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Friday, 30 May 2014

Friday's French music break - Cœur de pirate, "Mistral gagnant"

This week's Friday's French music break is a remake of what might be called a (modern) French classic.

It's "Mistral gagnant" from Canadian singer Béatrice Martin - better known by her stage name Cœur de pirate.

Cœur de pirate (screenshot from "Mistral gagnant" video)

"Mistral gagnant" was first released by singer-songwriter Renaud (Renaud Séchan) back in 1985 and, over the years, has been covered (more or less successfully depending on your tastes) by a number of artists.

The song doesn't require a great voice (nobody could realistically maintain that Renaud himself is blessed with the widest vocal range) but has an intrinsic sensivity and melancholy which demands an interpretation that doesn't become overemotional and...well, cheesy.

Carla Bruni and Jean-Louis Aubert have tried it as a duet (enough said) as have Vanessa Paradis and Maxime Le Forestier (click on the names for their interpretations).

Belgian "songstress" Lara Fabian (the link should contain a health warning) has had a bash, successfully saccharine-ing it to the max.

And Amel Bent has given a tear-jerking performance or two of the song, proving that a great and distinctive voice can also to the song justice.

But the definitive version is arguably from the man who wrote and first recorded it - Renaud.

Until now perhaps.

Because Cœur de pirate's version is pretty true to the original. She almost has the same type of "broken" voice as Renaud and uses the simplest and most touching of musical arrangements which means that you actually appreciate the lyrics and the melody for what they are.


The track is one of the first to be released from the upcoming tribute album "La bande à Renaud" on which a number of artists, including Carla Bruni (can't keep her away obviously), Nolwenn Leroy, Elodie Frégé, Bénabar and Renaud's son-in-law Renan Luce reinterpret some of the 62-year-old's best known songs.

So, even if Renaud hasn't released any new material for several years and has pretty much been absent from public performances with recurring alcohol problems and a seeming predilection to self destruct, the track (and indeed, the whole album) will hopefully serve as a reminder of his immense talent.

Here's Cœur de pirate's version, followed by Renaud's.


Friday, 23 May 2014

Friday's French music break - Corson, "Raise me up (je respire)"

This week's Friday's French music break is "Raise me up (je respire)" from Alain Cordier, a singer from the north-eastern town of Thionville who goes by the stage name of Corson.

Corson (screenshot from "Raise me up (je respire)" official video)

It's the latest release from his debut album "The rainbow" and allows Corson, who has over the years sung in several musicals and operettas, to switch genres, using what is described as an "atypical" voice, to venture into the world of pure pop.

A fair bit has been written about his career. He's far from being an overnight sensation and has a solid, if unspectacular (in terms of commercial success) musical pedigree starting out with a classical training at the Conservatoire de Thionville.

The 34-year-old describes his music as "typically Anglo-Saxon mixed with French sensibility" and it's perhaps not surprising that among the groups and singers he cites as having influenced him the most, there's not one French act.

Instead, he says he draws his inspiration from the likes of Sting, U2, Nirvana, Pink Floyd, Radiohead and Rufus Wainwright.

Oh yes...and Depeche Mode, which perhaps explain the resemblance (don't you think?) to the group's lead singer Dave Gahan in the chorus of "Raise me up (je respire)" as Corson switches from French to English.

He has recently been the opening act for a few blasts from the past (who have not had the same sort of consistency or staying power over the years as Depeche Mode) including Boy George, Morten Harket (remember him? ) and Lisa Standsfield as they've each passed through Paris.

He's also scheduled to appear at the Cabenes festival in Metz on July

And following up on the interest there has been in "Raise me up (je respire)" as it has been receiving considerable airplay, he's also lined up to be interviewed on Virgin radio on Sunday evening complete with an acoustic performance.

Could well be worth a listen.

For the moment though, here's the single.

Enjoy and, as usual, have a great weekend.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

So, who's "Lookin' after number one"?

Well, the title is not an allusion to the 1977 debut single of the same name by The Boomtown Rats.

Instead it's a tortured reference to one of the "big" political stories to have made the news in France over the past week.

"What could that be?" you might be asking (or not).

After all, it's a while since I let my fingers do the walking and brought you bang up-to-date with an objective look at the wonderful world that is French politics.

It's the upcoming European elections perhaps, and the somewhat "contrived" battery of polls which show French voters apparently giving the far-right Front National's (FN) anti-EU "programme" (sorry about the inverted commas - needs must) the thumbs up when everyone knows the big winner will really be the abstention rate.


Or Robert Ménard, one of the founders, and former secretary-general, of Reporters Sans Frontières who now, as mayor of the town of Béziers in the south of France (a post he won with the backing of the FN in March) has decided to ban - wait for it - the townsfolk from leaving their washing out on their balconies if it can be seen from the street?

Oh wait a moment. It'll only be between the hours of six o'clock in the morning and 10 pm. So it'll be all right to hang your undies out to dry during the night.

No. Too silly by far. Although a piece tracing Ménard's career from being a member of the Socialist party to becoming a self-declared "reactionary" in favour of the death penalty and against same-sex marriage might be interesting.

Maybe "Lookin' after number one!" alludes to Alain Delon, (is that the right word?) of the French cinema; a living legend whose brain seems to have become addled over the years (well he's getting on) and feels the need, and probably thinks his "star" status gives him the right, to express his social and political views in public.

After saying last year that same-sex couples should not be allowed to marry, that being gay was "against nature" and that "men were meant to woo women and not pick up other guys", it's perhaps little wonder that the 78-year-old has come out (entirely intentional turn of phrase) in support of Christine "homosexuality is an abomination" Boutin and her Force Vie movement in the European elections.

Nope. Delon and Boutin are far too busy looking after family values to be concerned about only themselves.

So "Lookin' after number one!" must be about Jean-François Copé's problems as the leader of the centre-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (Union for a popular movement, UMP).

You know the story, surely.

Copé's alleged "shady dealings" with UMP funds by handing out contracts to a communications company run by a couple of close buddies, which charged the party for events which never happened.

Ho hum. Looks as though it's all about to go ballistic next week when police will question three UMP parliamentarians who could well provide the proof that Copé is responsible for"irregularities".

No, it's not that either.

Rather "Lookin' after number one!" refers to the former political scribe-turned politician  Henri Guaino and a parliamentary resolution he's tabling which shows that at the very least he has cojones.

Henri Guaino (screenshot "Bourdin direct" BFM TV, May 2014)

You see (and this is going to be a little complicated to explain) Guaino made remarks about the judge who has been investigating the dealings of Nicolas Sarkozy (to whom he was both a special advisor and political speechwriter) with French billionaire Liliane Bettencourt.

He (Guaino) accused Jean-Michel Gentil (the judge) of "dishonouring the justice system" in the manner in which he was questioning and investigating Sarkozy.

That comment clearly didn't sit well with l'Union syndicale des magistrats who brought a case against Guaino to the public prosecutor for "contempt of court and discrediting an act or judicial decision, under conditions likely to undermine the authority of the justice or independence".

Guaino's reaction? Well, he stood by everything he said.

But just to take out some extra "insurance", he's now asking his fellow parliamentarians to pass a resolution which would...." suspend the proceedings by the public prosecutor of Paris against Henri Guaino, MP for contempt of court..."

All right. That's more than enough French politics.

Here's Bob Geldof (pre KBE) and the rest of 'em

Friday, 16 May 2014

Friday's French music break - Dumè, "Maman m'avait dit"

What happens when a Britney (Spears in  her "Oops I did it again" days) rip-off meets (failed) echoes of a wannabe Amy Winehouse "Back to black" melody with a smattering of Julian Perretta's 2012 hit "Wonder why"?

That's right. You get "a monkey at the keyboard mashup" of a song, and this week's Friday's French music break - blessed by its sheer awfulness and lack of musical originality.

It's "Maman m'avait dit", the latest single from Dominique Mattei, better known (really?) under his stage name Dumè.

Dumè (screenshot from "Les chansons d'abord", France 3 - September 2013)

For musical fans among you (as in the all-singing, all dancing comédie musicale of the theatre rather than the term in general) the name might ring a bell as Dumè has been part of the original troupe of "Robin des Bois - Ne renoncez jamais", the hit show (honestly) which opened in Paris in September 2013 and is now on a sellout tour of France.

Dumè plays (sings and dances) the part of Vaisey, the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Success hasn't been an overnight affair for the 32-year-old. Far from it.

His break came after being spotted by Pascal Obispo, one of France's most successful (domestic) singer-songerwriters.

Mattei (as he still was) was invited to be Obispo's opening act for a series of concerts and signed to his label Atletico Music, where he began composing for other artists.

Among those were Johnny Hallyday (well, let's face it, over the years just about everyone and anyone has written for "the biggest rock star you've never heard of", haven't they?) Faudel (anyone remember him?) Natasha St Pier and Louisy Joseph (don't ask, just follow the link)

The biggest rock star you've never heard of

Clearly feeling music listeners in France deserved more though, in 2009 Mattei joined the fan-funded label My Major Company (which has been responsible for launching the careers of artists such as Grégoire, Joyce Jonathan and Irma) changed his name and released his first single "Je ne sais rien faire".

That was back in 2010. It has taken a mere four years for the follow-up single "Maman m'avait dit" which received plenty of pre-release date (April 28) radio play and is the first track to be taken from his debut album "Le moitié du chemin" due out on June 16.

For all it's lack of authenticity, it's a reasonably well-crafted pop song with all the dreadful catchiness of a radio hit.

A short version - the extract which is currently

Just a short version though - the official extract - as that's probably more than enough on which to base your opinion as to what you think about it.

Happy Frrrrrrrrriday's Frrrrrrrrench Music break listening.

Roll on the weekend.

Monday, 12 May 2014

France's almost nul points at the Eurovision Song Contest

From the wurst - bravo Austria's Conchita...

Conchita Wurst (screenshot Eurovision TV) the very worst Les Twin Twin from France with fewer points (two) than group members three and a deserved last place.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Friday's French music break - Bubblies, "Papier mâché"

Friday's French music break this week remains in the realms of...well music.

Now there's a novelty given some of the recent offerings.

But there's also a proverbial "twist in the tale" as will soon become clearer.

First up the song.

It's "Papier mâché" from an EP released in 2001 by the Toulouse-based indie group "Bubblies".

No, the name of the group probably isn't that well known, after all they're not the sort of band that regularly rocks the airwaves.

And the track is possibly just as unfamiliar as it was neither a commercial success, nor did it feature on any national radio playlist at the time of its release.

Still the four-piece group have been around for quite a few years - since 1991 to be exact - making music and building up a loyal if small(ish) following.

But their very existence was threatened by King, the creators of the online game "Candy Crush Saga" (can anyone out there explain the rules? On second thoughts, don't bother).

In June last year, King claimed that the group's name somehow "overshadowed" that of another game the company released in 2012 and wanted to relaunch in April 2014 as "Bubble Witch Saga 2". 

And with big bucks on their side, King threatened to begin legal proceedings against the band, claiming trademark infringement.

The group had everything to lose, including the video games they create on their official site (probably the real reason for King's move in the first place)  and called on their fans via their website and Facebook for support.

"We need your help to prevent a large multinational from 'wiping its feet' on a small rock group," the band wrote.

And the message was heard.

Not just by fans as they mobilised on both Facebook and Twitter, and the media as it picked up on what appeared to be a musical "David" pitted against an online "Goliath".

But also by King itself which abandoned its demand for the group to find another name or face a court battle.

All right, the music might not very best of French rock (whatever that might be) has to offer, but it's good to see the "little guy" win occasionally isn't it?

And reason enough to make "Papier mâché" this week's Friday's French music break.

Bon weekend.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Friday's French music break - The Toy Dolls, "Nellie the elephant"

Friday's French music break this week whisks you back a few of decades - all the way to 1982 to be precise.

And it takes you once again beyond the borders of France.

It's the Toy Dolls with their rendition of the 1956 song "Nellie the elephant".

The Toy Dolls (screenshot from Top of the Pops appearance)

Agreed there's not much French about either the group or the song,  but it was a "request" so don't shoot the messenger.

Besides, although the point of these posts is to feature artists primarily from France, there has been the occasional foray outside of the hexagon to, for example, Colombia (Shakira), Italy (Puccini) and Belgium (Stromae).

As a consequence, the "Frenchness" in the choice is sometimes more than a little tenuous and most definitely always arbitrary.

Anyway, The Toy Dolls it is.

When they formed, the first burst of Punk Rockers had reached their peak.

It was 1979, the year Sex Pistols' bass player Sid Vicious died.

Art Garfunkel's syrupy "Bright eyes" was the biggest selling single in the UK.

The likes of Blondie ("Heart of glass") and The Boomtown Rats ("I don't like Monday's) were competing with disco hits from The Village People (YMCA) and Gloria Gaynor ("I will survive") and a re-invigorated Bee Gees ("Tragedy").

The Police ("Message in a bottle") and Pink Floyd ("Another brick in the wall") both charted.

The Buggles were insisting that "Video killed the radio star". Tubeway Army were asking "Are friends electric" while Gary Numan was taking to the synthesiser with "Cars".

And Cliff Richard was...well being Cliff Richard yet again with "We don't talk anymore".

Yes, it was a classic year for pop music - in the UK at least -  in all its dubious glory.

The Toy Dolls were not your typical angry young men of Punk though. Their approach, and one that seems to have lasted down the years, was to have fun. And some of their singles have reflected this.

There was "Cheerio & toodle tip" for example in 1983 with its memorable lyrics,

"Who's a pretty boy then? Your girlfriend says when she's got you wearing a tie
You're looking like a puff and you think I've had enough
Stop and take a look at yourself for a while
And you'll know it's time to say earlier

And "James Bond lives down our street" in 1985 when they sang,

"I've seen him he catches the 32 bus
James Bond lives down our street
sometimes he sits on the back seat with us
he's got a gun strapped to his chest
you can't shoot him in a bullet proof vest
a clever lad but can be a pest sometime."

But the group's that should be "only" UK chart hit (peaking at number four) was their 1982 remake of "Nellie the Elephant" - the sort of thing that was probably bound to appeal to Top of the Pops viewers and radio listeners alike for its sheer novelty value if nothing else.

So what happens after apparently being a  "one-hit wonder" - commercially speaking? Well groups such as the Toy Dolls don't go away.

They go on tour - constantly, it seems.

Their line-up has changed - frequently over the years. The original quartet soon became a three-piece group and they went on the road at home and abroad building up a steady and faithful following which seems to have seen them survive the years.

Michael "Olga" Algar is the only original member still with the band. He, along with Duncan "The Amazing Mr. Duncan" Redmonds and Tom "Tommy Goober" Blyth are currently on an international tour - entitled "The tour after the last one" with dates in the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, USA, Slovakia, Poland and Spain.

And what's more, they also have nine - yes count them - nine appearances scheduled for May in France starting on May 14 in Bordeaux, passing through Cognac, Tarbes, Nimes, Lyon, Rouen, Caen and Saint Brieuc before giving their final show at Le Bataclan in Paris on May 24.

Anyway, here's what you've all been waiting for. No need for pretentious prattle in reviewing the performance. You either like it or you don't. Although apparently they're a lot of fun live.

If you want more info on the group, visit their official website.

For the moment though, here they are singing "Nellie the elephant" - and what's the betting that if you're British, you'll probably be able to sing along.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Fashion and French politics: Ségolène Royal's cleavage ban

There are two undeniable certainties in (French) politics.

Firstly, any woman attempting to climb the proverbial greasy pole will be judged as much on how she looks and what she wears as she will be on what she says and does.

And secondly, when Ségolène Royal is around, the world of French politics is going to be a damn sight more interesting.

So put the two together and, regardless of the veracity of the story, it's going to make the headlines.

Such was the case recently when the weekly news magazine Le Point, reported that since taking over at the environment ministry at the beginning of April, Royal had put into effect a series of...let's call them "behavioural measures"... for want of a better term.

Others have called them "draconian".

First up is a so-called "co-working" scheme whereby each office at the ministry has to be occupied by at least two people. Revolutionary huh?

Then there's the ban on smoking in the garden of the ministry building - at least when Royal is around and, when she's tucking into her midday meal, her advisors have been requested to use another corridor so that they don't "disturb" her.

Fair makes the mind boggle doesn't it?

Determined also to show who's boss, Royal also apparently wants staff to stand up (to attention?) whenever she passes (or does her rounds perhaps).

But the measure which has had the French media chattering most is the reported ban on women wearing low cut tops at work.

In other words presumably, they're being asked not to show too much cleavage.

The story (or rumour, if you like) quickly made the headlines.

Le Figaro,  BFM TV and of course Closer (all right, so that's a little like quoting the Daily Mail on steroids, but every angle should be convered, don't you think?) were just a few of the many media outlets that had something to say.

And even after Royal took to Twitter, initially to call the accusations "ridiculous" and later to insist more firmly that the only rules that had been laid down were those "to ensure that public funds were used correctly and in a manner the French would expect", the story had become one of those typical media phenomena, created out of rumour and sustained by its own existence

Producers at Le Grand Journal on Canal + showed that they had indeed missed the class on ethics at journalism school by sending a reporter to the ministry armed with a hidden camera and microphone to ask women working there whether there was any truth to the story.

There was apparently.

And Le Point, not to be outdone and insistent on giving its own "exclusive" report more legs, filed a follow-up, asking other female ministers what they felt about the subject.

A good idea, thought the rest of the media and so the story continued to "evolve".

Too bad that when interviewed on BFM TV, the person who you would probably expect to have most to say on the issue, the minister for women's rights, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, could only come up with the feeble response that she "wasn't really sure what was meant by the term 'cleavage'."

Now, in case you think this is just a Segger's "one off", think again.

As L'Express, another weekly news magazine reported before the story in Le Point broke, "the Iron lady" as she's now being called (no need to ask where the French media picked up that expression) has also banned all that kissy-kissy "bise" nonsense preferring "staff to greet her with a more formal handshake".

Ah, welcome back Seggers. You've been missed.

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