Following Les Négresses Vertes triumphant return last year to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their classic debut, guitarist Stéfane Mellino tells Gerry Ranson it’s good to be back.
After years dominated by low-rent rock and diminishing returns, the Reading Festival was in need of a revamp. Having found success following the heavy rock revival at the start of the 80s, it had been surpassed by Castle Donnington’s hard hitting Monsters Of Rock bash, and was now having an identity crisis: 1988’s bill found Iggy Pop and the Ramones sharing the festival’s twin stages with Starship, Bonnie Tyler and Deacon Blue. Something had to give.
One of the most successful promoters of the 80s, Vince Power had built on the popularity of his north London venues the Mean Fiddler and the Town & Country Club and was looking to move into the festival business. Reading provided the perfect opportunity. With a background in roots and world music, Power brought a marked change to the line-up, with sets from the likes of The Pogues, Billy Bragg, Mary Coughlan and The Bhundu Boys. Intent on trying out new ingredients, he also introduced a new band, in the form of many-legged French troupe Les Négresses Vertes.
Described at the time as a “French version of The Pogues”, in their crumpled charcoal suits, the men and women of Les Négresses Vertes fused traditional sounds with bawdy barroom lyrics and a robust ladleful of punk attitude. Recently signed, perhaps incongruously, to dance label Rhythm King in the UK, they’d just released a debut album Mlah, and a single ‘Zobi La Mouche’, featuring a William Orbit remix. Not sure what to expect, as the band took the stage after lunch on the Saturday, a bemused audience would soon be won over by their woozy French charm, personified in louche, charismatic frontman Helno.
“Of course we remember the Reading Festival,” laughs founding guitarist and singer Stéfane Mellino when I catch up with the band ahead of their London show in November. “It’s very rare for a French band to play there, but the audience was very cool with us, and we had a big success.”
After a lengthy lay-off, the band reconvened early in 2018 for a tour celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the release of Mlah. It has proved so successful that they decided to go round again and completed further dates earlier this year.
“Last time we’d played together was for an MTV show in Paris in November 2001,” Stéfane explains. “Then we decided to stop for a while; we didn’t know the pause was going to be so long, but with the death of our manager Jacques Renault in 2004 everybody started to make his own way solo. We decided to be back together in order to celebrate thirty years of Mlah. We did our first gig in front of friends in a small venue in Banlieue de Paris called Le Blanc Mesnil and the response was incredible. We saw on their faces that everybody was waiting for that, including us! Since then it’s really enjoyable to be back and playing.” Continue reading “Interview with Les Négresses Vertes”
En français, from 2014
Devoted to cultivating creativity & imagination. Dedicated to philosophers, pilgrims & punks.
ROSEMARY STANDLEY is the lushly imaginative Franco-American lead singer of the enormously creative band Moriarty. The instruments they play reads like a recipe list for the best possible musical feast: xylophone, thumb piano, spoons, tambourine, scotch-tape trumpet, double-bass, music box, suitcase drum, chromatic and diatonic harmonicas, kazoo, drilling machines, Jew’s harp.
The band’s maverick spirit leads them to play incongruous venues such ‘a mental institution, a prison, a transatlantic ship, a ruined castle in Tuscany, the streets of Paris, and a night train’. Being the bohemian vagabonds that they are, they tour extensively.
PLEASE SHARE A CHILDHOOD MEMORY THAT HAD AN IMPACT ON THE ARTIST YOU ARE TODAY:
When I was eight, my father taught me the Hank Williams’s song Jambalaya, and brought me with him to a square dance at the American Church of Paris. He had a gig there with his band and he asked me to sing the song in the middle of the set. The people were so pleased with the song that they asked for it 3 times. What a funny feeling! You just get addicted to it.Continue reading “Rosemary Standley – the magnetic Mademoiselle Moriarty”
De la country à la musique expérimentale, les proches d’Alain Bashung racontent à Charline Lecarpentier ses émois musicaux.
Alain Bashung was not a socialite. Few people entered his bubble. “One does not let me dream,” he once heard the musician Rodolphe Burger moan as they prepared to enter the studio. His intimate relationship to the music of others remained only more valuable. “I’m a cowboy at Paname, but it’s Dylan’s fault,” he sang in his early days. Ten years after his disappearance, the emptiness he left is not close to being filled. Moreover, from rap to song, the specter of those who claim his legacy is wide. Almost as broad, in fact, as the many influences of Bashung himself, as described by his entourage, while his historic label Barclay unites his work in an integral spiced by lives and a handful of unpublished .
JEAN FAUQUE, SINGER AND LYRICIST OF ALAIN BASHUNG
“When I met Alain in 1975, he had an impressive nightclub and an amp that could be plugged into two headsets. It was a HLM and you should not be too loud. We spent nights listening to very underground things like Kraftwerk and Robert Wyatt before ending up with country music. We lived a blessed period, there was a new musical wave every five years. He loved the punks, the new wave and this mysterious band, The Residents .
But there was finally not enough English, it was rather American. Not an album of Bob Dylan escaped him, it is understood in his way to crush the phrasing … He listened to few French artists, we made the song but that did not interest us. There was just this revelation that upset him emotionally and musically in 1993 during the recording of Chatterton in Brussels when we listened until the dawn of the complete Léo Ferré . We fell to the ground. It was wrong to have not considered earlier his case. The song called “I have long contemplated” was composed in stride. In France, except Leo, he still liked Gainsbourg . Work with him on Play Injuries was a dream. Towards the end, he introduced me to Gérard Manset . Alain’s mother tongue was German. He also heard a lot of English on radios at the American base near Strasbourg, which was broadcasting in Alsace. This is what I think explains his company of torture of the French language. He wanted to understand it better. “
CHLOÉ MONS, MUSICIAN AND WIFE OF ALAIN BASHUNG
“The more years passed, the more Alain was attached to the simple and comforting values of the country. The Walker Brothers spoke to him a lot because Scott Walker had started in a classical form before also embarking on experimentation. Seeing how music advances with the life of a man fascinated him. Among the pioneers , Gene Vincent or Jerry Lee Lewis were very important to him. This madness of the pastor who rocked on the side of the devil, all this ambivalence of rock’n’roll interested him a lot.
He particularly liked the second knives. He preferred Bobby Darrin, Johnny Mathis or Harry Nilsson to Presley and Sinatra . He loved the Highwaymen of course, including his favorites Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson . When we sang together as a duo, he compared us to Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris . One of our great pleasures was to go to Tower Records in London to buy a lot of things, even experimental ones. That’s how he discovered the records of Marc Ribot or Mr. Wardwith whom he then wanted to work. They too play with codes from the past. “
YANN PÉCHIN, GUITARIST, HAS LONG ACCOMPANIED ALAIN BASHUNG ON TOUR
“The first thing we talked about was Moondog , who was a kind of Brian Eno before the hour. Alain, because of his Kabyle origins, was very sensitive to repetitive rhythmic music, whether or not it was electronic. We can also hear about his experiments on the album Climax . Every time I came to Alain and Chloe’s, I arrived with records under his arm and he made me follow albums.
If his passion for music started with precursors, from Gene Vincent to Jerry Lee Lewis , he also had a big flash with the arrival of cold wave and new wave . Artists mark him every decade, like Martin Hannet at the time of Joy Division or the Young Marble Giants . It was he who introduced me to Richard Hawley , whom I did not know and whom he listened to a lot at the end of his life. He listened to music all the time and I can assure you that when he was president of the Prix Constantin, he had heard the two hundred records. ”
RODOLPHE BURGER, SINGER, COLLABORATOR ON THE ALBUMS FANTAISIE MILITAIRE, SONG OF SONGS, ETC.
“Alain often spoke about the famous Talk Talk Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock , and the one that followed under the name Mark Hollis.. He adored them and me too. The music is splendid but it is also the very radical step of Mark Hollis who spoke to him. Talk Talk was making industrial pop with some success, and strong of it, Hollis had completely broken with the label EMI to afford a musical research album with his group then solo, before disappearing for good. This idea of an artist who sacrifices success in the name of an artistic requirement has made Mark Hollis a quasi-heroic figure for Alain. It is a question of raising the level in a context of an industry with which it is necessary to trick to pass the maximum of music. I could see that at times, Alain was also in a form of inner struggle to protect his freedom. “
Immortal , the complete 1977-2018 (Barclay). Released March 1st
This article can be found in the issue 66 (March 2019) of Vanity Fair France.
It is in Le Havre that the musician Bertrand Belin chose to refine and begin the tour of his sixth album. He then leaves on the roads of the hexagon with “Persona”. A personal album, imbued with literature and strange creatures.
“O time, suspend your flight” and let yourself go into the languid vapors dream the artist. These compositions, always imbued with melancholy, give their view on life, solitude, society. By choosing simple but fair words.
It is the pleasure of arranging, of creating with the minimum of words, the maximum of effect. This is my little “dada”!
If 2018 has been written with a big A (two albums of the excellent Dominique A), 2019 starts with a double B. Bertrand Belin launched himself in this new year . “Persona” was released on January 25 on the label Cinq 7, an appearance at the cinema in “My life with James Dean” by Dominique Choisy which he signs the soundtrack and ” Great Carnicores ” his fourth novel (POL editions), a once again hailed by critics.