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Regarding Françoise Hardy

F Hardy

One thing Françoise Hardy and I have in common is that we both gave Paris a wide berth in May ’68. In my case it was a question of force majeure: with my girlfriend, I was on my way from London to Istanbul on the Direct Orient Express (third class, £40 return each, three and a half days there and three and a half back, £5 supplement for a couchette on the homeward journey), and the general strike in France meant a detour via Brussels. For Hardy, it was a matter of choice: she and her new boyfriend, the singer Jacques Dutronc, were advised by their publicist to get out of town to avoid the évenements.

“We didn’t need to be told twice,” she wrote 10 years ago in Le désespoir des singes et autres bagatelles, her fine and extremely candid autobiography. “We left for Corsica, where we spent several idyllic weeks — the first and the last of our long and strange relationship.”

Neither of them would have found a natural home on the barricades. “My political awareness was nulle, and it was the same for Jacques.” What she did know was that she disliked violence, which she believed would solve nothing. “Contrary to things I’ve heard Daniel Cohn-Bendit say,” she continues, “May ’68 didn’t transform society; it was because society had already been transformed that May ’68 could take place.” That’s quite an interesting argument.

Fifty years later, at the age of 74, she has a new album out. It’s one she never expected to make, her recent years having been occupied by treatment for lymphoma, from which she recovered after being given a new kind of chemotherapy. Created in collaboration with Erick Benzi, who produced and played many of the instruments, Personne d’autre fits very nicely into the sequence of Hardy albums of the last three decades: Décalages (1988), Le Danger (1996), Clair-obscur (2000), Tant de belles choses (2004), Parenthèses (2006), La pluie sans parapluie (2010) and L’Amour fou (2013).

There may be others that I don’t know, just as I didn’t know a much earlier album, La question (1971), until I was steered in its direction by Sean O’Hagan’s excellent interview with Hardy in the Observer a couple of weeks ago, in which it was described as her own favourite. I sent off for it straight away, and once I heard it I couldn’t believe that it hadn’t been in my life for the past 47 years.

Her principal collaborator on this one was a Brazilian guitarist, songwriter, arranger and producer known as Tuca, born Valeniza Zagni da Silva. Together she and Hardy achieve a blend of the elegance of chanson and the lightness of bossa nova, using the latter’s familiar gut-string acoustic guitar but not the rhythms. There are strings everywhere, romantic but not cloying, and the occasional support of a double bass. Only in the latter stages of the album do an electric guitar, a piano, a swirl of organ and a brass section make brief and discreet appearances.

La question is a concept album in the sense that it constructs a wistful mood which endures and evolves without strain throughout its dozen songs and 32 minutes. In 1971 Hardy herself was still sounding like a girl rather than the woman she is on Personne d’autre, but this is nevertheless a grown-up record. To achieve such weightless poise takes time, talent and touch. And for me, at least, better late than never.

* Personne d’autre and La question are both on Parlophone. “Viens”, a track from the latter, is featured on Paris in the Spring, a new anthology of French pop from the late ’60s and early ’70s compiled by Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs for Ace Records. An English translation of Hardy’s autobiography is due at the end of the month, titled The Despair of Monkeys and Other Trifles, published by Feral House. I haven’t seen it, so the translations included here are mine.

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Peter Jones #

    Yes, “la question” is a lovely record. But – Tuca was female, I believe..

    May 16, 2018
  2. Richard Harris #

    There’s a wonderful piece of French TV on YouTube from maybe a decade ago, a tribute to François, where David Bowie and Radiohead are quests. Bowie says something like “I love you François, I’ve always you, and all my friends loved you back in the 60s, even the women loved you!”. “Oh David!”, she demures, shaking a bobbed haircut vastly superior to Le Bowie’s Anyway, an enthusiasm I can share, if not for the music. She is truly, despite the totally debased cliché, iconic. And wasn’t a bad film actor early on, “A bullet to the heart” or some such?

    “May ’68 didn’t transform society; it was because society had already been transformed that May ’68 could take place.”. Mmm, well, to me this is a self serving justification for “Hell, I’m going on holiday”. And leaving “tout les revolutionary garçons”, to just get on with it. No matter.

    May 16, 2018
  3. GuitarSlinger #

    I’ve wondered what had become of Francoise so what a pleasant surprise it was this morning for this article and a new CD to suddenly appear on my screen seemingly out of nowhere . My first introduction to her was as a young man falling head over heels for her in the movie ” Grand Prix ”

    As an interesting albeit potentially controversial side note . Francoise Hardy is listed as one of author Michel Houllebecq’s favorites

    As for 1968 … it transformed society massively ..at least here in the US .. problem is by the late 70’s things began to changed back for the worse … with things now reverting to a tribalistic polarized mess that is destroying what ever remaining gains that were made in 1968 once and for all

    PS; Thanks for the heads up on ” La Question ” . That one’s definitely going into the collection .

    Question ; Anyone have a clue what became of the guitarist Tuca ?

    May 16, 2018
  4. pt #

    love this  – thank you !Pat ThomasBurbank, CA 

    May 16, 2018
  5. Lovely, Richard. Unoriginal but I was in love (and awe) with her like everyone else at the time. Although she later confirmed it in the excellent autobiography, I never really believed what she sang in Tous les garçons et les filles – how could such a luminous person possibly be alone and sad? – but there was always hope… The photographer Jean-Marie Périer (they were together for a bit) took the best pictures of her, among many others touchingly redolent of the times. You may be able to hear La question playing in the background as I write this

    May 17, 2018
  6. I understand Tuca died in the late 70s; she was involved in a string of amazing records which I think of as being of-a-piece with the wonderful “La Question”, notably Nara Lao’s “Dez Anos Depois” and her own outstanding solo LP, “Dracula I Love You”, the latter unaccountably still unavailable to purchase by any (legal) means).

    Thanks for this piece Richard, I’ll be sure to take a listen to Personne d’autre.

    May 17, 2018

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