Flossie, Darlo and l'exception française (1)
Barbara Dickson solves case of mistaken identity

Flossie, Darlo and l'exception française (2)

So what lured the young French prof into the Darlington folk scene I once knew so well?

It is the town where I first set foot in a folk club (the Folk Workshop), once ran a club (the Spinning Wheel) and met my wife, who also happens to be French. The common denominator is the Golden Cock pub opposite the market.

Flossie Malavialle, from a richly varied musical background, entered folk music in 2001. Something attracted her to the Darlington folk club run by a couple, Tom and Jenny Hughes, who appear to have taken her under their wings. Indeed, Flossie refers to them as her "English parents".

At this point in our e-mail conversation - she's in Darlo's West End, I'm in downtown Abu Dhabi and phone calls are Skype-free and ferociously expensive - I settled back in expectation of a list of English and Irish folkies that Flossie listens to when she gets home from gigs or supply teaching.

As Donovan once said, I may as well have tried to catch the wind.

Kate Rusby?

"I don't listen to Kate or the younger generation much for lack of time mainly. I did come across some of them at festivals so I know what they sound like. BBC Radio 2 plays them quite often as well on the Wednesday night folk programme."

So not Kate, but surely others?

"I don't really listen to any folk music at all when I'm at home to be honest! I like to listen to some French variety which is not broadcast over here or to jazz (Manhattan Transfer for example)."

But there is a silver lining. Flossie seems to enjoy folk festivals a great deal, likes catching good singers live and has huge respect for a few individual performers, all singer-songwriters and all artists I appreciate, too. This has enriched her own repertoire with examples of the excellent work of such writers as Kieran Halpin, Colum Sands and Allan Taylor, plus a few traditional songs.

"I was introduced to Irish ballads by my now very good friend Colum. I met him for the first time at the Saltburn festival in 2001 and really enjoyed his songs and stories. He introduced me to other performers like Fil Campbell, Kieran Halpin etc whom I really admire as performers and singer-songwriters. That's why I got to sing some of their songs and still do at concerts!"

Strong sounds and voices hold special appeal. "Take Vin (Garbutt) for example. I admire his abilities as a singer, a writer, a performer, a clown even!! His sense of humour is fantastic and he has been very supportive of me too. He is a great human being in every respect. Jez Lowe is a great performer too, either on his own or with the Bad Pennies."

Flossie also loves Marie Little, "a great character and very friendly". That's another Golden Cock connection. I vividly recall loving her too, each time she played there. The Marie Little I remember was fabulous in every way. She was seriously beautiful, so much so that one of our regulars drew or painted a superb portrait of her on stage, and had a personality that was impossible to dislike to go with a voice angels could only dream of. I know there was a glorious version of The Highwayman and I think The Dark Island was in there somewhere too.

Top of the Flossie pops is another of her lads. Kieran Halpin. "I love his energy on stage and the mix of styles and rhythms he plays in his sets. He could be on the radio, in the charts. As a singer myself, I have to admire his energy and vavavoum! I love his songs too of course! I know he is in Australia at the moment but I can't wait to hear him again at Saltburn festival this year with Anth Kaley. Both great artists."

And Flossie's versatile powers as a vocalist match her catholic tastes.

"When I reached 20, I decided to join a band as the lead singer," she says.. "There are loads of 'orchestras' in the South of France playing all over the place in the summer, at village fairs mainly. People come to dance and enjoy themselves. They dance to all sorts of music (waltzes, tangos, paso dobles, jazz, etc for the elder part of the population and funk, disco, rock and roll, rap, variety for the younger). Being in a band was the best thing I ever did to gain experience: playing with other musicians, singing in harmony with other singers, travelling etc...and having to sing all sorts of styles as well. Hence my love for so many different types of music and not just the one."

She stayed with her first French band for a year at the end of the 1980s before moving to a bigger ensemble. At the same time, she played and sang country music in a trio.

"After I got my degree, I moved to the north of France for my first teaching job in Charleville-Mézieres (Ardennes) and guess what I did... I found one of the biggest orchestras in the region and stayed with them until 1994! In the meantime, I was also part of a jazz quintet and another 4-piece band doing mainly variety in cafés. All this on top of my full-time job as an English teacher! "So I was gaining more and more experience along the way and loved every minute of it. Music has always been a passion. Getting to know more and more musicians along the way and being introduced to other types of music only reinforced the need of singing and sharing. "After 4 years in the North, I came back to the South of France where I started teaching in a school not far from Nimes (where I lived) from 1994 until 2002. After 6 years in the same school, I was getting a bit bored so in 2000, I decided to apply for a teacher exchange. As I had friends who lived in Edinburgh, I asked for a post in Scotland. However, as it is an exchange, your wish might not be granted if they can't find a candidate where you want to go. That's why I ended up in the North East of England... close enough to Scotland!!"

Flossie has loved her experience of the folk circuit, and belies the idiotic tabloid-induced Hop Off You Frogs mentality by prospering from being French. "People give me bookings because I'm French. They like the Piaf or Brel songs they hear but also the other styles I like to fit in my performances: blues, ballads in French, English and Spanish."

Asked about chanson francaise, she thinks of Piaf and Brel, Yves Montand, Michel Sardou, Sacha Distel, Serge Lama, Nicole Croisille, Mireille Mathieu and Francoise Hardy...and not the younger performers she has less chance to hear because she lives in England.

"I don't know what 'chanson anglaise' could be really. To me, the first name that jumps to my mind is the Beatles because they were so popular (still are). Then again, it would be music from the 1960s or 1970s really. All the modern groups you hear now have been greatly inspired by the old generation (Keane, Coldplay, Mika, the Hoosiers etc..) and that's why I like their music too. It sounds familiar!"

And there is a life in music beyond Darlington, Saltburn, Otley and the rest. Flossie dreams of branching out.
"I would love my music to take me across the borders too, like Holland and Germany," she says. "I know the folk scene is strong in those countries and I love travelling so it would be good to do both at the same time! Canada and America appeal to me too, I just don't know how to find my way into the circuit yet...one day, maybe."

But I promised to stray from folk towards matters canine and subconscious. Flossie is unmarried but has a pretty solid relationship with her dog. "Mambo moved with me to England so it's nice for him to have the park just round the corner! I live with my friends Tom and Jenny so the dog is actually ours now, not just mine! He's clever as he is the only bilingual dog I know. He responds well to both French and English."

As for dreaming, she emulates Mambo's bilingual skills when asleep. Whether her mind works in French or English depends where she is and who she is with in the dream.

"If I talk to my parents, it will be in French as it's the language we use among us. But if I dream something involving people I know from England, I will be speaking in English to them! So it's both, really. Sometimes I think in English, sometimes in French depending on what I'm thinking about! I didn't find it hard to write all this in English, for example."

The electronic exchanges ended with Flossie promising to make good any omissions. A print out of three A4 pages suggests she cannot have left much out. Unless we could all have done with just a few more of those exclamation marks so beloved of the French!!!!!!!


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