thu 18/07/2024

Ten years after his death, France pays tribute to Gilbert Bécaud | reviews, news & interviews

Ten years after his death, France pays tribute to Gilbert Bécaud

Ten years after his death, France pays tribute to Gilbert Bécaud

Generations unite to perform the songwriter’s greatest compositions

'Et Maintenant ': Gilbert Bécaud with the lucky spotted tie he was never without

The 20th anniversary of the death of Serge Gainsbourg is an important milestone, but it has overshadowed the fact that 10 years have passed since the death of an another significant French singer and songwriter, Gilbert Bécaud. The release of Et Maintenant marks the anniversary in fine style, uniting singers across generations, a couple of whom aren’t even French.

Although Bécaud only sniffed the British charts once, in 1975 with “A Little Love and Understanding”, and isn’t as raffishly cool as Serge, English-language versions of his songs - “What Now my Love”, "Let It Be Me" and “The Day the Rains Came Down” - have become standards, interpreted by Sonny & Cher, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley and Herb Alpert. He also co-wrote "September Morn'" with Neil Diamond.

Watch The Everly Brothers perform “Let It Be Me”, the English-language version of Gilbert Bécaud’s “Je t’appartiens”

Et Maintenant – titled after his 1961 French smash, which Shirley Bassey brought to the Anglo-Saxon world in 1962 as “What Now my Love” – is a remarkably cohesive album, its 14 tracks capturing the spirit of the songs with classic arrangements that complement each singer. Even Johnny Hallyday, whose full-force approach can dominate anything, doesn’t overwhelm “Et maintenant”. Alain Souchon, Serge Lama (whose terrific “La rivière” is a highlight), Patrick Bruel and Eddy Mitchell join in, all producing sympathetic, measured performances. Less venerable participants include Olivia Ruiz, Renan Luce and Germany's Ayọ.

Bécaud, formerly François Silly, was born in 1927. Conservatoire-schooled, he began his career in 1947 composing for film under the name François Bécaud. During World War II, he had been in the resistance. By 1953 he was writing for Edith Piaf and had adopted the name Gilbert Bécaud for performing the previous year. He also composed with Charles Aznavour in the early Fifties.

A headline concert at Paris’s L’Olympia in 1955 sealed his future. His teenage audience were so taken with his energetic performance they tore the venue’s seats out. France had never seen anything like it. Newspapers dubbed Bécaud Monsieur 100,000 Volts. The tag stuck.

Watch Gilbert Bécaud perform “Et maintenant” in 1962

Despite his gold-chip songwriting and long career, Bécaud has slipped from the collective consciousness. He was always able to adapt to the times, and during the yé-yé years he wrote for Richard Anthony and was given a US TV special in 1966. He was made a Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur in 1974. He never stopped and died 18 December, 2001. He had played his last concert 18 months beforehand.

Et Maintenant opens with an extraordinary reading of “Je reviens te chercher” by Spain's Luz Casal. So lush, it sounds as if it's escaped from a late-Sixties French soundtrack. The whole album is just as thoughtfully handled. Julien Clerc hasn’t sounded this good in years, but it’s the relatively recent newcomer Alex Beaupain who creates the most swoonsome moment with his reading of “L’Absent”.

Tribute albums are ubiquitous and mostly either unlistenable, uncohesive or insincere – or some combination of all three. Et Maintenant is a surprise. It’s none of these, and a great listen too. Even so, it’s probably too much to hope that producers of future tribute albums might look to this as a guide to getting it right.

Visit Kieron Tyler’s blog

Watch the contributors to Et Maintenant recording and discussing the album


Tribute albums are mostly either unlistenable, uncohesive or insincere – or some combination of all three. Et Maintenant is none of these, and a great listen too

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