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

Living France - - Contents -

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

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