The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

French Letter


Marseille is the Cork of France. Both cities are ports on the south coast. The two have a very independent attitude and distinctive mindset (exemplified by Eric Cantona and Roy Keane).

And both share an intense rivalry with the capital city (the terrace scenes during PSG v OM games look terrifying and insane even just on television).

[If we were to extend our Ireland-France analogy, that would make Kilkenny equal Lyon (cultural city, always champions of their sport), Limerick = Bordeaux (the latter a recent temporary home to Irish rugby), Tramore = Saint Tropez (glamorous coastal resort) and Clones = Paris (self-explanatory). And Dingle would be Biarritz. But we digress.]

Having swatted away the hapless Irish in Paris last Friday, the French rugby team will be in Marseille this weekend for their final group match on Sunday, against Georgia (while expecting - DEMANDING - that Ireland beat Argentina at the Parc des Princes later that day so that Les Bleus can avoid a dreaded Cardiff quarter-final against the All-Blacks).

One well-known Irish rugby fan will, to his misfortune, be in Marseille rather than Paris this weekend. Neil Hannon and his Divine Comedy are playing the Marsatac festival on Saturday night.

Neil HannonNow in its ninth year, Marsatac 2007 also features Architecture In Helsinki, Kill The Young, Simian Mobile Disco, The Cinematic Orchestra and many others.

Hannon is an unlikely figure to be seen in the southern port city. The foppish Fermanagh man is adored by the intellectually-élite Parisian bobo (bourgeois bohemian) community, and belongs more in Le Marais, the capital's bobo quarter, than Marseille, home to some aggressive Paris-hating French rap. He may need a Scarlet Pimpernel to get him out of the city after the show.

The Divine Comedy's set in Marseille is unlikely to feature their most French song. At their Paris show last year 'The Frog Princess' wasn't played, perhaps omitted diplomatically.

Now your blogger has plenty of love for his French friends (and yes, the occasional Frog Princess) - but after last Friday's result, the triumphalist gloating we've had to endure, and the danger to us if Ireland don't do France a favour on Sunday, who could blame us if we reach for the guillotine? Here's 'The Frog Princess':

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Chapeau to our Icelandic friend Ulfar for tipping us off about this ages ago (and reminding us this weekend): French music site La Blogotheque has a brilliant feature called Take Away Shows (in French, Concerts à Emporter) where indie bands visiting Paris are filmed playing an impromptu live set in unusual locations.

A typical Take Away Show usually (but not always) features the act performing on the streets of Paris before a handful of bemused onlookers. It's a great opportunity to see acoustic or stripped-down versions of great tunes by your favourite indie acts.

Since starting in May 2006 the series has featured the likes of Arcade Fire (live in a freight elevator: how scarce were tickets for THAT?), Andrew BirdThe Divine Comedy, Tapes N' Tapes, The Shins, The National (in Perpignan in southern France), Beirut and any hip alternative act you care to mention.

La Blogotheque's posts and articles are only in French - but the Take Away Shows come in French or English with a short text describing how each performance came to be staged.

The Take Away Shows are unmissable: take some time to browse through the archive. To whet your appetite, here's the aforementioned show by Arcade Fire (backstage before their Paris Olympia show last April) performing 'Neon Bible' and 'Wake Up',  where everybody ends up in a freight elevator:

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As per Jim Carroll over at the journal of record: Justice, latest off the never-ending production line of brilliant French dance/electronica duos, are playing at the Phoenix Park on 1 December as part of the Live at the Marquee series of gigs-in-a-tent. 

JusticeAs Jim points out, the venue is especially appropriate given the title and cover of their album. Perhaps Phoenix can play there too.

This Dublin show will be the pair's third Irish appearance of the year, following their set at Oxegen last July and (as fazwaldo reminded us below) before that the Trinity Ball in April.

The rest of the line-up has yet to be announced, but it'll probably be other dance-type stuff. Or maybe not.

Tickets go on sale this Saturday, 22 September - they should probably sell very well regardless of the hammering the French will probably give us in the rugby the night before.

BTW, December is a chilly time to be in a tent, no? Not to worry - you can keep warm by breaking wind inside your sleeping bags, like the scouts taught you.

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Your blogger's life is revolving around the rugby this week, so much so that we almost forgot about the return of the Champions League. The vast hordes of Irish who were in Bordeaux for the first two games (and let us never talk of them again) are arriving in the capital, as are those supporters flying in just for the two Paris games. By coincidence, the cold weather has arrived too.

So, France v. Ireland in the Rugby World Cup -  your blogger is pessimistic to the point of depression. Being away from home makes a person depend all the more on their national team, and these days both the Irish football and rugby sides are making a show of themselves (only the Kerry team are lifting your blogger's spirits). And our record in Paris is terrible.

Even so, the French media and fans are being very sympathetic to the Irish team - if only because they need us to beat Argentina so that they can avoid their nightmare scenario of a quarter-final against the All-Blacks in Cardiff. 'At least you won both games', French fans say, without them having to experience the wierd horror of last-minute try-line defending against the mighty Georgia.

The Rugby World Cup really isn't capturing the general imagination in France. Down south is the game's heartland; places like Toulon and Toulouse and Biarritz where people talk rugby all day anyway.

In Paris and elsewhere, however, it's met by a typically Gallic shrug. There are desperate efforts by both TV and organisers to create a cult of Chabal, the long haired and bearded French forward. Apart from him, most French people only know their rugby players from the nude calendar that Stade Français bring out every year.

But should France get closer to the final, that will change. The 1998 football World Cup in France began with similar apathy, but as Zizou and friends edged towards the final the French public's strong sense of patriotism went wild.

From a Frenchman-on-the-street perspective, the Rugby World Cup only starts with the semi-final, the real business end of the tournament.  Anything less will be a disaster - which is why the French team will make no mistakes against Ireland on Friday night.

This month's French Friday club night at Thomas House happens to coincide with the match (it being the third Friday of the month) - so you can watch the rugby on the big-screen before the music starts. Entry is free, the match kicks off at 8:00pm - and the victory dance will start soon after. Groan.

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The good people of Radio France Internationale (RFI - pronounced 'air eff eee') were kind enough to invite your blogger along to a recording of their live music show 'La Bande Passante' at the Flèche d'Or last night.

Invitation was accepted gladly. In truth, we almost snapped their hand off at the elbow; top of the bill was the brilliant Emily Loizeau. Sure enough, she put on a great show. The programme will be broadcast on Saturday 22 September and available to hear on the RFI website soon after.

All of which reminds us that we listened to RFI in Dublin while learning French and planning The Great Leap Forward (i.e. the move to Paris). How come? Well, all thanks to an eclectic local Dublin radio station.

NEAR FM is a community station on 90FM which serves the north and central city area (the name stands for North East Access Radio). It has a diverse range of music and information shows - and every morning at 8:00 it carries the international news in French from RFI.

Many's the morning that your bleary-eyed blogger-to-be would fall out of the leaba and tune in for half an hour of French over breakfast. Even if the word-for-word comprehension wasn't great to begin with, the ear got attuned to French accents and very soon the understanding increased greatly; we definitely recommend it as a language learning technique.

At the more manageable hour of 5pm on Saturday there's another French language programme on NEAR FM. 'Quartiers Francophone' is a news and information programme presented by Robert Cuthbert.

Even if you've no intention of learning French, NEAR FM has a fantastic range of eclectic music shows. Pick of the bunch for Irish alternative music fans is The NEAR FM Sessions on Thursday evenings from 7 to 8, featuring live studio sets from local acts.

Check out NEAR FM by podcast on their website, or tune in to 90.3 FM if you're in the northside or central Dublin.

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Julien Doré: dig the hairclip, dude!Remember our recent post on 'Double Je', the brilliant single by Christophe Willem, winner of French TV talent search 'Nouvelle Star' in 2006? Well, these days the 2007 winner has been topping the charts in France.

Julien Doré (right) is his name. His image is that of the sort of meticulously-styled faux-rebel you see in hair gel commercials. His choice of first post-victory single, always an accurate indication of career prospects, is a strange one - a cover of a smash hit debut single by a previous TV talent show winner. What's more, it's an ironic acoustic-rock version of what was a slick pop song sung by a girl.

Naturally, it's awful - ironic cover versions always reek of pretentious snobbishness, but Doré deliberately mangles the melody and rhythm for maximum effect. That's us pop fans taught a lesson, so.

But we're not here to talk about this eejit. Instead, let's look at the song, one which definitely deserves our attention.

The original version of the track in question is a rare instance of a French-language hit that may be familiar to Irish radio listeners - 'Moi Lolita' by Alizée. A brilliant piece of slinky and sophisticated disco-pop, it received a lot of Irish airplay in 2000 (in particular, Today FM seemed to have playlisted it). Something of a dancefloor hit, the single actually reached number 9 in the British charts - the most recent single en français to crack the UK Top 10.

AlizéeAs the title suggests, the song's lyrics are fairly risqué - especially when sung by a squeaky-clean 16-year-old girl. Sometimes the whole thing gets a little too seedy: stuff like "Quand je rêve au loup / c'est Lola qui saigne" ("When I dream of the wolf / it's Lola who bleeds") is just too dodgy even for seasoned Frenchpop listeners. But none of this matters if you haven't a word of French - it's a fantastic track.

After her TV show win in 1999 Alizée was immediately snapped up by Mylène Farmer, a Quebec-born singer and French superstar who specialises in just this sort of disco-perv-pop. Farmer, moving on in years, and her partner Laurent Boutonnat were looking for a young and clean-cut singer to continue their line of saucy-but-bland singles (Remind us to tell you about Farmer in detail sometime). In Alizée they found their girl, and 'Moi Lolita' was written for her. As well as going top ten in the UK, the single was a number one across the continent and in Japan.

After two albums and several record-company difficulties, Alizée split from Farmer and took time out from music to get married and start a family. However, Doré's cover of her most famous hit has renewed interest in her - and her new album 'Psychédélices' will be released in November.

The video for 'Moi Lolita' is terrible. It's a mini-movie where the singer plays a rural girl going to her first disco. This type of pretentious big-budget short film is a trademark of Farmer, who's notorious for appearing naked in her music videos. (Bet you're interested now, aren't you?)

So, here's a television appearance by Alizée, performing one of the best French pop singles of the last decade. Your blogger has been known to (100% unironically) play and sing this on guitar at parties:

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This weekend France is taking part in the Europe-wide celebration of cultural heritage (including the Dublin Culture Night last Friday). In Paris, political and cultural institutions are opening their doors to the general public - even President Sarkozy is welcoming visitors to his residence, the Elysée Palace.

The Paris metro system is also joining in the events - for instance, certain lines ran all night, disused 'ghost' metro stations were opened to visitors, and various entertainment took place around the underground network.

Perhaps the most interesting from a music point of view was a talent show for commuters. The official blurb for the event invited metro users who happen to play instruments - but every regular underground traveller is aware of the sizeable community of dedicated metro buskers.

It is, of course, illegal to play for money on the metro - technically it's illegal even just to play music, as it can be construed as disturbing fellow passengers (penalty: a few euros of a fine). But when has this ever been a bar to metro-buskers, hopping from carriage to carriage with one eye out for the muscular boys from transport security?

After a while using the metro, you get to recognise certain musicians and their regular 'pitch'. On the line 3, which takes you to Père Lachaise and La Flèche d'Or, there's a man who plays the saxophone. His playing is excellent (he clearly loves John Coltrane; he has the same warm, rich sound), even if his sax is fairly battered. On our line, the 13, there are at least two regular accordionists.

Paris is always heaving with tourists heading for the usual sightseeing spots, so some lines are more profitable than others. Line 6, for example, goes from the Arc de Triomphe (at the top of the Champs-Elysées) past the Eiffel Tower, so it's a lucrative pitch for buskers. One guy in particular has made it his home: a man who hangs a curtain at the back of the carriage, from behind which two puppets pop up to dance along to a blast of rock n'roll or reggae. Simple, but always enjoyable; regular visitors now look out for him.

A busker at Saint Lazare metro stationMusicians also set up in the metro stations themselves - each station usually has a warren of walkways and tunnels with fantastic acoustics, good enough to make even bad music sound tolerable. Stations on the line 1 are especially complex, so it's a little easier to evade security. And as the line runs under the Champs-Elysées, Louvre and Bastille there are always cash-happy tourists easily charmed by a few riffs of 'La Vie En Rose' on the accordion.

A musician friend of ours here in Paris had a novel way of playing on the metro with his two bandmates. One of them would get on at the first station and play alone. A few stations later the second band member would get on and seamlessly pick up the tune of the first. Then another few stops down the line the third would get on and join in too. They made a fortune.

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Since French Letter changed from old-fashioned column to hip young blog, we've received loads of tips about French music worth hearing and featuring. A sincere merci beaucoup to everyone who's taken the time to comment or mail with their suggestions - a lot of them will appear here over the coming months, and Francophile music fans can expect to discover lots of great Gallic tunes right here.

Mon dieu! French band Dionysos, currently recording with Eric CantonaAs well as finding out about new bands, we've been led back to rediscover older music that had flown under our radar. For instance: Dionysos (right) are a six-piece band from Valence in south-east France. Their most recent studio album, 'Monsters In Love', was an unremarkable bit of chanson française which didn't appeal to us. We thought no more of them.

However, on French indie radio stations like Le Mouv' and Oüi FM we kept hearing a fine 2002 single of theirs called 'Song For Jedi' - nothing like the skiffly chansons of their new material but instead a slice of witty and catchy slacker-pop that had us intrigued. And when Edith from Por La Carretera mentioned Dionysos in a comment on our recent post about Rhesus, we finally decided to investigate further.

Sure enough, and to our delight, 'Song For Jedi' is not an only child. It's taken from the band's 2002 Steve Albini-produced album 'Western Sous La Neige' ('Western Under The Snow'), which is crammed with similarly charming US-influenced indie-pop. Alas, they seem to have left that sound behind them now.

Eric.The band's next project is 'La Méchanique Du Coeur', an album to accompany the book of the same name written by lead singer Mathias Malzieu. It's an ensemble record featuring an all-star cast which includes Emily Loizeau, Olivia Ruiz (Malzieu's partner), venerable actor Jean Rochefort... and (*genuflects*) Eric Cantona. Yes, Le Roi Eric on disc: you can be sure that we'll bring you a clip of this great event as soon as possible.

(BTW, Eric is currently featuring in a French TV ad for a casino - and he also appears with his brother Joel in the opening seconds of the latest video by Marseille rapper Soprano, 'A La Bien'. Sadly, Eric doesn't rap.)

As for Dionysos, check out their album 'Western Sous La Neige'. Here's the bizarre video for 'Song For Jedi', which seems to have no connection to its soundtrack:

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A couple of posts ago we wrote about Ireland's thriving French community and the popularity of all things Gallic in Eire. On the same theme, RTE's Dublin-based magazine show 'Capital D' is tonight (13 September) screening a report on the Irish capital's French population.

We're pleased to see that the programme features a couple of French Letter regulars. We understand that there was an RTE crew at a recent 'French Friday' club night at Thomas House in Dublin - no doubt to show the debauched hard-rockin' underground of Paris-sur-Liffey.

There will also be an interview with French singer Lauren Guillery (right).

'Capital D' is on RTE 1 at 7:00 tonight - but if you miss it you can see the show on the programme's web-page. Someone let us know if they mention this humble blog, alright?


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Bertrand CantatFrench news agencies are this week reporting that France's most famous rock star and prison inmate may soon be free on conditional release.

Bertrand Cantat, lead singer with French group Noir Désir, was jailed in 2004 for eight years after a court in Lithuania found him guilty of killing his girlfriend, actress Marie Trintignant, after hitting her during a fight in their hotel room in Vilnius in July 2003. Cantat is currently serving his sentence in a prison near Toulouse, in south-west France.

Trintignant's death, and the subsequent trial of her lover Cantat, shocked France. The award-nominated actress, daughter of actor Jean-Louis Trintignant (star of French classics like 'Un Homme Et Une Femme' and 'Trois Couleurs Rouge') was filming on location in Vilnius at the time of the incident. The Lithuanian court heard how, during a fight after a party, a drunken Cantat struck Trintignant repeatedly, causing massive cerebral trauma.

Marie TrintignantA comatose Trintignant was rushed to a specialist hospital in France but died four days later. The then-President Chirac paid tribute to the late actress; Lithuanian police charged Cantat with her murder.

The case divided France. The charismatic Cantat was a hugely-admired figure, adored by French rock fans for his politically-engaged songs and fierce rebellious outbursts. In 1997 Noir Désir played a highly-charged concert in Toulon, a city then ruled by the extreme-right Front National of Jean-Marie Le Pen, and Cantat caused uproar at a 2002 awards ceremony by criticising the head of his record company. The idea of their idealistic rock idol being an abusive partner and killer was incomprehensible to his loyal fans. Cantat, echoing the tragic romances of Othello and of Romeo and Juliet, pleaded in court that he loved Trintignant and lost control during a passionate argument. During the period of the case, Noir Désir's record sales rocketed - but many fans have never forgiven Cantat for betraying their idealism.

The death of Trintignant provoked widespread public grief - and anger. Her violent end highlighted the issue of domestic violence, and huge numbers of people attended public demonstrations and protested at a perceived lack of resources and convictions in France. The Cantat trial became akin to a test case for domestic abuse; victim support groups held massive public demonstrations around France and called for greater protection of those suffering conjugal abuse.

Noir Désir, with Cantat on the leftCantat was eventually found guilty of killing Trintignant and was sentenced to eight years in prison. A Noir Désir retrospective released in 2005 was promoted by his bandmates, who delicately referred to the 'absence' of their singer.

Trintignant was buried in Père Lachaise in Paris, final resting place of other tragic figures like Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison. A small Seine-side square named after her lies just around the corner from Morrison's former Paris apartment in the Marais.

Noir Désir, Cantat's band, are at best an acquired taste for non-French people. Their mix of punk aggression and self-righteous protest-song posturing makes for lumpen joyless sonic sludge that values politicised lyrics over musical content. Sure enough, Cantat's fans refer to him as the French Jim Morrison or the French Jeff Buckley; this should be enough to warn away discerning music lovers.

In short, most of Noir Désir's music is awful - but there are two flashes of quality in their back catalogue. One is the vicious guitar riff of 1992 single 'Tostaky', wasted on a clumsy and tuneless song. The other is an untypically catchy acoustic pop song that was a massive hit across the continent in 2001; it's called 'Le Vent Nous Portera' ('The Wind Will Carry Us'):

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Nuggets from our archive

2006 - Review of Neosupervital's debut album, written by Doctor Binokular. The famously compelling review, complete with pie charts that compare the angst of Neosupervital with the angst of the reviewer. As you do.