Sylvie Vartan 70

Sylvie Vartan is 70 today. Guestwriter Mark Sullivan looks at her unusual origins and early career:
Sylvie Vartan was the first true French pop star, preceded only by the bilingual English girl Gillian Hills, who recorded in France from 1960 and whose career is now covered here. Sylvie has been performing ever since she came into the public eye in 1961. Before Gillian and Sylvie there were no teenage girl singers, just as before Johnny Hallyday there was no rock-and-roll in France..
In a short interview in English in Los Angeles this April, Hallyday explains how he was the first French rock singer, that he modelled himself on Elvis Presley, and that at first he and his writers translated American numbers; then started to write new songs in French.

When record producers looked for girl singers to perform the new music and appeal to the youth market, Sylvie fitted the bill exactly. Born in Bulgaria on 15 August 1944, Sylvie Vartanian was the daughter of a Bulgarian Armenian and a mother, Ilona Mayer, who was Hungarian by descent. In her on-line biography is her description of how she started in entertainment as a child. In 1950, when she was six, “A friend of my father, a director, was making a movie….He gave me a small part as a schoolgirl. I was very young but it had a lasting impression on me. It made me want to work in the entertainment industry. After that, I often dreamed of becoming an entertainer”.

Communist rule in Bulgaria led the family to leave for France – which was possible because her father worked for the French embassy in Sofia. Despite the family living in some poverty in Paris in the mid-50s, Sylvie was successful at school, but wanted to sing and act. Her older brother Eddie had gone into the music business and gave her the opportunity to sing with Frankie Jordan. Film of her first appearance on TV in 1961, ‘Panne d’essence’ with Jordan, survives.
This led soon to more recordings – her first solo recording ‘Quand le film est triste’:

and ‘Est-ce que tu le sais’, the French version of Ray Charles’s ‘What I’d say’:

These very early Sylvie performances now remastered for Youtube show her talent from the start. Then in 1962 Daniel Filipacchi, who ran a radio show by that name, founded ‘Salut les Copains’ as the first French teenage magazine. This gave Hallyday, Sylvie and others the publicity they needed to sell records. One success was the French version of Chubby Checker’s ‘Locomotion’, here in an INA archive recording of a live performance on 27 October 1962, during the Cuba Crisis.
Another example is ‘En écoutant la pluie’ (The rhythm of the rain) in 1963 here, followed by a TV interview.

Then, in 1964, at the height of her success, for the film ‘Cherchez l’idole’, Charles Aznavour wrote for her the song that has accompanied Sylvie ever since : ‘La plus belle pour aller danser’:

The equally well-known classic video of the recorded track, with shots of her meeting the Beatles, is here.

The low, breathy voice, the fine diction, the fashionable dresses and the blonde hair all created an image that put Sylvie ahead of any competitors in her heyday. Sylvie Vartan was the right young woman in the right place when modern pop began.

Julien Doré & Françoise Hardy

French it-boy Julien Doré made a new album, you may have seen the very funny clip that goes with single Kiss Me Forever. The album has several Gainsbourgian touches, you may recall his cover of SG’s SS in Uruguay on his debut, and the clip for Les Limites (that referred to a video Gainsbourg made for Chez les yeye’s). The deluxe-version comes with a bonus-disc with English songs, made with his former band. I prefer the French tunes, like the (again) Gainsbourgian Golf Bonjovi, the song Glenn Close (JD likes namedropping, like Vincent Delerm) and the duet with Françoise Hardy. Doré apparently has a thing for grand dames, he duetted with Sylvie Vartan and on his new album he also sings with Algerian legend Biyouna. In this interview, Hardy states she had no clue what the lyrics for BB Baleine are about. Makes two of us.

Julien Doré & Françoise Hardy – BB Baleine

Joseph Gainsbourg (Better late than never)

Christmas 2010 did already pass, I know, Christmas A Go Go already shut its door for this year, but luckily there’s always room for some Serge Gainsbourg paraphernalia here at FS.

In 1965 a television show started at ORTF in France called Dim Dam Dom, which stood for Dimanche, Dames and D(h)ommes. The show ran for six years until 1970 and intended to be informative and humoristic with musical intermezzi. It was presented by girls like Françoise Hardy, Mireille Darc, Nathalie Delon, France Gall, Marie Laforêt and Sheila.
In 1966 Dim Dam Dom made ‘Noël à Vaugirard’, a rather bizarre Christmas abattoir edition with a talking cow and donkey, singing nuns and Serge Gainsbourg as Joseph and Chantal Goya as Mary. Other appearances came from Guy Marchand, Sylvie Vartan and Jacques Dutronc.

Enjoy 17 minutes of Christmas strangeness here!

UPDATE: FS-reader Jan Willem recognised the music in the beginning of this movie, turns out it’s the ultra-cool Gil Evans:
Gil Evans – Where Flamingos Fly

Sylvie Vartan

Legendary ye-ye singer Sylvie Vartan returns with a very strong album, produced by Keren Ann & Doriand, who also wrote a couple of songs. Others who contributed are Benjamin Biolay (La Vanité, great song), David Hallyday (her son), La Grande Sophie and Etienne Daho. The production is very sixties, with plush keys, loads of strings and guitars drowning in echo. Duet-partners are Doriand, Julien Doré and Arthur H. Vartan isn’t the world’s best singer anymore – then again, she never was. This album is way better than the rehashes on Nouvele Vague.  See the duet with Doré  here. Read an English interview with Sylvie here.

Sylvie Vartan & Doriand – Je me détacherai


Peppermoon, the beloved trio from Paris returns with on October 18 with a great new album. Because of the 5th birthday of this blog, I can post some new tracks. Main man Pierre Faa tells all:

Happy birthday Filles sourires ! Joyeux anniversaire… Thank you Guuz for these five years of passion, thanks for opening doors to artists like us. We owe a lot to Filles Sourires and the Filles Fragiles compilations. And we keep only good memories from the Filles Fragiles tour you set up.
Five years ago, I was just about to meet Benoît and Iris, and form the band with them. It’s been quite a slow and difficult process to get the first album released. So slow… Amazingly slow… I wish I could release albums once a year, like they did in the sixties. It’s a good rhythm, it keeps you busy and creative. No time for procrastination and debates. Anyway.
We’re now about to release our second album Les moissons d’ambre (=Amber harvests). It begins where the first one was ending : the piano piece Lonelunaire has become a little song named Larme de lune. It’s like a bridge between albums, a magic link… It also shows that we intend to explore the same territory, in terms of music and mood. It’s like visiting the same island, but at a different season. Same landscape, different light. Different colors in the sky… Nos ballades was a spring album. Les moissons d’ambre has definitely warmer shades. It feels like late summer / early autumn. Hence the title…
Hopefully, we managed to create something that is not a photocopy of Nos ballades. Iris’ singing still has that very unique innocence and freshness, mixed with new colours, new layers of sensuality. May be we have a few more electro sounds here and there – probably under Jay Alanski’s influence. I bought a kantele (a finnish harp) that you can hear in C’est la pluie qui veut ça. And lyrics wise, I tried to escape from the clichés of modern french chanson (the worst one, to me, being the obscure-meaningless-poetry-but-let’s-pretend-it-means-something-with-a-pretentious-pose). “Impressionnisme” says that happinness is never delivered in one piece – most of time, you have to connect the dots, to find the pieces of that personal jigsaw. “C’est la pluie qui veut ça” is about the memories brought back by the smells of the rain : schoolyards, old lovers… Les moissons d’ambre is about the beauty of transformation times – in nature, and in ourselves. Poupées Russes is some kind of funny Yin-Yang metaphor, saying that opposite feelings are often contained in each other (love and hate, to begin with). Gaspillées is about all the unknown family stories running in our blood… and Le refuge is about Iris’ childhood shelter, in the woods, where she hides away from Paris’ pollution and music industry people !
This new album is also more open to collaborations : our guitarist Benoît gave me the melody to Cocoon. Our friend Toshiya Fueoka, from Mondialito, composed the music of Le refuge. And my friend Ludovic Perrin wrote the lyrics to “Gaspillées”.
Now, I’m already thinking about our 3rd and last album. I see a turquoise-light green-light blue cover, something mineral, with water, crystals, air… I hope to record it next year, and then peppermoon will be over as a band. May be Iris will do solo albums, as I plan to do myself. And we’ll probably go on working together on new songs. But we definitely want peppermoon to be limited in time. There are too many bands and artists who don’t know when to stop… and that’s where I stop writing.
Enjoy the music !

Peppermoon – Poupées Russes
Peppermoon recorded a few covers for the Asian release of their album. This is a lovely version of a Sylvie Vartan-track
Peppermoon – La plus belle pour aller danser