The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

French Letter


Another day, another post about Serge Gainsbourg. But how can we help it? The man still exerts a profound influence on French and international pop music. Besides, even almost two decades after his death, he's still making news.

The poster for 'Gainsbourg (Vie Heroique)' by Joann SfarWhile exclusively revealing that the former Gainsbourg-Birkin residence lies in the shadow of Chateau French Letter, we mentioned in passing that a film has been made of Gainsbourg's life. Well, the first brief trailer has appeared in French cinemas, so we'll take the opportunity to tell you more.

'Gainsbourg (Vie Heroique)' - the part in brackets means 'heroic life' - will be released on 10 January 2010. It is directed by Joann Sfar, and is an adaptation of the director's own graphic novel about Serge. (By 'graphic novel' we mean a long-form comic book, not a saucy piece of prose.) The story begins with young Lucien Ginsburg, a Jewish boy in Nazi-occupied Paris, and ends with Gainsbarre, a drunken boor making a show of himself on '80s TV shows. Most importantly, though, in the middle it features Serge Gainsbourg, who made some of pop's most thrilling records.

The lead role is taken by theatre actor Eric Elmosnino, who has transformed himself into an uncanny double of the great man. Other parts go to more recognisable French screen players: award-winning young actress Sara Forestier plays France Gall; Laetitia Casta plays Brigitte Bardot and Anna Mougalis plays Juliette Greco.

As for the role of Jane Birkin, that's a story in itself. Gainsbourg's most famous creative and romantic partner is played by Lucy Gordon, an English actress who appeared in Spiderman 3 and a few lower-profile films. However, on 20 May of this year, two days before her 29th birthday and shortly after the final cut of the movie was screened privately, Gordon hung herself in her Paris apartment. Unconfirmed reports suggest that she had been deeply affected by the suicide of a friend.

Of course, mere impersonation isn't going to make for a good movie. Gainsbourg's complex nature and extraordinary story provide a considerable challenge for Sfar and his first film as a director.

Here is the 40-second trailer for 'Gainsbourg (Vie Heroique)'. Elmosnino, wreathed in smoke, perfectly captures the surprising effeminacy of late-'60s Serge. (This 1965 TV interview shows similar flickers of campness in Gainsbourg.) Gordon, for her part, does a good take of young Birkin the doe-eyed ingenue and improbable scandaliser of a generation. No prizes for guessing which piece of music soundtracks this clip:

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Much has been made here in France of Phoenix and their growing popularity in North America, with reference to two sold-out shows in New York's Central Park at the end of last month. However, these weren't huge outdoor events on the scale of, say, Paul Simon's legendary shows in 1981 and 1991 - the French band's gigs were in an area of the Park called the Rumsey Playfield as part of a cultural series called SummerStage.

Similarly, you may also have seen Justice and their 2008 documentary 'A Cross The Universe', which chronicled their eventful U.S. tour. (Highlights include a quickie marriage and an arrest for assault.) That pair's spiritual forefathers were celebrated in LCD Soundsystem's fantastic 2005 single 'Daft Punk Is Playing At My House'. And celebrity blogger Perez Hilton has taken under his wing a French singer called Sliimy, a cross musically and physically between Mika and Prince. So, pop from France has found a niche in the American music scene.

Ooh La L.A.!Attempting to build on this, while Phoenix were rocking New York a dedicated French music festival called 'Ooh La L.A!' took place in Los Angeles. As reported by Les Inrockuptibles, three shows took place over the weekend of 23-25 September at the Henry Fonda Theater on Hollywood Boulevard.

(And yes, French people really do say "ooh la la!" - though it seems to us that the most common users are irate drivers and excitable sports commentators. At the risk of destroying your image of France, it's not really something a pouty Parisian model or extrovert Breton villager would utter.)

The first night's bill featured Sebastien Tellier, still telling the unfunny joke that is his 'Sexuality' album. (However, as we reported last February, his live show is worth the ticket price just to hear him play the wonderful 'La Ritournelle'.) Also playing were a French Letter favourite - Cocoon, the Clermont-Ferrand folk-pop duo who've become hugely successful in France. (How could you not be charmed by an album called 'My Friends All Died In A Plane Crash' and released on a label called Sober And Gentle?)

And then there was piano-pop artist Gonzales. Real name Jason Beck, he's actually Canadian but following a few years in Berlin he's now resident in France. He produced both 'Let It Die' and 'The Reminder' for Feist. On 18 May he set a world record by performing a solo concert that lasted 27 hours, 3 minutes and 44 seconds. And his piano-playing hands were cast as those of Serge Gainsbourg in the forthcoming biopic on the great man, though we read that his contribution hasn't made the final cut.

Unfortunately his recent music is nowhere near as interesting as those little pieces of trivia. But back in 1999 and 2000 he released some catchy tunes on the Kitty-Yo label, the best of which was a slinky single called 'Let's Groove Again'.

Rather appropriately, the second night of the festival starred Hollywood Mon Amour (the '80s movie theme version of Nouvelle Vague) and Franco-Finnish indie duo The Dø, whose singer Olivia Merilahti is quite irritating. Sadly, French Letter favourite Emilie Simon had to cancel for personal reasons (a bereavement, apparently) and she was replaced by Soko, the acoustic singer-songer whose track 'I'll Kill Her' became something of an internet hit.

The final night of 'Ooh La L.A!' was dedicated to French electronica. Brodinski and The Shoes are both from the north-eastern city of Reims, also home to Yuksek, while Jamaica are a Parisian duo formerly known as Poney Poney (not to be confused with fellow French bands Poney Express, Poni Hoax or Pony Pony Run Run).

Aside from the electronica/Reims clique, you'd be hard pushed to construe any kind of coherent French scene from the 'Ooh La L.A!' line-up. For one thing, none of the artists currently perform in French, apart from the absent Emilie Simon's previous album, 'Végétal'. Still, it's a good time for French bands to head for America. And, combined with annual global Fête de la Musique celebrations such as Let's French in Dublin, world domination seems to be on the agenda.

We've already raved at length about Cocoon and Emilie Simon so here's that Gonzales song we mentioned earlier, 'Let's Groove Again':

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You might remember that the top album in our Best French Music of 2008 list was 'Don Lee Doo' by Kim.

Kim live at the Maison Aquitaine in Paris, 21 October 2009Well, the Bordeaux electro-popper has just released the follow-up - his 18th long-player in only 15 years and he's still a young man. Fortunately, in the case of Kim Stanislas Giani, quality is quantity: 'Mary Lee Doo' is another cracker. (It even has its own charming little video trailer.)

You may have guessed from the title that this new record shares a theme with its predecessor - apparently it's the second part of a trilogy. And there's certainly some continuity in sound; Giani clearly still loves classic Prince and Kate Bush and, says you, what more recommendation could you want?

 Well, there's even more reason to check out the new Kim album. 'Mary Lee Doo' isn't just a tribute to '80s electro-pop - there's a more romantic and wistful feeling created with non-electronic instruments like bass and acoustic guitar. 'Solid Rock' has a breezy '60s feel and the excellent 'Solenn' shares the driving '70s groove of Fleetwood Mac's 'Rumours'.

And it's not all retro influences: 'Never Come Back 2 U' may have a Prince-ly title but it sounds more like contemporary U.S. R n' B, as does album closer 'Move On'.

Kim recently played a special show at the Aquitaine tourism and cultural centre in Paris. (Bordeaux is in the Aquitaine region, you see.) Starting off behind a table of small vintage keyboards and electronic devices (including one that seemed to be just a random array of grey plastic buttons), he then moved onto acoustic guitar (above right) and eventually even shunned the microphone. Point being: his songs work without electricity, which is handy in the storm-battered south-west of France. But then he hopped over to the retro synths again for the smashing 'Radio Grady'.

You can check out Kim's tunes, past and present, at his MySpace page or website. No video for any of the 'Mary Lee Doo' tracks yet, so here's something off 'Don Lee Doo' to give you a flavour of Kim - 'When The River Turns Around':

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Your blogger has just become the CLUAS War Correspondent (Paris).

With sickening inevitability, Ireland have been drawn to play France in the World Cup qualifying play-off, which leaves us deep in enemy territory. Our local baker insists to us that he has no croissants left, despite the smell of freshly-baked bread. The metro won't stop for us, just speeding by the platform as the driver cackles madly. And waiters are even more obnoxious than usual, taking our order with a sneery 'Fais chier, putain d'irlandais!'

Mindful of our prestigious position as your representative in France, your War Corr. (P.) will not descend to their level, though we're no longer tipping the waiters.

This blog has featured French football on many occasions. Just last week we told you about a song of love for irritating French coach Raymond Domenech - 'Je Kiffe Raymond' by Catherine Ringer (that's "ran-jay" to you), singer with Les Rita Mitsouko. The title is a slang way of saying "J'aime Raymond" ("I Love Raymond"), not a phrase ever used by a good 99% of French people.

Still, we can learn from this so start practising: "zhe keef Trap"; "zhe keef le Duffer" and (if you're feeling controversial) "zhe keef Andy Reid avec la grande derriere. Où est Andy Reid?"

What can you expect French fans to be singing in Croke Park on 14 November? Fortunately, there won't be any of the PSG ultras with their bizarre mix of stiff-arm salutes and the drum roll from 'Bolero'. Your ordinary Jacques le Frenchman will be singing 'La Marseillaise' before, during and after the match so you'll need a bit more than a half-hearted "shinnafeenafall" to match that. As we explained here, in remembrance of France's 1998 World Cup win you'll hear a chorus of the trumpet break from the Hermes House Band's cover of 'I Will Survive'. (In the same style, the riff from 'Seven Nation Army' also gets sung.)

As for chants, a favourite is "Qui ne saute pas n'est pas Français! Hey!" ("Whoever doesn't jump isn't French! Hey!", sung while bouncing up and down.) Should the worst happen and we ship three goals at Croker, our visitors will celebrate with "Et un, et deux, et trois-zéro!" Win, lose or draw there'll be plenty of "Domenech, démissione!" ("Domenech, resign!")

As we said, we won't lower ourselves to snide and uncharitable attacks on France and its football community. On a completely unrelated note, here are former Marseille duo Chris Waddle and Basile Boli with their single 'We've Got A Feeling'. Incredibly, the video is even more cringeworthy than the song: 


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The major French music news these days is the return of Charlotte Gainsbourg. The Palme d'Or-winning actress is currently working on an album called 'IRM' in Los Angeles with Beck, and this week the title track has been made available on her website and by promo copy.

Charlotte GainsbourgYou may recall that Gainsbourg's previous album, the excellent '5:55' that came out in 2006, was made in collaboration with Air, Jarvis Cocker, Neil Hannon and Nigel Godrich. And the strings on that record, evoking those on the classic singles by Charlotte's old fella, were arranged by David Campbell, who is the father of Beck Hansen. (The Frenchwoman surely wins any 'my da's more famous than yours' debates that spring up in the studio.)

With a new collaborator comes a new direction. Where the lush and melodic '5:55' sounded like a Serge tribute album, with all parties repaying their debt to the great man, 'IRM' seems to tip its hat to The Beatles and their more experimental moments. Like 'Tomorrow Never Knows' or George's Indian-influenced songs, it's mainly in one chord and features a mantra-style vocal delivery and pounding basic rhythm. The lyrics are Lennon-esque in their visual quality and even drop in a reference to 'Glass Onion': as Charlotte explains in this short preview video the song was inspired when she was having MRI scans (in French, IRM) during treatment to remove a brain tumour in 2007.

Unfortunately, the track is boring, self-indulgent stuff. At times Charlotte lapses into a nagging whine that sounds like Dolores O'Riordan, which is a low point in any singer's career. And God rest poor George but everyone always skips over his Indian songs and with good reason. (Has anyone ever listened in full more than once to 'Within You Without You' on 'Sgt Pepper'?)

The first single, 'Heaven Can Wait', will be released on 19 October, and the album is down for release before the end of this year. We still think Charlotte is ultra-cool so let's hope the rest of the record is better than its title song. She's a neighbour of your correspondent: it'd be embarrassing to not like her album and then run into her in the queue at the bakery. (It's a better class of problem than having badly-dressed Rathmines bedsit singer-songers corner you in Whelans.)

You can listen to the track 'IRM' on Charlotte Gainsbourg's MySpace. Should you wish to buy it, head over to her website. Here's a homemade video for 'IRM':


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We're down to the final World Cup qualifiers and you in Ireland are wondering if we can pip Italy for the automatic place in South Africa. Italy blowing their run-in isn't too fanciful - France had a famous last-furlong collapse in their final two games to reach USA '94. Needing only one point from two home matches, Gerard Houllier's side conceded dramatic late winners to both Israel and Bulgaria, thus missing the finals.

If the Irish end up in the play-offs, we could be drawn to play France, who are also likely to finish group runners-up. Serbia seem to have the top spot secure, and a win for les bleus against Brian Kerr's much-improved Faroe Islands tonight in the Breton town of Guingamp would secure a play-off with top seeding.

Your correspondent was at the Stade de France for the home team's recent game against Romania, which finished 1-1. France couldn't muster up any spirit or fire to seriously test their lightweight visitors, and most French fans were appalled at their side's insipid performance. The wisdom of the crowd held one man to blame: coach Raymond Domenech. The chant 'Domenech, démissione!' ('Domenech, resign!') could be heard by the TV audience.

Watch your back, monsieur DomenechIn an extraordinary achievement, Domenech (right) has managed to make himself more hated than Nicolas Sarkozy. Such is his unpopularity that his image is no longer shown on the big screen at the Stade de France during games, to avoid provoking a cacophony of boos and jeers. By turns arrogant and ingratiating in press conferences, the former Bordeaux and PSG midfielder combines personal unlikeability with professional incompetence. His belief in astrology resulted in Robert Pires and David Trezeguet being frozen out of the national squad for the heinous crime of having the wrong star signs. On being interviewed live post-match after France were easily knocked out of Euro 2008, his first reaction was to propose marriage to the show's presenter back in studio - his partner, journalist Estelle Denis. And France's march to the 2006 World Cup Final is credited to Zinedine Zidane, who is believed to have staged an internal coup to take over team affairs following a poor start.

But now, in this crucial last week of qualifiers, Domenech has found a rather improbable ally.

Step forward Catherine Ringer, pronounced 'ran-jey', singer with colourful '80s pop duo Les Rita Mitsouko. (Her creative and romantic partner in the group, Fred Chichin, died two years ago.) Ringer has written and recorded a song of support for the much-abused Domenech. It's called 'Je Kiffe Raymond', a slang way of saying 'I love Raymond', and apparently it's sincere on her part.

There's nothing special about the tune, a whimsical little ditty that would attract no attention were it not for the subject. The lyrics are fairly tame too: "I love Raymond/Not bad, this guy!/He has the effect on me of a really handsome guy, this Domenech/A great look/he doesn't give a damn what people say about him..." And so forth.

The song is available on Ringer's website to download, though goodness knows why. You can listen to it below while staring at a photo of this unlikely pairing. It's been a long way down since 'Marcia Baila':

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The current CLUAS Gig of the Fortnight is the show on 6 October at The Joinery Gallery in Dublin by Thinguma*jigsaw, the Norwegian pair who came to Ireland for a while and ended up making a fairly dark and idiosyncratic kind of alt-folk. (Because that's what coming to live in Ireland does to some people.) They should be good in concert.

ArltAnd what has this to do with your Paris correspondent?

So Thinguma*jigsaw haven't any French links. But there are a few support acts on the night. First up is Limerick's hugely impressive Peter Delaney, followed by American troubadour Sport Murphy. Okay, no Frenchness so far.

But then you have a duo called Arlt (right). And Arlt are French. Her name is Eloise Decazes. But he calls himself Sing Sing and that's the kind of thing that usually has us edging towards the door.

Fortunately, their songs are better than his nom de rock. Arlt's brand of folk has a distinctive French feel to it - not just because they sing in their native language, but because Decazes croons and trills like she's in some smoky pre-war Parisian music hall. And their songs are a lot more melodic than the monotonous bobo-busking that passes for contemporary chanson française.

If you're one of these people who never bother seeing support acts and stay rooted in some nearby pub until five minutes before the main act, then you're almost as much an eejit as someone who calls themselves Sing Sing. Arlt are grand in their way, but Peter Delaney is really good and may very well steal the show. Go and hear.

Anyway, Arlt. They'll have an album out soon, but in the meantime you can check out their MySpace page for tunes and the like.

And if you want to see what you'll be giving up your pre-gig pint for, here they are in concert singing 'De Haut En Bas', which means 'from top to bottom':

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Do you remember how we were talking about Yann Tiersen and his soundtrack to 'Amélie' and another album of his called 'L'Absente' which was like a darker vision of the film music? You do.

And do you remember how we told you that Neil Hannon collaborated with Tiersen on 'Les Jours Tristes', which appeared on both albums? You do again. Haven't you a great memory?

Yann Tiersen and Neil Hannon Black SessionWell, it wasn't the first time that these two played together. Two years before 'Amélie', in 1999, Tiersen released a live album called 'Black Session' (right, with the bad album art). It was recorded at the Transmusicales festival in Rennes for a radio show on France Inter called 'C'est Lenoir', still the best music show on the French airwaves.

(The Black Sessions are the show's regular live concerts, usually staged and broadcast from the Radio France studios near the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The title is a play on the name of the presenter, Bernard Lenoir, 'noir' being the French for 'black'. When the show invites an artist for an acoustic performance without an audience, the result is a White Session. You can hear past Black Sessions and White Sessions on the C'est Lenoir homepage.)

For this show Tiersen invited a variety of singers to join him, mostly French vocalists like Dominique A and Mathieu Boogaerts and (urgh!) Bertrand Cantat of Noir Désir. And Neil Hannon popped up too.

The Divine Comedy man sings two songs. First, he performs his own 'Geronimo' from the 'Promenade' album. Then, joined by a string quartet and with Tiersen on toy piano, Hannon sings David Bowie's 'Life On Mars'.

And here's the proof, below and at this link (as the embedded video seems a bit unstable). From the Transmusicales Festival in Rennes in 1999, broadcast on C'est Lenoir on France Inter and released on the album 'Black Session', here are Neil Hannon and Yann Tiersen with their version of 'Life On Mars':

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Here's a beautiful little tune that's also a bit mysterious and maybe even romantic. We shall explain:

There's a girl musician called Luna and a boy musician called Miras Manus. We don't know anything about Luna and only very little about Miras Manus: he's from Brittany and he has both a blog and a MySpace page. Both acts have featured on CQFD, the new bands community website run by leading French music/culture magazine Les Inrockuptibles. On Miras Manus' MySpace is a track called 'Quietly Burning', a rather glum bit of shoegazing indie. (His other tracks are electronic and more enjoyable.) So far so what, says you.

LunamiraWell, it seems that Luna and Miras Manus have joined forces and become Lunamira. We don't know if they've gone the whole hog and are actually doing kissing and holding and arguing about household cleaning yet. (They haven't: see Luna's comment below.) We haven't even found a picture of them, apart from their CQFD avatar (right). All we know is that they've recorded a track together - which happens to be a new version of 'Quietly Burning'.

And oh! The difference that Luna makes! Suddenly this dour, plodding demo becomes something dreamy and melodic and as romantic as its title. The drumming is tighter, the guitar chimes and a neat little bass riff comes in after around 45 seconds. The male voice (Miras Manus?) now sings like he's lifted up his head and seen the night sky for the first time. And a female voice (Luna?) joins him on the chorus, which now lifts off gently like a hot air balloon. The whole thing is understated and subtle, but very memorable indeed.

(If there isn't love happening, Lunamira, please excuse us for our overactive imagination.)

You can hear the excellent 'Quietly Burning' by Lunamira at their profile page on the CQFD site.

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Even if you don't read La Blogothèque you may be familiar with their series of Takeaway Shows - Vincent Moon's films of hip indie acts busking or playing impromptu concerts around Paris. The series has inspired variants around the world.

A quiet night in with Bon IverLately, though, the Takeaway Shows have lost their central concept of spontaneous public performance. This summer there have been sessions recorded backstage at festivals, an altogether more exclusive and controllable environment. And Moon seems to have jumped the shark by featuring Tom Jones in the latter's New York hotel room - the whole thing feels contrived and cynical.

Now La Blogothèque has come up with a new video series, Les Soirées de Poche (loosely translated as 'intimate/pocket-sized evenings'). Quite simply, the idea is to film indie artists playing for a few people in the home of an ordinary Paris person. (We're not sure how this person is chosen and we're a little cynical about how 'ordinary' he/she may be, but we'll let that pass for the moment.)

Where the Takeaway Shows have a hand-held DIY feel, Les Soirées de Poche have more serious production values. The concerts are carefully staged - the films have soft lighting, multiple cameras, perfect sound and lingering close-ups. Franco-German cultural channel Arte are involved, hence their logo in the top left corner of the videos.

So far the series has featured Bon Iver (right), Patrick Watson, Ron Sexsmith, Beirut and Herman Dune.

But here's our favourite to date: Andrew Bird and St Vincent together in the same punter's apartment. (The film is 30 minutes long and every second of that is enthralling.) Thanks to Lihan for telling us about it - Château French Letter is available for any future shows:


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Nuggets from our archive

2002 - Interview with Rodrigo y Gabriela, by Cormac Looney. As with Damien Rice's profile, this interview was published before Rodrigo y Gabriela's career took off overseas. It too continues to attract considerable visits every month to the article from Wikipedia.