Casse Pipe

Creation date : 1990
Country : France
Language : French
Style of music : Chanson
Members : Louis-Pierre Guinard, Tonio Marinesco, Christophe Menguy, Philippe Onfray, Gil Riot

'Neo-realist chanson' is very much alive and kicking today - thanks to the ongoing success of groups such as Casse Pipe. This unusual group, who weave strands of poetry, literature and detective thrillers into their work, have risen from humble beginnings to become major players on the French music scene.

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'Neo-realist chanson' is very much alive and kicking today - thanks to the ongoing success of groups such as Casse Pipe. This unusual group, who weave strands of poetry, literature and detective thrillers into their work, have risen from humble beginnings to become major players on the French music scene.

The group Casse Pipe was formed in January 1990 when singer Louis-Pierre Guinard and accordion-player Philippe Onfray got together in Saint-Brieuc, Brittany, and discovered they shared the same musical tastes.

Guinard had already made a name for himself on the French music scene, performing with a number of well-known groups from the mid-70's onwards. Before he formed Casse Pipe Guinard was perhaps best-known for his work with La Mirlitantouille (a traditional Breton folk group) and Bal perdu (an experimental project which sought to recreate the music and atmosphere of the Berlin cabaret scene). As for Onfray, he had served his own musical apprenticeship, performing at the 'guinguette' (an old-fashioned open-air dance hall) which his family owned in the Paris suburbs. After years of accompanying the 'guinguette' dancers with traditional accordion tunes, the young musician finally moved down to Brittany in 1988.

After forming Casse Pipe in Saint-Brieuc, Guinard and Onfray went on to perform extensively on the live circuit in Brittany, building up an extensive following of fans in local bars and small clubs. Guinard and Onfray were both passionate about literature and in 1991 they created two shows to mark the centenary of the death of the legendary French poet Arthur Rimbaud ("Sur les traces de Johnny Palmer" and "Hommes de feu, chants de braise"). French literature remained a major influence throughout the group's career. The name Casse Pipe was inspired by the title of a Céline novel and the group's material would be littered with references to 'La Série Noire' (a famous collection of thrillers and detective novels). Meanwhile, Casse-Pipe's music sought inspiration from the work of the "chanson réaliste" singers of the 30's (such as Fréhel).

Debut Album

After performing together for two years, Guinard and Onfray decided it was time to extend Casse Pipe's line-up and in April 1992 they recruited two new members for the band : Gil Riot (on guitar and banjo) and Tonio Marinesco (on drums). The new-look Casse Pipe swung into action immediately, performing more than 80 concerts at music festivals, bars and cabarets up and down the country.

The following year Casse Pipe went into the studio to begin work on their first album entitled "Chansons noires" (Dark Songs). The album, which the group recorded under live conditions and produced themselves, was released at the end of 93. Needless to say, Casse-Pipe's literary leanings were still very much in evidence and "Chansons noires" might best be described as an accomplished mix of moody poetry, 'chanson réaliste' and catchy java rock. The album featured an all-star cast of songwriters ("Coco des enfants sages" was written by French author Patrick Modiano, "Carnaval" by German film-maker Rainer Werner Fassbinder and "La complainte de Kesoubah" was a song which Jean Tranchant had originally written for the legendary singer Marianne Oswald, the French diva of the pre-war years). In short, the lyrics on "Chansons noires" were superb and Guinard certainly knew how to bring them to life with his emotionally-charged vocal style.

In 1994 Casse Pipe set to work creating a new show entitled "Le Petit Théâtre". The group gave several performances of the show at venues all over France and in November they travelled up to Paris to perform a four-night run at the Théâtre Clavel. But the highlight of the year was undoubtedly Casse Pipe's performance at the famous Transmusicales festival in Rennes (on December 3), where the group brought the house down with their 'néo-réaliste' style.

In January 1995 Casse Pipe were invited back to the Théâtre Clavel in Paris to give a re-run of their show "Le Petit Théâtre". After welcoming a fifth member of the group on board (Christophe Menguy on bass), Casse Pipe then embarked upon a major national tour, appearing at several well-known music festivals up and down the country. The group proved a major hit at "Penich'pro" (a series of eight concerts which the Profêtes organisation held on barges moored along the Brittany canals). Then in July 1995 Casse Pipe went on to triumph at the Francofolies festival in La Rochelle where they performed in the Magic Mirror circus tent.

Famous Covers

At the end of 1995 Casse Pipe returned to the studio to begin work on their second album "Café du siècle". Released on Kerig and WMD at the beginning of 1996, the album contained a number of rare cover versions such as "Moi j'm'ennuie" (originally recorded by Marlene Dietrich and Damia), "Pull Over" (sung by Hugues de Courson) and "les Corbeaux" (a song French chanson star Léo Ferré based on a poem by Rimbaud). "Café du siècle" also included several of the group's own compositions, which were just as good as the famous cover versions. Indeed, "le Foulard noir", the opening track on the album soon proved to be a classic in its own right.

Following the release of "Café du siècle", Casse Pipe turned their attention to their live shows once more, supporting Miossec when he performed in Paris at the Olympia (January 31 1996). Later that year the group went on to première their new show, "Mauvaises graines", at the Cité de la Musique in Paris, where they were joined on stage by rising new stars La Tordue, Têtes Raides and Miossec. The highlight of Casse Pipe's 1997 schedule was undoubtedly their series of concerts at the Sentier des Halles in Paris (February 11 - March 1) where hundreds of music fans turned out to greet the group with rapturous applause.

Casse Pipe soon returned to the studio to begin work on their third album, "la Part des Anges". Released earlier this year, "la Part des Anges" is jauntier, more upbeat offering than the group's previous work. Casse-Pipe's familiar themes are all there ("les Petits pavés" is a reworking of a song from 1900, "Fréhel" pays tribute to the 'chanson réaliste' diva Fréhel while "Détournement de voyageurs" was penned by the well-known thriller writer Sylvie Rouch). But the music is undoubtedly lighter and more relaxed, the melancholy sound of the accordion taking a back seat this time round. In March of this year (4 - 28) Casse Pipe returned to the Sentier des Halles to present their new material to fans.

Fourth Album

Casse Pipe's fourth album, entitled simply "Casse Pipe", was released on 25 February 2000. Continuing in the 'chanson réaliste' vein, this new 14-track album features a mix of sombre numbers and happier, upbeat tunes supported by a joyous fusion of instruments. Following the release of the album, Casse Pipe went on to play a series of concerts up and down the country.

Over the years Casse Pipe's career has continued to go from strength to strength, a growing number of music fans taking an interest in the group's 'neo-realist chanson'. And, in spite of the fact that Casse Pipe have developed a reputation for writing rather 'difficult' lyrics, their heady fusion of acoustic rock and old-fashioned accordion riffs remains eternally popular.

May 2000

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