In celebration of Sing'Theatre’s revival of the off-Broadway revue, Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, we uncover five lesser-known facts about the late chansonnier
1. He inspired a boyband
If you once grooved to Westlife’s 1999 hit ‘Seasons in the Sun’ (or maybe Terry Jack’s 1974 rendition), you may be surprised to know the song is an English cover of Brels’ ‘Le Moribond’. And the track is the essential Brel: deliberate and pensive, he croons about the temporal state of relationships, set to the tentative lilt of violins, trumpets and clarinets.
2. He's more storyteller than singer
The Belgian’s mastery of the modern chanson – stories told through song – is evident in many singles, including ‘La Chanson de Jacky’, off his 1966 album, Ces Gens-Là. And it ain’t no fairy tale. The tune drew flak for its references to drugs, virgins and drinking – themes that resonated throughout his career.
3. Heartache, he knows it well
Brel’s single, ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’ (French for don’t leave me), has been covered by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Édith Piaf, Sting and Nina Simone – but the story behind it is a sour one. Brel penned the song when his mistress, Zizou, left him while pregnant with his child (his refusal to acknowledge the child led to Zizou’s decision to abort the baby). Seven years later, Brel famously described the song as a hymn to the cowardice of men.
4. He succumbed to the lure of cinema
The singer extended his love for the arts into acting and directing, a year after retiring from music, in 1967. His second directorial effort, Le Far West,was nominated for the 1973 Cannes Film Festival in the Palme d’Or category – the highest accolade awarded in the ceremony.
5. He wrote a musical based on his songs
In 1968, Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris – an off-Broadway revue based on his songs, and written by Brel himself – opened in New York and played 2,000 shows over four years. It spawned several revivals worldwide, including Sing’Theatre’s in 2008, which is making a return this month. The company’s second production of the jukebox musical features 23 tunes performed by local thespians, each imbued with the trademark Brel pizzazz: punch, expressive and poignant, all at once.
Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris is at SOTA Drama Theatre from May 26-Jun 4.