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Elton John in Lucca 2011

Summer is a great time to be in Italy as there are no end of Festas, Festivals, Fieras. We have managed to visit quite a few and despite being in love with Piemonte have even ventured further afield to Lucca in Toscana (Tuscany) which hosts a Musical Festival in July. The artists are always top names and the open-air concerts take place in the small atmospheric Piazza Napoleone in the centre of the walled historical City.


This year was no exception and we were lucky to be able to see Sir Elton John, B.B. King and Joe Cocker in that order over a couple of evenings. It’s a great venue and only holds an audience of a couple of  thousand or so people. Much more personal than a huge arena or stadium.

Joe Cocker in Lucca

Surprisingly for excitement, atmosphere entertainment the order could probably be reversed. Joe Cocker’s voice has improved or has become more gravelly and packed with emotion and what he lacks as a showman himself was more than made up for by the quality of the musicians and vocalists backing him. Individually the backing group could really sing with antics that could probably land a part in a porn film, while the guitarist, base and keyboard player were sheer class

Joe Cocker's Band

I have since been disappointed in my quest to find a recent  album that  captures the excitement we felt listening to him.

On the other hand B.B.King at 85 years of age is the consummate showman with an almost superfluous band. He was magic and in his finale threw his hotel room key with an invitation to someone in the crowd as well as distributing coins to the Toscanese poor!

Not to take anything away from Sir Elton, he was great and all you could expect but elements of his band disappointed e.g. the aloof keyboard player  supplying an electronic drone background and the 4 backing singers who were anonomous. On the other hand the 2 eyecatching Croatian cellists, “the testosterone twins”, really added to the overall effect.

An even more intimate venue is the Auditorium Horszowski in Monforte d’Alba where the Monforte Jazz festival takes place. It is tucked away above of the historic Barolo village in the shadow of a church which, not unusual for Italy, housed the bar serving a decent Conterno Fantino Langhe Nebbiolo. Jazz was kind of what we expected but on the nights we went you wondered why they call it a Jazz Festival. Yann Tiersen is a very talented musician but after a procession of electronic mayhem, that reminded us of a combination of King Crimson and Kraftwerk from the 70’s, I wanted to hear him play the theme from Amelie for which he’s famous.

Aloe Blacc at the Monforte Jazz Festival

Aloe Blacc, currently riding high in the charts, gave a very polished soulful performance that seemed to entertain the weather depleted crowd. Very personable but could do with a few better songs. The electric storm that kept threatening during the evening gave us an excuse (to leave early).

For real jazz enthusiasts the Alba Music Festival in June is a much better prospect with free concerts put on around the City.

However, the real highlight of the summer was the “spetacolo” put on by the local school in Neive. One of our friend’s sons was involved and as the rest of the family was sick we stood in as surrogate grandparents. It was a celebration of Italy after 150 years of unification. A series of  songs, dances and sketches portraying the regional differences was excellent and every child played their part. At the end the headmistress gave an address that we felt part of when she said that there are many children at the school that were born in other countries but “tonight we are all Italian”. She then gave every child a warm embrace and kiss while the audience took photos. Very un-PC and would get you locked up in the UK.

Celebration of 150 years of Italy's Unification in Neive