Alain Barrière

Born : 18/11/1935 in la Trinité-sur-Mer (France)
Country : France
Language : French
Category : Composer / Male Artist / Songwriter
Style of music : Chanson

Alain Barrière recorded a number of timeless hits which earned their place in French music history in the 60s. But in subsequent years the singer, who refused to make any kind of compromise to the star system, ended up living as a recluse. These days, the man who immortalised "Ma vie" has retired to his native Brittany.

This page is no longer in service. Please go to for up to date coverage.

Alain Barrière recorded a number of timeless hits which earned their place in French music history in the 60s. But in subsequent years the singer, who refused to make any kind of compromise to the star system, ended up living as a recluse. These days, the man who immortalised "Ma vie" has retired to his native Brittany.

Alain Bellec was born in La Trinité-sur-Mer on 18 November 1935. He grew up in Brittany as the son of hardworking fishmongers and spent most of his childhood dreaming of escape. Roaming the local beaches and moorland, young Alain turned into something of a solitary, rebellious child, caught up in himself and nature. But a kindly teacher at his primary school ended up taking him under his wing and bringing the boy out of himself. Against all expectation, Alain turned into a model pupil who showed great curiosity about everything. Once Alain finished his secondary education, he left for Angers, where he enrolled at the "Ecole Nationale des Ingénieurs des Arts et Métiers" in 1955. 

Alain devoted himself wholeheartedly to a future career in engineering, but in 1958 he was bitten by the music bug. The young student promptly went out, bought a guitar and began composing his first melodies. The following year, he went on to discover the modernist poetry penned by the likes of Francis Carco and Robert Desnos. This inspired him to begin setting words to his music and he soon started playing his early compositions to student friends. After graduating from the "Ecole Nationale des Ingénieurs des Arts et Métiers" in 1960, Alain landed his first job, working for a tyre manufacturer in the Paris suburbs. Meanwhile, Alain, still gripped by his musical passion, spent his evenings performing at a small cabaret in the city centre. 

In 1961, Alain Bellec adopted his stage name, Alain Barrière, and entered the "Coq d’or" young talents contest. The final of the competition was held at the prestigious Olympia music-hall in Paris where the young singer-songwriter scooped first prize with his song, "Cathy." Rock and 'yéyé' (French rock'n'roll) were just beginning to take off on the French music scene, but Alain Barrière fitted into neither category. Nevertheless, French record companies took an interest in the young singer's original 'chanson' style and he soon went on to sign his first record deal. This allowed him to leave his day job and earn a living performing at smaller venues on the Paris circuit. 

It was not until 1963 that Alain Barrière's career really took off in earnest, however, with the release of the single "Elle était si jolie." The young singer-songwriter was chosen to represent France at that year's Eurovision Song Contest and, although he finally finished fifth overall, this gave him access to a much wider audience. Barrière went on to support Paul Anka on a concert tour – and realised it was time to perfect his live technique!

A thoroughly reclusive star

Alain Barrière went on to release his debut album at the end of 1964. It bore the title of one of his most popular songs, "Ma vie" (My Life). He found himself performing as the headlining act at the Olympia and the entire French nation soon had his song on their lips. Barrière had turned into one of the fastest-rising stars of the day, but he appeared to be uncomfortable about fitting into the commercial system. Instead of playing the rock star and living it up with a champagne and drugs lifestyle, he used the proceeds from his debut album to buy an old millhouse in the Yvelines region. He lived here as a recluse over the next few years, with no-one but his dogs for company and worked on new material at night. 

Alain Barrière branched out in a new direction in 1966, accepting the lead role in Sergio Gobbi's film "Pas de panique." This was his one and only appearance on the silver screen, however. Barrière resumed his recording career shortly afterwards, recording a whole string of chart hits including "La Marie-Joconde," "Rien qu’un homme," "Emporte-moi" and "Les guinguettes" over the next three years. Meanwhile, he kept up a busy album schedule, releasing "Toi" in 1966, "Si je rêve de toi" in 1967 and two albums in 1968 (including one recorded in Italian). "A regarder la mer" followed in 1969. As his popularity spread across the nation, Alain Barrière took to the stage of the Olympia again in 1966 and 1967 for a series of sell-out shows.

Standing apart from the crowd

By this stage of his career, Alain Barrière had become notorious for his frank outspokenness and his consistent refusal to make any kind of concession to the star-system. His relationship with journalists and other members of his profession was troubled at best, positively hostile at worst. And, as he reached the height of his fame, he made a bid for independence, leaving his record company, Barclay, in the early 70s to set up his own production company, Albatros. This move left a lot of people disgruntled, but Barrière continued to sell his singles to a loyal public of fans who followed him over the years. This meant he lived comfortably off his earnings, even though he never really received decent coverage on French radio or television. 

There was one song in Alain Barrière's career which did take off on the musical mainstream, however, and that was "Tu t’en vas." Recorded as a duet with Noëlle Cordier in 1975, "Tu t’en vas" rocketed straight to the top of the French charts and sold a million copies. Boosted by the success of "Tu t’en vas," Barrière went on to sell over 200,000 albums (the most singles and albums he ever sold in his career). "Tu t’en vas" also enjoyed great success in other French-speaking countries and Germany, where it reached the coveted no.1 spot. This was a rare feat for a French single – indeed, up until that point, the German no.1 spot had only ever been held by one French artist, Edith Piaf! 

1975 also proved to be something of a turning-point in Alain Barrière's personal life, for this was the year he married Anièce (his girlfriend of just a few months) and became a father when Anièce gave birth to baby daughter Guénaelle. Meanwhile, Alain Barrière realised one of his oldest dreams, buying a castle in Brittany near the famous menhirs in Carnac. Over the next few years, the singer converted the castle into a theatre-cum-discotheque-cum-restaurant called "Le Stirwen" ("Stirwen" is a Breton word meaning "White Star." The venue became legendary for the special theme evenings Barrière organised with his wife.


Despite their local status as one of the most happening venues in Brittany, Alain Barrière's business venture soon began to fail. Surrounded by false friends and bad advice from unscrupulous entrepreneurs, the singer ended up in serious trouble with the French tax authorities. This led to him leaving France and going into exile with his family. The Barrières ended up flying out to the United States in 1977 – and did not return to France until four years later! Barrière attempted to get his career up and running again on his return, but his comeback album "Un peu de sang breton" failed to take off with the record-buying public. He made another attempt at a comeback two years later with "La mer est là," but this came to nought as well. 

Shortly afterwards, Barrière decided to try his luck abroad again, moving to Quebec. He continued his songwriting activities in Canada and finally seemed to find a certain serenity in his life. When he returned to France in the early 90s, the singer moved back to his castle near Carnac, ruined but apparently happy with his family life. 

Alain Barrière made an unexpected comeback on the French music scene in 1997, thanks to two album releases. On "Ma vie: Trente années de chansons" (My Life, Thirty Years of 'Chanson'), the "definitive" Barrière compilation, fans were treated to remasterised versions of all the old favourites plus a few bonus tracks never released on CD before (such as "Amoco" and "Un poète"). "Barrière 97," which followed shortly afterwards, was an album featuring entirely new material and Barrière performed these new songs to an enthusiastic audience at the Salle Pleyel in Paris in February 1998. 

Alain Barrière was presented with a "Trophée de la Nuit" for "Le Stirwen" in 2003, marking the venue's status as one of the most popular Breton nightspots for 28 years. In September 2003, the singer performed his final farewell concert in "Le Stirwen," bowing out after a career spanning four decades.

September 2004

© RFI Musique
Any reproduction of this website - either whole or partial - is strictly prohibited without the agreement of the authors.