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June 2011
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Charente Valley Life

Music – and Nostalgia – beside the Charente River

June 24, 2011

The other week was national “Fête de la Musique” day in France.   Originally proposed  by the French Minister of  Culture Jack Lang and Maurice Fleuret, Director of National Music and Dance, in late 1981, The first events were held on the 21st June 1982.

That date was chosen very symbolically ( The French never do things by a random whim ! ) as 21st June is the night of the Summer Solstice, and was a traditional Pagan festival which later became the feast night of Saint John.  This day is now enshrined all over France as a  celebration day for all styles and competency of performed music. Almost every Commune will have put on an event, and the programme is published on the official Ministry of Culture website

Now well established all over the World, with events this year taking place from Australia to Venezuela this is a chance for everyone to get out and enjoy “live” music.  Here in The Charente we had our very own “double celebration” this year -  as June 21st coincided with the reopening of a well loved anglo-french ‘Legend’ on the Banks of The Charente River .

Those of us who have been around in The Charente for some while will have certainly enjoyed some of the “Glory Days’ of the Bar Gabariers – or “Gabs” as it is usually more affectionately know.  For those readers unfamiliar with its history, maybe a short résumé is in order here.













To begin the story we need to go back to the late 1970′s.  Two old Liverpool University pals – Simon Constant and Maurice Colclough were sitting beside The Charente hatching up a business plans to provide cruising holidays on the then virtually unknown Charente River.  Maurice had arrived in The Charente some years earlier and began playing Rugby for Angouleme in 1974, and was made Captain of the Club in 1976.  Nicknamed “The Prince of Angouleme” his memory is still fondly talked about in the bars around  the Stade de Chanzy in Soyaux even today.  Maurice made his England debut against Scotland in 1978 and won 25 caps and toured twice with the British Lions. Sadly Maurice passed away from a brain tumour in 2006 at the age of 52 and his obituary was published in The Independent in January of that year.  Bill Beaumont, captain of the England Grand Slam Winning Team of 1980, which included Maurice, said  “He had a huge heart, and he will be greatly missed.”

In 1981, Maurice and Simon Constant, with english partner Mark Pye and local French Accountant Alain Moreau started building their boat business at St Simeux,  with their own hands constructing the wooden framed building that is still there today.  Throughout the eighties business was good, building up to a fleet of 16 boats, but by 1992 the fleet was becoming old and they now had international competition from five other companies and decided to call it a day. Maurice had returned to Wales earlier and in 1994 Simon managed to buy the licence of the little village restaurant when the owner retired and converted the Old Boat Building into “Les Gabariers” and set about building its reputation.

Gabariers ran incredible music nights, ( with as many as 80 major concerts a year at its height ) all through the late 90′s and on until 2008 when Simon Constant “retired” back to the UK  and the pub was leased to a French “Patron” and was converted into more of a “gourmet eatery” than its previous “spit and sawdust’ Muzso Mecca.  However, within a very short time it was clear that this new business model was not going to be successful. Things drifted downhill for a couple of years until ….   hallelujah …  “Monsieur le  Capitaine  Constant”  decided it was time to take the helm again.

"Monsieur Le Capitaine"

So ….. there we were, on a balmy hot solstice evening, waiting for the first concert to begin. Despite a late start caused by the drummer being stuck for two hours in a traffic pile-up on the N10 , the re-opening of “Gabs” was a wonderful occasion. Live Music … and Nostalgia … it doesn’t get much better than that.

Many thanks to the irrepressible John Darlington, ably support by “Le Charlies”, for providing us with a rocking good evening.

Hopefully the photos below will give you some idea of  the evening. The Music Rocked, The Beer Flowed, and a good time was had by all ! !



John Darlington and the Charlies at Gabariers



John Darlington & The Charlies – Fête de la Musique – 21 June 2011 -  Les Gabariers Pub  -  St Simeux  -  Charente


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Categories: Charente, Gabariers

5 Responses to “Music – and Nostalgia – beside the Charente River”

  1. Dot James says:

    Interesting to read the history – long may the venue continue.

  2. When we first came to the Charente we rented a cottage in that area, unfortunately it was so filthy and run down that we only stayed about 10 minutes before leaving to find a hôtel. What a shame, we missed out on a treat by the sounds of it!

  3. Jean-Jeannie says:

    Such good news that Si is back and on the job again. We had some memorable gigs at the Gabs — first with the Dave Blake Bank (rock) and then with The Stoney River Band (country). Can’t wait for Si to get his music programme up and running again. It was a very missed gig!

  4. Hi Jean, I think Si is keen ( as we ALL are ) to get that ‘buzz” back again …. “vive Le Gab”

  5. Sounds great and love to hear the story behind the scenes, Music always bring strangers a little closer