Jane Birkin on the music that shaped her: “It was good for the morale, to have a bit of Chopin with your new boyfriend”

The singer and actress chooses songs by John Barry, Françoise Hardy and more

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Françoise Hardy
Tous Les Garcons Et Les Filles


I was in boarding school in Paris, and I was in the same block of flats as Edith Piaf. And Edith Piaf died, she was on the ground floor, and I went outside to join the hundreds of people who had come to the door to look at Edith Piaf dead. I suppose because well-known people had gone – I think Serge went there, and Yves Montand – I remember that the crowd whispered, ‘C’est Françoise Hardy’ about me, and I thought, ‘Oh, I mustn’t open my mouth, otherwise they’ll realise their mistake.’ I was so thrilled that I could have been taken for Françoise Hardy, whose record I had just bought, Tous Les Garcons Et Les Filles, where she was under the red umbrella. So you can imagine my joy at being taken for her! I was so taken by her, that I tried to get John Barry to write a James Bond signature tune with her, because she seemed quite remarkable. I took him to see her in the Savoy, and she didn’t move at all, she didn’t smile, she made no effort to please, in a very short dress, and she was just marvelous, just marvelous. She’s a long-liver, she’s still around and she still writes songs. She really is a great knowledgable source of musc, because she loves music and she knows everybody and is curious, and it’s her whole life. Contrary to my good self!



John Barry
The Lion In Winter



It was amazing to see him so svelte and beautiful-looking, like Gustav Mahler himself, with his little specs on the end of his nose, conducting the 60-piece orchestra that was playing The Lion In Winter. I hankered after the role of the young princess in the film, but never dared say anything about it, of course, and never would have been even considered to be in that league at all. I must have watched the film I don’t know how many times as he was doing the score. It was so beautiful when they went up towards Chinon, to the castle, and my God, that wonderful theme music was on. I had it played for Kate, his daughter and mine, at her funeral – it’s just the most beautiful, beautiful, moving score. He did many beautiful scores, The Dutchman was wonderful, and of course the James Bond ones, and The Chase, that he did with Marlon Brando. He did many many wonderful scores, and after my time he did of course Midnight Cowboy and Dances With Wolves, and won I don’t know how many Oscars. The Lion In Winter, maybe because I love movies that are about history, and history in general, and they just managed to Kathrine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole just in time, and Anthony Hopkins all new as the new King John. Just wonderful… And that lovely director, Anthony Harvey, who never did enough, because he stuck to his guns and he wouldn’t let the terrible Hollywood cutters guild, or whatever it’s called, who’d cut your film to ribbons and you don’t have the right to have the last cut. Whereas in France you can stick to your last cut. John had already gone by the time I was 20, I married him when I was 17 or 18. If anything, when I see the orchestra for this record, I think of those guys, because John was always able to have large orchestras, because he was paid extraordinarily well, so he could have all those musicians and he was a very very great orchestrator. When you heard the theme tune, and underneath you hear all the violins and the cellos, you know all is not going well, something terribly tragic is going to happen! It was quite wonderful to be a witness to that. He’d taken me off to listen to Gustav Mahler, and took me to hear Prokofiev and Shostakovich, and Rostropovich playing the cello with the Moscow Radio Orchestra, so he was my first teacher in classical music. It came in handy to be able to talk to Serge about all that – if anything, he was envious of John’s ability of writing scores for orchestras, and John was envious of Serge to be able to write the words, because if you could write the words you could write a musical, but John couldn’t, he could only write half a musical. For film music, John being able to have a 60-piece orchestra, and Serge couldn’t.


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