The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

Late at night, when you’re at home and it’s quiet and dark, try tuning your radio to medium wave and going up and down the stations. Radio always sounds magical and intimate late at night - and on the MW/AM band in the small hours you’ll find strange accents and foreign languages that conjure up faraway places and dreamy escapism.
Here in the south-west, where the FM band is sparsely populated compared to Dublin (although Spin South-West has some great shows), medium wave is especially rich and evocative. BBC World Service, Scandinavian music shows, Spanish talk-radio… and French stations too, of course. Only a week back in Kerry and missing Paris already?
Anyway, last night while surfing the megahertz we picked up France Bleu (an oldies station we never usually listen to) just as they were playing a classic French hit, ‘Marcia Baila’ by Les Rita Mitsouko. Sacre Bleu! Now we already know and love this song – it’s a daytime radio favourite – but last night, far from France, it sounded so fresh, so exotic, so… French!
Les Rita Mitsouko have an interesting story in their own right. A duo (and couple) comprising singer Catherine Ringer and instrumentalist Fred Chichin, they emerged in the mid-‘80s with an eclectic sound of dancefloor-pop mixed with punk attitude and various world music rhythms and styles. Visually they were colourful and eccentric, and Ringer’s voice was strong and soaring. As for their strange name, ‘Rita’ is a reference to Rita Hayworth and an allusion to her fiery character in South American-set noir classic ‘Gilda’; ‘mitsouko’ is Japanese for ‘mystery’ and was the name of a popular perfume in the early 1980s.
They soon became France’s biggest pop act and were popular across the continent – however, the London music weeklies would only mention them sneeringly while mocking the French scene (in this regard I remember seeing their name in the Melody Maker during Britpop).
However, apart from their music they will always be remembered in France for a notorious TV incident in the '80s. Ringer was a guest on a chat-show, and beside her on the couch was none other than Serge Gainsbourg. It was common knowledge that Ringer had appeared in porn movies as a young actress, and that night she was discussing the experience calmly and dispassionately. At that time, though, Gainsbourg seemed to be making a determined effort to be as boorish and unpleasant as possible in public, and in an unforgivable lack of gentlemanliness he began repeatedly calling Ringer a ‘pute!’ (‘whore!’).
To her eternal credit Ringer refused to be intimidated by France’s pop legend and she retorted by pointing out how far the scruffy, drunken and ungracious Gainsbourg had fallen from his late-‘60s-early-‘70s peak. Game, set and match to Ringer. The clip is still shown regularly on the best-clips-ever shows that seem to dominate primetime French television schedules.
Due to serious illness on the part of Chichin, Les Rita Mitsouko were inactive for most of a decade until they finally released an album called ‘Variety’ earlier this year. It’s a collection of MOR guitar-pop that would be impressive from any ordinary denim-over-denim dadrock group but is disappointing for an act with Les Ritas’ colourful and inventive back catalogue. It’s been a huge hit nonetheless and the pair are headlining festivals around France, including Rock En Seine in Paris at the end of August.
Their biggest hit and best-loved song will always be ‘Marcia Baila’, a wild and flamboyant Latino-disco-pop tribute to Ringer’s late dance teacher. If you’ve spent any time in France in the last two decades then you’ve surely overheard it in some café or bar. Kitsch but stylish, free-spirited but aloof, naff but cool – only French people could make music like this:

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2003 - Witnness 2003, a comprehensive review by Brian Kelly of the 2 days of what transpired to be the last ever Witnness festival (in 2004 it was rebranded as Oxegen when Heineken stepped into the sponsor shoes).