Saturday, 8 April 2017

Jacques Brel born 8 April 1929

Jacques Romain Georges Brel (8 April 1929 – 9 October 1978) was a Belgian singer-songwriter. Brel composed and recorded his songs almost exclusively in French. 

Brel was born in Brussels, Belgium, and taught himself to play the guitar at the age of 15. After being expelled from school, he worked for four years in his father's cardboard manufacturing plant before spending a stint in the military. At age 23 he left his wife and children in Brussels and relocated to Paris to pursue a musical career, playing his first professional engagement in 1953. Within a few years, he had become a headliner at the Olympia, the premiere Parisian concert theatre. He made his U.S. recording debut with a release on the Philips label in 1957, and first performed in concert in America at Carnegie Hall in December 1965.

In the 1960s American poet Rod McKuen began writing English lyrics to the music of Brel's songs, and the Kingston Trio recorded "Seasons in the Sun," McKuen's version of Brel's "Le Moribond," in 1964. In 1966, Damita Jo recorded "If You Go Away," McKuen's version of "Ne Me Quitte Pas," and it reached the charts, becoming a pop standard recorded by dozens of singers including Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra, and Neil Diamond.  

Brel would probably have remained a cult figure to American audiences -- personal opposition to the war in Vietnam kept him from making from making further concert appearances here -- had it not been for rock-and-roll songwriter Mort Shuman ("Save the Last Dance for Me," "This Magic Moment," "Viva Las Vegas") and off-Broadway impresario Eric Blau, who had both discovered Brel's music in France.

The off-Broadway production they put together based on Brel's songs, "Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris," was tremendous hit, running nearly 2000 performances, getting several major NY revivals in addition to productions across the country and around the world, and being made into a film in 1974. 

Brel was also an actor, appearing in several French films, most memorably starring opposite stone-faced Lino Ventura in Edouard ("La Cage aux Folles") Molinaro's 1974 black comedy "L'Emmerdeur" (released in the U.S. as "A Pain in the A**"). He starred in the musical L'Homme de la Mancha (Man of La Mancha)  which he also translated into French and directed. As an actor he gained fame playing opposite Lino Ventura in L'Emmerdeur and L'aventure, c'est l'aventure. In 1969 he took the lead role opposite Claude Jade in Mon oncle Benjamin. Le Far West, a comedy which he directed, co-wrote and appeared in, competed for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1973. 

In 1973 he embarked in a yacht, planning to sail around the world. When he reached the Canary Islands, Brel, a heavy smoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer. He returned to Paris for treatment and later continued his ocean voyage. He was also a keen pilot and owned several small planes, including the eponymous 'Jojo'.

In 1974 he moved to the Marquesas Islands, only returning to France in 1977 to record his first album in ten years, "Brel" (a.k.a. "Les Marquises"). It was to be his last: he had been battling lung cancer for nearly ten years and passed away in a treatment hospital in the Paris suburb of Bobigny. He is buried on the island of Hiva-Oa in the South Pacific, only a few yards from painter Paul Gaugin.

Brel's songs are not especially well known in the English-speaking world except in translation and through the interpretations of other singers, most famously Scott Walker and Judy Collins. Others who have sung his work in English include Marc Almond, Momus/Nick Currie, Beirut, David Bowie, Ray Charles, The Dresden Dolls, Gavin Friday, Alex Harvey, Terry Jacks, Barb Jungr, The Kingston Trio, Jack Lukeman, Amanda McBroom, Rod McKuen, Spencer Moody, Camille O'Sullivan, Dax Riggs, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, Dusty Springfield and Dave Van Ronk.

In French-speaking countries, Brel is also remembered as an actor and director. He has sold over 25 million records worldwide, including over 12 million albums and singles in France and Belgium. (info edited from bio by Paul F. Wilson & Wikipedia)


boppinbob said...

For “Jacques Brel 34 Cancoes” go here:

Disc 1 –

1. Amsterdam
2. Les Bergers
3. Au Suivant
4. Rosa
5. Les Paumes Du Petit Matin
6. Ces Gens-La
7. Les Bigotes
8. La Fanette
9. Vesoul
10. Les Biches
11. Ne Me Quitte Pas
12. Quand On N'a Que L'amour
13. La Valse A Mille Temps
14. Madeleine
15. Les Bourgeois
16. Le Moribund
17. Les Flamandes

Disc 2 -

18. Les Bonbons
19. Le Plat Pays
20. Mathilde
21. Une Ile
22. La Quete
23. Bruxelles
24. Les Toros
25. Les Vieux
26. La Chanson De Jacky
27. Viellir
28. Le Dernier Repas
29. Orly
30. Marieke
31. Fernand
32. La Chanson Des Vieux Amants
33. Les Marquises
34. Jojo

A big thank you to Ludovico @ Entre Musica Blog for original link

Man from Mordor said...

Thanks for this set boppinbob, it is good to have them. You mention Scott Walker in your blurb, and his albums Scot 1, 2, 3 and 4 (beats me how he thought of those titles) are well worth exploring as then not only contain a largish number of Anglicised versions of Brel's better known songs (in the UK anyway) but also a raft of Walker's own compositions, some of which are in the Brel mould or own a lot to the style of Brel's compositions. Anyway, enough chatter, I'm off to listen to the originals thanks to you

boppinbob said...

Well be patient and who knows one day I will do a Scott Walker post. Thanks for the comment, regards Bob