Wednesday, 26 January 2011

19 January 2011 Dr Sketchy Set List

/ Sweater Girl: A sultry, hair-hopping young Violetta Villas working the projectile bullet bra look /

The second Dr Sketchy of the New Year: It was great to be back at The Royal Vauxhall Tavern where the sound system is loud and powerful, and I’m finally getting to grips with setting up the decks myself and working the stage lights (seriously, all the buttons in the DJ booth looks like the control panels of a helicopter!). And I didn’t once turn on the dry ice machine by mistake this time, which definitely represents progress. The only screw-up was the wrong music got played for our burlesque performer Annette Betty’s performance. I was told to play track one and I did, but it turned out it was the wrong song (there was more than one song burnt onto the CD). Fortunately, Betty is such a consummate pro that when she realised it was the wrong music, she just did the routine meant for that song, it looked spectacular and no one was any the wiser!

Annette Betty's Showreel:

As per usual, the emphasis musically was on creating a vibe somewhere between desperate vintage sleaze and punk lounge. Midway along the set list you may you notice a glut of sex-wracked female singers like Sparkle Moore, Ann-Margret and Mamie van Doren wailing about how they’re desperate for a man/boy/daddy, etc -- that was background music for our male model Luke’s pose.

Beaver Shot - The Periscopes
Baby, Scratch My Back - Slim Harpo
Intoxica - The Centurions
Bikini with No Top on the Top - Mamie van Doren & June Wilkinson
Vesuvius - The Revels
The Deacon Moves In - Little Esther
The Whip - The Originals
Fujiyama Mama - Annisteen Allen
Bewildered - Shirley & Lee
My Daddy Rocks Me - Mae West
Baby Come Back - Esquerita
Where Yo Is? Fat Daddy Holmes
Stop Talking, Start Walking - Annie Laurie
Hot Licks - The Rendells
Unitar Rock - Willie Joe & His Unitar
Honky Tonk - The Bill Black Combo
Harbour Lights - Dinah Washington
A Cheat - The Earls of Suave
Fever - Nancy Sit
Mack the Knife - Ann-Margret
Trash Can - Ken Williams
Suey - Jayne Mansfield
Blockade - The Rumblers
Crawfish - Johnny Thunders & Patti Paladin
Tall Cool One - The Wailers
Dansero - The Don Baker Trio
Tuxedo Junction - The Bill Black Combo
Tico Tico Samba - Don Swan & His Orchestra
Tiger - Sparkle Moore
Big Man - Carl Matthews
Jim Dandy - Ann-Margret
Daddy Daddy - Ella Mae Morse
I Need a Man - Barbara Pittman
Oh Honey - Gloria Wood
Seperate the Men from the Boys - Mamie van Doren
I Want a Boy - Connie Russell
Tony's Got Hot Nuts - Faye Richmonde
Her Love Rubbed Off - Carl Perkins
No Good Lover - Mickey & Sylvia
Chicken Grabber - The Nite Hawks
Boss - The Rumblers
Champagne Taste - Eartha Kitt
Lonely Hours - Sarah Vaughan
Harlem Nocturne - Martin Denny
Blondie's Strip - John Barry (Beat Girl soundtrack)
Do It Again - April Stevens
You're My Thrill - Chet Baker (instrumental)
Love Me or Leave Me - Lena Horne
Blues in My Heart - The John Buzon Trio
The Flirt - Shirley & Lee
Little Girl - John & Jackie
Intoxica - The Revels
That Makes It - Jayne Mansfield
Don't You Feel My Leg - Blue Lu Barker
Honey Rock - Barney Kessel
Kiss - Marilyn Monroe
Willow Weep for Me - The Whistling Artistry of Muzzy Marcellino
A Guy Who Takes His Time - Marlene Dietrich
Chattanooga Choo Choo - Denise Darcel
The Girl Can't Help It - Little Richard
Torture Rock - Rockin' Belmarx

/ Below: astonishing Polish diva Violetta Villas /

An artist who I didn’t play, but who’s become something of an obsession recently is the demented Polish diva Violetta Villas. I first read about her on the reliably excellent The Homoerratic Radio Show blog, was intrigued and did some Googling – and uncovered a treasure trove! Violetta Villas (nee Violetta Élise Cieślak, born 1938) is a real find and surely a cult figure (and kitsch gay icon?) in waiting. In the 1960s Villas was an international singing sensation, acted in Hollywood films and headlined at casinos like The Dunes in Las Vegas, where she did duets with the key superstars of the era: Frank Sinatra, Paul Anka, Barbra Streisand, Charles Aznavour, Sammy Davis, Jr., Eartha Kitt, Dean Martin. (Please God let there be footage somewhere of Villas and Kitt duetting!) But (outside of Poland) Villas seems almost completely forgotten today. Because of her astonishing operatic vocal range Villas is routinely and understandably described as the Polski Yma Sumac (she’s also been called "the singing toast of the continent", "a voice like French champagne” and my personal favorite, "the voice of the atomic age": Vallas certainly is explosive) – but that only hints at her strange allure. Judging by some of the clips on Youtube, Villas is a berserk outsider artist; a wild low-budget Eastern European hybrid of Jayne Mansfield/Anita Ekberg in La Dolce Vita / Brigitte Bardot / Charo; a punk (her image and un-hinged performances can suggest Nina Hagen or Jayne County); and a self-parodic possessor of a camp /kitsch drag queen sensibility (is it deliberate or naive? Certainly her persona evokes the films of the Kuchar brothers and John Waters. There’s something wonderfully grotesque about how Villas deliberately buries her own natural beauty under the matted bouffant wigs and thick transvestite/ clown-like make-up).

/ The divine Violetta at her make-up table: "the natural look?" Bollocks to that! /

/ This jaw-dropping video represents Violetta Villas (a vision in red chiffon) in full-throttle sex kitten mode. It’s from a 1971 Polish film called Dzieciol. The song she’s singing is “Oczy czarne”: I’ve been reliably informed it’s Russian, not Polish and it translates as something like “Black Eyes” or “Dark Eyes." Note: this essential video keeps getting deleted from YouTube. I'll replace it as frequently as I can! /

Wait! It gets even better. I work with a Polish woman called Marta and she’s been filling me in on what Violetta Villas is up to today. It turns out Villas actually lives in Marta’s village! According to Marta, Villas lives in a mansion with a menagerie of something like 70 dogs and 40 cats. Villas seems to have taken Brigitte Bardot as a role model: certainly in her youth Villas obviously styled herself to look like Bardot (or a parody of Bardot?), and now she’s an animal rights activist, too. Marta is obviously based in London now but visits Poland frequently; she says she hasn’t seen Villas in several years but every time she does, even when Villas is just going out to buy groceries, she’s always the diva, dolled up with her signature thick showgirl false eye lashes and long tousled bouffant wigs (or extensions or weave, whatever she’s got going on up there: it doesn’t look organic to any human scalp). I imagine the 72-year old Villas now as an Eastern European hybrid of Baby Jane Hudson / Barbara Cartland / Zsa Zsa Gabor – which may sound cruel, but I mean it with affection. Like many a show business diva, apparently over the years Villas has had issues with drugs, alcohol and romantic and career disappointments. Let's hope she's found serenity back in Poland surrounded by her pets.

Viva, Violetta Villas!

/ A tired and emotional Violetta Villas - perhaps after a few too many glasses of Polski Wodka? /

To end with, a lovely softcore clip of burlesque legend Blaze Starr having a bubble bath. I love how she inspects herself in the mirror afterwards, and how straight out of the tub her cotton candy bouffant hair and thick make-up are immaculate .

Sunday, 9 January 2011

8 January 2011 Dr Sketchy Set List

/ Happy New Year! /

The first Dr Sketchy of the New Year! This time it was upstairs at The Old Queen's Head in Angel. Annoyingly, I was bedevilled by technical hitches for the first hour or so: the sound was coming out muted no matter how loud I cranked up the volume on the decks, which is frustrating when you’re playing desperate 1950s rhythm and blues and grinding titty shakers that need to be LOUD! At one stage early on our glamorous burlesque performer Sophia St Villier stood in a corner under a speaker across the room to test the audio for me and came back to report “it’s one step above mood music!” Luckily one of the Old Queens Head employees figured out the problem (he just whacked everything up in another room where the controls are!) and the sound quality improved dramatically for the rest of the day. Loud and confrontational – that’s the way I like it!

As previously mentioned, the featured burlesque artiste was Rita Hayworth-style redhead Sophia St Villier, who was great as always. She performed a dazzling routine that ended with her drenching herself, the stage and probably the first row of the audience with silver glitter. The other model was Bomb Voyage, our versatile door girl who occasionally steps in to model. Bomb rocks a punkier look than the average Dr Sketchy model (skintight rubber leggings, tattoos) so if you notice the music turning a bit darker and more aggressive at some points, that’s probably while she was modelling!

Intoxica - The Revels
Last Night - Lula Reed
Loberta - Bobby Marchan & The Clowns
Fool I Am - Pat Ferguson
Strange Love - Slim Harpo
Everywhere I Go - Ted Taylor
Trashcan - Ken Williams
Suey - Jayne Mansfield
Don't Do It - April Stevens
Tight Skirt, Tight Sweater - The Versatones
I Was Born To Cry - Johnny Thunders
Salamander - Mamie van Doren
Boss - The Rumblers
Little Ole Wine Drinker Me - Robert Mitchum
St Louis Blues - Eartha Kitt
Vesuvius - The Revels
Baby Let Me Bang Your Box - The Bangers
Don't Fuck Around with Love - The Blenders
Jungle Walk - The Dyna-Sores
Beat Girl - John Barry (Beat Girl soundtrack)
Rockin' the Joint - Esquerita
Yogi - Bill Black Combo
Poontang - The Treniers
I Need Your Lovin' - Don Gardner & DeeDee Ford
Turquoise - Milt Buckner
Mondo Moodo - The Earls of Suave
I Feel So Mmmm - Diana Dors
The Whip - The Frantics
Fever - Richard Marino & His Orchestra
Sweet Little Pussycat - Andre Williams
8 Ball - The Hustlers
Blue Moon Baby - Dave "Diddle" Day
Caravan - The Dell Trio
The Swinger - Ann-Margret
Black Tarantula - Jody Reynolds
Cherry Wine - Little Esther
One, Two, Let's Rock - Sugar Pie & Pee Wee
Baby, I'm Doin' It - Annisteen Allen
Rip It Up - Little Richard
Peter Gunn Twist - The Jesters
Esquerita and The Voola - Esquerita
Chicken Grabber - The Nite Hawks
Taki Rari - Yma Sumac
If I Should Lose You - George Shearing
Willow Weep for You - The Whistling Artistry of Muzzy Marcellino
Strip-tease - Juliette Greco (Strip-tease soundtrack)
Street Scene '58 - Lou Busch & His Orchestra
Crazy Horse Swing - Serge Gainsbourg (Strip-tease soundtrack)
Go Slow - Julie London
Give Me Love - Lena Horne
I Put A Spell on You - Nina Simone
You're My Thrill - Dolores Gray
Petite Fleur - Chet Baker
I'm in the Mood for Love - Denise Darcel
Love Me - Marlene Dietrich
Sleep Walk - Henri Renee & His Orchestra
Shangri-la - Spike Jones New Band
Do It Again - April Stevens
Sometimes I Wish I Had a Gun - Mink Stole
Love for Sale - Hildegard Knef
The Whip - The Originals
Gizmo - Jimmy Heap
The Girl Can't Help It - Little Richard
Ain't That Lovin' You Baby - The Earls of Suave
Begin the Beguine - Billy Fury
Hound Dog - Little Esther
Destination Moon - Dinah Washington

A while back I wrote about the doomed jazz vocalist Ann Richards. Another obscure singer I love to play at Dr Sketchy is Denise Darcel, the French actress and singer, whose story luckily isn’t quite so tragic. I discovered Darcel by accident because I wanted to track down Lizabeth Scott’s 1957 album Lizabeth.(The elusive Lizabeth Scott is my all-time favourite film noir actress and merits a whole blog entry of her own). It turned out that when Lizabeth was reissued on CD recently, it came as a package with Denise Darcel’s album Banned in Boston. Which was a real bonus, as Denise Darcel is a blast!

Born Denise Billecard in 1925 in Paris, after suffering a turbulent period during World War II (her father died when the Nazis occupied the family home) she won a beauty contest as a teenager that garnered her publicity as “The Most Beautiful Girl in Paris” and “The Most Photographed Girl in Paris”. Darcel parlayed this notoriety into a successful career as a Parisian nightclub chanteuse before heading to Hollywood in 1947 (with a quickly-dropped American husband in tow) to pursue international stardom. While Darcel’s leading men in Hollywood would include the likes of Burt Lancaster, Gary Cooper, Robert Taylor and Glenn Ford, she never achieved A-list success and her filmography reads like a real mixed bag: a few Westerns, a Tarzan film (Tarzan and The Slave Girl, with Lex Barker in 1950), an Esther Williams musical (Dangerous When Wet in 1953).

Darcel, though, proved to be a pragmatic and durable tough cookie: when the acting stint in Hollywood fizzled out (her last film was the intriguingly-titled Seven Women from Hell in 1961), she returned to night club and cabaret singing. When singing, too, stopped being lucrative, Darcel – by then in her 40s – showed true grit by turning to stripping. (The attached photo of her as burlesque artiste was taken in 1967). “Zat is where ze money is,” she reportedly explained to a reporter.

/ Shake it! Denise Darcel in her striptease years/

As a burlesque artist she performed in Las Vegas. When Darcel presumably became too old to strip, she eventually returned to Vegas and worked as a casino dealer. Darcel is now 86 and although in the few photos I’ve seen of her online she appears to be wheelchair-bound, she otherwise looks good. Someone should track Denise Darcel down and interview her before it’s too late: I bet she has a few stories to tell!

Her album Banned in Boston was recorded sometime in the 1950s (the details seem vague: The original release date is not even listed in the liner notes of the CD!) and heard today is incredibly enjoyable. It’s a risqué collection of sexy songs, heavy on the Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hart, which in theory represents what Darcel’s nightclub act would have been like. On the comedic songs she works a thick French ‘Allo! ‘Allo! accent pitched somewhere between Pepe le Pew and a female Maurice Chevalier. On the more serious and sensual songs like “Love for Sale”, “I’m in the Mood for Love” and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”, Darcel emerges as a genuinely talented and emotive torch singer. All of the songs she delivers with real verve and individuality. The best track is the strangest: the album is predominantly tinkly cocktail lounge music, but it ends with a driving quasi-rockabilly rendition of “Chattanooga-Choo-Choo”, propelled by wonderfully sleazy blurting saxophone. Sounding like a French Marlene Dietrich, a pissed-off Darcel snarls the lyrics as if she’s simmering with anger. The results are strikingly weird – and sexy as hell. I have to admit I play this a lot, and people almost always ask, “What was that?” That was Denise Darcel!

Keep track of upcoming Dr Sketchy's here.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

When John Waters Met Nico

It turns out that cult filmmaker extraordinaire John Waters and I have something in common: we both revere the late, great German chanteuse Nico. I bought his riotous 1981 book Shock Value: A Tasteful Book about Bad Taste in the late 1980s when I was still a university student and it had a profound impact on me. In it he briefly and tantalisingly recalls meeting...

“... Nico, my favourite singer, who was so out of it when I met her that she asked, “Have I ever been here before?” (I had to tell her I really had no idea).”

I wanted to know more about this historic meeting between cinemas’s Sleaze King and the heroin-ravaged Marlene Dietrich of punk. I interviewed Waters (a life-long hero of mine) for Nude magazine in December 2010 when he was in London promoting his excellent new book Role Models, so I was finally able to get him to elaborate on his encounter with Nico. It was the end of the interview and this was only for my own personal interest and never intended for the final article (which you can read here).

So here it is: when John Waters Met Nico...

Graham Russell: Before you go, tell me about the time you met Nico.

John Waters: Nico ... I met her when she played in Baltimore. Well, (before that) I saw her play with The Velvet Underground at The Dom on St Marks Place (in New York) with The Exploding Plastic Inevitable. I have the poster still. But I met her much later when she had her solo career, which I loved. She was a total heroin addict. Did you ever read that book The End? (The 1992 book is a jaundiced and not exactly objective account by her former keyboardist James Young). It’s so hilarious. It was that – although it wasn’t that, that was later when she was touring England. She played at this disco, and I went. And people went, but not a lot, it wasn’t full. And she was heavy and dressed all in black with reddish dark hair, and she did her (makes guttural moaning noise). Afterwards I said, “It’s nice to meet you, I wish you’d play at my funeral”, and she said (mimics doom-laden Germanic voice), “When are you going to die?” I told her, “You should have played at The Peoples Temple; you would’ve been great when everyone was killing themselves!” Then she said, “Where can I get some heroin?” I said, “I don’t know.” I don’t take heroin, so I don’t know. But even if I did, I wasn’t copping for Nico!

“But that was basically it. But I’ll always remember her, and I love Nico. I remember when she died, when she fell off the bicycle (in 1988). Every summer my friend Dennis and I, we play Nico music on the day she died (18 July). I saw that documentary Nico-Icon (Susanne Ofteringer, 1995), which was great. It’s a shame: she was mad about being pretty! She was sick of being pretty, being a model. And I remember her when she was in La Dolce Vita (1960), even before. Nico ... great singer; and even the Velvet Underground hated having her. And her music can really get on your nerves. You have to be in the mood. Sometimes it gets on my nerves. You have to be in the mood to listen to it. To put on a whole day of Nico can be ... my favourite song of Nico ever, and I only have it on a tape that someone made, it’s a bootleg. Did you ever hear her sing “New York, New York”? It’s great! I wish she’d done a whole album of show tunes! Like “Hello Dolly” or “The Sound of Music”! (Mimics Nico singing “Hello Dolly”).

/ Nico in the 1980s at New York's Chelsea Hotel singing a punk-y and dramatic version of her classic song "Chelsea Girls" /

/ Nico with Marcello Mastroianni in Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita (1960) /

/ Rare shot of Nico and Fellini during the filming of La Dolce Vita /

/ John Waters: The Maestro /

/ Hog Princess: The Filthiest Woman in the World -- Divine. RIP /

 / John Waters and I at his book launch party in London in December 2010 /

The Nude website is now defunct, sadly, but you can still read my full interview with John Waters here

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Juliette Greco at The Royal Festival Hall

/ Juliette Greco in the 1960s: trademark black dress and black eyeliner /

“When I was a young girl, Juliette Greco was my absolute idol ... If I want to be anybody, I want to be Juliette Greco.” Marianne Faithfull

I last saw Juliette Greco perform in June 2000 at The Barbican – one of the most mesmerising concerts I’ve ever seen. After a decade-long gap, she returned to London to cast another spell, this time at The Royal Festival Hall on 21 November 2010 to conclude the 2010 London Jazz Festival. My initial impression at seeing the now 83-year old grand dame of French chanson take the stage was to note that she looks regal but frail– until she opened her mouth. Greco’s impossibly deep and sensual voice, saturated in a lifetime of Gauloises (or Gitanes?) smoke and vin rouge, is still lacerating. (Someone once described Marlene Dietrich’s voice as sounding like autumn leaves being crunched under leather boots. It equally applies to Greco’s expressive throaty rasp). Then, that she is reassuringly still beautiful and her incredible charisma and sense of drama more potent than ever. Onstage, chanson’s great living exponent remains a torrent of seething emotion and volcanic intensity.

A quick summary for any newcomers to the magic of Juliette Greco: She emerged from the smoky cellar dives of post-war Left Bank Paris like Le Tabou and La Rose Rouge to achieve international stardom as both a chanteuse and an actress. Greco and her family had been active in the French Resistance, and her music and image are steeped in the rebellious, politicised bohemian French intellectual life centred around Saint-Germain-des-Prés. From early on she was encouraged to sing by the likes of by Jean-Paul Sartre and Boris Vian, and besotted leading French poets and philosophers wrote lyrics specially tailored for her (wonderful songs like “"Si tu t'imagines”, her first hit), establishing Greco as the black-clad high priestess of existentialism and a strong, enduring female presence in French popular culture. In the late 1940s she began an interracial affair with visiting American jazz star Miles Davis. Author Lewis MacAdams argues “the offspring of their three-year, long-distance liaison – of the marriage of bebop and existentialism – was the birth of cool.”

/ Beatnik icon: a very young Greco at the beginning of her career in the early fifties /

/ The birth of cool: Miles Davis and Juliette Greco in the fifties /

But hey I’m superficial, so it doesn’t hurt that in the 1950s Greco was lusciously, wantonly beautiful and nailed a timeless, striking almost Morticia Addams-esque look: tousled mane of dark hair, all-black wardrobe, kohl-blackened eyes under a Bettie Page fringe. The liner notes to one of her 1950s albums swoons about “the fascinating child-woman with the wild black hair and the deep-set burning eyes ...” Greco’s magnetic image set the template for female beatniks worldwide, who ironed their hair and donned winged black Cleopatra eyeliner and black polo neck sweaters in emulation. (As a fashion icon Greco belongs up there with countrywoman Brigitte Bardot and Edie Sedgwick. These days, fashion stylists and photographers probably reference the Greco style without realising where it originated).

/ Juliette Greco eyeliner technique /

/ Juliette Greco paper doll: weirdly, there's no black dress in the wardrobe selection! /

/ Various Greco faces over the years (during her fifties Hollywood stint, she had two nose jobs, which dramatically changed her appearance) /

/ Greco in Hollywood: co-starring with Richard Todd in the 1958 film The Naked Earth /

Anyway, it could have been a nostalgic trawl through Greco’s greatest hits, written for her by the likes of Jacques Brel and Serge Gainsbourg – which would still have been spellbinding. Instead it was an evening of stark minimalism: a black stage, Greco in her signature severe black dress (a floor-length bat wing-sleeved velvet shroud worthy of Vampira), and the formidable Greco songbook stripped down to just accordion (accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier) and piano (her husband and long-time accompanist Gérard Jouannest, who composed the music for many of Jacques Brel’s classics).

And while Greco has over 60 years of songs to chose from (she made her singing debut in 1949), she obviously chose the songs that have the greatest personal meaning for her, drawing largely from her majestic late-period work (like 1998’s Un jour d’ete et quelques nuits... and 2006’s Le temps d’une chanson) rather than solely 1950s and 60s crowd-pleasing material (for example, no “Sous les ciels de Paris”, and instead of "Les feuilles mortes", she sang Gainsbourg’s song about “Les feuilles mortes”,” La Chanson de Prevert”), although the set was certainly generously studded with Greco’s classics.

With her commanding theatrical gestures, Greco is as much an actress as she is a singer. Certainly she acts as much as she “sings”: melody definitely isn’t one of her priorities. Over the years Greco’s voice has coarsened and darkened, and is noticeably harsher and more guttural than on her old recordings. But it’s something she works to her advantage: Greco belongs to that elite group of female song stylists whose husky ravaged tones were powerful rather than pretty, and ideal for conveying romantic suffering and world weariness: think late-period Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Hildegard Knef, Lotte Lenya, Dietrich, and younger singers like Nico and Marianne Faithfull, who very much followed in Greco’s tradition.

Greco hurled herself into every song, transforming each one into performance art. Her songs evoke a variety of moods: she tore into Brel’s "Bruxelles" with an almost angry glee, whereas Gainsbourg’s “La Javanaise” was spine-tingling, slowed-down and delicate. One thing she demonstrated is that at 83 she still retains her sensuality. Introducing “Deshabillez Moi” (Undress Me) she joked she really shouldn’t be singing it at her age, but it’s such a great song she will anyway – and then became the consummate self-mocking sex kitten, which she maintained for the rousing “Jolie Mome” and “L'Accordeon” (during which she played her own body with her fingertips as if it were an accordeon). Greco still has the erotic confidence of a great beauty (whose admirers included Miles Davis, Marlon Brando, Prince Aly Khan, Serge Gainsbourg, Sacha Distel and the film mogul Darryl F Zanuck, who tried to launch her as a Hollywood star in the 1950s), and clearly doesn’t doubt her allure. (In this regard, she reminded me of another slinky octogenarian chanteuse of the same vintage,Eartha Kitt, who we saw perform in 2007).

JULIETTE GRECO - Déshabillez-moi
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"Jolie Môme" Juliette Greco
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Ultimately, though, Greco is the consummate tragedienne and the most affecting songs were the bleak dirges. The old Edith Piaf standard “Les Amants d’un Jour” told the eerie story of the suicide pact between two doomed lovers. In her intro to “C’Etait un Train de Nuit” she explained that torture, war and death are all encompassed in the song, and then sang it with her eyes squeezed shut as if in horror. In it, she repeatedly gasps, “Je me souviens” (“I remember ...”) and describes scenes of prisoners on a train en route to a concentration camp. Brel’s tender “La chanson des vieux amants” ended with her covering her face in her hands as if in agony. Greco originally recorded another Brel masterpiece, “J’Arrive” in 1970, but the song – in which she confronts death, imploring, “Pourquoi moi? Pourquoi déjà?”(Why me? Why now?) -- obviously has added poignancy and greater intimations of mortality now that she’s singing it towards the end of her own life.

/ Greco performing "La chanson de vieux amants" in 2004 at The Olympia in Paris /

/ Autumn Leaves: Greco photographed by Pierre et Gilles in the eighties /

After seeing one of Marlene Dietrich’s last concerts in the 1970s, the film critic Kevin Thomas reflected, “she regarded her talent as a rare and precious wine that she would pour out drop by drop, and until it was gone it would be the most perfect, most refined of all.” Before Greco’s 2000 Barbican concert, she hadn’t performed in London since 1989 and then she waited a decade before returning. It was bittersweet knowing it was unlikely we’d ever see Greco again. For her Royal Festival Hall finale she sang a devastating “Ne Me Quitte Pas”. Greco’s is the angriest version you’ll ever hear of this Brel standard, shredding the elegant melody until it’s a savage plea (she virtually stamps her foot and shakes her fist when she sings it). Afterwards, drinking at the bar and reflecting on Greco’s artistry, commitment and urgency, we appreciated that we may have been born in the wrong era to have seen Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday or Dietrich perform, but we got to see Juliette Greco – every bit their equal. If this is the defiant but vulnerable Juliette Greco’s last performance in London, it was one none of us who saw it will ever forget.

/ Greco singing "Ne me quitte pas" on Italian TV /

/ Obviously photography was strictly forbidden, but at the very end of the night when La Greco came back out to take her curtain calls (and got a standing ovation), I managed to snatch this shot./

/ And Christian took this one: /

/ Someone shot this surprisingly good video of Greco performing "Avec le temps" at The Royal Festival Hall /

/ Strange, interesting litte clip of Greco filmed in 1966 in which she sings two of the songs she performed at The Royal Festival Hall: "Jolie Mome" and "Un Petit Poisson, Un Petit Oiseau." Most fascinating is the glimpses of her backstage in her dressing room, applying her thick black Cleopatra eyeliner /


The Royal Festival Hall concert didn't get much coverage in the press, but it got reviewed in The Telegraph. Not exactly the hippest publication (!), but you can read it here. To their credit they also interviewed her.

Excellent, very thorough overview of Greco's career here

I wrote this piece about Greco for the American punk website Razorcake way back in the early 2000s. I'd write it very differently now -- but here it is