View all news

Love and Anarchy: Bringing chanson to the UK

Press release issued: 4 March 2013

A new recording of English language versions of songs by Léo Ferré, made by a researcher at the University of Bristol, aims to brings the work of this famous chanson artist to a wider audience in the UK.

Chanson – a song tradition dating back to the Middle Ages and the troubadours of the 12th and 13th centuries – is part of the texture of everyday life in France, part of the national identity and a barometer of popular taste.  Léo Ferré (1916-1993), anarchist poet, musician and singer-songwriter, was a prominent figure in the world of French song throughout the second half of the 20th century.

To mark the 20th anniversary of Ferré's death this year, Peter Hawkins, Senior Research Fellow in the Department of French, has recorded English language versions of many of Ferré's key songs – available on a double-CD from March 2013, with sample tracks online.

He will also be performing these songs at a concert at Colston Hall 2 in Bristol on Thursday 7 March, at Jacksons Lane Theatre in London on Thursday 28 March and at the Lantern Theatre in Sheffield on Thursday 11 April.

On the Saturdays following these concerts, he will run three-hour song-writing workshops focussing on the concept of personal expression in popular songs and encouraging broader discussion about cross-cultural song-writing trends.  Booking details are available on his website.  In particular, the emphasis of French chanson on political commentary, poetic lyrics and personal storytelling will be explored and developed.

Peter Hawkins said: "The songs of Charles Aznavour, Georges Brassens, Jacques Brel and Charles Trenet have all been successfully interpreted in English versions by figures as diverse as Marc Almond, Bobby Darin, Jake Thackray and Scott Walker, and enjoy a cult reputation.  Yet the work of their equally successful contemporary Léo Ferré remains little known in the Anglophone world.  To illustrate his significance in the context of French popular culture, even the French President Francois Hollande has identified himself as one of several generations of admirers of Ferré’s music.

"My project, Love and Anarchy: the songs of Léo Ferré, aims to make this remarkable singer-songwriter a household name in the UK, and to underline his significance as an artist through people hearing, recognizing and re-interpreting his songs."

About Peter Hawkins

Peter Hawkins researches French popular culture, particularly popular chanson, and is the author of the ground-breaking book Chanson (Ashgate, 2000) in which Ferré features extensively.  He has made English adaptations of many classic French songs and performed at concerts in the UK and France, and in folk clubs, music festivals and open mikes around Bristol.  He has also contributed to many BBC radio and television programmes about French chanson.

He makes regular contributions to the song-writing workshop at the SACEM (the French Performing Rights Society) in Paris, which aims to broaden the audience for this musical genre.  As a result, popular knowledge of chanson has been changed in the UK, France and the USA, and the subject has been taken up by university academics in the area of French Cultural Studies.  He has been invited to speak at a conference on the work of Léo Ferré in Bordeaux in April and as a keynote speaker at a conference on French chanson in Italy in July.