Coucou Claude, Domi, Vincent, Romain et Ged,
Do you remember when and where it all started? It was literally on a blind date nearly five years ago on Friday 7 October 2011. We observed you walking around Lydney Town Hall on the first day of the ever-wonderful Summer’s End festival, totally oblivious to who you were and what you were about to do. We noted how much you resembled imagined relatives of Legolas and Aragorn, and as a result, that elves’ label has now well and truly stuck.
Keeping a totally open mind about what you were all about, you then proceeded to blow our collective minds with your extraordinary, electrifying live show. We have never seen such an array of disparate musical instruments, including mandolin, French horn, marimba, djembe and beat box, which, at first glance, should never sound that glorious when combined. Add to that our first experience of Claude Leonetti playing the world’s only Léode in existence and we were completely in your thrall.
As my subsequent write-up of your show in DPRP testified, “Nothing prepared me for a performance as totally original, vibrant, life-affirming and brilliant as theirs.” That was probably the tamest line in the whole review.
You all seemed overwhelmed by the way in which the Summer’s End crowd responded to you. One or two present had previously seen you and the organisers, Stephen Lambe and Huw Lloyd-Jones, could not contain their delight at having such brilliant headliners on the opening night of the festival. Then you all stuck around for most of the weekend on this, your first visit to these shores.
We bought your back catalogue and also the brand new 4603 battements, the tracks from which formed the main part of your fantastic show, especially Le Miroir Aux Alouettes, which, to my mind, is one of the best live songs ever. This is because of that deceptive but dramatic tempo change halfway through, which sees Romain Thorel transferring from keyboards to drums and Vincent Barnavol quickly switching from marimba to djembe, an African drum.
Some may say that your music is alien or foreign because the lyrics are all sung in French. But those who do are completely missing the point. What gives your music its uniqueness is the fact that it does not follow the usual musical idioms. You can hear your main influences: notably the Beatles, whose I Am The Walrus vibe you have perfected in many of your songs, the world music sounds of Peter Gabriel and, of course, your friend and current biggest cheerleader, Fish.
But as Domi Leonetti once told me: “I have the soul of a Frenchman so I cannot express myself properly through the music if I write the words and sing in English.”
When I hear your most beautiful ballads such as Ouest Terne from the third album En Avant Doute or Tristes moitiés from 2014’s Tant Que L’Herbe Est Grasse, there is no way either of them could have the same impact if sung in a non-native tongue. The emotion and the feelings simply flow out from Domi’s inner being and for that reason alone, it’s the sound of the lyrics to our uncultured ears that makes them so innately moving.
I am so glad we stayed in contact after the festival and our best reminders of what you were all about came through the many YouTube clips of your numerous live appearances across Europe to equally appreciative audiences.
When I found out that due to public demand, you were coming back to play at Summer’s End in 2013, my world was turned upside down once again! I had two strokes of luck even before you arrived. One was winning that national competition The Ageless Generation to find vibrant women in their 50s who were doing their own thing.
I remember going to the photo shoot with no idea what I would end up wearing. The stylist, who just happened to be French, wanted to put me into something flowery, which would never do. In the end, I went for a walk through the store where the photo shoot was being staged and voilà, there it was, the perfect tee-shirt proclaiming “Je suis avec la bande!” So I appeared in a couple of national magazines, proudly wearing this lovely message and I took great joy in explaining what it was all about.
Then Prog magazine entrusted me with doing a preview of Summer’s End and we had a chance to chat again on email about what you were looking forward to the most. You said it was coming back to the land of the Beatles and being able to play your music again over in the UK.
The other masterstroke was insisting that Nellie Pitts, who was running the Merch Desk throughout the festival, should come and watch your performance very late on that Saturday night. That was such a memorable occasion as you came and sought me out in the audience during 15h40 to ask me what the time it was! Then you treated everyone to an incredible encore of the epic Nine Hands Around A Marimba with the Solsbury Hill section that brought the house down.
I then had to go and pick Nellie up from off the floor, and that in turn, started another incredible chain of events…..
Well, those were the beginnings, my friends, and these seeds of friendship have grown like the gorgeous L’Arbre, again from En Avant Doute.
Along came the DVD Live @ abeille rôde (we saw what you did there), part of which was you playing live in the studio as if you were performing live at a gig or festival. However, the stand-out track for me is that joyous Joliciel performed in your back garden, which has an incredible bluesy Led Zeppelin feel about it. When I recommend the DVD (which I do often), I always point people to that particular song because, for me, it captures the spirit of Lazuli so perfectly. Here we have five guys “off duty” making terrific music again on a wide range of surprising instruments, including a melodica which I used to play at school, and having lots of fun in the process.
With perfect timing, Tant Que L’Herbe Est Grasse, came out just before you embarked on your first UK tour. It was such a pleasure and a privilege to be part of that touring party with Moon Safari, thanks to dearest Nellie.
There were some great memories from that tour, especially the opening night in Southampton, our back yard, and going to Sainsbury’s the following morning for breakfast. I still smile about the reaction from the startled, mainly senior shoppers when this group of hairy Frenchmen arrived, followed not far behind by a bunch of giant Vikings. I shall always have a giggle about that.
Then we took you all the way to Stonehenge, only to find it had been turned into a park and ride, which meant there was no time to stop to see the sacred stones, with a gig in Cardiff looming large that night.
The defining gig was at the Borderline, you and Nellie all arriving absolutely shattered, you having tried to navigate your way in your left hand drive van around a heaving central London just four weeks before Christmas, then putting on a superlative show in front of an all but sold out audience. You even took time out to joke about it during the show.
The closing night of the tour was at the Robin 2 in Bilston with another fantastic crowd. After Moon Safari worked their close harmony magic, it was my huge honour to introduce you to the West Midlands, a responsibility I did not take lightly! The last gig also meant the last supper and a late-ish night, reflecting on a thoroughly enjoyable tour criss-crossing parts of England and Wales, where you met plenty of old friends and made a great number of new ones throughout.
Going on tour with you was beyond my wildest dreams. When I qualified as a journalist all those years ago, my ambition was to become a music writer, and finally this very special dream has come true and at precisely the right time.
We have talked about our dreams as it features as a theme in much of your music – and I get a very distinct feeling that many of yours are now also coming true.
Then came last year when Nellie told us you were coming back to tour because so many people over here had missed you and wanted a chance to see you.
How do you top going on tour? Easy, we decided to get married instead! With the help of Farncombe Music Club organiser Julian Lewry and Nellie, we made our celebration into your concert. I mean, who else would we want to play for us and our very special guests?
You were so incredible at picking up and running with the atmosphere on that amazing evening. We shall never forget you dedicating your new song La Lierre to us and Romain performing one of his superb piano solos, including a quick burst of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March. It made us laugh and we were very humbled by your humour and thoughtfulness.
It was a no brainer for us to follow you up to Yorkshire the evening afterwards to see you play at the Classic Rock Society’s gig in Maltby, which was effectively the first night of our honeymoon – and also Hallowe’en.
But this was the last night of your Nellie tour, and the following evening in Liverpool was the start of your brand new adventure, supporting your hero Fish. I was so glad I remembered to pack a couple of bottles of wedding champagne so we could all drink to your good fortune and success on this fantastic occasion.
We saw you on the opening night in Liverpool. The place was absolutely sweltering, too much so for us, but having seen the audience’s reaction that night, we knew you were going to be absolutely fine. Seeing Fish’s wonderful comments about you on his tour blog was a real joy, then finally catching up with you again in London was very special. I remember a French couple was standing behind me there, and had never heard of you! They have now!
Now, we begin 2016 with another chapter through the new abum, Nos âmes saoules, which translates literally as “Our drunken souls”. Again, it takes your story several steps further with those unique little touches such as the brass band effect and the whistling passage. With the depth of that unmistakable sound created from layering Gederic Byar’s searing guitar, Léode, French horn, marimba, keyboards and drums together with some really catchy song lines, it really is quite startlingly beautiful.
You might find that some people will say that your sound created on some of your albums is very different to your explosive live shows. However, your music has a very strong reflective quality and, occasionally, we all need to find sanctuary in there in order to appreciate the full sonic and visual impact of your vibrant performances.
Lazuli means so much now to so many people and, when I think about what has happened over the past four and a half years, it all comes down to one thing – love! It’s the love and belief in your music and the care you put into making it, either live or on record. It’s the love that is so visibly there between the five of you – brotherly as it is between Domi and Claude – that enables you to take to the stage and have so much fun together.
That love and sense of fun is so easy for audiences to tap into and enjoy. Then there is the love you have for all of us who buy your albums and see you play live. It is like you use us as human dynamos to take your performances that little bit higher.
There’s also the love you so obviously feel for your dear ones and, through Facebook, we have met some of them and they all in turn make us feel so much a part of the extended Lazuli family.
It is not just that though; it is the way that you all make yourselves fully accessible during the shows, always willing to appear in photographs, sign albums and merchandise and talk to everybody around you. That counts for so much in this day and age.
As your acknowledgement on the new album says, “On the road or on the web, every day, we come across beautiful persons, love & thanks to all of them.”
That love and thanks will always be reciprocated.
Beaucoup de bises et à bientot