TamTam Books News

Thursday, March 06, 2003:

A recent review of Jane Birkin's record and concert in the Guardian:
Jane Birkin: Arabesque


Betty Clarke
Friday February 14, 2003
The Guardian

 Acting as passionate guardian of the memory of her mentor, Serge Gainsbourg, Jane Birkin has interpreted his work to a lusty backing of Arabic, Andalusian and oriental influences for this concert recording. Gainsbourg's brittle, detached style gets a vibrant makeover, with exotic rhythms and brooding drums thrown like brightly coloured but surprisingly tasteful scatter cushions into a chic, minimalist room. The brooding hum of Elisa matches the squashed notes of Djamel Benyelles's violin, the mood oppressive until the lively drums bring a sweeping sensuality. When Birkin suddenly drops her stern French and calls out in English, it is an intimate, revealing moment.

Et Quand Bien Même sees her struggling with melancholy; she falls silent as the rhythm picks up and transforms the ballad into a dance, like a fleeting memory of ecstasy crossing a broken mind. Though she sometimes sounds like an eager Sylvia Young graduate, overtly theatrical against the emotive violin and drums of Les Cles du Paradis, Birkin shines with confidence and pride, enjoying the familiarity of Gainsbourg's songs and the freedom of the heady rhythms.


Jane Birkin

Barbican, London

Alexis Petridis
Tuesday March 4, 2003
The Guardian

Breathy vulnerability: Jane Birkin
 In France, the appeal of singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg was famously universal. In Britain, however, his music tragically remains an acquired taste. Judging by the Barbican audience - gathered to hear his former wife reinterpret his songs in a world-music style, somewhere between Algeria and Andalucia - those who have acquired it are a comically diverse bunch. Stylish types sit alongside men who look like Michael Winner. Birkin, you suspect, profoundly affected the latter's youth by taking her clothes off in the 1966 film Blow Up.

If the audience seems anomalous, that's nothing compared with Birkin herself. Visibly nervous and emotional - it is 13 years to the day since Gainsbourg's death - she somehow combines the auras of an implausibly sophisticated and svelte grande dame and a daffy language teacher doing a turn at the end-of-term concert. She slinks elegantly on stage in a clinging satin dress, a vision of mature loveliness. She then unpins her hair and begins dancing with unselfconscious gusto - a tipsy aunt at a church-hall disco.

Then there is the matter of Birkin's voice. Some men are blinded by love, but Gainsbourg was deafened by it. He never let the trifling matter of vocal ability cloud his judgment when a lady was beautiful and willing to sleep with him, bestowing his oeuvre on singers who could make a lesser man's fillings rattle. Birkin was tremulous, high-pitched and off-key, and frequently sounded as if she was being forced to sing at gunpoint.

Tonight, however, you can hear what Gainsbourg must have heard in Birkin's voice. In the charged atmosphere, her breathy vulnerability is as endearing as her artless stage presence. The new musical settings transform songs. Elisa loses its cabaret jauntiness and becomes darkly dramatic. Valse de Melody - like the rest of Gainsbourg's 1970 masterpiece, Histoire de Melody Nelson - was pretty dramatic to begin with, but here, the addition of keening Arabic vocalist Moumen amps up the song's intensity.

Finally, Birkin sings La Javanaise, a melody sublime even by Gainsbourg's standards. She performs unaccompanied save for the audience's Gallic ex-pats, who sing along to the chorus. It is a spellbinding tribute, a brave and unique finale to a brave and unique concert.

Tosh // 10:16 PM

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