The likeable, affable Jacky Barbier was a man with a mysterious side, if you believe some of the myths that he seemed happy to help perpetuate. His decision to leave Paris, after a serious motorcycle accident, to settle down in a small village lost in the heart of Burgundy, seemed too extreme to some not to hide less honourable motivations.
Pip Pyle : I do know that at some point in Jacky’s life, he was a bit of a naughty boy, and I think him going out there… He was a kind of motorbike boy, Jacky, he had this accident, and I get the feeling that it was a kind of enforced move. This is what I heard. Only Faton really knew the dirt on Jacky, I guess, he really was a mate of Jacky’s, he knew him when he lived in Paris, before he went out there. Whenever I asked Jacky about his ‘bad past’, he’d always create a smokescreen and say something a bit surreal…
Daevid Allen : Intriguingly, the prevailing whisper about Jacky’s past life was that he had been a Parisian criminal genius, now in requisite retirement due to some unmentionable gangland misdemeanour. Whatever it was, I was certain that neither Jack the Ripper nor Sherlock Holmes would ever have located him at his new home! Curiously it was always the middle of the night when we arrived chez Jacky. I wondered if it could only be accessed in total darkness. In any case, it was always reached laboriously via an arcane network of mysteriously similar long narrow roads with no obvious signature. Clearly there existed a secret knowledge that could comprehend its intricate web of occult landmarks, but it escaped me completely. I still have absolutely no idea how to find Bresse-sur-Grosne !
Admittedly, the way to Bresse-sur-Grosne wasn’t easy to find the first time around (or the next few times for that matter), but that was not enough to dissuade the “Canterburians”, having fallen in love with the place, from returning many times – the most frequent visitors being Pip Pyle and Hugh Hopper, with around twenty gigs each.
Pip Pyle : It was smaller than even the Dutch clubs that we’d used to play with Hatfield, but I thought the place was just marvellous. He had a perfect niche – it was halfway between Paris and Marseille, so it became the norm to stop there on the way down South, or whatever it was, on every French tour I did.
Hugh Hopper : Jacky’s had a special atmosphere that made it attractive to revisit. The first time I went there in 1978, it seemed to be a magical place and collection of people, also really remote – deepest France, there weren’t any foreigners visiting or owning houses as there are now. Also, Jacky’s then-partner, Pascale, was a fabulous natural cook, and I also fancied her quite strongly! Jacky never really spoke English, and in fact it was there that I really started to improve my school French – having to speak it with Jacky and his friends.
Hugh Hopper would soon form a long-term friendship with Jacky, often returning to Bresse-sur-Grosne even when he had no gigs booked there.
Hugh Hopper : I stopped there during a holiday trip with my wife later the same year, summer of 1978. I cycled to Jacky’s from the UK in September 1982, stayed there a few days. Also stayed there one Christmas with my wife and Nancy, our daughter – I think that was 1983, a few weeks after I had been there with Richard Sinclair. At the time, I’d given up music, but in subsequent years, I returned with a lot of different people, including Equip’Out, Patrice Meyer, Anaïd – a Sunday night, and no audience apart from an Italian band who were recording there -, Short Wave, Mashu… I remember driving there one winter with Patrice Meyer and Pip – terrible snow on the autoroute, and the accelerator cable broke on Patrice’s old Peugeot. We repaired it with a bass string and continued very slowly to Jacky’s!
For the Britons, staying at Jacky’s meant an opportunity to learn, with varying degrees of subtlety and restraint, about the joys of French gastronomy and its natural counterpart for many (especially in Burgundy!), wine.
Pip Pyle : We were usually there for week-ends, so there tended to be some fairly savage drinking stories, and a lot of those times we wouldn’t leave until we’d completely emptied his wine cellar. He probably had enough after a while – I remember when I returned for the 21st anniversary [in 1995], I went down to find that all the fridges had got padlocks on them. ‘The fuck’s goin’ on?’ He had put them on specially. And they were really big padlocks!
It has to be said that Jacky has perfectly sensible reasons to be wary of his visitors’ uncommon ability for alcohol consumption, judging by the drummer’s recollection of one of his first visits to Bresse-sur-Grosne.
Pip Pyle : We’d arrived from Spain with what we initially thought was a 12-litre bottle of chianti, but turned out to be black market absinthe! That club in Barcelona was really a toilet, just terrible, and to make matters worse we’d been literally strip-searched in the dressing room at the interval by a dozen guardia civil – they’d had some money ripped off from the club and they thought that we did it, so we of course, quite truthfully, vigorously denied this… Anyway, we played the gig and I thought, ‘Well, this cunt of a promoter…’ I really wanted to have some kind of revenge on him, and I found this bottle, put it in my bass drum, left and got it back to the hotel, where we found it wasn’t chianti at all. You can imagine… We all got stuck into it, and the next day we were all no longer… I mean, John literally couldn’t walk, we had to carry him to the stage and put him in an armchair! Dave was white with fear. But it’s actually the only time ever that John played ‘The Collapso’ perfectly ! He couldn’t talk, couldn’t walk, but the part of his brain which involved reading music and playing his bass functioned perfectly! When we got to Jacky’s, after the enormous bœuf bourguignon, we got the bottle out, and Jacky went for it. We kept saying to him, ‘Take it easy, man, this stuff is dynamite!’ We left the next day and he was in hospital, having fallen down the stairs…
(As Pip himself noted while telling me this story, “a little poetic license may prevail”… Indeed, there are details that don’t quite match, since the Barcelona-Bresse trip can only have been the 1979 tour, which means no Dave Stewart and no “Collapso”! And other witnesses have a different recollection of the aftermath of Jacky’s absinthe intake which didn’t involve any visit to the hospital!)
It would be unfair to conclude, on the basis of such colourful anecdotes, that “Canterburians” only returned to Burgundy for the prospect of memorable booze-ups and unlimited access to Jacky’s wine cellar. Indeed, there were affinities on other levels, artistic and even philosophic. As a matter of fact, the Canterbury Scene has always been associated with qualities which could also be found in Jacky Barbier himself: the rejection of commercialism, never taking oneself too seriously, and a genuine sense of conviviality. These were values they would always remain faithful to despite the adversity or, worse still, indifference, thanks to his unwavering faith in the public’s ability to perceive this authenticity and embrace it.