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Claude Nobs regularly welcomed us to his chalet in Caux. A lot happened at his place. From Paolo Nutini’s warm hug to the prestigious and normally untouchable America’s Cup, to Roger Hodgson’s improvised concert on the Freddie Mercury piano, there is no shortage of amusing anecdotes or touching encounters. The most striking one probably dates back to 2012, on 12 July. That day, it was the eve of a musical fireworks display entitled Freak Out at the Stravinski with masters of ceremonies Mark Ronson and Nile Rodgers. We had an appointment with the latter to discuss his evening tribute to the history of dance music through disco, funk and house.
“Behind us, Nile Rodgers was looking at us like we were aliens. He had never seen anyone playing pétanque, or even heard of the sport.”
The interview with the founder of Chic and author of countless hits was scheduled for late afternoon. The American star was late, extremely late. “Go play pétanque, he’ll be here soon”, Funky Claude invited us. The field was free and the beer, for lack of pastis, was cold. We just started throwing a few balls, until a “What are you doing?” interrupted a promising throw of the jack or “piglet” as it is known. Behind us, Nile Rodgers was looking at us like we were aliens. He had never seen anyone playing pétanque, or even heard of the sport. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to give him a quick introduction which, to our astonishment, he accepted with great interest. There followed a jovial discussion about the history of pétanque, a part of French culture. “It’s fun and the rules are so simple. I love it! I’ve been to the St-Tropez area many times, how come I didn’t discover this earlier?” After several minutes of fun, pointing and shooting, with sometimes excellent precision, a Festival press attaché kindly reminded us that being a field reporter was not always an easy job. “Mr. Rodgers has a busy schedule to keep. Could you begin your interview, please?”
“Confident from this good-natured exchange, we sounded him out on a rumour that was making a big buzz at the time: ‘We heard you’re currently working with Daft Punk. Can you confirm this?’”
It was a little away from the guests, on one of the chalet’s many terraces, that we set to work. Nile, thrilled by his first game of pétanque, was beaming. Friendly, cheerful and funny, this monument of music then told us why the Freak Out evening meant so much to him. Confident from this good-natured exchange, we sounded him out on a rumour that was making a big buzz at the time: “We heard you’re currently working with Daft Punk. Can you confirm this?” Pétanque or no pétanque, we didn’t get the scoop. His face suddenly became blank. He looked at us, put a finger over his mouth and winked at us: “I’m in touch with them, but I can’t say anything more about our work together”. Eight months later Daft Punk’s huge “Get Lucky” was released in collaboration with Nile Rodgers. An umpteenth hit, crowned with two Grammies, to be added to the ingenious discography of this American producer who discovered pétanque in Caux.
Julien Delafontaine and Fabien Eckert, 20 minutes