The right note
For musician Matt Guez, moving to France was all about finding more time to pursue his passion. Vicky Leigh finds out how life in Charente has hit just the right note
How moving to Charente allowed a keen musician to pursue a professional career in music
There’s a lot to be said for trusting your instincts and going with a gut feeling. That’s how Matt Guez and his wife Teresa came to be living in Charente, where they’ve been since 2015. However it was Matt’s passion for music that led to a move to France in the first place. A keen guitarist since the age of 17, Matt enjoyed playing a range of different musical styles but his mum’s collection of Django Rheinhardt records, and a visit to a major jazz festival in France, inspired a love of jazz.
“Going to the jazz music festival in Samois-sur-Seine in 1992 really changed my whole musical direction,” says Matt. “I can still remember it now. I met people and musicians from around the world and it allowed me to make contacts in France.”
Matt continued to return to the festival every year, and played continental swing jazz in the style of Django Reinhardt with his band Ultraswing in the UK. Work and family commitments prevented him from being a full-time musician, an ambition he had long since wanted to fulfil, but with his children grown up and living their own lives in London and Sussex, he began to think about how he might achieve his dream of a professional music career. A move to France seemed to be the answer.
RHYTHM OF LIFE
“One of my main motivations for moving to France was opening up time for my music,” says Matt. “I’d been busy raising a family and running a business, and had been patient about getting to this point in my life. I had been in cabinet making and teaching, but it was always the music that was pushing me.”
The idea of moving to France took shape over a three-year period, during which the couple enjoyed holidays with friends who lived in Limousin, and with their obligations in the UK coming to an end they set their sights on the other side of the Channel.
“Our search area in France was originally much further south, and although I didn’t know a lot about the holiday and wedding market here in Charente, my instinct was telling me it would be a good location for a music business,” says Matt. “Choosing Charente was based on a gut feeling really, although the affordable house prices were obviously attractive too.”
Matt and Teresa eventually found an old farmhouse in Villebois-Lavalette, and since buying it in 2015 they have gradually been modernising it, doing much of the work themselves. Their neighbours are a mix of French and English, and they both feel very settled in their new community. Perhaps most importantly as far as Matt is concerned though, he has also been able to focus on his music, establishing the band Swinguez and playing with a team of other musicians including guitarists Marek Homola, Gaël Rouilhac, Philip Parant, Simon Parkinson and Renaud Rimoud, bassist Thierry Mathé and violinist Joan Lemont.
“I already had some contacts when I arrived here but once I got out with my guitar and made myself known it wasn’t long before I found musicians with a good repertoire,” says Matt. “Jazz is much more popular generally in French culture and it’s better understood, so we’re very much tapping into that with the type of music we play.”
SHOW OF SUPPORT
In a roundabout way, it was buying the house that gave Matt his first big break in the French music world.
“When we came to pick up the keys we ended up having a drink at the Hôtel de France in Aubeterre and met the thennew Dutch owners, who were big fans of Gypsy Jazz,” remembers Matt. “The village is a big draw for tourists and we started playing casually outside the hotel, and Frank would give us lunch. It was selfpromotion the old-fashioned way, because even with the internet there’s still no better way for a group of musicians to become known than to be seen playing live. We found some good patrons very early on, and the support we’ve had in the local area has been a key part of our success.”
The group also gained exposure playing at the brocante in Verteillac, a popular monthly event which regularly attracts some 3,000 visitors. Last year, Swinguez was booked to play for the mairie in Périgueux at the opening of a new exhibition space for the town’s artisans, which turned out to be one of Matt’s favourite jobs, and the group have recently been asked to play at an event at the university in Poitiers. Having already played at a couple of festivals, Matt also hopes to become more involved in the festival scene too.
“I really enjoy meeting people who are connected with music, be they musicians themselves or those who are involved in organising festivals and local musical events,” says Matt. “There’s a lot of passion for that in France; there are so many associations in little villages going to the trouble of organising events for free.”
ALL THAT JAZZ
Private parties and weddings are also proving to be big business for the band, with bookings coming from clients belonging to a mix of different nationalities, including French and English. Last summer it wasn’t uncommon for the band to play at two weddings in one day, and their diary is filling up quickly for the summer ahead.
“I never anticipated how big it would be, and we probably play at as many private parties as we do weddings,” says Matt. “The component the music adds is the ambience. The advantage we have as a group is that we’re not based around a vocalist so we can play for up to four hours over the course of an afternoon. We’re not full-on in terms of performance – we know that our role is to provide that nice music in the background, and then the performance element kicks in later in the day when people have started to notice that we’re actually quite good!”
Matt is also currently enjoying standing in as a guitar teacher at an independent music school nearby, giving lessons two days a week, which is opening up new opportunities for him too. He’s clearly a busy man, but the time he hoped to free up by moving to France has obviously been filled in the way he intended. Fortunately, there’s still time for enjoying the benefits of life in France though, and he and Teresa are both confident that they made the right decision.
“Moving to France has lived up to expectations and more,” says Matt. “We enjoy more sunlight without a doubt, we’ve become part of the community and are very lucky to have great neighbours here. Life here is about enjoying time in the sun, with nice surroundings and a good atmosphere – that’s what people hanker after. It’s a bit of a cliché but it’s certainly true for us. Our motivation is to be part of la belle vie in France.”
“We found some good patrons very early on and have had a lot of local support”
Matt and his band Swinguez play swing jazz in the style of Django Reinhardt
Matt and Teresa have gradually been modernising their home since buying it
Matt and wife Teresa with dog Alfie
Matt began playing outside the Hôtel de France in Aubeterre after going in for a drink to celebrate collecting the keys to his new home