Des de Moor
All that I recall becomes the sort of souvenirs an old man burns...
Drawing: Robb Johnson
Alan Clayson sings
Des de Moor sings
Robb Johnson sings
The company sings
A celebration of Jacques Brel
Imagine it is 1977. Imagine a recording studio in Paris. Imagine a man listening. Imagine that man listening to the sound of the last song of the last album, the sound of a man with one lung left, taking leave of leave taking... .
Ne me quitte pas is an occasional touring show featuring three of Britain's most interesting and individual songwriters and performers, brought together by a mutual passion for the great Belgian chansonnier Jacques Brel (1929-78).
The show is named after Brel's most famous song, most accurately rendered as 'Don't Leave Me' but best known in English as 'If You Go Away', a long-established warhorse of the 'quality' supper cabaret circuit. But the Rod McKuen-penned English version paints a Tin Pan Alley gloss on the intensity and darkness of Brel's writing, that unique blend of passion, humanism, fatalism and defiance that bore Brel to simultaneous superstardom and cult status in the French-speaking world and made him a key 'eminence grise' of Anglo-Saxon songwriting.
This particular excursion into the Brel repertoire originates in a compilation album of the same title, assembled on Irregular Records by singer-songwriter Robb Johnson to mark the 20th anniversary of the great man's death. Folk Roots named the disc one of its albums of the year. After the success of the album's launch night at London's Vortex, which featured live performances by most of the contributors, more live shows were arranged at various venues across Britain and eventually the format was honed down to its current form.
Currently the featured artists are Robb himself ("One of Britain's most challenging songwriters" Daily Telegraph); Brel biographer, renowned popular music historian and cult performer Alan Clayson; and chansonnier and translator Des de Moor ("One of the country's leading interpreters of the cabaret-chanson tradition" Guardian). Cabaret maestro David Harrod is currently also featured on piano.
Within a linking narrative of an ageing songwriter looking back on his life, penned by Robb Johnson, the participants give their own individual spins on the Brel catalogue. The show includes some remarkable original translations by Des de Moor and Robb Johnson.
An evening of Brel chansons is a bright prospect at any time but these sympathetic interpretations by highly individual artists who carry the influence of Brel in their own songwriting and performance are a must for anyone with an interest in outstanding popular song.
Jacques Brel was born in 1929 in Schaarbeek, Brussels. Rejecting a secure future in his family’s packaging business, he opted instead to become a chansonnier, recording his first single, ‘La Foire’, in 1953. Relocating to Paris, he had his first big hit ‘Quand on n’a que l’amour’ in 1956. Through the rest of the 1950s and into the 1960s Brel pursued a gruelling touring and recording schedule that saw him established as one of the greatest French-language popular singer-songwriters, and a brilliantly expressive and intense live performer. In 1967 he retired from the concert stage to concentrate on films and theatre, just as his work was becoming recognised in the world of English-speaking pop through the interest of figures like Rod McKuen, Mort Shuman and Scott Walker, a rare feat for a francophone songwriter. Diagnosed with cancer, in 1974 Brel set off on a proposed round-the-world yachting expedition, eventually settling in Hiva-Oa on the Marquises islands in the south Pacific. Before his death in a Paris hospital in 1978 he recorded his last album, the first substantial collection of new material for many years, simply entitled Brel.
Past versions of the show have included Attila the Stockbroker singing Les bourgeois, Bruxelles/Brussels, Ces gens là/That Lot There and Les vieux/The Old in the original French; J Forrester singing Amsterdam (Shuman's version), If We Only Have Love/Quand on n'a que d'amour (Shuman/Blau version), If You Go Away/Ne me quitte pas (Rod McKuen's version) and We Must Look/Il Nous Faut Regarder (Shuman's version); and Barb Jungr singing Jacky/La chanson de Jacky and Sons of.../Fils de (Shuman/Blau versions). Also participating in previous versions have been pianist Robina Blann, Kim Burton and Simon Wallace.
Ne me quitte pas/Brel songs by... is a compilation CD featuring artists in this show.
Robb Johnson, who performs in the show, wrote the linking texts and some of the translations and pioneered the project, has his own website at www.robbjohnson.
Alan Clayson, stalwart participant in the shows and the author of the only Jacques Brel biography in English, can be found online at www.alanclayson.com.
The official website of the Fondation Internationale Jacques Brel with excellent and extensive information on Brel's life and work is at www.jacquesbrel.be
You can search for recordings of the songs of Jacques Brel at Amazon.