The influence that US folk music exerted on France is one of the lesser known mysteries of the French music scene in the 1970s and 1980s and the likes of Yves Simon and Maxime Le Forestier are virtually unknown outside the francophone world. One talent that emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s was Renaud Séchan, better known by his first name. He was directly influenced by the events of May 1968 when he was a teenager and he is a committed political activist who operates outside mainstream political parties and in his work has espoused causes as wide-ranging as human rights, ecology and a strong anti-military stance. There are four distinctive periods in Renaud’s career and this excellent anthologies covers the second phase, that of his popular success. To date his twenty plus albums have sold approximately twenty million copies in the francophone world and that is a testimony to his ability to mobilise support among those who are discontented, but are not attracted to the extreme Right.
Non-French speakers will not find his music an easy port of entry since Renaud frequently makes extensive use of French slang and his delivery is not unlike that of Tom Waits and will not leave the newcomer to his music indifferent. That said, for the listener who is able to take all this on board, there is some wonderfully uncompromising music within and it is surprisingly melodic too. Arguably the strongest album of all dates from 1985 with ‘Mistral Gagnant’ and this yielded some of his most loved songs including ‘Miss Maggie’, ‘La pêche à la ligne’ as well as the title track. The influence of Irish folk is certainly apparent on the 1991 release, ‘Marchand de Cailloux’ which featured the gorgeous sounding ‘Ballade nord-irlandaise’ that needs no translation. He followed this up with another well-rounded album that stands the test of time in ‘A la belle de Mai’ (1994). Renaud’s to the French chanson tradition is all too evident on an album devoted to one of his heroes and seminal influences, ‘Renaud chante Brassens’, dates from 1996 and he gives his own distinctive flavour to interpretations of classics such as ‘Le bistrot’, ‘Brave Margot’, ‘Les amoureux des bancs publics’ and ‘La mauvaise herbe’. All in all a wonderful selection and for those in search of something contemporary that relates to what the real concerns of ordinary French people in towns and cities, this could hardly be bettered.