Monday, 30 May 2011

RIP Gil Scott Heron

When Gil Scott Heron's album Spirits was released I went looking for it in the Glasgow branch of Virgin. I was confronted by the usual problem - where would you find it?

Under G for Gil, S for Scott, or H for Heron? And more fundamentally - was he in the Rock/Pop A-Z at all, or in the Jazz, Blues or Dance sections? Could be anywhere.

I asked an assistant, who answered with a blunt honesty: "If he's rock or pop, he's in the Rock/Pop A-Z, if he's jazz it's in the jazz section, or if it's blues or dance, look there."

I found it eventually, more by chance than design I think. I can't remember what section it eventually turned up in.

His music was like that. I remember him describing the problem of falling between easy genres, and how he was most probably classified as "Miscellaneous", and if there was a one word definition for jazz, that was probably it.

Most of the instant obituaries that popped up at the weekend referred to him as the 'godfather of rap'. Probably true, but he was much more than that. Blues, jazz and funk all infused his music, shot through with a poetic voice that few could match.

The Revolution will not be televised was held up as his high water mark, but even this wasn't the angry radical call-to-arms that some took it to be, instead it was a very funny and literate poke at how the media misrepresented the black community and used its issues for their own ends.

Primarily he was a poet, with a humorous and intelligent style, able to take political issues and reduce them to the human level, giving a voice to the people affected by those in high office and bringing those who abuse their power the treatment they deserved.

He had every right to be angry, more so than many other artists who made a good living as angry young men with guitars, but he was intelligent enough to see past the facades that are so easily put up to conceal the picture. While he poked fun at Nixon, Watergate, Spiro T Agnew and Ray-gun, songs like "Peace go with you brother" and "Your daddy loves you" reveal a man more concerned with the human than the political.

There's no denying that being a black artist made his career more of an uphill struggle than it might have been were he white. Similarly his drug problems probably silenced a voice that we really needed hearing loud and clear during the horror that was the Bush years.

There was a conspiracy theory in the late 80s that the Reagan government covertly allowed the ghettos to become saturated with cocaine and crack to snuff out any dissent and potential unrest. Possibly true, possibly not, but drugs certainly reduced Gil Scott Heron to a shadow of himself, releasing only two studio albums since the early 80s.

I saw him a couple of times during what was his later years, and despite his lack of record company support he remained a hugely impressive live artist. A disused cinema in the west end of Glasgow, with a friend too who is also now departed, was the first time, a couple of years later at the more respectable Queen's Hall in Edinburgh was the second. Both times it was an exceptional experience. Another show at the Pavilion in Glasgow was cancelled on account of a drugs bust at customs, and the downwards spiral of his later years began in earnest.

There were more appearances, and more records, but even his performance in the critically regarded "I'm New Here" was referred to in The Wire magazine as sounding like a sample on his own record. Awesome though it was, the full running time was around the same as the live version of Angel Dust on the live Tales of Gil Scott Heron release almost 20 years earlier. It felt at times more like a collection of posthumous works, given the finest production polish, but essentially a haunted collection of recordings of a voice that was not longer with us and hadn't been here for some years.

He played in Paris when I lived there, although I didn't get to the show I think he was better appreciated as an artist in Europe than he was in the US. The fact that he didn't fit into a commercial genre was seen as something to his credit rather than a problem.

This track comes from his 1977 album Bridges, an album that saw him working with long-time collaborator Brian Jackson and recounts his experience of playing at a festival near Marseille.

When I initially thought about starting this blog, I thought it should be wide enough in its scope to feature French acts, acts that sing in French or were influenced by France or French culture, or even acts that were playing there, and this track was actually one that I thought firmly fitted the bill.

While it might me more properly categorised under "Miscellaneous" than under "French music", it certainly merits inclusion.

Peace go with you brother.

Friday, 27 May 2011

News: Martin Solveig and the French Open Tennis

With the French Open under way, I thought it appropriate to give this video a mention on the blog, featuring as it does the Roland Garros tennis stadium.

Martin Solveig's Hello was a top ten hit in France, and made the top 20 in the UK, and number one in other European countries. It still enjoys significant airplay in the UK, particularly on music TV channels, probably on the strength of the video.

Solveig, from Paris, was awarded the Chevalier Des Arts et Des Lettres from the French Minister of Culture in 2009 in recognition of his contribution to the arts and literature,

The song comes from the DJ and producer's album Smash, his fifth studio album, which is released in June 2011.

The video was filmed at Roland Garros the day before the 2010 Open started and was filmed in front of a live audience.

It features cameos by French number one ranked tennis star Gaël Monfil and Serbia's Novak Djokovic, the World number two ranked player.Neither would win the open in 2010, but both came out champions in this video.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

News: Bob Dylan and France

Today marks the 70th birthday of Bob Dylan, a musician for whom the term living legend could have been invented.

Dylan, who was awarded Legion d'Honneur in L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres was influenced from an early age by French poetry, and acknowledged this throughout his career

He of course mentioned Francoise Hardy in his poem "Some other kinds of songs" on the sleevenotes of his "Another Side of Bob Dylan" album.

He has been since the beginning a hugely popular act in France, his key 1966 tour stopping off at L'Olympia in Paris, more recent gigs seeing him filling stadiums and arenas in France.

Personally I saw him play the Zénith in Paris in '93, and although not the best show I've seen by Dylan, it was certainly a memorable one.

Following his receint gig in China, Bob Dylan wrote on his website: "Everybody knows by now that there's a gazillion books on me either out or coming out in the near future.

"So I'm encouraging anybody who's ever met me, heard me or even seen me, to get in on the action and scribble their own book. You never know, somebody might have a great book in them."

I suspect a book about France's influence on Dylan - and his influence on France - woule be one that deserves to be written at some point.

Strangely there are not a great number of French versions of Dylan songs, but as this clip from 1984 in which he was interviewed for French TV shows - along with live footage - he is a hugely respected and influential artist in France as much as anywhere else.

Monday, 23 May 2011

News: Lady Gaga or Metal Urbain? Lady Coca-Cola

The release of Lady Gaga's new album Born This Way is probably the most anticipated release of the year so far, a collection of power ballads, reheated club anthems and a few decent songs combined with a marketing strategy that would make any successful presidential campaign looks half hearted.

The four RedOne produced tracks are probably the ones that will attract the most critical acclaim, and the Moroccan producer has also worked with Mylene Farmer on her most recent album which has so far produced two number one singles in France. Her third single - Lonely Lisa - will be another of the RedOne tracks on the collection.

Of course, there were claims that Gaga's Born This Way was just a bit close to Farmer's song, Libertine.

However, I'd like to think the biggest artistic influence on Lady Gaga from France was Metal Urbain's song Lady Coca-Cola from 1977, a great slice of still-futuristic sounding post-punk art rock, that came out before most of the world was even embracing punk rock.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Chart: Gary Fico - Le Même que Moi

One of the interesting things about the French sinbgles charts turning over comparatively slowly to those in the UK is that I realised today that without trying I had already covered four of the songs in the top five in the last few weeks.

M Pokora is still at number one, Magic System at two while Amaury Vassili is at number three, still selling well despite not winning the Eurovision song contest in Germany. Mylene Farmer's Bleu Noir, her second number one from the album of the same name is at number five.

All have been featured at some point in the blog, so it's only fair that I give a mention to the only one missing, Gary Fico's Le Même que Moi sitting at number four.

It's a bouncy slice of modern pop from the 24-year-old Ile de France singer songwriter, whose album Funambule, which features the song, is released in May 2011. He's got tour dates around France in June and July.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

News: Merzhin on Taratata

Breton band Merzhin played on the French TV programme Taratata last night, a special edition of the programme dedicated to Celtic music.

The show also featured Andrea Corr, Donovan, Alan Stivell and Nolwenn Leroy.

I covered Merzhin last month, and I'm only too happy to feature them again.

For me, the highlight of the programme had to be their version of the song The Partisan, a number originally made famous by Leonard Cohen, his version being in French and English like the Merzhin cover.

The song, originally titled "La Complainte du Partisan" was written in 1943 by Anna Marly, a Russian-born French singer songwriter. It was written while in London, where she fled following the fall of France, and came into contact with the Free French Forces.

She also wrote another better-know song Le Chant de Partisan, which was adopted as an anthem by French resistance forces in France and in exile, used as an unofficial national anthem while the Nazis banned La Marseillaise.

Leonard Cohen's version of the song led to many other cover versions of the song, including interpretations from Joan Baez to political punk bands like Red Union and Workers' United Front.

On account of the song le Chant de Partisan, Marly was named a chevalier de La Légion d'Honneur by François Mitterrand in 1985.

The Merzhin version is closer to the Leonard Cohen version than the Anna Marly original, and although it features more instrumental colour than Cohen's stark original, it retains the haunting quality of a remarkable song.

The band also played the song L'Étincelle from the 2010 album Plus loin vers l'ouest and were briefly interviewed for the programme.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Chart: M. Pokora - À nos Actes Manqués

A huge pop tune today, with France's number one À nos Actes Manqués by M. Pokora.

The singer, who also goes by the name Matthieu Tota, featured in Popstars in 2003, and was briefly in the band Linkup that was formed as a result.

When they split following an unsuccessful follow-up to their number one debut Mon Etoile, he began a solo career and has so far released four albums.

His second solo album, Player, which featured a duet with Ricky Martin, topped the French album charts in 2006

His third, 2008's MP3, saw a move towards English lyrics, and collaboration with Timbaland on the track Dangerous which went to number one in France.

Mise à Jour, album number four, came out last year, and a special version of the album came out in April including À nos Actes Manqués.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Live: Team Ghost and Anoraak - Oui Love tour

A reminder that the Oui Love tour gets under way this weekend, with French bands Team Ghost and Anoraak playing some dates across the UK.

Last month's Record Store Day saw the release of a split single by Team Ghost and Anoraak on the Sonic Cathedral label, with each band remixing the other's work.

More details here >

Team Ghost have finished recording their debut album in France and Anoraak's Wherever the Sun Sets album is available now on Grand Blanc records.

The tour dates are:

Saturday, May 14 - Brighton - The Great Escape
Monday, May 16 - Bristol - Louisiana
Tuesday, May 17 - Birmingham - Hare & Hounds
Wednesday, May 18 - Manchester - The Castle
Thursday, May 19 - Liverpool - Liverpool Sound City
Friday, May 20 - London - CAMP Basement

Commercial break: Uffie and Evian babies

A new advert for French mineral water Evian is on TV in the UK, and its giving an innovative French electro/rap artist a far wider audience than they would normally get the chance to be heard by.

The advert is itself a clever piece, continuing the brand's 'baby' concept and 'live young' slogan from their earlier adverts, including their memorable previous "Roller Babies" campaign.

The music is by French American artist Uffie, a cover version of the 1981 Tom Tom Club song Wordy Rappinghood, a top ten single in the UK.

Uffie has been based in France since she was 15, having previously lived in Hong Kong and Florida, She studied fashion in Paris, and signed to Ed Banger records in 2006 after her vocals were used by her then-boyfriend DJ Fiedz for his track Uffie and Me.

Her subsequent releases included the critically acclaimed debut proper Pop the Glock, and there were collaborations with Justice and Mr Oizo and a couple of EPs before releasing her debut album Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans on Ed Banger Records in 2010.

The album would go on to spend 12 weeks in the French album chart and it was nominated for the best electronic albun in France'e Victoires de la Musique.

Wordy Rappinghood was produced by her Ed Banger records labelmate DJ Mehdi, and released as a single last month.

More on the Evian baby inside campaign here >

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Eurovision: Dan Ar Braz and L'Héritage des Celtes (1996)

With the Eurovision Song Contest across the airwaves this weekend, I thought it worthwhile to take look at one of my favourite French entries in recent years.

Given that I've already featured Sébastien Telliér's remarkable appearance in 2009, I'm looking at Diwanit Bugale, the 1996 entry by Dan Ar Braz and L'Héritage des Celtes at the contest that was held in Norway in 1996.

The song was a surprise as it was the first ever French entry that was not in French language, being sung entirely in Breton. This year's entry, Sognu by Amaury Vassili, is also in one of France's regional languages, being performed entirely in Corsican.

The 90s had seen Ireland take an unprecedented position in Eurovision, having won the competition for 92, 93 and 94, Norway winning in '95.

The winner of 1996's competition was to again be Ireland, with singer Eimear Quinn's The Voice.

Diwanit Bugale came 19th among 23 entries, a very poor result but possibly one that came about as a consequence of France's nuclear testing in the South Pacific being reflected in the international vote.

There was international protest and calls for boycotts following France's decision to resume testing in June '95, President Mitterrand finally confirming in January after the sixth test that it would stop.

Most interesting from the point of view for a Scottish viewer like myself was the inclusion of Capercaillie vocalist Karen Matheson in the band. Given that Scotland isn't a country according to Eurovision, this is as close as we've got in recent years.

AS a Scottish representative n Eurovision, it's certainly a big step forward from Lulu, and the song certainly raised awareness of the Breton language internationally and of the common Celtic heritage in western Europe.

Eimear Quinn would herself record a cover version of Diwanit Bugale for her 2006 album Gatherings, and her 2001 album Through the Lens of a Tear leaned heavily on Breton mythology.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Review: Kinky Yukky Yuppy - Escape

Kinky Yukky Yuppy have probably got a mountain to climb to convince people that they're worth hearing on account of their name, but it doesn't take much of a listen to discover that the group from Evreux in Normandy are actually something quite special.

From the band's name, the cover of their new album Escape (M & O music) to their song titles - tracks like Disco Stu and H.o.t.s - you cound be forgiven for thinking they were some kind of ironic indie act, the kind of chancers that you might have stumbled across second or third on the bill in a student union some time in the mid 90s.

But don't judge a book by the cover. One thing I've enjoyed about this blog is the opportunity to be surprised by new bands or material I've never heard before, and this band certainly managed that.

In terms of comparisons you could look at Biffy Clyro. Not that les Kinky actually sound like Scotland's favourite festival headliners, just that they - like the Biffy make exactly the kind of rock that is perfect for the 2011 audience. Classy and sophisticated but with some grit and flavour, anthemic and widescreen without being vacious, melodic without being bland.

You could say the same about the Foo Fighters, a band that has had huge commercial success but without compromising their rock authenticity. That's the kind of magic that's going on here.

It's a tricky formula to get right, but Kinky Yukky Yuppy manage to do it. Now if they could just do something about the name... ;-)

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Eurovision: Amaury Vassili

France goes into the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest in Dusseldorf on Saturday with the track Sognu, sung by Amaury Vassili.

It's an unusual entry as it is sung in Corsican, and very much an operatic style song. But as he is one of the youngest professional tenors in the world, it is a style that he is familiar with.

To those unfamiliar with Corsican - like me - you might be forgiven for thinking that it was actually in Italian, a language much more associated with opera.

In short it works well, and a bonus for giving one of France's minority languages an international audience.

Vassili comes from Rouen, and his debut album Vincero, released in 2009, sold over 250,000 copies internationally. His second album Cantero was released in November 2010 and like his debut it went into the top ten in france.

France automatically qualifies for the final on Saturday.

Since 2000, the UK, Germany, France and Spain have automatically qualified for the Eurovision final, regardless of their positions on the scoreboard in previous Contests because they are the four biggest financial contributors to the EBU. In 2010 Italy also joined this group.

Last year France finished 12th with Allez Ola Olé by Jessy Matador, the winner being germany with Lena's Satellite. Lena is also representing Germany this year.

Speaking to the Eurovision Song Contest 2011 website on May 8, he said: "My first rehearsal was really good."

He added: "I thought it was very hard, since we had a lot of things to check, like the in-ear monitors. Everything was very complicated in the preparations. But when I was on stage, it was very simple."

News: 30 years of François Mitterand

May 10 2011 marks the 30th anniversary of the election of François Mitterand as president of France.

It's an anniversary that is being marked by many in France, with Mitterand being regarded by many with a fondness and respect that he did not always get during his tenure as president.

Although the only Socialist Party president during the Fifth Republic, his actions with regard Rwanda, nuclear testing and the subsequent bombing of the Rainbow Warrior as well as his historical links to Vichy regime made him a controversial figure.

However, his policies with regard co-operation with Germany and other changes introduced under his presidency including the abolition of the death penalty, normalisation of the status of thousands of illegal immigrants and the liberalisation of the media were more welcome.

Few people have had a bigger influence on the shape of modern France than Mitterrand.

In the 80s, singer Barbara was a strong backer of François Mitterand, with the song "Regarde" was written to celebrate the 1981 election victory.

The song, composed just days after the election, appeared on her 1981 album Pantin.

Mitterand decorated her with the Légion d'Honneur after he was re-elected in 1988.

Monday, 9 May 2011

News: Jean Michel Jarre - Essentials and Rarities

Great to hear that there is some new Jean Michel Jarre material coming out, and although some of it is familiar, there are some rarities that are finally seeing the light of day after decades.

The 2 CD set Essentials and Rarities features one disc of his better known material, the second featuring the less familiar music.

The rarities CD, probably the one that generates the most excitement features material from Jarre's pre-Oxygene career, where he was working with electronic music and soundtracks between 1968 and 1973, trying to fuse a more experimental and modern sound with a popular sensibility.

Before Oxygene made him one of the best known musicians in the planet, he released two earlier albums, 1972s Deserted Palaces - a collection of library music for film and TV producers and the soundtrack to the film Les Granges Brûlées.

Tracks from both releases feature on the new collection. Deserted Palaces although available in dubious bootleg form, has been out of print for decades, and Les Granges Brûlées although available on CD is not widely known and has been brought up to the highest possible sound quality.

The album also includes the track Erosmachine and La Cage from a 1970 single, both in their early form and in a 2010 remixed format.

While it could be argued that another Jarre compilation isn't really needed, the rarities disc certainly is. Now all we need is Music for Supermarkets appearing in a remixed HD master format

The album Essentials and Rarities is released on May 30

Friday, 6 May 2011

Rétro: Heldon - Le Voyageur

Heldon were an extraordinary act, a progressive rock band from the 1970s whose music embraced ideas of philosophy, science fiction and radical politics to an alien soundtrack influenced by experimental electronics and the guitar explorations of King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp.

The band made a powerful sound, quite unlike others that were using synths in that period, their aggressive and dark style mixing earthy guitar with a strange and unearthly electronics, predating and influencing much of the industrial and electronic music genre that emerged at the end of the 70s and in the 80s.

The band centred on guitarist Richard Pinhas, who was a student working for a Philosophy Phd in Paris in '68 where he became influenced by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. This track Le Voyageur sees the band collaborating with Deleuze, reciting work by Nietzsche.

The track was originally released as a seven inch single in 1970 under the name Schizo, the band's original name, and given away free. A version also appeared on their debut album, 1974's Electronique Guérilla with the title Ouais Marchais mieux qu'en 68

There would be seven albums released under the Heldon name in the 70s, Allez Teia in '74, It's Always Rock 'n' Roll in 75, Agneta Nilsson in '76, Un Rêve Sans Conséquence Spéciale in '76, Interface in '77 and the final being 1979's Stand By, which featured the extraordinary 22 minute Bolero suite.

Pinhas would also release two solo albums (Rhizosphère in '77 and Chronlyse in '78) before the final Heldon album. Subsequent releases would come out under his name, and his solo material is no less interesting than his Heldon releases.Personal favourites are 1980's Iceland and 1992's DWW. The Heldon name was resurrected for 2001's Only Chaos is Real.

Pinhas remains active, recent work includes material released under the Schizotrope name that saw him working with cyber-punk author Maurice Dantec and more recent collaborations with Japan's Merzbow. He has also continued to release solo works - most recently Metal/Crystal released in autumn 2010, and he continues to perform live with North American dates scheduled for May 2011.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

News: French Absinthe ban lifted

A change in the law of France sees Absinthe - a drink long associated with the country - finally legalised.

Absinthe, La Fée verte, was banned in France in 1914.

Until the ban it had been hugely popular in France, in 1910 the French were drinking 36 million litres of absinthe a year, a far higher consumption than the amount of wine that was being drunk in the country.

It was cheap and its popularity cut across social class, and had a long association with the artistic and literary scene in the late 19th-early 20th century Paris.

The ban came about on account of numerous scare stories linking the drink with madness and criminality.

Pernod, which had been one of the most widely consumed brands of Absinthe until the ban, started to manufacture a "pastiche" of the drink - one that retained the aniseed taste but did not contain the wormwood - once it was made illegal. That too proved to be a rather popular drink in France.

The Absinthe revival really got under way in the UK in the 1990s, when Czech-manufactured Absinth was imported into the country, where it had never been banned unlike in most of mainland Europe.

Manufacture began again in France in 2000, with La Fée Absinthe, although essentially for export only as despite the EU lifing the ban on Absinthe in 1998, France passed a law banning products labelled as "Absinthe" and controlled the permitted ingredients. Manufacturers got round this by labelling their drinks as "Spiritueux à base de plantes d'absinthe".

The legislation was eventually repealed in 2009 following a legal challenge by the manufacturers, and the Senate have finally voted to legalize Absinthe again.

More on the absinthe ban on the BBC website >

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Magic System - Chérie Coco

With the start of May, summer is officially on the way, with most of the UK enjoying several sunny days off work with the royal wedding and the May Day bank holiday.

With the good weather bringing a rush of blood to the head, time for a suitable summer song, and Magic System certainly hits the spot with their afro-influenced rap.

Ambiance a l'africain was a recent top three hit in France, the track and the track below, Chérie Coco coming from their most recent CD, Toutè Kalé, which was released last month.

The four piece have been around since 1996, originating from Abidian in Cote d'Ivoire, originally going under the name of Maggi Cube System. Just a bit of sponsorship going on there!

Their music takes a pinch of rap, R&B, ragga and rai, and have been releasing albums since their 1997 debut Papitou.

They've sold over 1.5 million CDs in Africa, quickly becoming the most popular Afraican act in France, in a career that has seen them wirkiung with Bob Sinclair, Khaled and even footbaler Franck Ribéry.

Live dates in Belgium, Sweden, the Netherlands and also inCcôte d'Ivoire are scheduled for the next few months.

Editorial: May 2011

A quick editorial update from Vive Le Roq HQ for this month, and a special thanks to all who visited the site over the last month.

It was - for the second month in a row - our busiest month ever, with the number of visitors more than double the figure for visits in March.

So 'merci' to all who came by.

I have been particularly pleased this moonth to see the blog getting linked to and discussed by fans of some of the artists I've featured.

Meanwhile, I'm very grateful for the support from record companies, artists and their representatives.

Thanks are especially due to the UK French Music Podcast, and to Francophonie Diffusion for the help and encouragement, and above all for introducing me to some great music.

A big merci as well to Sonic Cathedral and M & O music.

As always, I can be contacted by email at the address johnkilbride AT hotmail DOT com , with the spaces and the appropriate @ and . in the address.

Merci et à bientôt