SLJO on tour
Sax, Beer and Roche-en-Ardennes
By Ros Walford (shown with the original Sax man)
The South London Jazz Orchestra first toured Belgium in 2011. Five years on, the Belgians wanted us back. So in early August, our merry band of players boarded the Eurostar once again, this time to wow the crowds in La Roche-en-Ardennes, near the border with Luxembourg.
La Roche is a pretty town with a castle and a gentle river running through it. The town was the centre of the action during the World War II Battle of the Bulge and is home to the Archouffe Brewery, which uses fresh spring water to brew impeccable beer. We spent three nights at Hotel Floréal, a grand, fairy-tale castle, which, luckily, was large enough to host the biggest big band in the UK.
The tour kicked off with a gig in the nearby Walloon city of Dinant – the home, appropriately enough, of Adolphe Sax. The gig, held in a magnificent Gothic cathedral beneath a cliff-top citadel, was a roaring success. It ended with the audience dancing in the aisle to Sing Sing Sing, brilliantly drummed by guest drummer Ollie Sears.
The next day, we spent a sunny afternoon playing a relaxed gig in La Roche’s main plaza, as part of a medieval festival that continued inside the castle with falconry and son et lumière performances.
Gigs complete, our wonderful band members Nigel Grice and John Bayley set off with a van full of instruments for the return journey to the UK. Meanwhile, the rest of us spent 24 hours in Brussels, sightseeing and tasting some of the beer and chocolate that Belgium is so famous for.
The tour was a huge success and so much fun. Thankfully, the Belgians seemed to love us just as much this time around. We hope they’ll welcome us back in five years’ time – and we promise to spend even more on beer and chocolate next time!