July-August 2012

Parlez-vous Francais

By Linda Dewar

I have a new musical obsession. In June I went to a small town in the southeast of France with three other musicians from our wee corner of Scotland. It’s a long story… suffice to say that there are a bunch of lovely people in France who love everything Scottish and wanted to include us and our music in their local Festival of Europe.

We had a fantastic time playing music and getting to know our hosts. On the Saturday of the festival, every café and pub in the village was decked out to represent a different European country. But as you know, musicians rarely acknowledge boundaries and we soon found ourselves in the ‘Portugal’ pub, playing music with a Portuguese accordionist, a French accordionist, a group of French singers, and our Scottish selves. The session went on for hours, and in the process I managed to fall in love with French accordion and songs.

OK, I know… you think French, and you think Edith Piaf, or Maurice Chevalier, or Oscar Levant climbing through Gene Kelly’s shuttered balcony window. But this is something different. French café music has a cheeky, wistful sort of sound that comes from a willingness to reject the standard rules of theory and harmony. Just when you think you’ve got the tune and you’re ready to hum along, the chords take an unexpected turn and you’re caught off balance.


If you want to hear a bit of this music, I can recommend any of the French Café CD’s in the Putmayo catalogue. One of the songs we enjoyed listening to is called “Le monde est dans ma poche,” which means “The world is in my pocket.” Here’s a version from YouTube. It’s sung by children, but you still get the right effect.

Les Ogres de Barback-Le monde est dans ma poche


“If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph: The only proof he needed for the existence of God was music” - Kurt Vonnegut


May was not a good month for bluegrass and banjos. First we lost Barney McKenna, the banjo genius from the Dubliners. Then, as you probably know, Doc Watson passed away taking the end of an era with him. Two days before Doc Watson’s passing, Doug Dillard also died, aged just 75. Doug and his brother Rodney were the founding members of The Dillards, a band credited with bringing bluegrass into general popularity in the 1960s. Later, Doug was a pioneer of the folk-rock sound. If that wasn’t enough, we lost Everett Lilly as well. Mostly known on the East coast, Lilly was largely responsible for bringing bluegrass to New England.

Everett Lilly & Marty Stuart

Thank goodness we live in a time when the music these folks played is still around for us to hear after they’re gone.


“We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once.” - Friedrich Nietzsche

“Music . . . can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.” - Leonard Bernstein

“When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest.” - Henry David Thoreau


That’s NOT what it’s about!... You know all those rumours that circulate about songs, songwriters, and recordings? Like the old “Paul is dead” urban legend that wouldn’t go away? Here are a few that are definitely NOT true:

One of the songs on the last Byrds album was NOT sung by a roadie

James Taylor’s Fire and Rain was NOT written about a girlfriend who died in a plane crash.

Puff the Magic Dragon is NOT about marijuana. (That one has been around since before I knew what marijuana was!)

Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight was NOT inspired by a drowning he witnessed.

Bob Dylan did NOT steal Blowin’ in the Wind from a New Jersey high school student.


We are the music-makers,

And we are the dreamers of dreams,

Wandering by lone sea-breakers,

And sitting by desolate streams.

World-losers and world-forsakers,

Upon whom the pale moon gleams;

Yet we are the movers and shakers,

Of the world forever, it seems.

- Arthur O'Shaughnessy, Poems of Arthur O'Shaughnessy

An American now living in Scotland, Linda Dewar is a singer-songwriter and a player of various stringed and wind instruments. Besides being a solo performer, she is half of a duo with Scottish singer Douglas Craik, plays in an occasional ceilidh band, and is a founding member of the revue Simply Burns. Visit her website.


All Columns by Linda Dewar