The singer and actress chooses songs by John Barry, Françoise Hardy and more
Aux Armes Et Cætera
Serge’s artistic director Philippe Lerichomme, if he said something Serge believed what he said. He didn’t believe it about a lot of people, but when he used to get slaughtered on the television, Philippe knew just how many glasses he could have and not one more. If they tried to slip him a whiskey when there was a publicity thing on the telly, then Lerichomme bounded in and stopped them. Even when Serge went off unbeknown to Philippe to the South of France for a telly thing, and got plastered on the telly, he rang Lerichomme afterwards saying, “I wasn’t that great, was I?” And Philippe would say, “No, you weren’t!” So Serge would say, “It’s your fault, because you didn’t come with me!” He loved Lerichomme and believed in what he said. So when Serge decided to go to London once again to make the third concept album – this time it was going to be set in an English taxi, the taxi meter would make a tick-tock sound throughout the fare, and it was going to be about the life of the man behind Serge, and would end with him having a heart attack. But they were always cross with Philippe Lerichomme, because he didn’t often see new artists, because he was always looking after his old artist, Serge, who was always on television, so he never got round to finding anyone particularly new. So he went off to find the new artist, and the new artist didn’t turn up, so he went to a nightclub underneath, and there he heard Bob Marley. He asked for all the references – Island Records, etc etc – then went off to the drugstore which was open all night long, bought absolutely everything he could find that was reggae, and turned up at Serge’s house the following morning and said, ‘This is what you must do…’ A week later they were on a plane going towards Kingston, with my father, Lerichomme and Serge, to make Aux Armes Et Cætera. Serge hadn’t written anything, he just went off with ideas in his head, and he wrote them all in a night. When it came out, you just have no idea of the tumult it caused, far more than “Je T’Aime”, more than anything. An awful man called Michel Droit, which means Michael Straight – Serge said he was as straight as a Z – wrote that Serge was bad news for all his compatriots, in other words, anyone else that was Jewish, illustrating his nasty article with Serge drinking a bottle of beer with a very hooked nose, and saying Serge had no right to do “La Marseillaise”, and by breathing in the same air as Serge Gainsbourg, it was like drinking in a poison coming out of a car in a tunnel. So he was attacked for racism, and Serge went to No 1. He’d never sold a record like that, it was Platinum within a few days, I think. It’s quite extraordinary, he was the first person to touch reggae – and it was the best reggae you could get, what’s more, because it had Bob Marley’s wife singing the refrains. It was a marvelous record, but it was the biggest scandal France had ever known. Every hotel we went to there were bomb alerts, and all the Americans were out on the lawn cursing everyone saying, “What is all this? We’ve never heard of Gainsbourg!” These paratroopers said they’d smash him up and put bombs everywhere. So it was quite something. He did one thing, where in a second you become a hero or not: he walked onto the stage [in Strasbourg] on his own, told his rastas to stay in the bus, ’cause he didn’t want them blown up for him – I went with him and watched him from the side – and he walked onto the middle of the stage, took hold of the microphone and he sang the original version of “La Marseillaise”. In the front ten rows were all the paratroopers who didn’t know what to do, because he was now singing the original version. So they were standing up, sitting down, taking off their berets. By the time we arrived in Paris, he was a hero. Who else could pull that off? No-one!
Birkin/Gainsbourg Le Symphonique is out now on Parlophone France. Jane performs the project at the Barbican with the Heritage Orchestra on September 26. http://www.janebirkin.net
The November 2017 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – featuring The Beatles on the cover. Elsewhere in the issue, there are new interviews with Beck, Michael Head, The Jacksons, Neil Finn and we celebrate the legacy of Woody Guthrie and remember Walter Becker. We review David Bowie, The Smiths, Margo Price, Robert Plant and Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett. Our free CD features 15 tracks of the month’s best music, including Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile, Gregg Allman, Margo Price, The Weather Station and more.
Uncut: the past, present and future of great music.