Barb Jungr - vocals
Russell Churney - piano
Julie Walkington - double bass
Simon Wallace - piano
James Tomalin - samples
Kevin Hathway - percussion
Kim Burton - accordion, piano, kaval
Rolf Wilson - violin
Specially commissioned translations by Des de Moor & Robb Johnson
This CD has been a labour of love. It is about turning back to my European roots. Both my parents came to Britain from Germany and Czechoslovakia after the war and yet all of my musical career has been built on singing American musical genres. Blues, gospel, jazz. Then I found Brel and a door opened. I have several people to thank for that and they are nearly all involved in this project. Robb Johnson and Des De Moor have been constantly and completely supportive of my growing love for this repertoire. And there's so much more to discover.
I have chosen the repertoire for this CD by design, fluke, inspiration and bloody mindedness. There is an art of songwriting in this country that is less influenced by our American cousins than our much nearer neighbours (and my relatives!). I include the Harburg and the Porter because they set the scene for a Paris which probably only ever existed in the imagination, but is no less real for that. The translated songs are rendered in the closest way to their original French texts. Each song came through its own little struggle one way or another, and I love them all.
Ne Me Quitte Pas
For years I sang this song in the well-known McKuen translation. I asked Des to give me an accurate rendering of the French, and immediately knew that the song would be heard anew in this contemporary setting. I had always sung the McKuen as if it were about someone dying. In fact, in those days I sang it for my friend George who died after a trip we took together to Kenya. This version, it seems to me, is for old lovers. For saying those desperate words to me, and for making me say it to them.
Sunday Morning St Denis
In my opinion, Robb Johnson writes British chansons. When I heard him sing this in a studio theatre in Kentish Town I knew I wanted to record it. Then I took it to Kim Burton and asked her to arrange it. She immediately knew what we needed to do, and we tried the song with the Albanian inflections, and her virtuosic playing, and it made sense of the fact that most of the prostitutes currently working St Denis are from former Yugoslavia and other former eastern block countries.
I Love Paris
I do love Paris, but for me it also has a desperate sadness. I spent a weekend there many years ago with a lover who died soon afterwards. That weekend was the last time I saw him. I've not spent a weekend there with a lover since.
Brel's song of facing death on a remote colonial island amongst strangers is translated by Robb Johnson. Chansons deal with complex emotions, and this song is full of them; contradiction, irony, anger, and the sense of bitter peace that comes after they all pass. As we all do, eventually.
Cri du Coeur
Fran Landesman's working of the Prévert Piaf showsong races like a runaway train of thoughts. Defiant, this is a survival song, a Gloria Gaynor of a chanson.
Ferré's eloquent revisit of student haunts is beautifully translated by Des De Moor. I wanted to sing this because it's rich and resonant, with the sense of sadness that comes with looking back at former glories, and knowing how things are in the present. In the cold light of day.
I loved this song from the minute I heard it. For anyone who has ever travelled a certain road to and from meetings with a lover. Finding, after the affair is over, that the memories are not of the sex, or the passion, but of the journey. The rain on the train window. The light on the landscape. And the landscape that was Brel's. His flatlands. His Flander's Lands.
April in Paris
Simon Wallace suggested this beautiful Yip Harburg classic and I immediately jumped at it. It sets the scene, and his arrangement with its Yiddish inflections took it somewhere else again. As though one were in some old sepia-tinged Bing Crosby film by a rococo fountain. Wearing a frock.
La Chanson des Vieux Amants (The Song of Old Lovers)
Brel's brutally honest vision of long love, and the price paid for it. Singing this is like pulling your emotions through a meat grinder. There's only the bone left. But it's a beautiful bone.
British chanson from Elivis Costello. I love this especially for the last verse, being as I am a northerner. My bells ring bigtime for "thinking ‘bout the old days of Liverpool and Rotherhithe, transparent people who live on the other side, living a life that is almost like suicide". I would near kill to have written that.
Les Poètes (The Poets)
This Ferré really packs a punch. I've never slept with a poet, and now I know why.
The Space In Between
Sometimes you mistakenly think the power of love can heal someone else. Actually, the someone it heals is you. Amazing.
I used to sing this when we were touring with Julian Clary, and we used to do the full Piaf monty as it were. But I wanted to do something very different with it and this version, which is the translation Piaf herself used in English, seemed to me so much more modern than the usual one. A really contemporary "find yourself" song, a ‘Thelma and Louise' chanson.