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Des de Moor
Press Cuttings: Chanson


The Guardian Letters page 6 November 2002
Des in action
Photo: Eve Matthews

Des O'Connor is alive and well

Below is the full text of a letter I wrote to the Guardian on 4 November 2002, in response to a piece entitled 'Les misÚrables' by Rupert Smith, discussing Patricia Kaas and French chanson and implying that English chanson would be a contradiction in terms. At the end is the cut letter as it actually appeared two days later. It was printed alongside a letter on the same subject from Mike Harding who, in fairness, made some similar points to mine. He concluded: "We have a media that either ignores or mocks one of the richest canons of folk and contemporary songs and music, and a government that is trying to make more than two musicians playing in a pub a crime. That's why the French got Brel and we ended up with Des O'Connor." Thus the headline -- I don't think it was a dig at me!


Pleasing as it was to read Rupert Smith's piece on French chanson and the work of artists like Patricia Kaas, it's a shame he didn't refer to the many grassroots British artists working in the field beside Almond, Bowie and Walker.

Perhaps the most renowned is Barb Jungr, whose repertoire has included French classics in new and authentic translations and English-language songs reinterpreted in chanson style. I could also mention Pete Atkin, a cult favourite for his collaborations with Clive James in the early 1970s; Brel-inspired Philip Jeays; singer-songwriters better known on the folk scene like Robb Johnson and Leon Rosselson and acts like the Tiger Lillies of Shockheaded Peter fame. Not to mention myself -- my musical cabaret and chanson club, Pirate Jenny's, has been running successfully in London for eight years now.

Take an even wider view of the relationship between British songwriting and the mainland European tradition, and you'll find connections with a whole range of artists from Ray Davies through Elvis Costello and Tom Robinson to Jarvis Cocker.

It's a sign of how resistant the British public and, most particularly, the British media is to pithy, literate and emotionally honest popular song, not only that Rupert's piece was the first on the genre that I've read in a broadsheet for over a year, but also that our homegrown chansonniers seem to have escaped his attention completely.


The published version

Among the many grassroots British artists in the field, perhaps the most renowned is Barb Jungr, whose repertoire has included French classics and English-language songs reinterpreted in chanson style. There's also Pete Atkin, Brel-inspired Philip Jeays, singer-songwriters better known on the folk scene like Robb Johnson and acts like the Tiger Lillies, of Shockheaded Peter fame. And my cabaret and chanson club, Pirate Jenny's, has been running successfully for eight years. Take an wider view of the relationship with the mainland European tradition, and you'll find connections with a whole range of artists, from Ray Davies through Elvis Costello and Tom Robinson to Jarvis Cocker.



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