Jean-Louis Murat

Born : 28/01/1954 in La Bourboule (France)
Country : France
Language : French
Category : Composer / Male Artist / Songwriter
Style of music : Chanson

Murat is not the man you think he is. A charmer despite himself, he couldn't care less about his appearance. A militant for human rights despite his image as a hermit, his nickname "Brenoï" suits him, for in his native Auvergne patois it means "generous warrior who roams the world singing". An enigmatic artist, rooted in the hills of the Massif Central where he was born, Jean-Louis Murat has had a painful and disquieting experience of life, which is echoed in his plaintive, poetic songs.

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Murat is not the man you think he is. A charmer despite himself, he couldn't care less about his appearance. A militant for human rights despite his image as a hermit, his nickname "Brenoï" suits him, for in his native Auvergne patois it means "generous warrior who roams the world singing". An enigmatic artist, rooted in the hills of the Massif Central where he was born, Jean-Louis Murat has had a painful and disquieting experience of life, which is echoed in his plaintive, poetic songs.

Jean-Louis Bergheaud was born on January 28 1954 at La Bourboule, a small spa town in the mountainous centre of France, the Massif Central. The son of divorced parents, he spent most of his time with his grandparents on a lonely farm at Murat-le-Quaire, a small village in Auvergne, the name of which he was to adopt some years later. It is there that he acquired that taste for the soil and the rural life which would often crop up in his work.


From the age of seven, he began to learn music with the local band, which his father, a carpenter and occasional musician, also belonged to. The child developed a distinct talent for instruments such as the cornet and the tenor saxophone, and ended up going to the local conservatoire, where he studied music throughout his adolescence. A solitary young man, he was an avid reader of classical poetry and tormented romantic literature, from André Gide to D.H. Lawrence. At 15, he discovered jazz and rhythm'n blues from an English teacher, who encouraged him to pursue his schooling in defiance of his father's wishes. Finishing school early and starting work on the farm was to have been his destiny in life, but the adolescent ended up getting the first school-leaving diploma in his family history.

At 17, Jean-Louis married and became a father. He went to university in Clermont-Ferrand but he caught the travelling bug, and divorced to go travelling. Several years of wandering followed, from Paris to fashionable resorts where he did small jobs: beach attendant at Saint Tropez, ski monitor at Avoriaz. Around 1977 he got bored with this and decided to take up music seriously. He returned to Auvergne to stay for good. His single collective effort, the group Clara, was short-lived. He sang and played the saxophone and guitar, but above all, he wrote lyrics. William Sheller, interested by the group's work, hired them for a time as backing musicians.


Although the Clara experiment did not work, it nevertheless allowed Murat to record a solo single with EMI: "Suicidez-vous, le peuple est mort". The title alone brought him to the notice of the critics. But the public was not interested, and indeed the radio station Europe 1 censured it. Right from the start, Murat's repertoire was in the sombre, romantic, despairing and poetic register. An album of six songs, entitled "Murat" came out in 82, then in 1984 a complete album was produced, "Passion privée". But the sales were pathetically low despite the mere 1,000 produced. Despite a tour with Charlélie Couture, Jean-Louis Murat's contract was terminated.

In 1985 he recorded for CBS but nothing was published. Nothing was heard of him between 1984 and 1987. He lived alone in Auvergne for three years, regularly going to Paris to try to find a recording company, but in vain. Depressed and at the end of his resources, he needed time to build up his work again.

In 1986 Virgin took an interest. A contract was signed in 1987, and a single, "Si je devais manquer de toi", came out, projecting Murat to centre stage. This success with the public was confirmed by the 100,000 sales of the album "Cheyenne Autumn", which came out in 1989. It is a renaissance, full of atmosphere, rather glacial in tone, with some of Murat's best songs ("L'Ange déchu"). The following year a small original album was recorded, "Murat en plein air", in which he gives homage to rural life. In a superb video recorded in Auvergne, the singer is seen performing some of his songs in a twelfth-century chapel, Notre Dame de Roche-Charles. All his love for his birthplace, for its farming traditions and for nature in general, shine through in these shots.

Murat is now a recognised and admired musician. In 1990, the film director Jacques Doillon offered him a role in his film "La vengeance d'une femme", with Isabelle Huppert and Béatrice Dalle.

Growing up

A year and a half went by between the recording of the "Manteau de Pluie" album and its appearance in the autumn of 1991. Considered by some critics as his most beautiful album, it evokes many themes: Japanese poetry ("Le manteau de pluie du singe"), Brazil ("Le mendiant à Rio"), the mountains ("Col de la Croix Morand"), love ("le lien défait"), etc. After the synthesisers of "Cheyenne Autumn", Murat goes back to guitar and drums, played by Neil Conti of the English group Prefab Sprout.

In 1991, Murat recorded a duo with Mylène Farmer, "Regrets", which was accompanied by a clip filmed in the snowy landscapes of Hungary.

The "Venus" album, recorded in 6 days, came out in October 1993. That was the year Murat first went on a real tour. He does not find it easy to go on stage, which was why he took so long to decide. With six musicians recruited from the classifieds, Jean-Louis Murat started rehearsals in a small theatre in Vichy. The tour started in Auvergne, at le Puy-en-Velay, on November 10 and ended eight months later in July 1994. The three concerts he played in Paris, at La Cigale on December 16, 17 and 18, were recorded live for the album "Murat Live", and showed the simplicity of his musical arrangements during stage performances. There is no doubt that Murat is not at his most expansive on stage, and while despite this, the fans nevertheless rush to his concerts, there is no apparent electricity between the artist and the audience.

In addition to extracts from the tour, the live album also presents the music Murat wrote for Pascale Bailly's film, "Mademoiselle Personne". His characteristic writing appealed to other singers of repute such as Johnny Hallyday, Jeanne Moreau and Sylvie Vartan. However, in the end only Vartan recorded two of his songs, in 1996. Earlier, in 1990, he wrote a song for Julien Clerc. Himself a keen music fan, Murat has recorded homages to other artists, such as Joe Dassin, his lifelong idol Leonard Cohen, and Gérard Manset, to whom Murat was likened in his early career.


"Dolorès", probably Jean-Louis Murat's biggest commercial success came out on September 16 1996. He, however, considers this seventh album as minor, a transition. It records the break up of a relationship, and has a trip-hop flavour with tender, melancholy overtones, less obscure than usual. A year after a highly mediatised launch, this album became the subject of a discreet tour of a few theatres, among which was the Théatre du Musée Grévin in Paris in October 97. Alone on stage with the keyboard player Denis Clavaizolles, Murat, awkward as usual on stage, presented a show of total simplicity with photos of Auvergne as the only backdrop. Both attracted and disconcerted, the audience still came.

His contact with the public may be difficult when he is on stage, but Murat is nevertheless anxious to communicate. He created his own Internet site on which he shyly reveals a little of himself by means of literature, cows and the recipe for an Auvergne soup (la potée auvergnate) - delicious! Somewhat of a hermit, Murat is nevertheless concerned by the world around him and his involvement in various combats is for real. He has long been a militant in Amnesty International and has also supported the Kurds and the fight against child abuse.

Murat was back in the music news in August '99 with a brand new album entitled "Mustango". This album marked a radical change in Murat's public persona - the singer went from being a solitary recluse in his native Auvergne to a singer-with-a-conscience, campaigning against violence ("Belgrade") and intolerance ("Les Pédés"). The title of Murat's new album is a symbol of solidarity with Mustang, a tiny kingdom in Tibet. The singer also made a few radical changes to his website, replacing his famous cows with his own artwork and swapping rustic images of Auvergne for pictures of American Indians and Tibetans.

Murat also left his native Auvergne to record his new album, flying out to work in studios in the USA. The singer ended up spending several months in the States, working in New York and in Tucson, Arizona, with local musicians such as the Texan duo Calexico. Murat's faithful French collaborator Denis Clavaizolle was also involved with "Mustango", taking care of the production side of things.

Murat kicked off a new tour on 12 October '99, hitting the road with three musicians: Alain Bonnefont, Régis Oomiak and, of course, Denis Clavaizolle. The tour - which proved to be one of the longest of Murat's entire career, included three memorable concerts at le Trianon in Paris. Murat brought this leg of his tour to a close on 17 November '99 then took a short break before setting off on the road again in February 2000 and playing right through until the summer festivals. "Muragostang", a live album featuring extracts from this tour, was released in the autumn of that year.

A special songwriter

Murat may irritate some music fans, but he appeals to many others. Both 'separate' and influential, his artistic talent as a songwriter makes him a singer apart, apart, who is read as much as listened to.

Less than two years after the release of "Mustango", Jean-Louis Murat was back in the French music news with "Madame Deshoulières". This rather mysterious album based on a series of poems written by Antoinette Deshoulières (a young noblewoman born in 1638), marked a clean break from the rest of Murat's work. Fusing Murat's modern musical approach with baroque compositions written by Daniel Meier, the album featured the voice of French actress Isabelle Huppert reciting Antoinette's poetry over Murat and Meier's arrangements.

In the course of his eclectic career, Jean-Louis Murat has managed to attract vehement criticism on the one hand and adoring praise on the other. But wherever one stands in the great Murat debate, there's no denying that the man is a truly exceptional songwriter whose work deserves to be read as well as listened to.

Murat has often said that he could release two albums a year. True to his word, he brought out a new album in March 2002. Entitled "le Moujik et sa Femme", the album consisted of eleven tracks lasting less than 50 minutes. Very different from "Madame Deshoulieres", this new album found Murat exploring the realm of pop music. With concise, unpretentious lyrics and a traditional form alternating verse and chorus, most tracks featured rather catchy tunes. Highlighting this newly found simplicity, Murat asked for the contribution of two young musicians, bassist Fred Jimenez—a member of Bertrand Burgalat’s band—and drummer Jean-Marc Butty. "L’Au-delà"’ was chosen as the first single release from the album.

Murat hit the road again at the beginning of April, kicking off a major French tour. After bringing the house down at the Bourges Music Festival on 11 April, Murat kept up his busy tour schedule right through until early June.

Jean-Louis Murat went on writing more and more songs. Before the end of the year he had also practised his painting, drawing, poetry, diary-and-letter writing—activities that also influence and nourish his music. In February 2003, he went back to the studio to record a 23-track album entitled "Lilith" and released in August. The lyrics on the album featured some dark but very poetic images, and it was influenced by Murat’s role model a.k.a. Neil Young. Reflecting the mood of the whole album, the first single was entitled "Le cri du papillon" (‘the butterfly’s cry’). Bass-player Fred Jimenez (a friend of the artist’s) and drum-player Stéphane Reynaud performed on it. The two musicians also accompanied Murat on the tour that followed the release.

Ménage à trois

Having just released his DVD "Jardin d’acacia" in early 2004, Jean-Louis Murat went straight back to work, hooking up with his bassist Fred Jimenez and Elysian Fields singer Jennifer Charles for an album released under the names of all three: "A bird on a poire". It is a collection of pop-inflected songs with a fresh, youthful feel, drawing inspiration from the sixties. The project highlighted the singer's artistic freedom and demonstrated his willingness to work with high-quality artists in whom the record companies had not shown much interest.

Jean-Louis Murat continued to do things his way, and in the spring of 2005 he had his hand in three different artistic projects. "1451", a limited edition book (1,000 copies) available only from his website along with a DVD and CD, is a poem of 1,000 lines written and illustrated by the man himself. "1829" is a musical adaptation of lyrics written by the songwriter of the Napoleonic Empire, Pierre-Jean de Béranger (1780-1857). And finally, he also released an album, "Moscou", which once again showcases Jean-Louis Murat's songwriting talents. It is another rich and highly personal album, featuring two duets, one with the promising Camille ("L'amour et les Etats-Unis") and the other with Carla Bruni ("Ce que tu désires").                       

After all this hard work, Jean-Louis Murat took to the road again, with a first concert on 17 March in Geneva (Festival Voix de fête), then touring France until 18 June, with a stop-off for the Printemps de Bourges Festival in April.

2006: "Taormina"

Fans would have to wait almost another year and a half before the release of a new Murat album. "Taormina", named after a Sicilian town at the foot of Mount Etna, was released in August 2006. (Murat had finished his contract with Virgin / EMI with the release of "Moscou" so the new album was released on the independent label V2). The album, recorded in the comfort of the singer's own home thanks to his production and musical publishing company Scarlett, featured contributions from loyal musicians Fred Jimenez (bass) and Stéphane Reynaud (drums). This pared-down backing duo allowed Murat to return to guitar-led blues rock on "Taormina." As for the lyrics, these were in Murat's usual poetic vein, revolving around his recurrent themes of love and death.

2007: "Charles et Léo"

Always a man who enjoys having a series of challenging new projects on the go, Murat returned to the forefront of the French music scene with a new album in October 2007. The album, entitled "Charles et Léo", had been some while in the making. In fact, three years earlier Léo Ferré’s son, Mathieu (director of the label La Mémoire et la mer) had got in touch with Murat and asked him to work on a project Ferré had been unable to complete before his death. Ferré had set 22 poems taken from the 19th-century poet Charles Baudelaire’s anthology "Les Fleurs du mal" and set them to music. He had recorded simple piano-and-vocals versions of the songs on an audio cassette which had been given to his family just before he died and Mathieu was keen to see the project released in album form.

Murat was extremely flattered to have been chosen by Ferré’s family to record the songs but he did not accept the proposition immediately, being unsure as to whether he was up to the job. He finally agreed, however, and selected twelve of the songs, calling in Denis Clavaizolle (the pianist who had worked on several of his previous albums) to work on the arrangements. The resulting tracks on "Charles et Léo" revolved around sober vocals, elegant pop and a surprisingly modern sound, making the poems-turned-songs accessible to a wide audience. The album was released in conjunction with a DVD featuring Murat performing the twelve ‘poem songs’ live at La Coopérative de Mai in Clermont-Ferrand in a simple piano/vocals style.

2008: "Tristan"

Within six months, Jean-Louis Murat was back on the scene with a new album, this time one on which the compositions were all his own. "Tristan", released on 31 March 2008, found the singer-songwriter delving back several centuries for inspiration and retelling the tale of those famously star-crossed lovers Tristan and Isolde. Murat played a number of instruments on his new ten-track album himself including guitar, piano, bugle and hunting horn. But he also re-enlisted the services of bassist Fred Jimenez and drummer Stéphane Reynaud (two musicians who have regularly worked with him in the past). "Tristan" combined sensual, poetic lyrics with simple, understated arrangements. Murat’s musings on human unhappiness and the nature of impossible love appeared to have an almost philosophical bent at times.

In October, Murat kicked off another tour, this time playing solo with a 12-string guitar and a harmonica. His concerts played to full houses, including the legendary Européen concert hall in Paris. 

In early 2009, Jean-Louis Murat embarked on a new project, albeit in a rather offhanded fashion. His faithful sound engineer Christophe Dupouy suggested recording an album in Nashville in the United States. This was something he had long dreamt of doing, since he’d always considered Nashville as the true Mecca of music. He immediately jetted off in February 2009, with nothing more than his songs, a guitar and a metronome as luggage. He settled into Ocean Way studios and started recording his songs with local musicians. All were highly experienced session players, having worked with the likes of  Al Green, Roy Orbison and R.E.M among others, and they fleshed out Murat’s songs with violins as well as electric and pedal steel guitars.

A documentary entitled "Falling in love again" was filmed by Lætitia Masson during the recording of the album, which was finally released in France on 21 September 2009, entitled "Le Cours ordinaire des choses" (the ordinary course of things). It was naturally heavily influenced by blues, folk and country music, but Jean Louis Murat’s usual themes still shone through. On the album he sings of love, desire, death and violence, with lyrics in free verse. 

As expected, the singer continued with a tour in 2010 that included a performance at the Bataclan in Paris on 9 April.
2011: "Grand lièvre"

In September 2011, Jean-Louis Murat was back with a new album entitled “Grand lièvre”, recorded in just a few days in the south of France in live conditions. It features faithful accomplices like Fred Jimenez, Stephane Reynaud and Slim Batteux. Musically, Murat puts the focus on a light sound counterbalanced by dark lyrics.
His highly personal writing style picks up on themes close to his heart like nature, the human condition, love and solitude. On a new topic, two of the songs evoke war: "Sans pitié pour le cheval" (First World War) and "Rémi est mort ainsi" (Second World War).
At the same time, a limited edition of the digipack version of “Grand lièvre” was released recorded live at the Coopérative de Mai venue in Clermont-Ferrand on 7 April 2010.
In November 2011, he started a series of concerts throughout France including the Trianon on 10 November. The tour continued in 2012.
January 2012

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