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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?

Monday, 4 August 2014

Luzenac Ariège Pyrénées keep the footballing dream alive - just

In April, the football team of Luzenac Ariège Pyrénées (LAP) originally from a village of fewer than 700 inhabitants, did the unthinkable.

It won promotion from the amateur league to join the French second division and, in so doing, became the smallest club ever to qualify to compete at such a level.

It was a football fairy tale come true

The players, management and supporters were on a high, looking forward to the big time - well, relatively speaking.

LAP celebrate after securing promotion to Ligue 2 in April (screenshot i>Télé report)

But as we all know - and as British comedian and political satirist John Oliver so sardonically reminded us in his excellent piece on HBO about the World Cup and Fifa - the so-called "beautiful game" is as much about business as it is about sport.

In fact, some might go as far as to say that, in terms of importance, the financial side has far outstripped the sporting one both on and off the pitch.

And so it has proven for LAP, whose chances of playing this coming season in Ligue 2 remain in the balance even though a tribunal has just ruled in its favour, hours before the August 1 kick off.

Finances - or apparent lack of them - have been at the centre of the club's problems.

Both the professional Football league (Ligue de Football Professionnel, LFP), through its Direction nationale du contrôle de gestion (DNCG) - the body which oversees clubs' finances, and the Le Comité National Olympique et Sportif Français Olympic committee dismissed LAP's right to promotion.

They claimed - through their lawyers of course - that during the 2013-14 seaso, the club's management took a DIY approach to its finances and failed to produce balanced books by the June 30 deadline.

Meanwhile LAP's management maintained, on its official website, that it was very much in the black, had had its books audited properly and had met all the regulatory requirements imposed by the LFP.

A tribunal in Toulouse heard arguments from both sides on Wednesday July 30, finally ruling in the club's favour on Friday August 1 - the very day the new season kicked off for Ligue 2.

But that is far from being the end of the story  - of course.

Because LAP still has yet another hurdle to overcome before it can be allowed to play a match.

The club will have to appear before the DNCG once again, within the next eight days, when a final decision will be taken.

So for the moment, its players and staff will have to wait and watch from the sidelines as the division's other 20 teams begin their campaigns.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Friday's French music break - Plácido Domingo, "Niun mi tema"

Friday's French music break this week is something anyone who is interested in opera will be able to see live next week.

It's the aria, " Niun mi tema" (That none fear me")  sung (here) by  Plácido Domingo, from the final act of Giuseppe Verdi's "Otello".

Plácido Domingo (screenshot from "Otello", 1996 Metropolitan opera production)

It provides just a taste of an opera that many self-proclaimed experts have described as "having singing roles that the performers should not even be attempting to sing."

Just as it does every year, France 2 will be transmitting the entire production live from Théâtre Antique D'Orange as part of the festival des Chorégies: Tuesday August 5 from 21h50.

In the title role, of course, will be Roberto Alagna who, in recent years, seems to have made a habit of headlining the festival.

The 51-year-old tenor will be tackling the part for the first time and, while he'll undoubtedly thrill the home audience (TV viewers and those at the performance), "purists" might well judge the role to be beyond his capacities.

Whatever. Summer opera outdoors and at night - a treat indeed, even if the performers don't or can't deliver the goods (although once again, nitpickers might not agree).

Just as long as the heavens don't open.

Yours truly will be there on Saturday, hoping that the production will be more enjoyable than the disappointing "La Wally" was in Geneva.

Have a great weekend everyone.

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