Review: Jane Birkin performs The Songs Of Serge Gainsbourg and showing of film "Souvenirs Of Serge"
Arches, Glasgow 29.1.2013
This evening was part of the Glasgow Film Festival. The festival which started 8 years ago, this year is bigger than ever with over 300 screenings and has several strands within it. This was part of the "Glasgow Music and Film Festival" strand.
It was difficult to work out from the wee paragraph advertising it in the programme what shape this evening would take. Jane Birkin introducing the UK premiere of her 40 minute documentary, Souvenirs of Serge, and then singing with a band to "perform the songs of Serge". Serge Gainsbourg was a bit before my time, but years ago I had bought a couple his cds which were, to say the least, varied. Some songs jazzy, some classic chansons, then some reggae. He is the archetypal heavy smoking, hard drinking, tortured genius which the French are very good at producing and Jane Birkin was his "elusive muse and partner". Serge was an artist, poet, composer, singer, songwriter, actor and always a controversial figure (eg his interjection here to Whitney Houston). I didn't know much about him until I saw the French film of his life "Gainsbourg" last year, which I found witty and entertaining. Jane Birkin I knew even less about. Apparently she has a Hermes bag named after her. I knew that she and the older Serge were lovers, that she sang the infamous song "Je t'aime...moi non plus" that he had written for his then lover, Bridgitte Bardot, and that they had a daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg (whose album 5:55 is excellent, if you don't already own it, go buy it now). Anyway I was intrigued and so were many others as the Arches venue was a sell out.
As we took our seats the film started, a collection of home movies of Serge, a young Jane Birkin and their families at play, on holiday, walking the dog. Very relaxed, very cool, very private, with Jane Birkin giving a commentary of where they were and what they were up to. When the screen was pushed aside it was initially strange to see the girl on screen in her early twenties come on stage as a 66 year old woman, still slim and elegant, with a tousled mop of dyed brown hair and the same recognisable broad, toothy smile. She was supported by a jazzy four-piece of Japanese musicians; pianist, violin, drummer and muted trumpet, giving a jazzy backing to her gentle voice. She sang for over about 1 hour 40 minutes, from early songs such as 'Les Amours Perdues' to songs he wrote in his last months. A highlight was 'Comic Strip' with Jane Birkin singing Serge's part and the Japanese violinist emerging from the back of the hall to provide the "Shebam, Pow, Blop, Weee". She broke off singing to tell us about their lovely dinner in Cafe Gandolfi the night before (haggis) and their meal this evening across the road in Sloans where she was tickled by a bunch of old Glaswegian women blowing her a kiss earlier. I really hope she tried the Scotch pie, chunky chips and beans. She wandered through the crowd singing at times and was open, engaging and charming throughout. I'd happily have paid to watch her musicians alone as they were excellent throughout. She finished her encore with a rendition of a ska version of 'La Gadoue' (originally a hit for Petula Clark) and seemed to enjoy herself on stage and thanked the audience for giving her "the courage" to head to London to play there next.
I'm off to get a couple more Serge Gainsbourg cds I reckon. Jane Birkin felt "Histoire de Melody Nelson" and "The Man With the Cabbage Head" were his best, so that seems as good a place to start as any.