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July 2007

Robb Johnson: Johnny Hallyday, mon héros (3)

Robb Johnson, singer-songwriter, concludes his in-depth appreciation of Johnny Hallyday with a passionate and powerful defence of that much-derided form: French popular music....

When Edith Piaf died, for two days the people of France filed past her coffin, which was draped with the French flag. When she was buried in Père Lachaise cemetery on October 14, 1963 it was estimated two million people lined the streets of Paris to pay their respects.

The relationship between France and its singers has very particular, very affectionate and very interdependent qualities that I don’t think you find anywhere else.

There is also a durability about these qualities. Looking for UK equivalents, Marie Lloyd’s death evoked a similar mass observance, but that was several decades earlier, Lennon’s death was both very different and also an international phenomenon and Lady Di never had any hit records.

And there's an intimacy that is perhaps partly related to the reasons Johnny remains largely unappreciated outside the French speaking world: the shared intimacy of a separate shared language.

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Vin Garbutt & Cambridge: what's the real story? (2)

Salut! Live's story of Vin Garbutt and the Cambridge Folk Festival has certainly captured attention.

If you add the replies posted to this site, and the comments appearing elsewhere as a direct or indirect result of my efforts, the total comes to 100 or so as I write.

Inconveniently for Salut! Live, all but two of those have been posted not here but elsewhere, the well-established and very interesting Mudcat site.

Any readers who were unaware of Mudcat should take a look at the exchanges appearing on that site. This fascinating topic has produced a great assortment of views, for and against Vin.

I've had my say, but may well return to the subject or write more generally about Vin, whose contributions to folk music deserve to be judged far beyond the debate on one relatively small feature of his work.

Vin Garbutt & Cambridge: what's the real story?

The Cambridge Folk Festival is almost upon us again, with all its familiar aspects: Sold Out notices since the word go and, for those lucky enough to have tickets, prayers for fine weather and the usual, gloriously eclectic mix of music in prospect. But, and this is equally familiar, no Vin Garbutt.

Why is it that Britain's pre-eminent folk festival can find no welcome for the man who has arguably been the most popular solo performer on the British folk circuit for 30 years or more?

Vin's absence was the recent subject of a long discussion at BBC Radio 2's Folk and Acoustic music forum, a thread dominated by one obvious question - is Vin Garbutt banned because of his views/songs on abortion? - and inspired by the organisers of a spirited little campaign to persuade Cambridge to put him back on its bill.

First the bad news. There's still be no Vin at Cherry Hinton fields this coming weekend. And the good, or better news: an unequivocal assurance from Eddie Barcan, director of the festival: "There is no ban."

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Robb Johnson: Johnny Hallyday, mon héros (2)

Robb Johnson, exemplary writer of la chanson anglaise and something of an authority on the more established French variety, continues his appreciation of the France's best-known rock star Johnny Hallyday

All Rock’n’Rollers face this inevitability: they get obviously older, they no longer surf the fashionable Zeitgeist, and what looked their height of cool now looks as embarrassing as flared trousers at a Clash gig.

Johnny’s response was to begin to redefine himself as an artiste of A Certain Maturity, and this redefinition involved a degree of honesty both about Johnny’s age and cultural identity.

In the mid 80s he made two albums - Rock’n’Roll Attitude and Gang - both of which featured images of him looking seriously grown-up, and both of which were written by musicians - Michel Berger and Jean-Jacques Goldman respectively - who as artists themselves had made conscious efforts to establish a French language of rock, rather than imitate Anglo-American models.

There were no covers, no translations. All your rock'n'roll dreams come true

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In favour with Kate Rusby

Picture: Roger Liptrot

Even on a day when the temperamental, clanking old lift was working, the concierge would have struggled with the big carton newly arrived in Paris.

Somewhere between south Yorkshire and the rue de Rivoli, the brown tape had started to come away. The cardboard was looking a little sorry for itself and the contents threatened to spill out at any moment.

But they didn't, at least not until I had plonked the box down on the kitchen table of our fifth-floor flat.

What then tumbled on to the surface was a sight for sore exile eyes. Yorkshire tea, Yorkshire biscuits, Yorkshire relishes, Yorkshire preserves, Yorkshire sweets, Yorkshire goodness knows what else and, best of all, Yorkshire ale.

It was the Rusby family's smashing way of saying thank you for a small favour. I had written a biography of Kate, with what I was pleased to call the bonus track of a second piece, on her fear of flying, for her web site.

At the time, Kate's sister Emma, who efficiently juggles motherhood with busying herself in the family cottage industry that is KR and Pure Records, had asked what I would want to be paid.

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Blowing trumpets

Salut! and its offshots, Salut Live! and Salut! Sunderland, have no special rule book about the separation of editorial and advertising.

These site take a lot of time to maintain, and have no obvious source of proper income. They are, on the other hand very rewarding in other ways and I love the exchanges, many of them sharp or funny or illuminating, that my postings sometimes inspire.

A lot of you have said you like at least some of what you find here. Some, as I have admitted before, will arrive by chance, recoil in horror or yawn and scarper as fast as their cyber legs will carry them.

But if you are in the first category, please do not be offended if I occasionally draw your attention to small ways in which, absolutely according to your own choice, you can help me keep the sites going and keep looking as enthusiastically as now for interesting material to share.

The book and music links are obvious examples. If you come here, and then find out about something you might like to read or hear, please use the links down the right hand column to make such purchases from Amazon.

If you like a flutter, and are at Salut! Sunderland, look up the Boylesports link (the Irish bookmakers are, for unsuspecting folkies and francophiles, the new sponsors of Sunderland AFC.

And if it's a visit to Cornwall that appeals, visit the site of my old friend and former colleague Mike Fleet, whose B&B near Lostwithiel makes an appearance from today. I have not been there and will offer no personal recommendation save to say that Mike's a grand lad, despite being a Plymouth supporter, and is rather proud of his fry-ups.

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