The best evidence of the privileged relationship established over the years between Jacky Barbier and the Canterbury Scene is the number of albums recorded, partially or in full, at his club. In 1978, Elton Dean and Hugh Hopper recorded the classic album by Soft Head, Rogue Element, there with Alan Gowen and Dave Sheen. Five years later, Hopper returned with Richard Sinclair, the former Caravan and Hatfield bassist and singer, to make a duo album which would remain unfinished and unreleased for over ten years: Somewhere In France. In 1993, Hopper also recorded several tracks at Jacky’s with singer John Atkinson and keyboard player Dionys Breukers which appeared on his Hooligan Romantics CD (the other tracks were live recordings from various concerts by Hopper’s FrangloDutch Band).
Several tracks on the 1993 album by Short Wave, an all-star quartet consisting of Hugh Hopper, Pip Pyle, Phil Miller and Didier Malherbe, were taken from a concert at Jacky’s in late 1991, as were the already mentioned two live tracks on the original French release of Gong’s 1992 album Shapeshifter (the later US edition had different live tracks). And with the subsequent exhumation of some of Jacky’s fabled “war chest”, others have been added to the list, including the already mentioned Playtime by National Health and A Veritable Centaur by Soft Heap, plus part of a Hugh Hopper-Alan Gowen duo release (Bracknell-Bresse Improvisations), taken from recordings Hopper and Gowen made while the other half of Soft Head had returned to England.
Hugh Hopper: There was a flaky promoter in Chalon-sur-Saône who booked Soft Head for three weeks of gigs in France. The middle week was cancelled so we went early to stay at Jacky’s, where we were booked to play at the end of the middle week. Elton and Dave Sheen decided to go back to UK for that week, so Alan Gowen and I went down with Jean-Pierre Weiller and the guy who owned the mixing desk, a friend of J-P’s. I think we did record some of the other gigs on that tour, but as we were playing three nights at Jacky’s and were comfortable there, it seemed like a good place to record. Actually, the house was pretty ruinous at that stage, not yet properly renovated, especially the bedrooms. We stayed at the Hôtel Lion d’Or in Saint-Gengoux because J-P, for one, was scandalized at the state of the accommodation.
A lesser-known fact is that one track on the About Time album by New York Gong, the band formed by Daevid Allen with young American musicians who would later form the collective Material (including bassist and producer Bill Laswell), was also recorded at À L’ Ouest of Grosne. The time was October 1979, when NYG were on a French tour which would end with the band going their separate ways.
Daevid Allen: With New York Gong, wherever we toured, Bill Laswell and the boys always colonised the back of the band bus, where they drank weak beer and yet weaker coffee and kept up a continuum of sardonic Manhattan in-jokes at the expense of their entire environment. Their tough kid attitude kinda half-excluded me but entirely eluded Georges Leton and the French contingent, for whom I was a reluctant translator. But this was our initiatory visit, and we searched the agricultural darkness for many long hours until, by arrival time, the rear of the bus was a worryingly loud silence. Actually, I believe that if Humphrey Bogart had played bass, he would probably have been Bill Laswell ! A minimalist with words and notes alike, Bill’s every verbal intervention, despite a lurking metropolitan mundanity, nevertheless had a certain depth and weight that couldn’t be ignored. Silent throughout our progress thru that arcane maze of shrubbery north of Lyon, his entry into Jacky’s world was punctuated by just three words : “Is this real?” Hmmm… ‘Possibly not, cher Bill’, I thought. After all, the bizarre and marvelous induction of a jazz muso’s bar and club into a ghost town on the moon may have been a unique experience for five kids who had never suckled other than the chemically-challenged nipples of American industry.
But if Jacky’s place wasn’t actually in a separate dimension of its own, after a brief intro to the spectacular hospitality extended by Jacky himself, we soon were! He was a compact energetic terrier of a man, generous towards the artist and a true patron of the inspired instant. He also wielded a killer selection of very strong beers and specialist wines which oiled the social easel for the inevitable insider’s tour of portraits and posters throughout the building. Even so, the boys were less than impressed by the rather more rustic studio. Thus, with the absence of recognisable comfort factors in their bedroom and in the tiny village next morning, they were pretty edgy by the time I emerged for breakfast around noon.
Despite everything, the band survived intact until the gig, which was extremely well-received by the regulars considering they were more used to jazz than no-wave rock. The recording process, however, seemed to test Bill and drummer Fred Maher to the maxi. We needed an extra track for the New York Gong album and my maximum persuasive charms plus 2,000 milligrams of Korean ginseng could only persuade them to go for the one take of “O My Photograph”. which ended up on the record.
Thirteen years later, Daevid Allen, accompanied by a largely new Gong, would return to Jacky’s on May 1st, 1992, a performance which would produce the two live tracks of the band’s Shapeshifter album (and can be heard in full on this website). Gong would be back in Bresse-sur-Grosne just months later for a return engagement, and again for two sold-out nights, during 1996’s Classic Gong tour.
Also worth mentioning were the birthday parties organised by Jacky from 1994 on every July 14th (Jacky’s birthday – he was fond of explaining that he was not only born on Bastille Day, but also in 1936, the year the Popular Front had come to power in France) in Bresse-sur-Grosne, where Hugh Hopper and fellow “Canterburians” often featured prominently. This provided them with an opportunity to jam with fellow musicians from different backgrounds, ranging from Didier Lockwood to pop singer Desireless (of “Voyage, Voyage” fame) and younger jazz musicians from Mâcon’s Crescent Club.
This writer fondly remembers one such occasion in July 1999, when a one-time quartet of Hugh Hopper, John Greaves, Pip Pyle and Patrice Meyer took the stage on two consecutive nights, playing a repertoire taken from their various projects. This was the kind of unlikely combinations you could only see and hear at Jacky’s. Another memory, that of my final visit to Bresse-sur-Grosne, in October 2000 for the début concerts of John Greaves’ new electric trio, with Manuel Denizet, a drummer he had met at Jacky’s many years prior, and guitarist Patrice Meyer, with whom he had played for the first time, 18 months earlier, during the above-mentioned concert/jam. Just two examples of the many musical adventures born directly from chance encounters at À L’Ouest de la Grosne.
At the time of Jacky Barbier’s passing, in July 2002, Pip Pyle was about to return to the club to play with young jazz musicians he had been playing with on an informal basis.
Pip Pyle: When I heard that Jacky had died, I immediately suggested we turn the gig into a memorial evening for Jacky, inviting other musicians to take part. This would have been a great way to honour his memory. Sadly, this didn’t happen… [note: Pip remembered that Jacky’s family had “vetoed the idea” because “they wanted to close the place as soon as possible”, but in fact it was the owner of the premises who insisted on having them closed down – see Jacky’s daughter’s explanation in the comments section]
Deprived of the chance to pay a proper tribute to his departed friend, Pip Pyle at least got the final word in this piece – his conclusion poignant in light of his untimely passing within a year of our interview taking place.
Pip Pyle: Jacky was always the king of winge, he really was, always going ‘Ah, c’est dur!’… But he was lucky in many ways. He lived there for 25 years, had a rent which was ridiculously low – I think even at the end he was only paying something like 500 francs a month, for a place that was really quite huge! He rented it from the local châtelain, and I know for a long time he paid 300 francs a month. It was basically squatted in! And he got to do up a whole roof and all that. So I mean, basically he had a fantastic house with a quite big space for a little club like that – he could get 300 people in there somehow. It’s my dream – I’d love to retire like he did, living in a big house with a room for musicians to play in… Can’t think of a nicer way to spend my old days!