She has been in France this summer. At the Marciac Jazz Festival back in July, Eric and his son went and became instant "groupies", telling us later, one summer's evening in a café over a beer, that she was appearing again in Orléans in October and they were going again. We regretted missing the chance to see her live and then, last week, learnt that she would be appearing in Bordeaux at the Base Sous-Marine this last Saturday night. So, on the spur of the moment, we went.
The Base houses the World War Two submarine pens, built by the Germans as a place from which to launch their U-boats into the Atlantic. The photos on the internet show enormous dirty slabs of forbidding concrete with water still lapping round the pillars inside. Hardly, one would have thought, the place for a jazz concert. And what on earth to wear on a cold rainy October night? Would we be standing? The official website for the Base is remarkably coy about any creature comforts. So thermals and layers seemed to be the order of the day and cushions for any seats. And sandwiches for the journey home - the French start their evening entertainment late.
Bordeaux is a miracle of restoration - now a UNESCO World Heritage site - with its grand eighteenth century cream coloured mansions along the quays facing onto the Gironde and the new boutiques, restaurants and offices with trendy names in the great old warehouses. And then, suddenly, in the dark, we turn left and drive alongside the basin itself and we have gone back fifty years. Weeds push up through rubble strewn pavements. Barbed wire fences off derelict buildings. Old chandlers with dim lighting sit alongside the occasional edgy nightclub or restaurant. And there, in the middle, is the aggressive, ugly reminder of Germany's occupation of this part of France. As we park (to our relief right outside, this does not feel like an urban landscape where one wanders at night) the cheerful crowd streaming towards the light from the open doors reassures - as does their attire. Coats, boots and scarves are the order of the evening - we have not over-reacted.
And the bleak photos on the websites are right. We walk across a bridge over the chilly water of one of the pens and turn alongside the great pillars of concrete towering above our heads. Ah, but the lighting! Deep reds illuminate the pillars, reflected down into the water. I have my small camera, which cannot possibly do the effect justice. And the venue itself - a welcoming grandstand of raked plastic seats (good). And a blanket on every seat! (We're glad of the cushions we've brought as well.) The atmosphere is moody, with a darkened open stage - and continues to be so as the concert starts - a single woman in red high-heeled shoes, beating out the rhythm of her song with her feet, barely visible in the low-lit gloom.
We're glad we went. Her husky voice is wonderful and the individual performances of her band superb. But the sound balance in the echoing concrete arena frustrated. Too often her voice and her words were lost in the heavy base and over-amplified accompanying instruments. We suspect the more intimate location of Marciac would have served her better. The French were ecstatic - but then for many her words would have been meaningless sounds; so the fact that she was no more than another instrument in the group would not have mattered.
For us, the best moment was when she sang "Baby I'm a Fool". Just her, her guitar and a soft brush on a drum - her voice and words crystal clear in the cavernous dark of a U-boat pen.
Base Sous-Marine, Bordeaux