Barbara – Barbara a l’écluse (1959)

FrontCover1Monique Andrée Serf (June 9, 1930 – November 24, 1997), whose stage name was Barbara, was a French singer. She took her stage name from her grandmother, Varvara Brodsky, a native of Odessa, Russian Empire (now Ukraine). Her song “L’Aigle noir” sold 1 million copies in twelve hours.

Born in Paris to a Jewish family, Barbara was ten years old when she had to go into hiding during the German occupation of France in World War II. After the war ended, a neighborhood professor of music heard her sing and took an interest in helping her develop her talents. She was given vocal lessons and taught to play the piano, and eventually she enrolled at the Ecole Supérieure de Musique. Money was a problem and she gave up her musical studies to sing at “La Fontaine des Quatre Saisons,” a popular cabaret in Paris.

She was deeply scarred by the war and her family’s plight. The feelings of emptiness experienced during childhood showed in her songs, particularly “Mon Enfance”. She said in her uncompleted autobiography, Il était un piano noir (assembled from notes found after her death), that her father sexually abused her when she was ten and she hated him for that. He later abandoned the family.

Barbara06A tall person, Barbara dressed in black as she sang melancholy songs of lost love. From 1950 to 1952, after her father’s desertion of her family, she lived in Brussels, where she became part of an active artistic community. Her painter and writer friends took over an old house, converting it into workshops and a concert hall with a piano where she performed the songs of Édith Piaf, Juliette Gréco and Germaine Montero. However, her career evolved slowly and she struggled constantly to eke out a living.

Returning to Paris, she met Jacques Brel and became a lifelong friend, singing many of his songs. Later she met Georges Brassens, whose songs she began to use in her act and to record on her first album. In the 1950s, she sang at some of the smaller clubs and began building a fan base, particularly with the young students from the Latin Quarter. In 1957, she went back to Brussels to record her first single, but it was not until 1961 that she got a real break when she sang at the Bobino Music-Hall in Montparnasse. Dressed in a long black robe, she gave a haunting performance, but the Parisian critics said she lacked naturalness and was stiff and formal in her presentation. She continued to perform at small clubs, and two years later at the Théâtre des Capucines she succeeded with the audience and critics alike, singing new material she had written herself. From that point on, her career blossomed and she signed a major recording contract in 1964 with Philips Records.

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Influenced originally by songwriters Mireille and Pierre MacOrlan, she developed her own style and the writing of her own songs transformed her image into that of a unique singer-songwriter. In the 1960s, she wrote her landmark song, “Ma plus belle histoire d’amour c’est vous” (“My Most Beautiful Love Story Is You”), and others for which she remains famous such as “L’aigle noir”, “Nantes”, “La solitude”, “Göttingen” and “Une petite cantate.” These five songs plus “Dis, quand reviendras-tu?” were translated into German by Belgian-German singer-songwriter Didier Caesar. The song “Göttingen” (named after the German city of Göttingen) is said to have contributed more to post-war German–French reconciliation than any speech by a politician. On the 40th anniversary of the Elysée agreement, ex-chancellor Gerhard Schröder quoted from the song in his official speech in the Château de Versailles.

She returned to Bobino in 1964 for several sold-out performances. She performed at the Paris Olympia and other important venues in France, becoming one of her country’s most beloved stars. In 1965, she released the album Barbara chante Barbara, which became a critical and financial success, winning the Grand Prix du Disque of the Charles Cros Academy. At the award ceremony, Barbara tore her award into several pieces, giving a piece to each of her technicians as a sign of her gratitude.

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In 1969, she wrote the theme song “Moi, je me balance” for the film “La fiancée du pirate”. She announced that she would limit her concert singing, and in 1970 she made her acting début in the stage play Madame that proved to be a commercial flop. In 1971 she co-starred with Jacques Brel in a film he directed titled Franz. Two years later she starred in L’Oiseau rare directed by Jean-Claude Brialy. Her final film role came in 1975 in Je suis né à Venise by choreographer Maurice Béjart.

Barbara’s career remained active in the 1970s, with appearances on television variety shows with stars such as Johnny Hallyday and a tour of Japan, Canada, Belgium, Israel, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Through the 1980s, she continued to tour and to write songs; her album Seule was one of France’s top grossing releases of 1981. The next year she was awarded the Grand Prix du Disque in recognition of her contribution to French culture. She developed a close working relationship with rising film star Gérard Depardieu and his wife Élisabeth, collaborating on songs for film and records. In 1986 she went to New York City to perform on piano at the Metropolitan Opera with Mikhail Baryshnikov in a song and dance ballet presentation. She co-wrote the music for the stage play Lily Passion with Luc Plamondon, in which she co-starred with Depardieu. It told the story of a killer who murders someone each time he hears her sing.

In the latter part of the 1980s she became active in the fight against AIDS. She recorded SID’Amour à mort and gave out condoms at performances. In 1988 the government of France awarded her the Legion of Honour. Health problems impeded her performing and she began to devote time to the writing of her memoirs. However, she recorded another successful album in 1996—which sold over a million copies in twelve hours—before she died of respiratory problems in Neuilly-sur-Seine (a suburb of Paris), on November 24, 1997. She was interred in the family grave at the Cimetière de Bagneux in southwest Paris.

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In October 1953 she married Claude John Luc Sluys, a Belgian law student, but they separated in 1956. She wrote many very personal songs, “Nantes” about her father, “Une petite cantate” dedicated to her friend Liliane Bénelli, born Gnansia, who died in a car accident in 1965. Later in life, she wrote a song to her public “Ma plus belle histoire d’amour” and another about her musicians “Mes hommes”.

Barbara’s musical legacy is revealed in the writing of a number of singers, French-speaking and otherwise. A style referred to as “Nouvelle Chanson”, or “New Chanson”, artists such as Keren Ann, Benjamin Biolay, Coralie Clement, Emilie Simon, Daphné, Vincent Delerm and Tancrède are often cited as exponents of the updated style. One of the few English-speaking artists to cover her work is Marc Almond, whose version of “Amours Incestueuses” (“Incestuous Loves”) was released on his 1996 album “Absinthe”. The Anglo-French biographer David Bret, a close friend of Barbara, wrote at her behest “Les Hommes Bafoués”, a song about AIDS prejudice. Bret also adapted three of her songs, “Ma Plus Belle Histoire D’Amour”, “La Solitude”, and “Précy Jardin” into English for Barbara. These were taped in 1992, but so far have never been released. Maria del Mar Bonet, a Catalan singer made, in 1971, a cover of L’Aigle Noir in Catalan and made a success of it in Spanish-language countries. L’Aigle Noir has also been adapted and sung in Spanish, and Swedish (Rikard Wolff), and many times in Japanese, also with great success.

Rendez-vous avec : Barbara

Well-known contemporary artists such as New York based Martha Wainwright, Spanish singer-songwriter Conchita Mendivil (who both recently reprised “Dis, Quand Reviendras-tu?”, and Regina Spektor (with “Après Moi”), and London-based singer-songwriter Ana Silvera have reprised songs sung by Barbara. Marc Almond also released a version of Barbara’s “Amours incestueuses” in 1993. (by wikipedia)

This debut album was recorded live at the “L´ecuse” (a very well known traditional bar in Paris.)
And it´s such an intensive and intimate performance … one of the finest french “chanteuse” ever !

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Personnel:
Barabara (vocals, piano, accordeon)

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Tracklist:
01. La Femme D’Hector (Brassens) 2.40
02. Souvenance (Schlesser) 2.35
03. Il Nous Faut Regarder (Brel) 1.49
04. Un Monsieur Me Suis Dans La Rue (Chanois/Besse) 4.47
05. Les Amis D’Monsieur (Fragson) 2.09
06. Tais-Toi, Marseilles (Datin/Vidalin) 3.06
07. La Belle Amour (Poissonnier/Serf) 2.43
08. La Joconde (Braffort) 1.47
09. Les Sirènes (Sabouraud) 3.16

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Here´s a live performance from 1956 at the L’Écluse, Paris

VA – Très Chic – French Cool From Paris To The Côte d’Azur (2013)

FrontCover1Retro French music is very much in vogue on this side of the Channel and Union Square have sought to capitalise on this by releasing this most entertaining overview of 1950s and 1960s French music. While any two CD compilation can only ever hope to scratch the surface and more in-depth anthologies are required to be fully comprehensive, for the neophyte this actually serves it’s purpose well of introducing the listener to a whole raft of musicians. The music is neatly divided up between male crooners, Left bank existentialist singers, women singers and jazzier influences that includes both instrumentalists from famous French new wave film soundtracks, or French jazzers. Among the crooners, Yves Montand deserves to be heard by an anglophone audience and his interpretations of the music of Prévert are near definitive. Here he delivers the smooth sounding ‘C’est si bon’. Talking of smooth operators, Sacha Distel takes some beating and it may come as a surprise to non-French readers to learn that he was a very accomplished jazz guitarist before becoming a singer. Arguably his most famous song is showcased here, ‘Scoubidoo’. Henri Salvador gained international recognition late in his career, but this early jazz scat, ‘C’est le be bop’, is an indication of what was to follow. While Charles Aznavour is best known in the UK for ‘She’, his late 1950s and early 1960s sides were full of emotion and jazzy orchestrations and ‘Je me voyais, déjà’ is typical of his output from the era. For more left-field sounds, this compilation deserves great credit for including some of the following singers. Bobby Lapointe came to prominence as a subversive singer who made a brief appearance in François Truffaut’s ‘Shoot the pianist’ film. Here ‘Framboise’ is boisterous, fast-paced and a delight from start to finish.

Inlet01APreceding the 1960s starlettes by a decade, Juliette Gréco possesses a deep, throaty voice that was ideally suited to interpreting Gainsbourg and Prévert and ‘Si tu t’imagines’ is just one of her vast repertoire and a fine example at that. Léo Ferré is the current French president’s favourite singer and the melodic ‘A Saint Germain des Prés’ is an early illustration of Ferré’s beautiful voice. He would later become famous for his lengthy literary raps and he was very much an anti-establishment figure. Barbara may be less known outside France, but has few equals in France as a singer-songwriter and ‘Dis quand reviendras-tu?’ is a fine example of her pared down sound. Jacques Brel needs little introduction, but for those as yet unaware ‘La valse à mille temps’ shifts gear as only Brel knows how and he is an all-time great of the French language. Last, but by no means least, Serge Gainsbourg is nothing less than a national treasure, but interestingly for those who are familiar with his later psychedelic period, here the focus is on his jazz period. Both ‘Intoxicated man’ and ‘Requiem pour un twister’ are superior examples of his early period that stand the test of time. A trio of French women singers includes the obligatory Françoise Hardy and her seminal ‘Tous les garcons et les filles’, another Truffaut sound track song by Jeanne Moreau, ‘Le Tourbillon’, featured in the delightful ‘Jules et Jim’ film and a melancholic sounding Brigitte Bardot on ‘Sidonie’.

Inlet02AJazz musicians featured include Miles Davis and his stunning contribution to Louis Malle’s ‘Lift to the Scaffold’ film and pianist Martial Solal and the terrific soundtrack to Jean-Luc Godard’s seminal ‘A bout de souffle’/’Breathless’. Noteworthy are two other pieces, the Latin-jazz influenced ‘No hay problema’ by Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers and a vocal number by Claude Nougaro. This French singer deserves a compilation of his own for an English-speaking audience, such is the richness of his 1960s jazz and 1970s Brazilian flavoured songs. A final mention should be made for France’s answer to Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, les Double Six who deliver a stunning version of one of Art Blakey’s staple tunes ‘Moanin’. All in all a musical experience that is truly a ‘joie de vivre’! (by Tim Stenhouse)

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Tracklist:

CD 1:
01. Françoise Hardy: Le temps de l’amour (Dutronc/Salvet/Morisse) 2.23
02. Serge Gainsbourg: Requiem pour un twisteur (Gainsbourg) 2.37
03. Jeanne Moreau: Le tourbillon (Bassiak/Delerue) 2.03
04. Les Double Six: Rat Race (Jones/Perrin) 2.35
05. Claude Nougaro: Le cinéma (Legrand/Nougaro) 2.56
06. Sacha Distel: Brigitte (Brousolle/Distel) 2.17
07. Magali Noël: Alhambra-Rock (Goraguer/Vian) 2.35
08. Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers: No hay problema (Marray) 4.33
09. Charles Aznavour: Je m’voyais déjà (Aznavour) 3.22
10. Claude Nougaro: Les Don Juan (Legrand/Nougaro) 3.17
11. Léo Ferré: À Saint-Germain-des-Prés (Ferré) 3.01
12. Michel Legrand: Blues chez le bougnat (Legrand) 2.08
13. Charles Trenet: Que reste-t-il de nos amours? (Trenet/Chauliac) 3.10
14. Henri Salvador: C’est le be bop (Vian/Dieval) 2.05
15. Sacha Distel: Marina (Reardon/Distel) 4.11
16. Mouloudji: Comme un p’tit coquelicot (Grasso/Valery) 3.43
17. Anna Karina: Chanson d’Angela (Legrand/Godard) 2.23
18. Boby Lapointe: Framboise (Lapointe) 2.39
19. Catherine Sauvage: Black Trombone (Gainsbourg) 2.29
20. Corinne Marchand: La joueuse (Varda/Legrand) 1.52

CD 2:
01. Claude Nougaro: Le jazz et la java (Datin/Nougaro) 2.24
02. Françoise Hardy: Tous les garçons et les filles (Hardy/Samyn) 3.05
03. Serge Gainsbourg: Intoxicated Man (Gainsbourg) 2.35
04. Line Renaud: Sexe (Gaste) 3.32
05. Jacqueline Dano: Chanson de Lola (Varda/Legrand) 2.12
06. Jacques Brel: La valse à mille temps (Brel) 3.48
07. Martial Solal: New York Herald Tribune (Solal) 1.26
08. Les Double Six: Moanin’ (Timmons) 3.09
09. Magali Noël: Strip-Rock (Goraguer/Vian) 2.16
10. Boris Vian: Je suis snob (Walter/Vian) 2.49
11. Brigitte Bardot: Sidonie (Cros/Spanos/Riviere) 2.52
12. Barbara: Dis quand reviendras tu? (Barbara) 2.52
13. Juliette Gréco: Si tu t’imagines (Queneau) 2.42
14. Yves Montand: C’est si bon (Homez/Betti) 2.33
15. Henry Cording: Vas t’faire cuire un oeuf man (Sinclair/Mike) 2.51
16. Sacha Distel: Scoubidou (Teze/Distel) 3.00
17. Gilbert Becaud: Me-que-me-que (Becaus/Aznavour) 2.27
18. The Miles Davis Ensemble: Générique (nuit sur Les Champs-Élysées) (Davis) 2.53
19. Brigitte Fontaine & Areski: Il pleut sur la gare (Areski/Faintaine) 1.47
20. Valérie Lagrange: Si ma chanson pouvait (Lagrange) 5.25

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