“Standing in the doorway of the Pink Flamingo, crying in the rain.” These could almost be the lyrics of a dramatic French chanson. They are, in fact, the opening line of Say Hello, Wave Goodbye, a huge hit for 1980s British electro duo Soft Cell.
I had the privilege of seeing the group’s former singer, Marc Almond, in concert this week.
He was playing at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, north London. The tickets were an early birthday present to Damon from his sister.
Going was like stepping back in time – in more ways than one.
Before we moved to Brighton, Damon and I lived about 100m from the venue, so it’s an area we know well. Plus, when we were in our teens, Soft Cell were huge idols for us.
Tainted Love remains one of my favourite songs of all time.
The duo’s star shone brightly, but briefly. Marc Almond went on to become a solo artist, enjoying further hits with Tears Run Rings, The Days of Pearly Spencer and, in duet with Gene Pitney, Something’s Gotten Hold of my Heart.
He would swap electro-pop for a variety of sounds over the years, but he has kept coming back to chanson. This style of music is particularly French.
“Chanson, it is argued, is all about the lyrics – if there is a decent melody too, so much the better”
A couple of years back, Petula Clark presented a BBC programme on the history of French song. In it, chanson was described as the antithesis of Anglophone pop.
That description has stuck with me.
Chanson, it is argued, is all about the lyrics – if there is a decent melody too, so much the better. British and American pop and rock ‘n’ roll, on the other hand, is all about the tune – if the lyrics make sense too, that’s all to the good.
Chanson is a style of music that appealed to Marc Almond’s sense of the dramatic. Over the years, he’s cut many a track in the chanson style, and even issued several albums of covers by well-known Francophone stars, including Jacques Brel, Barbara and Juliette Gréco.
Tainted Love they aren’t, but for me, his take on Jacques Brel’s Jacky and Charles Aznavour’s Comme Ils Disent (What Makes a Man a Man) are two of the highlights of his career.