Serge Gainsbourg

1928 (Paris) – 1991 (Paris)

Léger briefly taught Gainsbourg, before he turned to music. He became Vian’s protégé — they met while Gainsbourg was working as a piano-player in a bar. Under Vian’s influence, he stirred together Baudelairean poetry and oblique jazz in the vein of chanson. Gréco invited the young Gainsbourg to write for her — several hits resulted. Brel, originally met while both were touring a popular stage-show, suggested he sing his compositions more himself, rather than writing for others.

Juliette Gréco

1927 (Montpellier) – 2020 (Ramatuelle, France)

The 20-year-old Gréco encountered Vian, Cocteau and Davis — with whom she had a long affair — at a Paris nightclub. She called Vian her “incestuous brother.” Queneau and Prévert wrote songs for her. She starred in Cocteau’s ‘Orphée’, sang with her idol Brassens, was taken back to her hotel on a motorcycle by Brando, and met Welles in Hollywood. Sartre, de Beauvoir and Camus were others she met in post-war Paris. She invited the young Gainsbourg to write for her, and was blunt with Michaux about his lyrics. Merleau-Ponty, in the vain hope of seducing her, threw gravel at her bedroom window.

Jacques Brel

1929 (Brussels) – 1978 (Bobigny, France)

Supreme figure in French-language chanson. When he was still struggling to make headway and had come next to last in a competition, Gréco (who described him as raw-boned and untamed) asked if she could sing one of his songs. Both subsequently quit their record labels to join Barclay’s; Barclay became a true friend. Brel acted in films by Carné and Lelouch, took part in a legendary radio interview with his friend Brassens and Ferré, and advised Gainsbourg to sing more himself. Aznavour, another friend, tried in vain to persuade him not to retire from singing.

Jacques Brel knew…

Georges Brassens

1921 (Sète, France) – 1981 (Saint-Gély-du-Fesc)

Gréco, a great admirer, sang several concerts with him; the previous year he had sung live on radio with his childhood idol, Trenet. He wrote songs for a film directed by Clair, based on a novel by his friend René Fallet, and played a small part in it (a character remarkably like him). He set words by his friend Fort to music, among other poets. He visited the octogenarian Mac Orlan, and said that he gave memories to people who hadn’t any. Brel was a close friend; they took part in a three-way radio interview with Ferré (the only time all three met), legendary in chanson circles.

Georges Brassens knew…