'It's only rock-n-roll but, 60 years later, I still like it'

Rock en Stock's been running in Etaples for the past 19 years. Source: Rock en Stock

I first heard the word ‘rock’ in relation to the jazzy music my sisters and I used to jive to in the latter 1950s when it was used to describe Lonnie Donegan’s hit song ‘Rock Island Line’.   

At the time, the girls wore hooped petticoats but those were soon replaced by multi-layered, multi-coloured net petticoats.  This style was shown off beautifully when my older sister’s boyfriend twirled her over his shoulder as they jived at the ‘trad’ jazz clubs that sprouted up everywhere in the UK at that time.

I was 15 when I first heard and was transfixed by Bill Hayley’s ‘Rock Around the Clock’.  That song took England’s youth by storm – but not only the young, adults as well – so catchy was the sound.  After that, at every kind of dinner-dance, ‘Rock Around the Clock’ was in the dance bands’ repertoire and towards the end of the evening they’d strike up and play it, drawing people of every age-group onto the dance floor to have a go at rock-n-rolling.

No need to list the rock’n’roll songs that hit the turn-tables thereafter, suffice it to say the rock style of music was here to stay.

It was more than 40 years later in France that my companion, Pierrot Leroy, started holding ‘café concerts’ at his newly created restaurant-bar overlooking the village square of Widehem, in the north of France.

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Musicians would come from afar to perform at Pierrot’s free of charge because there were so few places where bands could play at the time, especially those playing noisy rock, heavy metal and punk music. The fact they were given a meal and drinks in recompense for the evening was a bonus!

Despite the popularity with both the musicians and music-lovers, Pierrot’s venture failed, mostly due to the local residents complaining, not only about the noise of the music but the noise of cars driving off after the weekly, sometimes twice weekly, café-concerts ended. 

Gendarmes started to turn up at closing time, putting off people from attending. Business deteriorated and Pierrot sold up just four years after the 1995 opening of his venue.

But his attempt to bring music to the area wasn’t in vain. Samuel Wacogne, who attended Pierrot’s events as a young man, was inspired, and with Perriot’s concerts no more, 19 years ago Samuel decided to start his own music festival.

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Every year since then, the Rock en Stock Festival has been held in the fishing town of Etaples, about 11 kilometres from Widehem, as an opportunity for new bands to perform before a large audience.

The week before the annual Rock en Stock begins, the bands perform for free in the surrounding villages, including in Widehem, where we live.

Unfortunately, due to inclement weather, there wasn’t as big a turn out at our village this year as other years when the bands visited. But the rain did not stop of us enjoying the sausage and chips cooked by the village entertainments committee and drinks from their mini bar, which was set up in an old barn. 

(During non-concert time, the barn serves as a shelter for children awaiting the school bus and houses tourist facilities, including a water tap and an electricity point for holiday makers on walking tours.)

The first musicians on stage this year were definitely rock’n’rollers and got us warmed up despite the overcast sky. 

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There were two songs I particularly liked: a cover of ‘Gabby’, which was originally sung by French singer-songwriter Alain Bashung, and of John Lennon’s ‘Jealous Guy’.

Their penultimate song had plenty of danceable drumbeats, but unfortunately, this year, no-one stepped forward to dance, so I didn’t either. Being 75, nearing 76, I thought people would think I was a bit funny in the head.

In fact, they probably already did as, being a compulsive joiner-inner, I didn’t hesitate to respond to the musicians when they called out for audience participation. I’m polite that way – I answer when spoken to!

The second band, Truendo, was more middle of the road and besides playing many well-known French songs, they did the Beatles’ ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and two other songs in English.

Sometimes it seems a long time since ‘Rock around the Clock’, but whenever I hear a rock beat, as I did just recently on that night in the inclement weather, it doesn’t seem so far in the past at all.

Do you remember the first time you heard rock-n-roll? What did you think at the time?