Keeping It Live – Dan Jones @ Varaignes Chateau

Dan Jones
Photograph by Mike Wistow

There are gigs – and then there are gigs to remember when others have been forgotten – maybe it’s the music, the interaction with the audience, the setting, the day you met someone, the venue, the holiday you were on, the sound quality, the weather etc. Sometimes many things combine to create the memorable experience. I’m pretty sure this will be one of them, staying in the memory long after others have gone.

I’ll watch just about anything live, whether I know it before hand or not. On Tuesday I got a text to say “Can I draw your attention to a concert in Varaignes tomorrow evening? Dan Jones….is playing in the chateau courtyard…..and will be using at least one guitar made by our friends in the village”. How could I refuse?

So a day later, I arrive at a small French village with a chateau, mostly white stone, a small courtyard laid out for a solo concert, put on (if I understood the French introduction correctly) by people from the local commune. The ‘stage’ is set: it’s a simple space in front of the benches we sit on, archways behind it, pigeons muttering overhead and a simple layout of chair, footstand and microphone next to an open guitar case (with guitar) on the floor. We are given a programme for the event, a hand-printed sheet of A4 with a biography and a set list – a mixture of classical music and traditional music from various countries.

After a bi-lingual introduction, Dan Jones walks to the front, second guitar in hand, smiles, greets us and starts to play. Two pieces by Bach set the scene, followed by three Preludes on Occitan songs. People talk about spider exercises on learning guitar – these are played with the fluidity, not of an eight-legged spider, but of a centipede on each hand. We are jaw-droppingly hooked.

Before the break, one piece of Paraguayan music and three from Heitor Villa-Lobos follow. Intermingled amongst them are ‘Scarborough Fair’ and ‘The Water is Wide’. Click on the video below and picture this not in the studio but in a white stone chateau on a warm evening. Rather magical.

At the break someone asked Jones why he was swapping between the two guitars, (both made by Dan Jarvis who is local). The essence of the answer was that these are both exquisite guitars and I’m like a small boy in a sweet shop. Lovely.

To say the second half was more of the same is a great compliment. Along the way we are treated to tales of life as an itinerant musician. Over the years attitudes have changed, travelling with guitar used to be a badge of honour but Ryanair et al no longer see it the same way. Buying a seat for a guitar is now a lost opportunity for the airline to sell drinks, snacks and raffle tickets.

The Spanish pieces were described, in a great expression, as “going to the soul of the guitar”. From the British and Irish folk tradition, ‘Carrickfergus’ and ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ were included in the set; Jones’ webpages have videos of both. If I understood his French introduction correctly, one of the more intriguing insights for me as someone who has enjoyed folk music for decades was Jones’ passing comment (in introducing ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’) that he had recently moved to spend time in Scotland and he has found the Scottish tradition. You can’t help being glad that he has. They were played as quite stunning solo pieces. At times in the concert Jones’ fingers were leaping over the guitar neck with the delicacy of a cat splaying its four paws as it jumps effortlessly from its position and lands elsewhere.

The evening finished with an encore, Louis Armstrong’s ‘Wonderful World’ gently hummed along to by those who were present. He concluded by thanking us for turning up, thanking the Commune for putting on the event – and thanking Jarvis for his guitars, which were “vraiment magnifique”.

As ever with live music, there is always the potential to serendipitously find something wonderful – and this was one of those chance evenings.

Mike Wistow

Artist website:

‘The Wild Mountain Thyme’ – official video:

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