Graham Reid | | 5 min read
There's actually a very simple reason I have a large box of albums by French artists like Leo Ferrer and Serge Reggiani, as well as couple of dozen 10'' EPs and about 50 singles.
The School of Music at the University of Auckland was culling their vinyl and offered these free to a good home. No one else seemed interested and my home is good enough for me, so . . .
The 10'' and single piles are the most beguiling (if you understand idiomatic and poetic French) because they include conversations with authors and poets as well as discussions about famous French philosophers and such. Some of the albums are white label discs sent out to radio stations about things like . . .
Well, I honestly don't know.
But among the albums – and yes, the Belgian-born Jacques Brel is in there – are the following which have been played and in some instances, because they look so cool – lots of heavy-lidded chanson singers smoking – have sometimes appeared in the album cover frames I have.
But here are just a few to make you wonder . . . and music by these artists, if not these particular albums, is available on Spotify.
Leo Ferre: Amour Anarchie (Barclay, 1970)
This was originally a double disc by the great singer-songwriter Ferre, but I only have the second stand-alone volume. No matter because it includes L'amour fou (the aching Mad Love), La folie (the disturbingly beautiful Madness), Le mal (Evil), Cette blessure (another string-infused broken heart ballad Open Wound, he was separating from his second wife) and other such cheerful topics . . . and the album's title Anarchy Love combines both the political – two years after the students-workers insurrection and general strike – and the personal (not to say, the sexual).
Ferre was increasingly embracing rock at one end of the spectrum (the electric sitar and funk on the mildly-delic Ecoute-Moi) and symphonic settings at the other.
For this album the 53-year old set some of his earlier poems to music, broadened his musical palette (the 12 minute opener Psaume 151/Psalm 151 is like Miles Davis meets a Gregorian choir with orchestration behind his declamatory speak-sing).
Fascinating, but more enticing is the thought that at the time he was scheduled to record with Hendrix in New York . . . and you do wonder quite how that might have worked!
(I also have a few other Ferre albums including one with his great hit Avec les temps/With Time which comes in a great cover, as does Il n'ya plus rien/There's Nothing More, his straggly mane of thin white hair like a halo on each)
Pauline Julien: Qui Etes-Vous (1972)
This compilation of the famous Quebecois singer/songwriter/poet/ actress and independence activist comes from a series under the Who Are You title released by Radio Canada.
It's not one I return to because it is largely an interview disc for radio on the A side with half a dozen songs on the second side, many in a cabaret style (she recorded an album of Brecht-Weill).
It languishes on the shelf alongside a similar Radio Canada interview/song album by the equally political and poetic Gilles Vigneault.
Alain Barriere: Angela (date unknown)
Let's not hold his appearance at the '63 Eurovision Song Contest where he came in fifth with 25 points (the previous year Isabelle Aubret had been a clear winner for France) against the great ballad singer. After all in the same competition the terrific Monica Zetterlund from Sweden scored “nul points”. And anyway his song Elle etait si jolie/She Was So Pretty was a big hit with the folks back home.
Very much a MOR singer who sometimes went to the pop side of things (Et ma route is Solitaire which despite its title is alarmingly upbeat) or aimed straight for the dramatic ballad (Depuis Septembre here), Barriere was a handsome but difficult devil and this album I take to be a compilation. But it's an odd one because it doesn't include any of his singles . . . but does contain the jaunty Marie couche toi la and Le pere Noel et moi (you can figure those out).
Quite like Ouais with acoustic guitar, piano, strings and faux electric sitar.
Serge Reggiani, Serge Reggiani (1972)
Better known perhaps as an actor than a singer, this Italian-born polymath who knew Cocteau and appeared in Paris Blue alongside Sidney Poitier and Paul Newman, came late in life to the chanson style and his sometimes character-filed and melodramatic style.
He was in his Forties (in the volatile Sixties in France) when he took to the microphone and his leftist politics, poetic inclinations and songs which he seemed to inhabit endeared him to many.
This too is a compilation (sans les hits) but is impressive in its breadth and depth.
His life was far from easy – booze seems to take so many male French artists – and he died the day after the much more famous Sacha Distel.
He's a real discovery if you've never heard him.
(His double album collection of poems and songs by Jacques Prevert is a little more demanding)
Renaud: Ma Gozesse (1979)
As the liner notes amusingly say, this album was not recorded in Nashville or mixed in LA but came from Paris, although Renaud Sechan found himself on Polydor (this his third for the label) and would subsequently record in LA.
In truth the album has no title but is generally referred to by the opening track Ma Gonzesse/My Chick but despite that casual slang, his leather pants and denim, the torched Citroen in the background (and her leopard skin jacket) this was the kind of album which gave French rock its sometime risible reputation. It lacks anything approaching passion his delivery, the songs locate themselves somewhere between folksy pop-rock (with country-styled harmonica) and ballads, and Renaud – as he was known – seems an extremely modest vocalist and writer.
From what I can gather he was much admired in France in the Seventies although a search of his albums sales suggest he might have been enjoyed in the absence of anyone putting their hand in their pocket.
It wasn't until '96 when he did an album of songs by Georges Brassens that he breached France's top 25. And after that – his previous alcoholism and the separation from his wife in his mind – that he really got on a roll.
Ironique, n'est pas?
Elsewhere has a number of columns along these lines, click the title for the following
Five Odd Albums No One Should Own (but I do)
and there is probably much more . . .