FRENCH POPULAR songs are mostly written for the French. Certain great French singers transcend the language barrier. Edith Piaf has achieved international fame with hits that made the British charts in 1960. Many of Piaf’s songs are typically French in telling tragic stories. They echo the feelings and language of ordinary people, describing scenes of real life misery and deprivation.
This recording project started in the summer of 1993 when I was preparing for my performance as Piaf in the musical play written by Pam Gems. It was in Paris that I began my research on the great lady and her enormous repertoire of songs. I gathered together all her recordings, biographies, film footage – in fact everything I could lay my hands on. I discovered her haunts, I even tramped the streets as she would have done and slowly I began to feel I knew her a little better and to understand the essence of much of her music. However, it was by meeting her collaborators that I really gained an insight into her personality and style of performance.
I was especially indebted to Charles Aznavour who gave me a detailed and indepth account of his work and life with Piaf. It was his very personal anecdotes that were to be a great inspiration to me.
Charles Dumont, the composer of many of Piaf’s hit songs, kindly contributed many candid thoughts about the later years of her life. Three of my favourites are included on this album: “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien”, “Mon Dieu” and “La Belle Histoire D’Amour”, and a lesser known song, but one I love, “Je Sais Comment” by Bouquet and Chauvigny with a new English lyric by Hal Shaper and Norman Newell entitled “All This I Know”. The poet and lyricist Adrian Mitchell collaborated with Pam Gems brilliantly translating some of the French songs into English for both the show and the album by retaining the original meaning and atmosphere: “Les Amants D’un Jour” (“Lovers For A Day”), “C’est Hambourg” (“Habour Girl”), “L’Accordéoniste” (“The Accordionist”), “La Belle Histoire D’Amour”, and “La Goualante Du Pauvre Jean” (“The Ballad of Poor Old John”), the latter being Piaf’s theme tune.
‘Piaf’ was a hugely taxing role to play. Not only did I have to grapple with her despair from the age of fifteen through drugs, alcohol, the pain and angst of lost love, and the physical pain of a broken jaw, arthritis, leading to her premature death at 48 in 1963. I had to die every night. Her lifestyle killed her. Playing her life nearly killed me.
Hymne À L'Amour (If You Love Me)
C'est À Hambourg (Harbour Girl)
La Vie En Rose
La Goualante Du Pauvre Jean (The Ballad Of Poor Old John)
Les Trois Cloches (The Three Bells)
Les Amants D'un Jour (Lovers For A Day)
La Belle Histoire D'amour
Je Sais Comment (All This I Know)
Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien
L'Accordéoniste (The Accordionist)