Flying in to catch the Blues

A review of the Electric Blues Guitar workshop by Kate Perks

For those guitarists looking for a European holiday with a difference you Electric Blues Guitar workshopdon’t need to leave your guitar at home! An innovative alternative awaits in the countryside of south west France. Situated midway between the towns of Saintes and Cognac Creative Vacances is a music holiday initiative created by hosts Jenny and Chris Trotter.

Students can attend a range of workshops and courses to suit their particular instrument- guitar, saxophone, mandolin, fiddle,  and musical tastes – folk, rock, blues, jazz and combine this with a holiday in one of the most picturesque regions of France.

electric blues workshopThe Charente Maritime area is a location renown for its sea food, cognac  and temperate climate and is easily accessible by air via La Rochelle , or by road or rail from Paris.

I found the website by chance while exploring on line guitar tuition and unable to locate  anything similar in Australia booked myself into the Creative Vacances Electric Blues Workshop in September 2010- a 6 day all inclusive holiday which included tuition , accommodation and full board.

The workshops are generally structured to cater for players from beginner ( with at least 6 months playing experience) to advances level led by tutors who are extremely experienced in their respective fields.

Opting to take the 3 hour train journey from Montparnasse to Saintes I was met by Jenny and Chris and driven the short distance to Bercloux. Their renovated barn and stables provide comfortable self contained accommodation with a separate music room and swimming pool backing onto acres of French farmland. At this time of year the endless fields of sunflowers were just past their full bloom awaiting harvest and I immediately felt the sense of peace and space in this picturesque environment. While accommodation is normally in shared rooms with other players; local B and Bs provide single rooms if preferred. Spouses and partners who don’t play an instrument are also welcome to attend and can spend their days relaxing by the pool or visiting the quaint  nearby villages. These are easily accessible by car or a leisurely walk, providing an opportunity to sample the local French cuisine and lifestyle.

To allow for the inevitable jet lag, I had arrived a few days before the course started. Jenny made sure I had enough food and supplies and I was left to my own devices to catch up on sleep and laze by the pol. At various stages over the weekend another 12 like minded and amiable participants arrived from the UK, Brussels, Germany and Texas. It soon became apparent that through our mutual love of the blues the week ahead was going to be all I had hoped for.

This particular Electric Blues Guitar workshop was tutored by respected guitarists Richard Perkins who runs the Bath Guitar School and Stuart Ryan, Head of Guitar at the Bristol Institute of Modern Music. Both Richard and Stuart combined a sense of fun with learning the guitar techniques, chords, scales, soloing, improvisiation and phrasing. Towards the end of the week we split into groups and prepared songs learned during the tutorials to perform for the others on the last day. These can be seen along with photos on our album page onthe web site.

The near perfect September weather made this exhilarating week even more enjoyable, enabling a late afternoon swim at the end of each day, followed by lively conversation and the consumption of local wines around the dinner table, often into the small hours. A delicious menu had been carefull planned combining tasty , homestyle meals usuing local produce and wines.

On the last day e mails and contact details were exchanged with friendships forged and plans mae for return visits.

Would I go again. In a heart beat- In fact I’m already booked into the Electric Blues Guitar workshop 1-7 July 2012