Thomas Fersen

Born : 4 /1 /1963 in Paris (France)
Country : France
Language : French
Category : Composer / Male Artist / Songwriter
Style of music : Chanson

Thomas Fersen, one of the latest arrivals on the French music scene, is renowned for his soft, husky vocals and his distinctive ballad style which fuses poetry and humour. Fersen's songwriting is of exceptionally high quality, his work often recalling that of the famous French poet/songwriter Jacques Prévert.

Thomas Fersen, one of the latest arrivals on the French music scene, is renowned for his soft, husky vocals and his distinctive ballad style which fuses poetry and humour. Fersen's songwriting is of exceptionally high quality, his work often recalling that of the famous French poet/songwriter Jacques Prévert.

Thomas Fersen was born in Paris on January 4 1963. His father was a bank clerk, his mother a nurse. The couple lived in the city's 20th arrondissement, a lively working-class 'village' in the East of Paris, where Thomas grew up with his two older sisters. Young Thomas developed a great passion for music at an early age, the guitar rapidly becoming his favourite instrument. By the age of 15 the young boy was devoting most of his time and energy to his guitar-playing, taking jazz guitar lessons in the basement of a local music shop.

After passing his 'baccalauréat' in science, Thomas was sent off to do his national service. When he left the army he enrolled on a course to study electronics, but his heart was certainly not in his studies. Music remained his great passion in life. When Thomas was 17 the punk movement suddenly erupted onto the French music scene and, inspired by the movement's anarchic spirit and the sense that anyone could pick up an instrument and play, the teenager formed his own rock group, UU. When his first band split, Thomas went on to form another, who called themselves Figure of Fun.

Thomas's first two groups were greatly inspired by the British and American music scene, and they would often perform their songs in English (in spite of the fact that neither the members of UU nor Figure of Fun displayed a particularly good grasp of the English language). After these initial musical experiences, Thomas was gripped by the travel bug. The teenager soon left Paris to spend two months backpacking around Latin America, then travelled to Scandinavia. It was while Thomas was on the Norwegian leg of his Scandinavian tour that he began to spend much of his time writing songs.

The Piano Bar Circuit

On his return to France Thomas began a series of odd jobs (working in a printer's and laying cables) before starting work for a record company. But the young man was not content to spend his days promoting other musicians' work - he longed to pursue his own musical career. So, accompanied by his new wife, who was a pianist, Thomas began performing on the piano bar circuit at night. It was after one of his evening performances that Thomas met a guitarist by the name of Vincent Frerebeau who was working for the Vogue record label at that time. This encounter turned out to be Thomas's big break, for Frèrebeau arranged for the young singer to come into the studio and record his first single "Ton héros Jane" in 1988. Unfortunately, neither this first single nor the follow-up, "Le peuple de la nuit", (released in 1990) made any impact on the charts whatsoever. Disappointed, but not deterred, Thomas returned to the Paris piano bar circuit, where he gradually built up his repertoire and developed his unique ballad style. Thomas's luck would finally change in 1990, however, when Vincent Frerebeau was appointed artistic director of the major record label WEA. Loyal to his old friend Fersen, Frèrebeau signed the young singer the following year to record his début album on WEA.

Yet Fersen's début album was long in the making. "Le bal des oiseaux" would not be released until January 93, Fersen spending the intervening two years writing new material and testing out his new songs at the small weekly concerts he performed in the basement of a local Thai restaurant. When Thomas was finally ready to record his first album he headed off to Brittany where an old cinema had been specially transformed into a studio and within a week he had put the finishing touches to "Le bal des oiseaux". The album, released in January 1993, featured a memorable cover by the legendary photographer Robert Doisneau (famous for his atmospheric black-and-white photos of Paris's working-class districts).

"Le bal des oiseaux" proved an enormous hit with music critics who were unanimous in their praise of Fersen's songwriting. The singer's lyrics, fusing poetry and irony, also struck a chord with French music fans who took a sudden interest in this new talent. The album's title track, chosen as the first single, went on to receive a massive amount of airplay and Thomas Fersen was suddenly catapulted to the forefront of the French music scene. The singer also proved a big hit at his live shows and he was soon invited to perform at a number of prestigious music festivals, including the Francofolies festival held in La Rochelle in July and the Canadian Francofolies held in August in Montreal, Quebec.

Newcomer of the Year

Barely a year after the release of his début album, Thomas Fersen had established himself as one of the hottest new talents on the French music scene. It certainly came as no surprise to anyone when Fersen was hailed as "Best Newcomer of the Year" at the "Victoires de la Musique" awards. Fersen followed this success by going on to scoop Radio France's "Prix Talent 94". In April of that year the singer was invited to perform at the Printemps de Bourges festival. In July Fersen triumphed at the Francofolies festival once again, bringing the house down in La Rochelle. 

In the midst of his hectic touring schedule Fersen somehow managed to find enough time to begin writing material for his second album. In May 1994 the singer flew to Denmark to begin recording his new album, "Les Ronds de Carotte". He put the final touches to the album in Paris in October.

"Les Ronds de Carotte", released in April 1995, proved to be another critical and commercial success. Indeed, the album, which this time featured a cover designed by the fashionable modern photographer Jean-Baptiste Mondino, sold like hotcakes. In May of that year Fersen embarked upon a triumphant national tour, attracting an ever-growing number of fans across the country. In the autumn the singer gave a memorable series of concerts at Pigall's (October 3 - 21), performing his lyrical, ironic ballads in the intimate atmosphere of this tiny club. Fersen's mammoth tour finally came to an end at the Bataclan in Paris in May 1996, after the singer had performed more than 150 dates across the country.

The following year Fersen went back into the studio to record his third album, "Le jour du poisson", with a host of talented musicians from the jazz world (including Didier Lockwood and Richard Galliano). Recorded partly in Paris, partly in New York, the album featured some superb arrangements by the musician Joseph Racaille, fusing Gypsy rhythms, Latino beats and jazz improvisations. In November 1997 Thomas Fersen gave a memorable performance at Le Trianon in Paris, then set off on an extensive national tour. Fersen's lively stage choreography combined with his excellent acoustic backing band proved a big hit with audiences right across the country. Fersen's mini-tour of Quebec in February '99 also proved a great success.

Back at The Fore With "Four"

It would take Fersen two years to write the material for his fourth album, "Quatre" (Four), released in October 99). The cover photo of the album - a surreal black-and-white image of the singer with his face hidden behind a ukulele case - was taken by Jean-Baptiste Mondino, who was also responsible for shooting the cover of Fersen's third album. The lyrics on Fersen's new album were equally surreal, merging realistic faits divers with bizarre, poetic images. Racaille took care of the musical arrangements on "Quatre", although this time round Fersen also turned his hand to composing on several tracks. The first track chosen as a single release from the album was "Irène".

Despite the fact that critics and music journalists have acclaimed Fersen's talent, the singer has never achieved great success on the French mainstream. This has not stopped him soldiering on with his career, however. In fact, Fersen has just set off on tour to promote his new album, giving three memorable performances at the Olympia (March 23rd, 24th and 25th). In fact, the singer's tour is set to last right through until the autumn of 2001.

Fersen spent part of this tour recording a new live album. The album, due to be released this autumn, features extracts from the memorable concert he performed at La Cigale in Paris in June 2001. The second part of the album, featuring extracts from Fersen's tour of Quebec in Febraury '99, was mixed in Montreal.

Fersen's live album, "Triplex", was released in the autumn of 2001, completing his musical triptych. 23 songs stretched over 3 albums marked the end of a mammoth 150 tour dates.

Carnal pleasures

Once this gargantuan undertaking was finished, Fersen took a few months' break and then started writing material for a new album. April 2003 saw the release of "Pièces montées des grands jours", an album on which the title track featured a duo between the singer and the French actress Marie Trintignant. Fersen assured all the arrangements and instrumentation on his new album himself (as he had started doing on his previous album).

Confirming his status as a master craftsman of words and finely chiselled rhymes, Fersen presented another series of quasi-surrealist songs revolving around the theme of carnal pleasures. "Bambi" was chosen as the first single release from the album. As usual, following the release of his new album, Fersen hit the road to present his new songs to fans. His tour that autumn included a ten-day stint at La Cigale in Paris in November (tickets for which sold out well in advance).

In January 2004, the singer headed out to Quebec, a region that had always been particularly close to his heart. On 23 February 2004, Fersen was back on the live circuit in Paris, bringing the house down at Le Bataclan. He hit the road again in March, playing dates right through until the summer of 2004. In the course of the tour he dropped in at Le Printemps de Bourges, the famous French festival which had provided a springboard for his career ten years earlier. Fersen's on-stage charisma was captured on a live album, "La Cigale des grands jours", released later that year.

Mad World

In 2005, Fersen returned to the music news with his sixth studio album entitled "Le Pavillon des fous" (The Madhouse). Proving that his inventive imagination was as active as ever, the singer served up eleven superbly crafted new songs, eleven mini-scenarios peopled with all sorts of weird and wonderful characters. Fersen drew on childhood memories for inspiration, recalling the years he had spent living in a Paris apartment block where a number of mentally handicapped people were lodged. His curious, and curiously disturbing, new songs about madness, included "Hyacinthe" (a song about a hitman with a floral name), "Mon iguanodon" (a bizarre tale of a pet iguana) and "Maudie" (recorded with Catherine Ringer from Les Rita Mitsouko). Fersen's rock and pop melodies proved to be a perfect juxtaposition to his dark, brooding and, at times, frankly morbid, lyrics. Following the release of his new album, Fersen hit the road again for a series of new dates which included a stint at Le Bataclan in Paris (29 November - 3 December).

In 2006, Fersen continued to transpose the weird and wonderful characters from "Pavillon des fous" to the stage at a series of different live venues. In February, he performed a short run at the Olympia, in Paris. In June, he appeared at the ArtRock festival in Saint-Brieuc, then in July went on to perform at the Solidays festival (in the Paris region) and at the Francofolies festival in La Rochelle. His tour officially came to an end at ‘Les Nuits de Fourvière’ staged in Lyon in August 2006. On 27 November 2006, Fersen released his "Bonne fête Hyacinthe" DVD featuring live highlights from the recording of "Pavillon des fous" and the ensuing tour as well as intimate backstage moments and rare footage of a future project he was preparing with his guitarist Pierre Sangra.

2007: the ukulele tour

In 2007, the ever-innovative artist armed himself with a soprano ukulele, a baritone version of the instrument and a mandolin and he and his guitarist, Pierre Sangra, recorded a series of guitar & ukulele adaptations of twenty hits from the Fersen back catalogue (including "Louise", "La Chauve-souris", "Saint-Jean-du-Doigt", "Le bal des oiseaux" and "Les Papillons"). Then the pair embarked upon an extensive tour without the slightest publicity or promotion. That did not stop them from packing out concert venues throughout 2007 and playing dates across Quebec, Switzerland and Belgium. Fersen’s small-scale instrumental tour had the added benefit of getting the singer back to playing in small, intimate concert halls.

In September, following the success of his "ukulele tour", Fersen went into the studio to record ukulele versions of a number of his songs. Hawaiians call the ukulele the "jumping flea" ("puce sauteuse" in French) because the player’s rapid hand movements make him look as if he is scratching - and this inspired Fersen’s ukulele album title, "Best-Of de poche, Gratte-moi la puce" (released on the Tôt ou Tard label on 26 November). Later that same month, Fersen also published a book on the same label entitled "Un poil dans la choucroute." Basically a quirky collection of notebooks, childhood snapshots and backstage photos of his concerts and his stage costumes, the book gave fans a further chance to delve into Fersen’s creative universe. Meanwhile, Fersen also managed to find time to write the lyrics and the music for "Les piles", a song that featured on Vanessa Paradis’s new album "Divinidylle."

In September 2008, Thomas Fersen whipped a new album out of his top hat, "Trois petits tours" - complete with a photo of Fersen dressed up as a magician on the cover! Whereas "Pièce montée des grands jours" had revolved around food and "Le pavillon des fous" had explored the theme of madness, Fersen's new album was conceived as "an ode to the humble suitcase." The singer explored the life of a suitcase from all possible angles, writing songs about the difficulty of taking musical instruments in a bag through customs and celebrating "Germaine", the battered old case that has followed him on nearly all of his tours to date. Musically speaking, "Trois petits tours" featured Fersen's ukulele - an instrument from which he has become inseparable - as well as a hint of steel pedal. The album revolved around Fersen's habitually eclectic mix, including everything from folk and Polynesian music to country and reggae influences. "Trois petits tours" was produced by Quebec's Fred Fortin who also contributed the inventive arrangements on it.

In November 2008, Thomas Fersen played five dates at Les Folies Bergère, in Paris.

Thomas Fersen kicked off 2010 with his show “Mythologie”, performed on 26 and 27 January at the Cité de la Musique in Paris. Accompanied by his ukulele and his three musicians (Pierre Sangra on guitar and ukulele, Alexandre Barcelona on the accordion and keyboards and Lionel Gaget on drums and keyboards), he rolled out some of the surprising personalities in his records: a bat in love with an umbrella, a bulimic gravedigger, a murderer’s cleaner, etc.  

In 2011, he added some new story-songs to his repertoire with his eighth studio album, “Je suis au paradis”. His tales with a touch of horror feature werewolves, witches, a ghost-train skeleton and even a mummy. The arrangements move between sobriety and daring, like the Celtic-sounding fable with a cello, bodhran and bagpipes (“L’enfant sorcière”) and the rock and blues number, “Mathieu”, all with the familiar Fersen sprinkling of humour and teasing. He was back playing live in an elegant three-piece suit in Paris at the Cigale from 26 to 30 April 2011.
May 2011

 

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