HomeTravelOn tour once more: Travel in search of great music

On tour once more: Travel in search of great music

Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a key travel issue – and what it means for you.

A century ago, Migennes was a mighty railway junction. It still has a handsome church, Christ-Roi, built in the 1920s for workers on the PLM (the Paris-Lyon-Méditerranée railway).

Migennes is about 90 miles southeast of the French capital, halfway to Dijon. The “classic” line from Paris to Lyon and Marseille crosses the Yonne river here. For many years the Orient Express, on its way to and from eastern Europe, paused at Migennes for replenishment.

Today, express trains take the high speed line. The railway station remains, now implausibly vast for a town of just 7,000 and gently fading.

Commuter services from Paris expire here each evening after their run through the suburbs and past the fine town of Fontainebleau, and a few grimy old trains still run through to the Burgundy heartlands of Beaune and Mâcon, ending up in Lyon.

To reach the town from the station takes about two minutes on an old iron pedestrian bridge across the Canal de Bourgogne.

As I traversed the arrow-straight waterway, a rare flicker of February sunlight crept through the clouds to illuminate what passes for a town square. On the west side, La Poste; to the east, ambitiously, a tourist office; and to the north, the Café Le Cadran (“the dial”).

As the patron delivered a frothy café crème in exchange for a couple of euros, I concluded that the only thing that passes here is time.

Actually, that’s not my line. It’s the title of a track on the latest album from cult jazz-rock band Tankus the Henge – the only reason I was here.

Behind the tourist office (friendly and helpful staff, a slab of an old Roman mosaic on display) is the Cabaret l’Escale. Every expense was evidently spared when it was built back in the 1940s, but the venue still has a certain character.

The low, simple stage has seen performances by the likes of Jacques Brel. Tonight, it’s Tankus’ turn. Travelling for a purpose is always rewarding, especially when it’s to watch a favourite band.

I have hitchhiked to Plymouth to see Tyneside crooners Lindisfarne (ask an elderly relative); been part of a crowd in Rio going wild to hear “Rio” as the encore from Duran Duran (ask a middle-aged relative); and queued overnight in Brighton to see the Rolling Stones (ask any relative).

With the Covid rules on travel to France easing, the chance of seeing Tankus the Henge’s first gig of 2022 could hardly be passed up.

The band members proved generous towards a fan who had gone out of his way to see them. They even invited me to dine with them at the venue a couple of hours before the gig, where I learnt something of life on the road.

Tankus and all their gear fit into a Mercedes Sprinter van, which Jaz Delorean – the frontman – and guitarist Tim Fulker take turns to drive. Brexit has blighted the activities of British musicians touring Europe, with customs carnets and professional licences needed for the first time in any of the band’s lifetimes.

But provincial French towns are remarkably fruitful locations, with enthusiastic audiences and local funds apparently devoted to bringing culture into la ville.

After dinner I offered to help clear the tables away. That won’t be necessary, I was politely told by the venue management. Covid rules means they stay out, to help maintain social distancing.

Oh well, I thought, at least I can put my drink down somewhere. Then I saw the sign scrawled on the counter: “Bar fermé.”

The average age of the audience was a good decade higher than that of the band. Besides remaining seated, we were instructed to wear masks throughout the performance.

Yet, as Tankus the Henge roared through a magnificent set, tight and raucous as could be. The crowd went wild: any passing gendarme would surely have arrested the lot of us.

Rock’n’roll is a contact sport. If you love music as well as travel, it’s a good time to get back in tune with life on the road again.

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