in Daddy’s presence that we had a maid at home, he would have glared at you. The correct word  was a housekeeper. The Lapouge’s do not take people’s dignity lightly.

I was going to forget: it was in Dad's office that I had my first and only sex education lesson. Papa (looking serious and uncomfortable): Jean, before you go (into sixth grade), don’t believe everything your classmates might tell you. Children are not born in cabbages, they are the product of the union of a man and a woman. End of lesson. Make do with that.

The Teppaz was also used by Mom to listen to 45’s by Jacques Brel, Guy Béart, Les Frères Jacques and Père Duval.  Catherine, my younger sister (by two years), monopolized it from time to time for a 'yéyé' session with Adamo and her favorite singer, Frank Alamo: “biche, oh ma biche, lorsque tu soulignes au crayon noir tes jolis yeux”…  The classical 33 rpm’s were in Papa's office, spinning in the “Pathé Marconi, La Voix De Son Maitre” cabinet.

Odette and Henri Lapouge in Odette's classroom, cleared of its little school desks and showing its Gerflex flooring, on a Sunday's open 
doors exhibit of the boys' school artwork.  On the wall, a glimpse of the many art pieces drawn by the class's children.

I requisitioned the Teppaz, and from now on it would be upstairs in my bedroom exclusiveley playing my first records. I also took up the transistor radio that my parents used at noon to listen to the BBC and English pirate radios (they were easy to tune into) in my bed, at night, under the covers and in the dark. The corner of the room where I slept was lined with photos of the Beatles, in double spreads, mostly taken from Paris Match magazine.  One exception: amid the Beatles would later appear a large poster of Julie Driscoll, first sign of my nascent puberty (60’s connoisseurs will appreciate …).

Listening to music is good, making music is better.

Mom bought her washing powder in round barrels. The washing machine had required the construction of a concrete screed to fix it to the ground while spin-drying! I still wonder how our clothes could withstand so much violence. The barrels were made of cardboard and did not like being dressed in white cloth to look like drums, they produced no sound, but on the picture the illusion was perfect.

The world I wanted to enter required credentials:  a band name was essential.  We quickly found it with the help of my little brother François: underwear being unfortunately strewn on the floor, the band became The Slipers**. Having been quickly anglicized to “The Sleepers”, the result of our brainstorm figured proudly on the cloth/barrel/bass drum. I will be the drummer.

**Slip  (pronounced ‘sleep’)= underpants in french - note from the translator

2 Valognes boarding school

Years 66/67

The CM1 and the CM2 classes (4th and 5th grades) at the boys' school in Chef du Pont were held by Henri Lapouge, that is to say, dad.  It goes without saying I had been well prepared for my entry into sixth grade!

In September 64 I should have continued my studies in Sainte Mère Eglise, homeland of my dentist, a notorious butcher (God how I suffered!)

My parents decided otherwise: my independent nature made them think it was better to send me to boarding school. As always, they were right.

Valognes is 40 km from Chef du Pont, so a real boarding school it was.  A world in itself, a new horizon.

Dad drove me to the school door in his Citroën DS, very early on Monday morning (not a word was spoken on the way).  I will take the Micheline train on Saturday at two o'clock from Valognes station to return home. You already know that there is a station at Chef du Pont. I have an immoderate love for trains, a love unfulfilled until then, although my uncle Maurice, my father's brother, would give me, every time we saw each other, his copies of '' La vie du Rail '' He was head of the station in Versailles, at that time part of Seine-et-Oise. My future was well laid out:  the family expected me to be a train driver.

To say that I adjusted to boarding life is a euphemism: I loved it. And you will see why.

The beginnings are always a bit difficult, but when you learn the codes, residential school life is not without benefits.

In Valognes, classes went from 6th grade to the end of high school. There was a huge age gap between the entering rookie and the doubling high school senior.

To be really safe, one needed a godfather.

I found one in the person of Melon. An eccentric character, very tall, four years my elder, endowed with a type of humor yet unknown to me, English humor.

My pass in Valognes was music. But I'm getting ahead ...
My  first trimester confirmed, if need be, my father’s efficiency as a teacher, my report card posted a general average of 18/20, with congratulations.

The autarkic life of High School interns included extra-curricular activities grouped under the name of clubs. Chess club, cinema club, music club etc.

Music club it will be.  To be living in the « Manche » region is nevertheless to be living in France:  one needs to register.

Sheets are passed with lists of names. The activities take place on Saturday afternoon, so I will have to take the evening train.

The music club was led by a supervisor. The most cowardly and unsympathetic supervisor around. He was the leader of the music club because Monsieur prided himself on being a singer. His repertoire: Yves Montand, les feuilles mortes se ramassen-tt-àà- la pêêlle…

The list.
- Lapouge! What do you play ?
- Drums
- Ah, Interesting!

I now see in the room a real golden drum set, shiny, much bigger than I could have imagined, almost threatening, very impressive at any rate, far from my laundry barrels.
At home, I used an enamelled sheet metal shade as a cymbal, just for looks because the sound was awful, far from the sound of Ringo's cymbals.  Here for the first time too, I saw a big and beautiful cymbal, obviously brand new.

- Show me what you can do!

I mount the stool. I forgot to tell you that I am an unconverted left-hander, a technical term often used by my Freinet Pedagogy-following parents.  I start hitting as I do at home, reversed, the left stick on the cymbal and the right stick on the snare when suddenly I hear a loud laugh and a '' Well, forget it!" which makes me blush with shame, and is certainly at the root of my recurring musical nightmares.

I dropped out of the music club and preferred to spend my Saturday afternoons at the dump trying to implode television sets with my sling.

Life sometimes throws surprises at you.

I hear that the first quarter ends with a ''sauterie''*.  A term that I now find inappropriate for designating a musical evening taking place in a mixed high school!

* “Sauterie” = party; “sauter” = french slang for having intercourse. Note from the translator.

The party is planned after an evening meal preceding Christmas holidays, in the girls’ dormitory wing, a usually forbidden place, though a very coveted one by senior high school repeaters !

Imagine a large classroom turned into a club, lights dimmed, the desk removed from the small platform where now sat the golden drum set and what I perceived as an electric guitar amplifier. My excitement was at its peak, the girls began to enter, all perfumed up and not dressed as usual. Mom never wore perfume.

I was growing red as a beetroot and was very much afraid it showed. I was not at the end of my troubles. Guys were starting to fuss around the instruments.  I recognized Yves Montand flanked by another supervisor who jumped on my drum seat and two guitarists, strangers to our small high school world.

I later learned that this band (without Yves Montand) occasionally performed outside the High School and played The Shadows’ repertoire.

For now, the band is playing mostly French songs, leading to the climax: Les feuilles mortes se ramassen-tt-àà- la pêêlle…

Suddenly, the drummer, for some unknown reason, leaves the stage (and a puzzled Yves Montand) ... I see the singer coming towards me, asking me to head for the drums. Luckily, the next piece is a slow one that I hasten to play, reversed.

Later I got a small smile of approval. I held my revenge and the protection of a supervisor, and not the least of them.

My newly found psychic balance (thanks to Yve’s smile) was disturbed by an unexpected consequence.  Girls behaved differently with me.  But it was thanks to Melon that 
I was hit by love at first sight.

6th grade was my year of physical growth.  I gained 1 cm per month, reaching 1m72 by the age of 13.

Melon, who had befriended me, was still half a head taller.  During one of our walks in the high school park, Melon revealed that one of the girls in his class fancied me. Jean, you can score!  Terror.  To back out, losing both face and my protector, was out of the question.  He fixes us up,  we have a date.

I saw her come from a distance, approaching, planting her eyes in mine: lightning and chills ran through my whole body, she was very pretty but just as scared as me ... I was paralysed by the novelty of physical emotion. A palpable embarrassment established itself between us, she quickly understands my immaturity.  I will not be the chosen one, He Who Takes The Risk,  defying the supervisors, to join her in the girls' dormitory.

Thursday was the mid-week break back then. The interns were allowed to go into the city for the afternoon, between two and six o'clock, only if the parents had signed the waiver.  Mine had signed,  but it was understood that I would go to the D.’s, acquaintances from the “Équipes Enseignantes” who lived in the city.  I hated almost everything about the D. family. The father, the mother, the two sons, their cat, their habits, their way of dressing, their way of talking, everything. Their second son, a year older than me, was a boy scout. Why doesn’t Jean go with him to fill his Thursday afternoons with "practical" and healthy activities?

The Boy Scouts? I just about hated it all.  All we did was ideologically tainted (stained). The young D. was a pigheaded, spoiled and temperamental prick.  And would you believe it,  my parents and the D.’s came up with the idea that I go on vacation with them and their son in the Luberon, where they had a summer residence. I had, according to the D.’s, a good influence on their darned son ... Imagine sharing a two-person tent with this jerk. The worst vacation of my life. Fortunately, I traveled alone for the return trip, by train from Avignon to Paris. I had asked my parents to travel on board the Mistral, they owed me that.

Later with the Scouts, I would raft down the Vire and participate in a three-day "forest survival" experience that would somewhat soften my resentment.  In my third year, the scout leader attempted to reassert control by organizing a "reminder of ideological fundamentals" trip, just the two of us, on the coast. That day the Scouts of France definitely lost me.

3 Daniel

At the beginning of 7th grade there is a reshuffling of classes, depending on students’ optional studies.  My parents had chosen Latin, so had Daniel’s.  How he and I became friends, I can’t remember.

The music club had become the guitar club and had two guitars. The club leader was a great friend of Melon’s. He was a big fan of Brassens and contented himself with managing the two guitars, one with nylon strings, the other with steel strings and f-holes, like a violin.  Actually, he managed only one guitar,  keeping the nylon string for himself. The place was a respectable one once again.

Daniel and I learned the guitar together.  At home, as I soon found out, Daniel already had a guitar. It was built by one of his older brothers and was of an unusually large size. It was a dark brown color and Daniel disappeared completely behind the sound box.  It looked like the huge Mexican guitars we’d seen in the “Zorro” television series.  His mother soon bought him a cheap electric guitar.

This one was hard to see, much smaller than the dark brown giant, almost too small, it had the headstock bending forward, which gave it a sickly air.  However, it was glitter red and had a maple neck.  It was a plank.  Anyway, we had already decided who would be doing what:  I’d comp on the steel string guitar and he’d take the melodies with his plank.  It worked out pretty well.

The steel-string guitar with f-holes I borrowed for summer holidays

I quickly made progress in comping, Georges Brassens having early on advised me a thesaurus of guitar chord diagrams published in the “Marabout” collection.  Melon’s friend wasn’t really into pedagogy and transmission.

And now I could practice at home too because my parents had offered me a nylon string study guitar that looked more or less like a classical guitar. We chose and bought it at Havet Photo in Cherbourg. There was a name written on the soundboard: Troubadour.  It was stolen in 82.  A "genial" female student to whom I lent it so she could practice at home never came back to her lessons …

We started to build up a small repertoire.  The Beatles' For No One was one of our favorite successes.

Daniel and I had found our stride.  We did everything together and were inseparable. We had the circular tree-lined driveway of the park to ourselves, and when we were not playing at the guitar club (we now had the keys), we talked music in the park.  A legendary twosome in the making.

But would school break separate us?  I have a talk with mom.  She comes up with the solution.  We shall go and ask Mrs. Renault, Daniel's mother, if I can spend part of the holidays at her place.  I say her place because Daniel’s poor father’s lungs had been taken by the Montebourg cement plant,  and he would soon pass away.

I spent the months of July and August at Daniel's house.  Definitely one of my best holiday memories.  Daniel's mom was a cheerful and very optimistic woman.  Life flowed easily, days into days, an impression of eternity.

We slept in the same room.  We were used to it.

Daniel's little brother, a brawny young man, was training to be a cyclist. He was the pride of his big brothers, who had long left the family nest.  When he came back from training, whatever the time, he had to eat:  in addition to a healthy helping of pasta, he would prepare a twelve egg omelette…

In the afternoon we’d go fishing, most of the time we’d bring back tench from the Merderet, the river of my marshland.  They tasted strongly of slime but sometimes we managed to catch eels: a guaranteed feast for the evening.

The icing on the cake was that the Renault’s, a family of modest origins, had a TV.  Daniel and I would watch it until late.  I remember a W.C. Fields cycle but most often it was Fernandel and co.

Everything comes to an end.  Come september, back to boarding school. We are no longer together, Daniel’s mother having chosen Spanish as a second language, my parents having chosen German.  An idiotic lack of coordination.  We now only have breaks, study and dormitory to see each other.

Jean Emile must have landed in our high school in 9th grade.  A little older than us, he is one of the strangest characters I have ever met.

A pianist with long fingers, very white skin, tall, an aesthete.  Cultured.  A Dali specialist and a Dylan translator!  My galaxy was to grow by a few light years.  My naïveté would   shrink by as much.  He gave me access to the big city: CHERBOURG.  With Jean Émile everything changed.  My little world could not cope with all that he induced,  it cracked at the seams.  I got into the habit of going to his home in Cherbourg.  Well, to his home is what I told my parents.

4 Cherbourg

 My secret file which I'm sure my mother perused...

I learned to bend the truth, especially with mom.  Dad had much more important things to do than listen to me.  I distilled truth as opportunity allowed.

Our main cultural references at home were the Unesco Courier and "Croissance des jeunes Nations", monthly magazines, past issues of which were available in the upstairs toilet.  Dad would read “Le Monde” at the dining table, listening to the news on the radio, commenting on the absurdities of the world with Mom.

They were third world activists.
We, the children, were not allowed to comment.  Indeed, whatever could we have to say concerning the Algerian war, the Ben Barka affair, or the Petit Clamart attack?

On Sundays, I’d take the 12 o’clock Micheline to Cherbourg.  But first we went to mass.

At 10 o'clock, all practicing Catholics living in and around Chef du Pont would flow into the little church at the end of the village.  There was no particular apprehension in attending, it being always the same thing, with the same people.  There was the director of the Dairy Cooperative, his wife and two children, a couple of farmers from Carquebut, with their four children, just to name a few.

Missing were the manager of The Factory (that’s what we called the second, industrial, dairy), his wife, and his daughter whom I was secretly in love with.  A family of unbelievers, certainly.

In the midst of proceedings, I’d get up and go to the altar to read the gospel.  On a beautiful wooden pulpit, a large bible-papered book was held open with a red netting on the day’s reading.  I would discover the text as I read it, understanding absolutely nothing.

Then back to the pew.

A frankincense blessing,  and a final song, in which mother put all her heart. The Dalmont (mom's maiden name) are good singers.  My uncles were unsurpassable in hymn singing.

There was little time left for me to make it to my micheline at the train station.

Once in Cherbourg I did not always go to Jean Émile's home. I only went whenever we had agreed to meet.  I had the afternoon to myself, until the return train.  I also had the city to me, but what to do on a Sunday afternoon in Cherbourg?

Seek, and you shall find.

Off to the red-light district, “Rue de la Paix”.  Prolonging Rue de la Paix  is Rue de l’Union.  One out of every two adresses is a sailor's bar filled with young, foreign-speaking boys, often Russian, on layover at the port of war. On the left, at the beginning of Rue de l'Union, I notice a posh door with the inscription: LE CLUB de CHERBOURG and in smaller print: Private Club.

At 3 pm the door opens. Imagine Benny Hill in a tracksuit, waddling at the door with a broad smile, looking up and down the street scrutinizing potential customers.  He’s the boss. He is huge, and fills the door.

Dare I, dare I not, I have to get past the boss.  He takes a small step to the side and lets me in.

They say: Nightlife.  Nightlife indeed.  In the dim light of the first, elongated room (especially coming in from the outside) you can barely see the bar with its gleaming copper taps, and just beyond it a small vestibule opening on a square dance floor.  On the right, at an angle, a rock band’s gear.  A Ludwig drum set, surrounded by two big Marshall amps and a singer’s microphone.  The Mediums will be playing later on.

An eccentric crowd fills the club, girls and boys dressed up as if they’d just come off Carnaby Street, Soho, London.  And here come the musicians: a trio -The Trio.  Guitar, bass, drums. The guitarist is wearing a Louis XIV frilled shirt under a dark blue frock coat with a sheen to its collar due to his long hair, tight jeans, red boots. To my mind and to this day,   the ultimate outfit for a rock guitarist.

I'm so glad, I'm so glad, I'm glad, I'm glad:  lyrics and music by an obscure American, covered by Cream; the Mediums have launched their set.

I discovered British Blues thanks to guitarist Yves Botomisi, AKA Boto.  When I saw Boto bend the strings to get that characteristic bluesy sound, it opened up a whole new world, a revelation, a revolution should I say!  Boto could bend the strings like nobody.  When I gathered my courage and approached him to ask how he did it, he showed me his left hand and his fingers, yellowed not only by cigarette smoke but also by calluses.  He made me touch the tips of his fingers, they felt like steel.  

Back to the show; what I was witnessing on this tiny stage will forever be engraved in my memory.  It was as if I had seen Hendrix and Clapton at the same time, a rythmic elegance shared only by natural-born types such as Boto; he swayed in a special, slow and almost feminine way ... His interpretations of Hendrix’ Fire and Hey Joe were really amazing. Cream’s Disreali Gears, Jimi Hendrix’ Are you experienced, John Mayall’s  A Hard Road  etc. will become my new bedside records. 

The Mediums 1968, Yves Botomisi on the left

The Mediums were not the only band playing at the Club de Cherbourg, there were also the Hawks. I liked them less.  They had a good singer with a powerful Eric Burdon-type voice. Their House of the Rising Sun was actually very good.  They had their favorite song, Them’s Gloria, but they were more or less specialized in Rhythm and Blues covers (In The Midnight Hour etc.)  A pity the guitarist, who had a wonderful sunburst Telecaster, only knew the first position F barre chord that he shifted all over the neck.

Boto had a Fender Mustang, but for him the brand and the quality of the guitar had absolutely no importance.

I became a regular at the Club de Cherbourg on Sunday afternoons. I tried to go at night once.  But it was complicated to provide mom with a good reason to leave on Saturday and I immediately saw that the club could become creepy, or even dangerous!

The good-natured club that I knew in the afternoon turned into a shady bar, adapted to the neighborhood's clientele. The atmosphere was electric, certainly due to the sometimes aggressive behavior of the sailors between themselves.  Fights started from time to time, quickly calmed by the boss and his henchman.  Heavily made-up girls, perched on the stools, chatted and drank with the sailors.  I found nothing better to do in this now hostile place than to order a croque monsieur.  I was served at the bar, which made it all the more incongruous.

The music on the stereo was always rhythm and blues, the same as played by the Hawks ...  Suddenly I saw Boto come to pick up the boss's daughter, who resembled a tall sexy horse wearing a large hat trimmed with ribbon as if on the Longchamp racetrack. I knew where they were going.  They went to the Café du Théâtre de Cherbourg, a classier place than the club, where Boto had his ways and loved to show off.  I had already seen them together at the Theater Café when I’d walk aimlessly around Cherbourg.  Boto fascinated me, going from one girl to the next, I looked at him from the street and took great care not to be noticed.

As for myself, every so often I would go to a small bar that was equipped with a scopitone. The customer-initiated song I remember best is Love me, please love me by Michel Polnareff.

So there I was at the Club on a Sunday afternoon, at the bar with my free drink, a cold Cacolac, when I heard the boss say: I'm bummed, I have no one for Sunday!

I heard myself answer:
- Maybe I can help you out?
- Do you play music?
- Yes, I have a band.

Indeed, I had a band.  Jean Émile, Daniel and I had started one in high school.

Jean Émile was on bass, a Fender precision his mother had bought him, the same as in Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited.  He had also copied the photographer's outfit on the cover, often wearing, (and on stage, invariably), a white / red striped T-shirt.  Daniel was now playing drums, a Pearl set that his many older brothers had managed to buy him, and I was playing a guitar bought for 80 francs from the daughter of Madame Ledouit, the grocer at Chef du Pont.

It was one ugly guitar! A Wandrè, completely atypical, built around an aluminum neck that went through the length of the guitar.  The body,  made of flamed blue plastic with an upper horn, seemed to wrap itself around the neck!  A horrid piece of gear.

Mom, authoritarian:
- Jean, for starters, it should do!

Mrs. Ledouit had told her it was a very good guitar. Mom had no reason not to believe her.
Indeed, one day I saw Boto bend the strings on this guitar. It was a very good guitar.

Jean Emile offered to repaint it so as to mask its 60’s freak show look.  His idea (and a good one it was) was to give it a psychedelic look, like that projected onto The Grateful Dead or Jefferson Airplane at the Filmore West.  He chose pink as the dominant colour.  I’m not quite sure I was better off for it.

Our repertoire: British blues. Perfect for the Club de Cherbourg.

A Wandrè model identical to my guitar... except for the color

D-day.  On the slate outside, in front of the club, the date and the band’s name: The Openin's.  Note the apostrophe, English at its best.

I'm still ashamed today.

I feel the boss is a little nervous,  we are a gamble for him.  The customers seem to be coming in, the first notes begin, the girls head to the dance floor, the boss relaxes a little.  Towards the end of the last set, I also relax a little and go for a long solo at the end of a tune, inspiration comes, we end with applause.  The boss has saved his Sunday.

When we left he asked me:
- The solo, was it planned?
- Yes.
- Good.
Clever guy, the boss.

The school year 67/68 saw the emergence of a new protagonist in our small world at Valognes High School.  Another singing supervisor.  He clinched a season’s gig at “Les Enfants de Cherbourg" for us.  Les Enfants de Cherbourg was a kind of charity that organized Sunday afternoon dances in an abandoned gymnasium, for the modest Cherbourg youth.

But first we had to:

1 - hire him as a singer
2 - expand our repertoire
3 - buy a PA and an organ to be able to lay claim to the contract.

One thing that is obvious even to a neophyte is the disparity of earnings between musicians.  Dad and Mom, whom I asked to finance the project, saw it right away.

- Jean! Daniel and you will not earn anything with this arrangement! (the fees would be used to pay back the sum advanced by my parents for the sound system and the organ)
- Mom, it doesn’t matter, we’re not in it for the money.
- All right, but François (the singer) and Jean Emile (the pianist) must sign us an I.O.U.…

I can still see us, the band, my mother, my father, all in his makeshift notary’s office. It was a tough moment because I knew how it was going to end.

And it ended badly indeed.

Our gig at les Enfants de Cherbourg had the merit of forging our endurance. We played from 3 pm to 7 pm with a 15-minute break.  I absolutely had to catch the last micheline at 19:30.

Francois M. was pretty handsome and the girls flocked to him. This interest ricocheted somewhat on the rest of the band.  One day during our break, an Asian girl came up, took me by the hand and practically dragged me into a cloakroom at the top of a staircase.  She closed the door, nailed me to the wall and stuck her tongue in my mouth.  What a shrew!  I was paralyzed, without reaction. Very quickly, like a cat with dead prey, she abandoned me and returned to the dance floor.

The band’s program was gradually moving away from the blues, songs were creeping in, such as: Nights in white satin by The Moody blues, America by The  Nice, A Whiter Shade of Pale by Procol Harum, Light My Fire by the Doors, Season of the Witch by Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger etc. Their performance was greatly facilitated by the acquisition of the organ.

At home I had decided to figure out all the songs on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. None resisted me. In Cherbourg I was known as the guitarist who knew all of Sgt. Pepper's chords. But Boto remained unbeatable...

Unfortunately, an event tarnished his image.

After  "Les Enfants de Cherbourg", we managed to get a gig at the "Moulin Normand" the Dance hall in Quinéville, located on the east coast of Cotentin. We were to play every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday of the summer season. Jean Emile had started to go out with the manager’s daughter, who also attended Valognes high school.  Sylvie was crazy about Jean Emile!

We had downsized the band’s personnel:
     - Daniel and his double Pearl drum set,
   - Jean Emile: Fender Precision bass on a double input Farfisa amp that we had been using at the Club de Cherbourg (I used the second input for my guitar),
     - Jean: Wandrè guitar through a Vox AC 30 amp.

Repertoire: instrumental blues + some additional songs (with myself on vocals)
- Crossroads (Cream)
- All your love (Otis Rush)
- Hey Joe (Hendrix)
- Sunshine of your love (Brown / Bruce / Clapton), without vocals (superfluous)
- Dust my blues (Elmore James) etc.
Band Name: Nashville Skyline (I’ve always been good at band names).

We made an appearance around eleven o'clock at night, a sort of community activity. I do not remember seeing many people in this dance hall, Sylvie undoubtedly had had something to do with our getting the gig.

Around 2 o'clock in the morning, Daniel and I would ride our Solex’ across 15 km of marshes to get back to his house in Hémevez for some sleep.

Remember my gear? Wandrè guitar and Vox AC 30 amp.

Boto, my hero, had managed to sell me his old beat-up AC 30 for a decent price.  He even demo’ed it by plugging in my Wandrè and let me tell you, it smoked!  This amp had played the Marquee in London (well, supposedly ...) and the Golf Drouot in Paris (that's for sure, I had seen the photos!) This amp had the characteristic smell of touring equipment:  a mixture of cigarette smoke and beer that musicians invariably knock over at one time or another after putting their glasses on it.  The smell of old-time dance halls.

A year later I got a phone call from Boto at my parents' house in Granville.

- Jean I'm bummed, I’ve got an important gig,  my Marshall just broke down, can you lend me my AC 30?
- Sure, it’s at Jean Emile’s place, drop by and pick it up ...

I never saw his AC 30 again. Nor Boto himself, who died prematurely several years later, in near misery.  He never got the time or the opportunity to become Johnny Halliday's guitarist, his hidden ambition ...

As for François M., he had disappeared with the sound system and the organ, address undisclosed.

1 Chef du Pont

I can’t remember how everything started. Probably with a Beatles song playing on the radio. I was born in 53, as we said then, long b...