Saturday 30 September 2017

We all say yé-yé: recreating the songs of Nobel Prize-winning author Patrick Modiano

The Chanteuse (Lucy Hope)
The Chanteuse (Lucy Hope)
If you know of the French author Patrick Modiano (who won the Nobel Prize in 2014), it is for his novels (there are over 30). But it turns out that Modiano was a song-writer too, penning lyrics for some of the famous yé-yé recording artists in the late 1960s/early 1970s. Some of these songs have now been unearthed by Manchester-based singer, Lucy Hope, who goes by the name of The Chanteuse, and her recording of them has just been released, recorded analogue to tape at Toe Rag studios in Hackney. I caught up with Lucy by phone to find out how a Manchester lass ended up recreating yé-yé.

For those unfamiliar with the term, yé-yé refers to a genre of 1960s French pop associated with singer songwriters Serge Gainsbourg and Francoise Hardy; the term yéyé seems to derive from the English 'yeah, yeah' popularised by bands like The Beatles.

The Chanteuse (Lucy Hope) recording at Toe Rag Studios
The Chanteuse (Lucy Hope) recording at Toe Rag Studios
Lucy, it turns out, was doing a Masters in French literature, and was interested in writing about the way literature dealt with expressing the dark fears that arose out of the war. Her tutor suggested that she read Patrick Modiano's books, she did so and ended up doing half of her Masters on Modiano. She became aware that Modiano had written lyrics and rather stored it away as an interesting future project. Skip forward somewhat, and the confluence of circumstances brought the idea of Modiano and performance together.

In 2014 Lucy saw Bill Ryder-Jones (former guitarist with The Coral) performing a gig with the Manchester Camerata as part of the Manchester Literary Festival, based on Ryder-Jones concept album If... (an imaginary film score for the Italo Calvino novel, If on a Winter's Night a Traveller...). That same year Patrick Modiano received the Nobel Prize, and the Manchester Literary Festival asked Lucy if she could do something literary and musical, and she immediately thought of Modiano's songs. In fact, the event never happened but it provided the impetus for Lucy making the album.

The main problem was getting hold of the songs themselves. Lucy had to beg, borrow and steal to get copies of recordings of the songs. Many seemed not to be available, one was only on a Brazilian LP released by Francoise Hardy, and in fact the songs had achieved a sort of mythical status. In the end, Lucy managed to get in contact with Modiano's writing partner Hughes de Courson (Modiano wrote the words, de Courson the music), and it turned out that de Courson had made an album of the songs.

The Chanteuse (Lucy Hope) recording at Toe Rag Studios
The Chanteuse (Lucy Hope) recording
at Toe Rag Studios
So, Lucy's arrangements are based on these original songs (which have string arrangements by Jean Claude Vannier who used to work with Serge Gainsbourg), and she worked with Fiona Brice who transcribed and re-worked Vannier's arrangements. Lucy describes the new arrangements as 'the same but different', explaining that the did not want to change everything. She and the band (piano, bass, drums, percussion, guitar) practised for four days and then went into Toe Rag Studios and effectively recorded the songs live, with an overdubbing of synth and strings (the strings led by Fiona Brice who had done the arrangements).

Lucy comes from a non-musical background, and trained to be a teacher but found the whole idea a bit overwhelming and took a deferred year before she became a teacher. She had what she calls a Damascene moment, having previously only sung as an amateur and decided to give singing a go for the year and that was seven years ago. She has been singing Modiano's songs since 2014, but her repertoire encompasses a wide range of French chanson from Piaf and Brel, to the songs of Brigitte Bardot, Francoise Hardy and yéyé. Initially she did other styles as well, but French chanson has rather taken over and become her thing.

She describes the song writing partnership of Modiano and De Courson was rather left field. Modiano's official biography hardly refers to them and he seems to regard them as a youthful jeu d'esprit. Lucy found 16 Modiano/De Courson songs in all and for a short time thought of recording them all. But finally whittled them down to eight based on the lyrics. Some seemed a little odd, and some entirely inappropriate such as the one about going to visit a midget prostitute!

The album is coming out on 6 October, and there is a launch event on 13 October at Sacred Trinity Church, Salford. M3 7WQ with the Manchester Collective. But she also has what she describes as a 'warm-up event' at the Manchester Food and Drink Festival on 3 October

The Chanteuse sings the songs of the prizewinning author Modiano
Full details from The Chanteuse website, and tickets for the launch event from EventBrite.

The Chanteuse sings the songs of the prizewinning author Modiano - available from Amazon.

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