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Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Toulouse begins preparing for Christmas - What?


While most French are concentrating on la rentrée - getting back into the school or work routine after the summer holidays - the local authority of the southwestern city of Toulouse has other things on its mind.


Christmas lights Toulouse 2012 (screenshot from video)

 It's only early September and already the council has begun putting up the Christmas lights!

Nope, it's not a (very) late April Fool, rather an attempt to save money according to Emilion Esnault, the municipal councillor responsible for street lighting.

"The idea is not to leave everything until the last moment (editor's note - no kidding!) and having to ask outside contractors to carry out the work because we don't have the manpower," he told France Bleu radio.

"That's expensive. Instead we can minimise the costs and use our resources more effectively."

So if for some peculiar reason, you're in desperate need of an early shot of Yuletide spirit, you know where to head to - or not, as the case may be?

Friday, 15 August 2014

Friday's French music break - Les Prêtres, "Écris l'histoire"

Often a cover version of a song is a simple repetition of what went before; pleasant enough in its own way but not really offering anything more than the original.

Sometimes - as in the case of Coeur de Pirate's recent remake of Renaud's  "Mistral gagnant" - there's a little extra - either in the voice, the interpretation or arrangement.

And then there are the covers that fall so far short of what came first, it's almost an embarrassment to listen to, let alone write about, them.

Such is the case with this week's Friday's French music break - Les Prêtres with "Écris l'histoire".

Originally, the song was recorded in 2005 by the late Grégory Lemarchal, whose career was cut short just two years later when, at 23, he died of complications from the genetic condition  cystic fibrosis.

Love him or loathe him, there's no denying that Lemarchal, who won the fourth edition of the now defunct TV talent show Star Academy, had an exceptional voice, managing to reach those notes that defy many a singer as you can hear, for example, on the B-side of the single.

It's a cover version of "SOS d'un terrien en détresse" written by  Michel Berger and Luc Plamondon for the 1978 musical "Starmania" and originally interpreted by Daniel Balavoine.

Grégory Lemarchal (screenshot from 2006 single "Même si" - What you're made of - duet with Lucie Silvas)

Enough "scene setting".

Back to Les Prêtres.

As the name of the group suggests, this "boy's band with a difference", if you will, is the French equivalent of the similarly-named Irish group The Priests.

In 2010, the Bishop of Gap, Jean-Michel di Falco, was having a brainstorming session with close friend and singer-songwriter  Didier Barbelivien, as to how to raise funds for a school in  Madagascar and the construction of a church in his diocese.

Inspired by the success of The Priests, the Bishop went about recruiting three likely candidates - Jean-Michel Bardet, Charles Troesch and Joseph Dinh Nguyen Nguyen - allowing Barbelivien to handle negotiations with TF1 musique

Les Prêtres, left to right, Jean-Michel Bardet, Charles Troesch and Joseph Dinh Nguyen Nguyen (collage of screenshots from official video "Ecris l'histoire")
The first album "Spiritus Dei" complete with cover versions of French standards, was a runaway success, topping the charts for nine weeks and in the process becoming the biggest-selling album of 2010 in France.

TV appearances and concerts followed, as did a second album "Gloria" in 2011 - the trio once again putting their own "special" vocal touch to some French pop songs and throwing a few ecclesiastic and classic tunes into the mix.

Another top selling album.

Finally - and not before time, some might say - their very last (and appropriately entitled?) album "Amen" in 2014, from which "Écris l'histoire" is taken.

The song is the trio's tribute to Lemarchal to mark the 10th anniversary of the Star Academy victory which launched his career.

"His whole story touched me," Troesch said in a recent interview.

"Seeing someone who greatly influenced a generation dying from a disease that still doesn't have a cure - it's a tragedy."

Their intentions (or rather those of their management) might well have been honourable, but the rendition is...well cheesy and cringe-worthy.

And just for good measure, the official video to accompany the song, borrows heavily on one produced by the French "shoegazing" (Internet search time, but basically it appears to be "a subgenre of alternative rock that emerged from the United Kingdom in the late 1980s - trust the French to be bang up to date) band Alcest for their 2012 single "Autre temps".

Take a fast forward look at both (click on the links provided) and you'll see that,  as has been pointed out in many comments on YouTube, there's an uncanny resemblance, although the video from Les Prêtres is less dark, more "uplifting" and well...judge for yourself.

Best of luck!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Happy birthday M. President

So the French president, François Hollande, turns 60 on August 12.

No big bash planned, which is a bit of a shame really as the nation could do with a little glamour and glitz at the moment (especially as the weather ain't doin' what it's supposed to be).

All right, so all those economic indicators are far from being fine and dandy. But hasn't a party always proven a good way of, at least for just a moment, lifting the spirits and enabling people to focus on something other than their own plight.

Or is that war?

Although Hollande is indeed thinking about military involvement (for purely humanitarian reasons, you understand) in Iraq, or at least supporting US air strikes, he's much more reticent and indeed "pudique" when it comes to personal matters.

All part of his oxymoronic "President Normal" concept perhaps, whereby as a head of state he tries to appear to be like any other "regular" citizen both in terms of behaviour and image...except, well he clearly isn't because he' of state.

Anyway, apparently Hollande will be blowing out the candles  on Tuesday at an "undisclosed location" somewhere in the southeast of France - and not even one of the official presidential residences such as the much-disliked (by him) Fort de Brégançon in the département of Var (which instead is open to the public throughout the whole of the summer)

He'll reportedly be surrounded by Thomas, Clémence, Julien and Flora, his four children from his 30 plus year partnership (remember the president who reluctantly saw through legislation for "Mariage pour tous" has never actually tied the knot himself) to Ségolène Royal.

That's all.

Not even his closest political allies and long-time friends Michel Sapin (the current finance minister who was also a classmate during Hollande's - and Royal's - days at École nationale d'administration) or Stéphane Le Foll (the minister of agriculture and government spokesperson) have been asked along.

Now, you can bet your bottom centime that had You Know Who been re-elected back in 2012, there would have been a suitably Bling Bling affair in January next year when the nation could have joined in the festivities - or not, as it saw fit.

Ah well. Tant pis.

As the French haven't been able to offer up their esteemed current leader a collective birthday wish and as nobody in the media seems about to come forward and do the necessary tra-la-la.

And because neither Seggers, Valérie nor Julie have uttered a public "joyeux anniversaire" for their (respectively) former, former, future (???) other half,  here's a borrowed present from the past to wish Hollande all the very best.

It's how a certain Hollywood icon interpreted the song "Happy birthday" for "her" president back in 1962, when he turned 45.

Come to think of it, maybe Hollande's oldest son, Thomas, will drag his girlfriend along, French singer Joyce Jonathan, for a bit of celebratory warbling.

Jonathan might not be nearly as sultry as Marylin, but she sure has a pretty enough voice.

Now, how do you do those irritating smiley-face emoticons?
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