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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Serge Gainsbourg
Initials BB

I heard this when I arrived in France, it was what was on the radio. It was Dvořák, so it was classical music, and it was about Bardot, who Serge had had that extraordinary affair with. Maybe the English don’t know “Initials BB”. It was with Bardot that he did “Je T’Aime…”, and she was the inspiration for that. When I heard this, I think I had met Serge – it all sort of linked up, because she was in Almeria when I was in Almeria, I’d gone along to be close to my brother, Andrew, who was working on a movie called Play Dirty. Bardot was there working on a Western, I think. I was with Michael Caine and Andrew, with my baby Kate, and it was then that I heard that John Barry had gone off with a friend of mine and that it was all over. So Serge in “Initials BB” has the terrible word “Almeria”, which for him was a disaster too, because that’s where Bardot went off. For me, it was a disaster because that’s where John Barry went off. So, if anything, the lyrics brought us together!



Jane Birkin
Jane B


This was a signature tune, and Serge did it like a passport – I don’t think anyone had done that. Blue eyes… mousy hair… everything that was on that first page of a passport. I was terribly flattered, because it was Chopin, and I thought, ‘Ah, this is the one that’s going to be a success, not “Je T’Aime…”’ But of course, it wasn’t. But it was good for the morale, to have a bit of Chopin with your new boyfriend – it was a rather lovely start. In his orchestration, I thought I could hear Big Ben and the Thames frozen over. I thought he’d used Big Ben in it, but Serge said, ‘No no, everyone can hear what they want to’, in this mysterious orchestration. It feels strange singing, “Age between 20 and 21/Living with her parents/Learning how to draw…” I suppose all that was true, it was 50 years ago – but you do feel a bit peculiar! I sang very very high, so maybe Serge would have played it to me on piano to get the tonality right; because I sang an octave higher than Bardot on “Je T’Aime”, and he liked the thing of me sounding like a choirboy.


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