Thursday, 9 October 2008


30 years ago today, grown men in France were reduced to tears. What event could possibly have caused such a reaction? Incredibly, it was the death of a singer.

Jacques Brel is more than just a singer though. I first came across him in my French A-level, when I did my course work on the legend. It became clear that he is the greatest French language singer/songwriters of all time. Despite the fact that he's not French.

Born in Belgium, 'Petit Jacques' moved to Paris to really pursue his singing career in 1954, and in 1956 Quand on n'a que l'amour (When you only have love) became his breakthrough song.

Brel clearly isn't the greatest singer. His voice is somewhat croaky - perhaps an inevitable result of the many cigarettes he smoked. Where he truly excels though is in his lyrics.
Voir un ami pleurer (To see a friend cry), one of the tracks from the final 'come back' album recorded just a year before Brel's eventual death, is what I think to be the finest example.
Brel knew he was suffering from terminal lung cancer. He sang with only one lung. And he didn't want people to be too upset by this:
"Of course there's wars in Ireland
And people without music
Of course there's no more tenderness
And there's no more America...
But to see a friend cry"

For some reason, Brel's talents haven't really made it to the British shores. Very little French music has, because people can't understand it. But it's a shame - as there's some really talent there, from the bouncy (Madeleine) to the sombre. Some songs have made it to English, but in a very varied style. Terry Jack's Seasons in the sun started off like this:

Quite different, don't you think?

If you've never heard of Brel before, now's your chance. There's video after video on those famous video sharing websites. Have a look if you get chance. You shouldn't be dissapointed.

No comments: