Sunday, May 18, 2003
That Girl's In Love
I love a diva as much as the next boot-boy in Comptons, but, until this weekend, I've never quite understood Jane Birkin. She's incandescently sexy, of course, in a gawkily gap-toothed gamine-with-a-great-bum sort of way, and as gloriously nutty as a fruit cake, but, at best, her voice is weak and brittle. Yet this 56-year-old Home Counties girl, who's lived in Paris since the sixties, is one of France's national treasures, up there with Piaf, Trenet, and the incomparable Barbara.
As far as I was concerned, the only things she's done of note were replacing Brigitte Bardot on the breathy female vocals for Je T'Aime, Moi Non Plus, and managing repeatedly to shag Serge Gainsbourg for years, without first putting a paper bag over his head. For the first she deserves a mention in my kitsch-catalogue; for the second she should get enlisted in the Legion d'Honneur.
It's as the ex-shag, one-time muse, and forever keeper of the flame of France's greatest-ever songwriter, that she's justifiably loved over the Channel. But watching her on stage at London's Sadlers Wells in Arabesque, her new tribute to Gainsbourg, you realise she's much more than that. Bravely, she weds Gainsbourg's familiar songs, and her breathless little-girl voice (and occasional naff notes), to unfamiliar sensual Algerian rhythms and deep, dark and doomy Moroccan beats. She gets away with it, making the whole concert a marvellously intimate experience, a sexy tribute to "my Serge".
When an a cappella version of La Javanaise ("it's sort of like God Save the Queen in France," she tells the audience) can drive the heterosexual, rugger-bugger Frenchman one row behind me to tears, then you know she's not taking the piss. You know that, twelve years after he died, and twenty-three years after she left him, she's not just trading on his memory. That girl's still in love, my dears.