Music is the food of memory

Jan 7th, 2008 | By | Category: Personal Columns

Sitting staring out at a January evening, the rain coming down in stair rods and a wind that would cut through you, thoughts wandered back to an August evening. Tickets were bought at a supermarket, €12 for adults, €6 for under-18s – €36 for four tickets for a sell out occasion.

15,000 packed into the Stade Jean Dauger, banter and laughter and music. No Irish anthem, this was not an official match, but the singing of the club anthem of l’Aviron Bayonnais. A cantor sang the verses and then there was a huge tide of sound as the 14,000 Basques, amongst whom a thousand Irish fans were dispersed, raised voices into the summer evening to sing the refrain of La Peña Baiona.

Only shreds of the chorus remained in the memory, but the words were easy to find:

Allez allez
Les bleus et blancs
De l’Aviron Bayonnais
C’est la peña
C’est la peña baiona
On est tous là
Allez les gars
Encore une fois…
Allez allez
Les bleus et blancs
De l’aviron bayonnais
Jouez au ras
Puis écartez c’est l’essai
On applaudit à vos exploits,
C’est gagné…

Perhaps only the French could elevate singing about a rugby team playing in blue and white into a full scale anthem sung with the solemnity of a national occasion, but the whole atmosphere was transformed.

Music has a power to transform and motivate in a way that defies explanation, military leaders down through the centuries have realised what an impact it can have on morale. But it also seems able to embed every detail of a moment deep in the memory, so only the opening bars of a tune are needed to evoke a whole scene, a whole episode, a whole story.

Sitting watching the winter rain, I turned up the speakers, and listened:

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  1. I hope you got to see Reaching for Glory: Inside Irish Rugby ’07 (RTE 2 TV) last week? It was great re-living that (one) great match in the Croker!

    btw I presume the Basques’ singing did the business at Stade Jean Dauger?

  2. Hi Steph,

    I didn’t see the programme – the problem of multi-channel TV is that you never watch anything!

    Apart from O’Driscoll’s face being broken Ireland won the Battle of Bayonne 42-6, mainly due to three Hickie tries. But the Basques sang on – I think Les Bayonnais are used to living in the shadow of Biarritz Olympique, which is very close by – Bayonne-Anglet-Biarritz is one big city. We saw BO the previous year against Sale in a ‘Battle of the Champions’, the atmosphere at Aguilera did not match that at Jean Dauger.

  3. A very rousing tune

  4. It is Les, especially when you compare it with the offerings of the English and Irish fans. I was checking a fans’ website and they have one song all in Basque and another in French that has five (!) verses.
    The French fans even bring musical instruments with them.

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