Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Jacques Brel: 35th anniversary

Thirty-fiveyears after his death on October 9 1978, Jacques Brel is recognised not only as one of the finest French language songwriters, but simply as one of the greatest ever.

His work has been interpreted in the English language since the 1960s. Over the years, hundreds of performers , including  David Bowie and Scott Walker, have all recorded memorable versions of Brel's work.

Much of the popularity of his work is down to English versions of his songs that featured in the 1968 Broadway musical Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, where around 25 of Brel's songs were translated by Eric Blau  and Mort Shuman.

Bowie recorded and released versions of Amsterdam and My Death. He recorded Amsterdam in 1970, and it featured on the B side of the Sorrow single released in 1973.

He performed My Death live at the peak of his Ziggy Stardust-era popularity, a version being released on the film of his final concert in London in 1973.

Bowie's versions of Brel songs had been inspired by the versions of the songs that had been recorded by Scott Walker. Walker, who had a hugely successful career as part of the Walker Brothers, covered Brel's songs at the begining of his solo career, clearly showing that as an artist he was going in a different direction to his precvious career as a teen idol. Brel's songs underpinned his first three solo albums, and they would later be collected into a volume entitled Scott Walker sings Jacques Brel.

Another key version of the work of Brel in English came from Scottish singer Alex Harvey, whose version of Next was a hit for The Sensational Alex Harvey Band in 1973. The band were able to effortlessly blend theatrics and progressive rock with a gritty and earthy style. Next was a perfect song for them to cover.

1974 saw one of Brel's songs becoming an international hit in English. A version of his song Le Moribund was entitled Seasons in the Sun, the English lyrics by  singer-poet Rod McKuen. Canadian singer Terry Jacks cover went to number one in the USA, Canada and the UK.

But Brel's work was not soley the property of acts rooted in the 60s and 70s. Acts from later generations who were themselves influenced by the legends of the previous decades found the work of Brel and made it their own.

Marc Almond recorded several of his songs, eventually releasing an album in 1989 entitled Jacques featuring his versions of Brel's songs. He later recorded Jacky for his 1991 Tenement Symphony collection, reaching the top 20 in the UK charts.

Nick Cave interpreted the song Next in his own fiery style.

Nirvana also recorded a version of Seasons in the Sun, albeit not as an official release while the band were around.

To mark Brel' s anniversary, a box set of his recordings has been produced, and Brel's legacy and reputation shows no sign of fading as the years pass.

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