In Search of the Soul of Jacques Brel / Concert

Arno, Marc Almond, Bruno Brel, Dagmar Krause, Mouron,Czesław Śpiewa

In Search of the Soul of Jacques Brel

featuring Arno, Marc Almond, Bruno Brel, Dagmar Krause, Mouron, Czesław Śpiewa

I think the word genius should be used as little as possible but it's certainly applicable to Jacques Brel, the Belgian singer-songwriter, who died in 1978, only 49 years old. His artistic work is extraordinary – magnificent songs (many of which have become much-covered classics) in the tradition of chanson à texte (where the words have as least as much importance as the music); sublime, poetical lyrics; impeccable singing; riveting, astonishing concert performances, and the whole work imbued with passion and artistic integrity.

Brel had a philosophy of life where the quality of living – especially its intensity - counts much more than longevity, placing Brel, amongst chanson singers, with the similarly uncompromising Edith Piaf and Ewa Demarczyk. His intensity is perhaps his most inspirational aspect, most evident in films of Brel performing.

Brel sang as if the words of every song were his last words. He was a master of phrasing and other aspects of vocal technique, but for Brel technique serves meaning, and thus the songs blaze with meaning, as if the stories being told were happening in the moment of singing. And, adding to the sense that his performances were acting out the stories of the songs, Brel embodied the lyrics with a great actor's gesturality. He not only sang the songs, he let them possess him.

And at the end of each concert, drained, after giving his all, despite the clamour, Brel would hardly ever return for an encore. And he did the same after his final concerts in 1966; having reached his peak, beyond which he didn't feel he was capable of going, he retired from the concert stage to a successful second career of acting and film-directing.

Many of the lyrics are poetic short-stories of people's lives. Imagined lives made real, told with empathy, mostly about unpretentious people living toughly, beyond the tracks, the rejects and low-life of a society which would like to forget them, whose lives reflect the aspects of a society which are readily ignored by the painters of rosy pictures. And when he sings about the middle-class, the lyrics usually bite with satire.

I think it's impossible to imitate Brel except palely, and so, along with an exceptionally-talented musical director, the thirteen-piece Poznan Jacques Brel band and two guest pianists, we have brought together for this evening's concert, six singers from six countries with distinct styles of their own, with the idea that it is artistically richer to be inspired by someone than to imitate them.

We hope that the concert will be a fitting tribute to a life lived greatly, and to a body of songs which should be kept very much alive. We also hope that the concert will give the audience in Poznan a chance to better appreciate the lyrics and their poignant reflections on life, just as relevant now as when Brel wrote them half a century ago.

Nick Hobbs


The Artists:

Marc Almond (born 1957) is one of the most electrifying British pop stars; a singer, musician and songwriter. His works combine elements of pop, electro and dance. He rose to fame with the duo Soft Cell (1978-1984) with Dave Ball. Over several years, they sold more than ten million records whilst their musical explorations greatly affected the subsequent generations of artists. In 1985 he began focusing on a solo career which quickly gained momentum and intensity with his songs making it to the top of the charts. In 1989 he recorded the album Jacques featuring the songs of Jacques Brel, which had not previously been sung in the UK. Since then, experts have referred to Almond as the best living interpreter of Brel's works. Marc Almond has had some darker moments in his life: he was addicted to drugs and in 2004 he had a serious motorbike accident which left him in a coma. He began making a remarkable artistic recovery when Antony Hegarty invited him as a surprise guest to his show in London, in 2005. Today he is in better artistic condition than ever before. 2010 marks the 30th anniversary of his musical career.

Arno (real name: Arno Hintjens, born 1949) is considered one of the most important and most versatile Belgian musicians. He was born in the Belgian city of Ostend. In 1980 he founded the band TC Matic which combined rock with elements of new wave, blues and even the French chanson. This diversity of musical influences marked the whole of Arno's artistic path, including his solo career which he embarked on 1986, after the disbanding of TC Matic. He has recorded over twenty albums which have been very successful, mainly in France and in the Benelux countries. Arno has followed the lead of Jacques Brel – he writes lyrics and composes, apart from studio albums, film scores. He is also an actor. He starred in the Belgian movie Camping Cosmos. His artistic fascination with Brel became evident on his second album Charlatan which was warmly received by the audience and which defined him as a phenomenon of the musical scene. He has been called "a unique character. A blend of playboy and vagabond with a truly cosmopolitan nature and rock'n'roll soul."

Dagmar Krause (born 1950) is a German singer and musician, an interpreter of Kurt Weill's, Bertold Brecht's and Hanns Eisler's songs. She began singing as a 14-year-old in a club in Hamburg. From the earliest days of her career she has been involved in musical experiments. In 1974 she began working with the avant-garde, leftist Henry Cow which later transformed into Art Bears. She has collaborated with News From Babel and the avant-pop Slapp Happy. She has contributed to the projects of her artist friends and has recorded numerous pioneering albums, including Babble with Kevin Coyne. She has recorded two albums dedicated to Brecht and Eisler whom she is extremely fond of. She has sung the songs from these records at such events as the Edinburgh Festival. Dagmar Krause's voice is described as unique, featured by an unusually wide range and extreme potential that allows her to express both sweetness and fragility, as well as powerful emotions. In a variety of artistic constellations he has recorded nearly sixty albums. Dagmar Krause is an exceptionally versatile artist and has featured on numerous recordings, for example the ambient house group The Grid.

Mouron was born in Marseilles to a family of musicians: her father was an opera singer and her mother a songwriter. In 1987 Mouron won the Grand Prix Académie Charles Cros for her first album. She is referred to as a diva that cannot be compared with any other, with a voice that cannot be forgotten. Mouron sings in the tradition of Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel and Juliette Gréco. Her career went through various forms of artistic expression: form collaborating with Michel Fugain's Le Big Bazar to being a soloist at the Folies Bergère; from complex musical shows to simple performances featuring only the piano and her voice. The latter can be heard in her duet with the British musician Terry Truck with whom she has created the concert Mouron chante Brel. In this concert "she takes her versions of the songs into a mysterious territory which seems to embody the very spirit of Brel." She is a regular star at the Festival in Avignon.

Czesław Śpiewa (real name: Czesław Mozil, born 1979) is a Polish musician and composer. When he was five years old his family moved from Poland to Denmark where he later studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen. He developed his artistic skills as member of the band Tesco Value. In 2008 he released his first album Debiut, recorded with a group of his friends, several Polish and Danish musicians, to lyrics by the poet Michał Zabłocki. Very soon the record won the hearts of listeners and rose to platinum status. Czesław Śpiewa makes eclectic music which experiments with pop, rock, punk rock and folk. He is also influenced by the aesthetics of cabaret and the absurd merging of conventions and styles. His own is unmistakable: "What you instantly remember is Czesław's characteristic, slightly tearful voice, as if he was drifting in the multifarious and strange phenomena of the world which surrounds him." Czesław is the winner of some prestigious awards: Fryderyk 2009 (in the categories Pop Album, New Face and Best Song) and the Award of the Polish Academy of Music in London.

Curator: Nick Hobbs

Nick Hobbs is the owner of Istanbul-based Charmenko who are Eastern European festival bookers, concert promoters, and artist agents, and has been working in the music business almost since bunking off school at 17 years old to follow Captain Beefheart's then British tour. He has been a close collaborator with MALTA since 2007. He is a former rock singer, now, under his nom-de-plume, a free-music singer, and involved with experimental theatre and film, and he lectures on voice. His taste is eclectic.

Musical Director: Izidor Leitinger

Izidor Leitinger is a Slovenian musician, conductor and composer. He studied in Graz and in Rotterdam. In his work he is inspired by various areas of art, including dance, multimedia and visual arts; an experimenter continuously seeking new languages of expression. He has worked with many artists, including the famous Laibach with whom he collaborated on the VolksWagner project.

Assistant to Musical Director: Michał Kowalonek

Michał Kowalonek (born 1979) is called "the juggler of screams and whispers". He is a singer-songwriter and guitarist, one of the leading performers on the Polish independent scene. He is best-known as the founder and charismatic leader of Snowman with whom he was nominated for the prestigious Mateusze Trójki 2009 award for debut of the year.


Krzysztof Dys: piano

Wiesław Prządka: accordion

Eliza Schubert-Pietrzak: first violin

Monika Dworczyńska: second violin

Dominika Sikora: viola

Dorota Hajzer: cello

Paweł Postaremczak: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone

Bartosz Smorągiewicz: baritone saxophone, alto saxophone, clarinet, Western concert flute

Maciej Fortuna: trumpet

Piotr "Benny" Banyś: trombone

Jakub Kujawa: guitar

Ksawery Wójciński: contrabass

Marek Jakubowski: percussion

Acknowledgments:Poznańska Ogólnokształcąca Szkoła Muzyczna II stopnia im. M. Karłowicza w Poznaniu and Editions Jacques Brel