A song for all seasons

Jan 19th, 2008 | By | Category: Personal Columns

Home from Alpbach, 19th January

A bizarre thing happened yesterday.

Catching a four-man chair lift up a mountainside in Austria, I heard my phone ringing. I knew it was my phone because twelve days previously I had changed my ringtone to a recording of Bayonne rugby supporters singing their club anthem “La Pena Baiona”. The odds against anyone else having a song by Basque rugby fans as their ringtone seemed fairly long, particularly in a valley where Lee, my ski instructor, claimed to be the founding and only member of the Alpbach rugby club.

Pulling off my right glove with my teeth, I fumbled inside my jacket for my phone. It wasn’t ringing. I then realized that the music was coming from inside the lift operator’s hut. Very odd. Had I spoken any German, I would have asked the man about the playing of rugby songs.

The moment would have passed, if it were not for the fact that an hour later I passed a mountain restaurant where the same tune was playing. How could Lee have trouble finding members of a team when the hills were alive with the sound of the Bayonnais? Arriving home, the lunchtime mug of tea provided a moment to investigate.

Searches found the same tune being sung by Basques in the town of Dax both in the streets at the opening of the feria and by thousands gathered in the bullring last summer, except the song they sang was “Vino Griego.”

“Vino Griego” in south-west France, “Vinho Verde” in Portugal, “Phile Kerna Krassi” in Greece, the rugby song seemed to have travelled around a lot. Except, of course, it wasn’t a rugby song at all. The song sung with such gusto by the Basques seems to owe its origins to Udo Jurgens, the Austrian winner of the 1966 Eurovision Song Contest, who in 1975 sang “Griechischer Wein” (Greek Wine), a song which remains popular.

Ah well, it’s a good tune anyway, and it can now remind me of both the special atmosphere at the Stade Jean Dauger in Bayonne and the breathtaking beauty of the Austrian Alps.

Here’s Udo. Mind you, I think the Basques do a good job with it!

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  1. I can’t recall the song but I do remember those ‘jumbo collars’ My collars were not so pointed but had a big radius on the end !!!!!!!

  2. G’day and welcome back. That was a quick trip! Oh dear. I like most things I know about you Ian, with exception to your dubious taste in music! I hope the memories are what makes the song significant, not the pointy collars! (Haha. No wonder you resorted to the dog collar . . .looks like a more comfy alternative!)

  3. Sorry Ian – Udo doesn’t do it for me! He’s kinda lacking the passion of a Basque rugby supporter 😉

    Anyway, it must have been eerily magical to hear your favourite bit of music belting out across the Alps. A nice memory to soften your landing back in south Dublin.

  4. Dubious taste?

    My taste is not dubious, it’s plain bad.

    I discovered on one website that the tune/song is an example of “schlager” music. The Wikipedia entry on Schlager includes:

    “Stylistically, schlager continues to influence the German “party pop” genre to this day, i.e. the music most often heard in après-ski bars and Majorcan mass discos. Partly due to this and due to the older, more downscale audiences of schlager-based television shows and radio networks, the schlager genre is increasingly, though subtly, associated with the lower strata of the population”.

    Yep, that’s me 😉

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