We recently visited the beautiful town of Menton in the South of France to play at its annual Fête du Citron (lemon festival). The festival, currently in its 82nd year, is in many ways a typical carnival, at which parades of floats and entertainers draw huge audiences from across the region. It is also, however, a celebration of the town’s citrus fruits, and so everything (and I mean everything) is made from lemons and oranges. Our drumming performance was part of a ninety-minute parade after dark, in which we were sandwiched between mobile lemon-adorned structures and stilt walkers, and followed by huge crowds of onlookers.

By day, the scene was a little different, but no less spectacular. Hoards of people flocked to the citron garden, where there stood enormous statues made entirely from oranges and lemons, this year on the theme of ‘China’. The scale of these structures was somewhat overwhelming, and further enhanced by the bright sunshine and a tad too much limoncello (that our driver, every local’s best friend, insisted we drink).

Terracotta Army, anyone?

Located just by the Italian border, Menton maintains elements of French and Italian culture in equal measure. A trip to the pharmacy or boulangerie had me reminiscing over caravan holidays from childhood – no English spoken, the perfect opportunity to practise one’s French and pretend, just for a week or two, to be part of an historic French village community. At night, just moments after a lively carnival parade involving a few thousand people, everybody had disappeared indoors behind closed shutters, and in the silence I was left thinking, just as I did as a child, ‘where did they all go?’.

But amongst all of this was an Italian liveliness, particularly embodied by our warm and garrulous host, who made hilariously inappropriate jokes, drove in all directions whilst on the phone, effortlessly captured the attention of everyone around him, and provided us with the most incredible hospitality, particularly in the realm of food. Each lunch time at precisely twelve noon, we were seated at a local Italian restaurant and fed extrordinary amounts of pizza, pasta and red wine. The pizza and garlic bread, as we failed to realise on the first day, was simply an appetiser before the pasta main. Well, us Spark! drummers sure do love to eat (though even our appetites aren’t quite that large).

Impressive brass band from Hong Kong featuring 60+ musicians

Luckily our parade gig required a hefty meal beforehand, as we circled the town in full power for a couple of hours, enduring extreme confetti-throwing from all directions throughout. As we returned to our dressing room hyped up and talkative after a fun and exhausting set, one French man exclaimed, ‘Ils sont de l’Angleterre?… They are ENGLISH?!’ . The element of surprise in his tone made us laugh – ‘but they’re simply too good to be English!’, he might have said. Looks like we made a pretty good impression, then. Menton, you certainly did the same for us.