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Gooik

The year is 1999 A.D. The air-waves and ear-drums of the world are entirely occupied by mid-Atlantic pap. Entirely? No! One small village of indomitable Belgians still holds out against the invaders ...
G/010

And a pleasing little village it is too, just off the main road between Enghien and Asse. Ten minutes or so ambling down Wijngaardstraat (not that I spotted any vineyards, but never mind) from the bus-stop brings you to the market-square and the parish church; a few more minutes and you've reached De Cam, headquarters of the Volksmuziekgilde and also home to a police-station with net curtains and geraniums at the windows.

We found out about Gooik thanks to the Volksmuziekgilde and the energetic work of Herman de Whit. There are concerts and courses all year round, a museum of traditional instruments, a folk festival and summer workshops: not just things to see, but things to take part in. The setting makes the events all the more enjoyable, as does De Cam with its good plain Belgian cooking and excellent local gueuze.

Cyclists know about Gooik for different reasons, though to judge from what we saw – including racers, recumbents and mountain-bikes – at the festival site there seems to be a certain amount of cross-over. The village runs up what most non-cyclists would consider a dauntingly long hill; steep enough, anyway, to be included in the Vlaamse Wielerweek as part of the Brabantse Pijl. Motor-cyclists have the Grand Prix at Kester.

Builders and architects should come and take a look, too, to see how buildings with their own characters co-exist harmoniously and to appreicate fine workmanship such as the roof-timbers in De Cam and its two barns. En passant, congratulations to De Lijn and everyone else involved in restoring the old tram-station at Leerbeek; they did an beautiful job, and re-using the design of the glazed canopy to add the new bike-shelter is a particularly thoughtful touch.

Festival

The festival site in Gooik is a large meadow at one end of the village, surrounded by the tall, thirsty poplars familiar from landscape paintings. Booths or stalls line the edges, offering everything from cotton shirts to occarinas, hurdy-gurdies to penny whistles; Chris found Peterson the hurdy-gurdy there, I found Rebate the bagpipe and ordered the as-yet unnamed musette. Stilt-walkers in gaudy clothes and fantastic make-up stride around pursued by curious children; strolling players (in a small way) stop to make incomprehensible local jokes; musicians try out instruments at the stalls or form impromptu clumps in corners. I've noticed on many occasions and in many circumstances that Belgians seem to have a gift for enjoying themselves. They don't get rowdy, they just relax into carping the diem and making the most of any opportunity to smile with strangers. Gooik is no exception.

Scandinavia and the Baltic States provided the guests one year; we heard (among others) two jolly groups of Danes, one highly competent but totally po-faced group of Swedes, another Swedish group who were just excellent and a Finnish group whose rapport with their audience gave them just that extra edge. They had presence, they were clearly enjoying themselves, and they moved instead of just standing there playing. Each in its own way, these last two groups offered mostly traditional music – including a cow-calling song collected from an old, old woman in a small Swedish village: can't get much more efnik than that – in excellent arrangements: tunes untouched, but set off with brilliant harmonisations and astonishing instrumental colours coaxed from their traditional instruments.

Workshops

The Gooik workshops, famous rendezvous for Belgian musicians, offer the chance to spend five days away from it all for intensive coaching. I went there as a completely novice would-be player of the Flemish pipes, and came away much encouraged. The pace was very well-judged, giving us a good grasp of the basics: fingering, of course, and how to blow, but also some idea of where and how to add the grace-notes and break-notes you need to shape a series of sounds into a recognisable tune. Small memories include:


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