Pierre de Gaillande Brings His Edgy, Hilarious English Translations of Georges Brassens Classics Back to Barbes
In the New York art-rock demimonde, Pierre de Gaillande has a resume second to none, first leading the darkly ornate Melomane and then the Snow with the similarly talented Hilary Downes. Since then, he’s dedicated himself to an ongoing chamber chanson project, orchestrating and translating Georges Brassens songs. Brassens had a long career as a gadfly and thorn in the side of the censors on French radio, from the 40s through the 70s. Every time he’d get banned, he’d write something even more mercilessly funny and smutty. He was populist to the core and is still iconic there. De Gaillande’s translations are meticulous, maintaining Brassens’ gritty humor, crushing sarcasm and even the same rhyme schemes, in English, no small achievement. Like this blog, De Gaillande makes Barbes his home base; he’s playing there this Friday night, April 29 at 8.
Catching his show there back in October was a lot of fun. It was a typical performance: he played his signature hollowbody Gibson, backed by an inspired chamber pop band with violin, bass,.drums, accordion and clarinet. As usual, there were also a couple of special guests, one a woman who sang a spare, brief acoustic number and the other a French hip-hop artist who reworked Brassens into a droll, slangy rap.
De Giallande’s voice has deepened over the years: he’s never sung better. He opened with the snidely waltzing, anti-bourgeous broadside Philistines, then had a good time with The Princess and the Troubadour. a jailbait swing tune where the narrator tells the fifteen-year-old girl that he ‘Doesn’t have the makings of a pedophle,” and doesn’t want to spend the rest of his days in the joint. While De Gaillande has a couple of albums of Brassens songs out, he’s always adding new material, and some of the best ones in this set were new additions: a jaunty, southwestern gothic-tinged waltz and a hilarious drinking song. Nobody
drinks writes drinking songs like the French, and Brassens was especially good at it.
There were also plenty of familiar treats from the De Gaillande/Brassens repertoire, including the hilariously irreverent Don Juan, a twisted salute to people who chase…um…undesirable partners. The group also swung their way through I Made Myself Small, which although Brassens dedicated it to his longtime girlfriend, his narrator comes across as completely pussywhipped. De Gaillande alternated English and French verses in a similarly amusing portrait of a lightning rod salesman (Freudian – get it?) making the rounds of Parisian housewives. And he reminded that things aren’t much different now than they were in 1954 when Brassens wrote Public Benches and its sardonic portrait of hypocrites, “People putting other people down for doing what they wish they had the nerve to do. In other words, Republicans,” he grinned. The group wound up the set with a lickety-split, bouncy number fueled by a fiery clarinet solo. It should be fun to see what new gems De Gaillande will unveil this time around.