Alain Souchon

Born : 27/5 /1944 in Casablanca (Morocco)
Country : France
Language : French
Category : Composer / Male Artist / Songwriter
Style of music : Chanson

Souchon is that ten year old boy standing all alone in the corner of the school playground dear to every Frenchman's heart. He knows all about life's knocks and bruises, but in singing about them transforms what could sound plaintive or whining, unbearable even, into something infinitely tender and also funny. Souchon-Voulzy, Voulzy-Souchon, the two of them combine perfectly to produce simple, tender lyrics and music of great quality. Their alchemy works and the couple (professional) continue to work happily together, dividing their life between Belle-Ile and Lann Bihoué.  

Souchon is that ten year old boy standing all alone in the corner of the school playground dear to every Frenchman's heart. He knows all about life's knocks and bruises, but in singing about them transforms what could sound plaintive or whining, unbearable even, into something infinitely tender and also funny. Souchon-Voulzy, Voulzy-Souchon, the two of them combine perfectly to produce simple, tender lyrics and music of great quality. Their alchemy works and the couple (professional) continue to work happily together, dividing their life between Belle-Ile and Lann Bihoué.  

Alain Kienast/Souchon was born on May 27th 1944 in Casablanca in Morocco, where his father, Pierre, was an English teacher. His family returned to Paris when Alain was six months old. A shy child, he was unhappy at school, preferring the school holidays in the country. In 1959, returning by car from a winter sports holiday, the family had an accident in which Alain's father died. Fifteen years old and deeply traumatised by this tragedy, he became even more introverted. In order to support Alain and his elder brother, their mother began writing romantic novels under a pen name. The family, forced to adopt a more different lifestyle, moved to more modest lodgings, sharing them with Alain's grandmother. Thanks to her, and to her radio which was always on, he discovered the great singers and music began to interest him more and more.  

Alain was sent away to provincial colleges. A solitary and dreamy adolescent, he spent more time writing poetry and prose than on his studies which bored him. In 1961 his mother decided to send him to the Lycée Français in London. However, due to inscription problems he wasn't able to attend the school. Nevertheless, he stayed on in London, working as a barman in a pub. This stay a long way from home - during which he studied for his baccalaureat by correspondence and failed three times - helped to bring him out of himself.  

Belote

On his return to France, he took up the guitar and a began writing songs. Obsessed with music, he supported himself with odd jobs and went to numerous auditions. In vain. He listened to all the greats of the day, Barbara, Brassens, and above all Brel, for whom his admiration remains boundless. the sixties wave of Anglo-Saxon music affected him just as much, however, and he sometimes sang American songs at auditions. 

In 1969, he met Françoise, nicknamed Belote. They were married in 1970 and their son, Pierre, was born the same year.

Souchon continued to sing in cabarets and bars on the Left Bank, the intellectual and literary quarter of Paris, but earned very little and didn't like the atmosphere of these venues at all. Nevertheless, his wife encouraged him to persevere and in 1971 he signed his first recording contract with the Pathé-Marconi label. However, after three unsuccessful singles (including "Je suis un voyageur" and "Un coin de solitude") the commercial verdict was only too clear. 

The lean years finally ended in 1973 when Souchon met Bob Socquet, RCA's artistic director, who was interested by the young singer's sensitive, disillusioned compositions. He had just written "L'Amour 1830" for Frédéric François, a romantic singer of Italian origin. Socquet, however, encouraged Souchon to sing the song himself at the Rose d'Or competition in Antibes. He won the critic's prize and was awarded the press's special prize. His first success.  

Belote 2

The big break came, however, when he met Laurent Voulzy, a young musician born in 1948 and brought up on Anglo-Saxon music. Voulzy's career, like Souchon's, had not yet really taken off. The two musicians hit it off immediately, and quickly proved themselves to be highly complementary. Souchon was more gifted as a lyricist than as a composer. Voulzy compensated for this, immediately allowing Souchon to simplify and lighten his compositions.  

In 1974, the first Souchon-Voulzy collaboration was a huge success, even if Voulzy was still only arranger. The album, "J'ai 10 ans" was a showcase for both Souchon's elegant style and Voulzy's modernity. The title track, a song about a certain 'mal de vivre' that has been a recurrent theme in Souchon's repertoire, was released as a single and was his first hit.

In 1975, after years spent performing in tiny cabarets, Alain Souchon at last walked out on stage at one of the great Parisian venues, the Elysée-Montmartre, and then at the temple of French popular music, Olympia, as second bill to Jean-Jacques Debout. A year later, his second album, "Bidon", came out, with music entirely composed by Voulzy. The album received rave write-ups and the title track, a huge hit, turned Souchon into a household name. 

In 1977, success continued with the album, "Jamais content", which included the song that has become Souchon's signature tune, "Allô maman bobo", and the anthem of a certain masculine fragility which the singer has come to stand for. On a different, humorous register, in "Poulailler's song", Souchon sang about endemic racism. Inspite of his hopeless daydreamer image, his lyrics regularly take up the social problems which preoccupy him. He was back on stage at Olympia again in 1977, this time as second bill to the comedian, Thierry le Luron. 

Biniou

The Souchon Voulzy team also benefited Voulzy who in 1977 had a huge hit with "Rockcollection", with lyrics by Souchon. The two of them often left Paris for the country for weeks at a time to write their next Souchon or Voulzy release. One of their favourite retreats was Brittany. Their collaboration was extraordinarily prolific and in 1978 the next Souchon album, "Toto 30 ans", came out. Although darker in mood than his previous releases, it was received just as enthusiastically. The singles "Le Bagad de Lann Bihoue" and "Papa Mambo" both had huge sales. The album also marked Alain Souchon's first work for the cinema: director François Truffaut commissioned him to write the theme song for his film "L'Amour en Fuite".  

In 1978, Alain Souchon's second son, Charles, was born. 

A few months later, in January 1980, he was invited back to L'Olympia, this time as the top of the bill. The show was a triumph. In November, he returned for nine performances, with Laurent Voulzy joining him one night to sing two brand new songs. 

In 1980 the album, "Rame", came out, with Alain Souchon's friend Michel Jonasz accompanying him on the track, "Jonasz". Since 1974 the two artists, who shared very similar attitudes towards their profession, had written together regularly. 

That year, Alain Souchon made his début as an actor in Claude Berri's "Je vous aime". Whether alongside Catherine Deneuve, Gérard Depardieu or Serge Gainsbourg, Alain Souchon has always played fragile and melancholic characters very similar to his public persona. His acting talents are unaminously appreciated and in I981, Jean-Paul Rappeneau cast him to star alongside Isabelle Adjani and Yves Montand in "Tout feu tout flamme", a big box office success. But it was above all with his performance in Jean Becker's "L'Eté Meurtrier" in 1983, again with Isabelle Adjani, playing a character driven to murder by love, that he made the biggest impression. 

From Brittany to Monaco

In September 1983, after this cinematic interlude and a break from music, Alain Souchon brought out "On avance". The new album differed from his others in that he co-write several of the songs with singer friends: "On est si beau" with Michel Jonasz, "Les Papas des bébés" with Louis Chedid and "Casablanca" with David McNeill. Only the very beautiful "Saute en l'air" was co-written with Voulzy. 

On September 20th he began a nation-wide tour at L'Olympia in Paris. 

At the end of 1984, Souchon and Voulzy made themselves scarce once more, retreating to Britanny and Saint-Tropez to write the "C'est comme vous voulez" album, released in 1985. Souchon had left RCA for Virgin. At forty, with songs like "Je veux du cuir", his style was growing less fragile and morose, without abandoning that characteristic sensitivity that is his trademark. His fans showed had no objection to the new, revised Souchon: "La ballade de Jim" was a hit. 

In May 1986 he played the Palais des Sports auditorium in Paris before going off on a month long double bill tour with Véronique Sanson on November 11th. The two singers put together a very beautiful show, alternating duos and solos, called Chacun mon tour, which they took around France, Belgium and Switzerland.  

In 1987, "Comédie", a film by Jacques Doillon, was released, in which Alain Souchon plays the partner of Jane Birkin. Since "L'Eté Meurtrier", he had made regular film appearances, but his role in "Comédie", even though less known, is without doubt one of his most moving. 

At the end of 1988, the Souchon-Voulzy duo exiled themselves anew, this time not in Brittany but in Monaco. The result: the "Ultra moderne solitude" album was released in 1989. Alain Souchon performed the new songs at the prestigious Théâtre des Champs-Elysées from April to May. Among them were the universally acclaimed "La beauté d'Ava Gardner" and "Quand je serais KO", which the following year received the Victoire de la Musique award for best song of the year. He repeated the same recital at the Casino de Paris in September 89 and extracts from both venues were included in the live album, "Nickel", released in 1990. 

1993: "C'est déjà ça"

After a tour, some films and some rest, Alain Souchon was back in the musical limelight again in 1993 with a new album. "C'est déjà ça" was an enormous commercial and critical success, and the first single from it to be released, "Foule sentimentale", one of his greatest songs, has become a French standard. More political in content, this album deals with social problems in a much more acute way than before, without his lyrics losing any of their characteristic poetry and subtle colouring. One of the titles on the album, "Le Fil", was co-written by his son, Pierre Souchon. A musician, Pierre sang in the group, Cherche Midi, along with another singer's son, Julien Voulzy.  

The album marked Alain Souchon's return to composing. He gave prominence to the guitar, which dominated his new sound.  

In October 93, Alain Souchon's sensitivity to social problems was highlighted by his participation along with Cabrel, Jonasz, Le Forestier, Catherine Lara and Maurane in a benefit concert at Olympia for the charity organisation Sol en Si (Solidarité Enfant Sida).  

At the beginning of 94, he was again top of the charts with the second title from the album, "l'Amour à la machine". Shortly afterwards, in February, he received two Victoire de la Musique awards, for Best Song of the Year and Best Male Artist. He was back on stage at Olympia from May 17th to June 11th. In October he played to full houses for three nights at the 4000 seat Zenith auditorium. The live album of his Zenith triumph was released in October 95. By this time, Souchon had sold more than a million albums, not counting the singles, and 200.000 people had thronged to his concerts during his last tour. 

In 1996 he received the Vincent Scotto prize, awarded by the SACEM (Société des Auteur Compositeurs) for "Sous les jupes des filles".  

He continued his charity work for Sol en Si, begun in 93, with a new album with Voulzy, on which the two artists sang with their respective sons, Pierre and Julien. Then in 1997, Alain returned to the Casino de Paris for a Sol en Si benefit concert similar to the one in 93 and with the same artists plus Zazie.

The seven singers performed for a week at the Casino and then left on tour. Apart from Sol en Si, Alain Souchon had also taken part in the Enfoirés concerts in 94 and 96 to raise funds for the Restaurants du Coeur charity. 

Renowned for having penned scores of extremely popular songs, Souchon returned to the forefront of the music scene in November '99 with his faithful accomplice Laurent Voulzy (who wrote the musical arrangements on Souchon's new album "Aux ras des pâquerettes"). The lyrics on Souchon's new album were a little less upbeat than usual. In fact, songs such as the first single release "Rive gauche" (Left Bank) were tinged with a hint of sadness and nostalgia.

Coinciding with the release of this new album, Souchon launched himself into cyber-space with http://www.alainsouchon.net/, an extensive web site largely designed by his son, Charles. This witty site featured a whole host of surprises including the on-line auction of the platinum disc the singer had received for his last album. The proceeds from the sale (8,700 francs) were donated to an association looking after the birds which had been injured in the oil slick off the coast of Brittany following the sinking of the tanker Erika.

On 18 April 2000 Souchon kicked off a new tour with a stadium concert at the Palais des Sports in Paris. On 24 April he went on to bring the house down at the Printemps de Bourges festival before continuing his tour well into the summer months.

Souchon's 2000/2001 tour ended up including 140 dates. But the indefatigable singer ended up hitting the road again in January 2002 for a series of mini-acoustic concerts. Accompanied by a drastically reduced line-up of three musicians, Souchon insisted on performing his new show in small, intimate venues - and brought the house down wherever he went! In March 2002 Souchon went on to perform six concerts at the Casino de Paris - which proved to be such a success that he returned there for ten sell-out gigs at the end of April (29 April - 10 May).

In February 2005, at the 20th anniversary of the "Victoires de la Musique" Awards, Alain Souchon received a special honour. He was awarded a "Victoire d'honneur" in the original song category for his hit single "Foule sentimentale" (released in 1993).

2005: "La Vie Théodore"

Souchon, a boyish-looking 60-something who is increasingly cited as an example by France's up-and-coming music generation, returned to the studio later in the year. His new album, "La Vie Théodore", was finally released in September 2005. Souchon claimed that he had originally thought about making a concept album about famous figures he admired, but eventually abandoned the idea, declaring he was "less cut out for the job than Vincent Delerm!" The famously shy, constantly modest performer, still has a touching air of introspection and melancholy about him, but on his new album this has not stopped him tackling topical issues on songs such as "Putain ça penche" (with its sarcastic litany of brand names). Souchon also ventures into metaphysical terrain on "Et si en plus y'a plus personne", the first single release from "La Vie Théodore." His album also pays Souchon-style tribute to the geographer and explorer Théodore Monod (on the title track) and namechecks the late French novelist Françoise Sagan (on "Bonjour tristesse"). As far as musical collaboration on the new album goes, Souchon's long-term songwriting partner Laurent Voulzy stepped in to help out on a few songs and Souchon's son, Pierre, also co-wrote three tracks.

Souchon embarked upon another major French tour in February 2006 which included a run at the legendary Olympia, in Paris (27 February - 9 March 2006).

2008: "Ecoutez d’où ma peine vient"

Two years later, Alain Souchon was back in the music headlines with a new album, "Ecoutez d’où ma peine vient." The album was released on 1 December 2008 - much to the surprise and delight of fans who are used to waiting five or six years between each new Souchon album! "Ecoutez d’où ma peine vient" proved to be markedly different from previous Souchon albums owing to the absence of Laurent Voulzy. (Voulzy was, in fact, so tied up with producing a new album himself and celebrating the 30th anniversary of his "Rockollection" that he only had time to pen the music for one track on Souchon's new album: "Popopo.") The singer's son, Pierre Souchon, stepped in to write the music on two other songs ("Parachute Doré" and "Sidi Ferouch"). Apart from "Oh ! la guitare" (a text by the French poet Aragon set to music) and two songs co-written with David MacNeil, Alain Souchon was responsible for almost all the music and lyrics on his new album himself.

As usual, Souchon sought inspiration in topical events when penning material for his new album. On "Parachute Doré", the singer denounced the cynical practice of golden handshakes in the business world. The song assumed special significance as the global economy spiralled into crisis in the autumn of 2008. "8m2" (eight square metres) tackled another topical social issue, touching on the state of women's prisons and "Elle danse" highlighted the problems of illegal immigrants risking their lives as they made perilous journeys from Africa. "Popopo", a song which dared to attack the sacred myth of the Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, proved to be a more controversial affair.

"Ecoutez d’où ma peine vient" was produced by Renaud Létang and the retro-sounding arrangements came courtesy of Vincent Taurelle and his band Le Sacre du Tympan (featuring Ludovic Bruni on guitar and Vincent Taeger on drums). Some critics complained that Laurent Voulzy's absence on the musical front left something lacking in Souchon's new album. But rumour has it that the legendary double act - who also happen to be close friends in real life - are about to team up together again to record an album of duets.

Alain Souchon then launched himself into a major tour that straddled 2009 and 2010, immortalised in the double live double album, "Alain Souchon est chanteur".
When Voulzy announced his intention to produce a solo CD, Souchon got down to work on an album of cover versions with the help of producer Renaud Létang. “A cause d’elles” is a collection of songs that marked his childhood or relate to infancy. It was released in November 2011.

The eclectic choice spans a poem by Medieval poet François Villon "Je plains le temps de ma jeunesse", Chuck Berry’s "Memphis Tennessee", "La mort de l'ours" by Félix Leclerc, and a new version of Souchon’s own "J'ai dix ans". The only new song was co-written with his son Pierre: "Le jour et la nuit" was also the first single taken from the album, profits of which go to a charity for children with cancer. The booklet that accompanied the CD was illustrated by Sempé.

February 2012
 

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