Sunday, September 11, 2011

Bernard Lavilliers - Le Stéphanois 1974

Another gift from the MFP, here his third album, enjoy!
The most globe-trotting of French artists. But not the sort that jumps from plane to concert venue to plane. When Lavilliers dumps his suitcases in a place he likes, he hangs around to soak up the atmosphere and bring a bit of it back with him. Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the man from Saint-Etienne has a weakness for, an osmosis with the Southern hemisphere: Sertao, Trenchtown, heat, sweat, Stand the ghetto. Lavilliers' music hopped on to the World Music train well before it became a band wagon.

Bernard was born in Saint Etienne (in central France) on October 7th 1946. His father, who had been involved in the Resistance movement during the Second World War, had recently found work in a weapons factory. His mother was a primary school teacher. The family struggled hard to make ends meet in the difficult post-war years and their struggle was not made any easier when Bernard, a rather weak, sickly child, developed pneumonia at the age of 7.

The family, who did not have the means to send Bernard to a sanatorium, moved to the country in the hope that this might prove beneficial for his health. They returned to Saint Etienne when Bernard was 12 and the young adolescent had his first experience of life on the city's housing estates. Bernard occasionally managed to attend classes at the local grammar school, but he also spent a great deal of time playing truant and eventually ended up in borstal for a year.

Bernard's adolescence was not one of total delinquency however. He was an enthusiastic member of a local boxing club from the age of 13, and even entertained the idea of becoming a professional boxer if he didn't manage to make it as an actor. (Both careers fulfilled the teenage Bernard's deep desire to revolt against society).

In 1962, he put his delinquent days behind him and served an apprenticeship at his father's factory, learning to work as a metal turner. He earnt his living with his new trade up until 1965. But while he worked at the lathes during the day, Bernard, who had developed a passionate interest in music, was busy writing songs and singing in local bars by night.

Bernard soon decided his future in Saint Etienne was looking decidedly grey and uninteresting and, at the age of 19, he packed his bags and set off for Brazil. Life in his new Eldorado was not a bed of roses however. When he arrived in Rio he thought he would easily be able to find work as a docker but, failing to do so, he set off up North, travelling to Salvador in Bahia, then to Belem where he found work as a lorry driver. The following year and a half spent driving clapped-out lorries across miles of pot-holed roads in intense heat proved to be an exciting, albeit gruelling, experience.

Bernard eventually decided to head home, making his way back to France via the Caribbean, then Central and North America. A nasty shock greeted him on his return to France, however, when he received a summons from the French army. Having failed to comply with his military service, Bernard was sent to Germany for a disciplinary hearing and then forced to serve his time in Metz, Lorraine.

At the end of 67 Bernard moved to Paris where he began performing on the cabaret circuit. It was there that the young singer was 'discovered' by Jean-Pierre Hébrard, artistic director of the Decca label, who immediately offered him a record deal. Bernard went into the studio, to record two singles and a début album with lyrics heavily influenced by Léo Ferré.

In the revolutionary atmosphere of 68, Bernard was not to be found anywhere near the student protests raging at the Sorbonne. The young protest singer decided his place was with the workers and he set off to join strikers occupying factories in the provinces. When post-May 68 disillusionment set in in June, Bernard headed off to Brittany where he got by on begging. At the end of that year Bernard became a father for the first time, his wife giving birth to a daughter named Anne-Laure.
1972: "Les poètes"

After a brief period living in Montpellier (in the South of France) Bernard returned to Paris, accompanied by his second wife, Evelyne. Evelyne was extremely supportive of Bernard's singing and songwriting, and actively encouraged him to get his career off the ground.

In June 71 Bernard performed at the "Discophage", a famous Brazilian cabaret in Paris. In October he signed to a new label, Motors (recently set up by Francis Dreyfus) and recorded his second album, "Les poètes". The album was released in 1972 (the same year that his second daughter, Virginie, was born). At this point Bernard was touring alone, accompanying himself on the guitar. Like many other singers of his generation, he was torn between continuing with an acoustic style or taking up the electric guitar (much in vogue among the Anglo-Saxon music stars of the day). Meanwhile, his lyrics continued to be influenced by Ferré and his musical style remained resolutely Latin American.

But it was Lavilliers's third album,"Le Stéfanois", (recorded in 1975, the same year that Evelyne gave birth to the singer's first son, Guillaume) that marked a real turning-point in his career. The song "San Salvador", an innovative form of 'spoken samba', established his reputation as an exotic adventurer as well as a gifted singer/songwriter. Lavilliers was now starting to become a well-known name on the French music scene and performing an ever-increasing number of concerts. After signing to a new label, Barclay, Lavilliers recorded his fourth album, "Barbares", which found him venturing into new rock territory. The lyrics revealed a socially committed singer, denouncing poverty, drugs and the abuse of power. Lavilliers followed the album with a memorable concert at the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris (November 76), his first performance at a major venue.

By now the singer was well on the way to stardom and the release of the album, "15ème Round", in 1977 only served to hasten it along. Lavilliers has always referred to "15ème Round" as his favourite album, declaring that it was the first time he could really hear a "group sound" emerging. The album was certainly highly acclaimed by the critics and became a veritable rallying call for a generation of teenagers disillusioned with society. "Juke Box", the highly autobiographical single, was soon rocketing to the top of the French charts.

In October 77 Lavilliers performed at the prestigious Olympia music-hall in Paris for the first time. And the concert proved such a success that he returned for a week in March 78, accompanied on stage by the musicians who had played with him for several years now - bassist Pascal Arroyo, percussionist Mahut and keyboard-player François Bréant. A live album of the March 78 concert was later released under the title "T'es vivant".

By now Lavilliers, the rebel with a social conscience, was gaining a certain notoriety in the media, who were awaiting his next album with bated breath. However, when the concept album "Pouvoirs" (which began with a mammoth 20-minute track) was released in 79 it failed to make the great commercial impact everyone had been predicting. Yet thousands of fans turned out to see Lavilliers during the tour that followed. Indeed, when the singer performed at l'Hippodrome in Pantin (near Paris) he attracted audiences of 6,000 5 nights running.

In April 1979 Lavilliers took a break from his gruelling schedule, flying off to Jamaica to relax. The singer then went on to New York where he met the legendary Portorican percussionist Ray Barretto. He then returned to Brazil, where he spent some time in Rio. This trip proved to be an immense source of inspiration and when the singer returned to France he recorded a new album, entitled "O Gringo". Phenomenally successful, this album produced a string of hit singles including "La Salsa" and "Stand the Ghetto". Lavilliers also recorded "Est-ce ainsi que les hommes vivent", a poem by Aragon set to music by his old idol Léo Ferré.

The album was followed by a successful series of concerts at the Palais des Sports in Paris in February 1980.

In January 81 Lavilliers was off on his travels again, flying to Los Angeles then heading off for El Salvador (in Central America). On his return he went into the studio to record a new album, "Nuit d'amour", which produced the hit singles "Betty" and "Eldorado". In spite of his immense professional success, Lavilliers's personal life was undergoing a profound crisis, his American girlfriend Lisa having just left him. Weary and depressed, the singer returned to Paris and performed a series of concerts at the Discophage in November 82, which went largely unremarked.
Mademoiselle Li

Following the success of "Idées noires", a duet with singer Nicoletta, and the album "Etat d'Urgence" (which went gold just 3 months after its release), Lavilliers embarked upon a purely acoustic tour with a Brazilian group. He then went back into the studio to record his tenth album, "Tout est permis. Rien n'est possible". After writing the soundtrack for the French film "Rue Barbare", he then returned to the Olympia where he performed in concert for a month.

It was at this point that Lavilliers met a dancer by the name of Melle Li, who was to become his girlfriend and, at the end of 1984, his wife. 84 also proved to be an important year in his career, seeing him appointed artistic director of the Casino de Paris (a well-known concert venue) where he also set up a performing arts school, called "Joséphine B". After a series of professional disputes with the manager of the Casino de Paris, Lavilliers later moved the school elsewhere.

Lavilliers was still suffering from intense wanderlust and the following year he set off on another excursion, this time travelling through Africa. After an extensive trip which took him from Dakar to Senegal via Brazzaville and the Congo, Lavilliers returned to his old stamping-ground Latin America. Once again it was Latin America which was to provide him with the inspiration for his new album, "Voleur de feu". This highly acclaimed album, released in 86, featured the hit song "Noir et blanc", a duet Lavilliers recorded with the Congolese musician Nzongo Soul. Following the album release, the singer performed at the Grande Halle de la Villette in the spring of 86 and thousands of fans turned out to see him.

Despite the fact that Lavilliers was now in his 40's, he continued his exotic travels around the globe. In 1988 he recorded the album "If", a veritable hymn to the travelling lifestyle, which included the songs "On the Road Again", "Nicaragua" and "Haïti Couleur". Two years later his trip to Asia inspired a new album, "Solo". Tracks such as "Faits divers" and "Saïgon" revealed traces of the singer's old disillusionment and earnest revolt against society, but other new compositions such as "Salomé" (named after his third daughter, born to his African partner in 1987) revealed a more tender side. Lavilliers followed this album with a mega-tour of 180 dates which included three weeks at the Olympia. That year he also gave a memorable performance at the "Fête de l'Humanité" (an annual festival organised by the French Communist Party in September) where he was joined on stage by his old idol Léo Ferré.
1994: "Les Champs du possible"

"Les Champs du possible", the album Lavilliers released in 94, was a more introspective work than usual, made up entirely of slow, ballad-like numbers. Traces of the old protest singer remained however on tracks such as "Les Troisièmes Couteaux" (on which the singer denounced all forms of 'corruption and exploitation'). A second version of this album, released in 95, contained two special bonus tracks : a duet with reggae star Jimmy Cliff, entitled "Melody Tempo Harmony" and a new version of Lavilliers's classic "Stand the Ghetto", specially remixed in Jamaica.

Still going strong after 30 years in the record industry, Lavilliers was back at the forefront of the French music scene in June 97 with a new single entitled "Le Venin", followed by a brand new album, "Clair Obscur" in August. This latest album finds Lavilliers returning to the influences which have most marked his career: Latin rhythms and French singer/songwriter Léo Ferré (in fact "Clair Obscur"opens with the Ferré song "Préface").

This album, written and recorded in three months spent between Kingston, Jamaica, and Brussels, features a host of talented guest musicians (including legendary Cuban percussionist Ray Barretto and Jamaican jazz pianist Monty Alexander). In February 98 Lavilliers returned to the Olympia in Paris for an exceptional series of four concerts. These proved so successful that Lavilliers was soon back at the Olympia for another four shows (March 26th-29th). The indefatigable rebel then hit the road again, embarking upon an extensive tour.

Lavilliers kicked off an extensive acoustic tour at the end of the year, but unfortunately the leg scheduled for 1999 was cancelled and fans had to make do with a handful of concerts the singer gave in the summer of '99.

Meanwhile, Lavilliers made his way back into the French album charts in 1998 with a double compilation album entitled "Histoire(s)".

Since the 1970s Lavilliers has earned a reputation for being a committed protest singer, an itinerant rocker and a rebel with a worthy cause. And when he returned to the French music news in June 2001 with a new album entitled "Arrêt sur image", the 12 tracks on his new album proved to be as hard-hitting as ever. Tackling important social themes such as violence, poverty and unemployment, Lavilliers's songs fused anti-establishment sentiment with reggae, bossa nova, Latino rhythms and a hint of electro beats. Lavilliers also introduced a nostalgic note to his new album, including a cover of the legendary French chanson classic "les Feuilles mortes".

Meanwhile, a group of leading French cartoonists got together to pay their own tribute to Lavilliers, illustrating 14 of the singer's most famous songs in a special 'bande dessinée' album entitled "l'Or des fous".

Lavilliers returned to the live circuit in October 2001, performing a week's worth of concerts at the Olympia. Fans turned out in force to see him and, bowing to popular demand, the singer continued to play tour dates right through until the summer of 2002. On 20 December 2001 Lavilliers proved his social commitment once again, performing a special mini-concert for workers in the Vosges region whose factory had closed down.

In 2002 Lavilliers issued a new release of ‘Arrêt sur image’ which included an extra song entitled ‘Jamaica’ and recorded at the mythical Tuff Gong studios in Kingston. Meanwhile, the artist kept touring up and down France with a stopover at the Paléo Festival in Nyons in July 2002.

In November, the singer’s series of concerts scheduled at the Olympia for February 2003 were cancelled without notice. At the same time, Lavilliers was awarded the SACEM Grand Prix de la chanson française (SACEM is the French musical copyright association) for his career as a songwriter and a singer.
2004: "Carnet de bord"

Lavilliers made a welcome comeback to the live circuit in the summer of 2004, playing a number of concert dates across France. Performing on stage with the renowned percussionist Mino Cinelu (whom he has collaborated with since 1973), the singer revisited part of his old repertoire in a new minimalist style. He also gave audiences a taste of forthcoming tracks from his new album, "Carnet de bord", which was finally released in September 2004.

Recorded between France, New York and the legendary Tuff Gong studios in Jamaica, "Carnet de bord" was the result of the globe-trotting singer and musician’s lifetime’s travel on the world’s byroads. The album, which revolved around two main acoustic bases, Cinelu’s superb percussion and Lavilliers’s melodic guitar, transported listeners to distant climes, opening with the appropriately titled track "Voyageur" (Traveller). "Carnet de bord" featured an impressive list of guest contributors including Ivorian reggae star Tiken Jah Fakoly (on the song "Question de peau") and Cape Verde’s "barefoot diva" Cesaria Evora (on "Elle chante"). Lavilliers did not forget his political concerns on his new album, either, including a tribute to the Cuban revolutionary Ernesto Guevara ("La mort du Che") and songs about topical issues such as environmental problems and the status of immigrant workers. On a musical level, "Carnet de bord" achieved a successful fusion of chanson and 'world' rhythms.

At the end of 2004, the singer put the finishing touches to a two-volume collection of his song lyrics, published by Les Editions Christian Pirot as "Les couteaux de la ville" and "La malédiction du voyageur." Proof, if any were needed, that Bernard Lavilliers is not just a globe-trotting adventurer and multi-cultural music maker, but a man deeply committed to political and social causes around the world.

After the publication of his books, Lavilliers hit the road for a new tour which included five dates at Le Grand Rex, in Paris, in March 2005. He put in an appearance at a number of lading music festivals that summer and went on to bring the house down again in Paris, at Le Zénith (on 7 and 8 October 2005). Towards the end of the year, live excerpts from the concerts at Le Grand Rex were released as a DVD and live CD, entitled "Escale au Grand Rex." The DVD also featured two behind-the-scenes documentaries, one shot during rehearsals for the Grand Rex shows, the other during Lavilliers's Americas tour. Meanwhile, a book of photographs of Lavilliers taken by photographer Gert-Peter Bruch (who has been following the singer on various tours and trips since 1988) hit stores.

In September 2006, Lavilliers performed a limited series of Léo Ferré tribute concerts, performing his own versions of the legendary French 'chanson' star's classics including "C'est extra", "La mémoire et la mer" and "Est-ce ainsi que les hommes vivent."
2008: "Samedi soir à Beyrouth"

Meanwhile the globe-trotting singer, now in his sixties, continued his travels, recording his eighteenth album, "Samedi soir à Beyrouth", between studios in Kingston, Jamaica and Memphis, Tennessee. He began writing material for this new album in February 2006 during a visit to the Lebanese capital, inspired by the strange atmosphere that reigned in the war-torn city.

The title track of the album "Samedi soir à Beyrouth" recounted his observations on a typical Saturday night in Beirut. Lavilliers also turned his attention closer to home, making fun of the political slogan "work more to earn more" (which featured heavily in the French presidential election campaign in 2007) on the song "Bosse", featuring music by Jehro. On a special bonus track, "Balèze", Lavilliers joined forces with the French group Tryo, satirising the actions of the Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Other songs on the album such as "Rafales" tapped into more of a poetic vein. Musically speaking, Lavilliers's new album mixed elements of soul, blues and Middle Eastern sounds over his habitual reggae base.

The singer is due to hit the road again in February for a new series of tour dates.
2010: "Causes perdues et musiques tropicales"

In many ways, this sentence sums up his career. The title of his album, released in November 2010, “Causes perdues et musiques tropicales”, refers to a retort Lavilliers made to the former French president, François Mitterand when asked to describe his work: “I sing about lost causes set to tropical music”.

Inspired by current combats both at home and abroad, like exile and class issues, the singer had got his old energy back, and invited some familiar faces to play on the album with him. These included Mino Cinelu on “Coupeurs de cannes”, the major Angolan artist Bong on “Angola”, but also Fred Pallem (“Je cours”), David Donatien (“Sourire en coin”) and Cyril Atef and Seb Martel. The New Yorkers from the Spanish Harlem Orchestra even make an appearance on two salsa-tinged tracks. With his raised fist and lilting music, Bernard Lavilliers was true to himself and true to form.

In February, he started a tour of France, with a series of concerts at the Paris Olympia from 5 to 13 March.

On 9 February, he won his first Victoire award for the best chanson album of the year. New link!
listen here


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