Valerie Lagrange

Born : 25/02/1942 in Paris (France)
Country : France
Language : French
Category : Composer / Female Artist / Songwriter
Style of music : Chanson / Reggae

Valérie Lagrange – fervent idealist, globetrotter and rebel - has never been limited by convention. So it's hardly surprising she has never had any kind of normal career structure. Having spent much of her life living in arty communes or campaigning on behalf of the poor and dispossessed, Ms. Lagrange has made a few forays back onto the music scene since her debut in the mid-60s. The veteran music star made a major comeback in 2003, however, with an acclaimed album entitled Fleuve Congo.

Valérie Lagrange – fervent idealist, globetrotter and rebel - has never been limited by convention. So it's hardly surprising she has never had any kind of normal career structure. Having spent much of her life living in arty communes or campaigning on behalf of the poor and dispossessed, Ms. Lagrange has made a few forays back onto the music scene since her debut in the mid-60s. The veteran music star made a major comeback in 2003, however, with an acclaimed album entitled Fleuve Congo.

Valérie Lagrange – known in her early days as Danielle Charaudeau – was born in Paris on 25 February 1942. Her parents ran a hardware business at the Porte de la Chapelle, but young Danielle was not inspired to carry on the family tradition of nails, hammers and DIY. She showed little interest for her schoolwork, either. It soon became clear that Danielle's talents lay in a different direction altogether. In her early teens Danielle responded to the calling of her true vocation and started turning up to castings and auditions in search of an acting role. She scored her first job at the age of 17 when Claude Autant-Lara picked her out to play Bourvil's daughter in the film La jument verte. The director had to get Danielle's parents' permission for her to work on the film as she had not yet reached the age of majority. But her parents were willing to encourage their daughter and Danielle, working under the pseudonym Valérie Lagrange, went on to star in a host of popular French films in the course of the following years including Michel Boisrond's La Française et l’amour and Le gigolo by Georges Lautner. Ms. Lagrange also gave a memorable performance as Jean-Paul Belmondo’s finacée in Philippe de Broca’s film Les tribulations d’un chinois en Chine.

 

 

First steps in the music world

 

In 1962 Valérie Lagrange married photographer Serge Beauvarlet and the following year the couple had a son, Jérôme. Meanwhile, Valérie began branching out in a new direction in her career, temporarily abandoning acting to take up singing after she met songwriters Francis Lai and Pierre Barouh. She released a first single in 1964, which was a double A-side featuring Paris-Wellington and La nuit de mon amour. Three other singles followed in subsequent months (Encore un jour de notre amour, Un jour sans toi and Moitié ange moitié bête). Valérie went on to meet legendary French singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg in the mid-60s and he gave a new Latino slant to her music, writing La guérilla for her in 1965. Valérie returned to the studio soon afterwards to work on a debut album which included a string of chart hits as well as La chanson de Tessa (featuring lyrics by Jean Giraudoux, music by Maurice Jaubert and guest vocals by French actor Jean-Pierre Kalfon). Valérie turned her attention to the live circuit soon afterwards, bringing the house down when she performed in concert at Le Bobino in Paris in 1966. That year also saw her return to cinema screens in Claude Lelouch's French film classic Un homme et une femme.

 

May '68

 

Valérie also made her mark in two other films which marked the end of an era, starring in Jean-Luc Godard's Week-end and cult 60s classic Les idoles by Marc’O. Valérie's film and music choices made her extremely difficult to pin down in any one category and she blurred the lines even further when, following the revolutionary events of May '68, she wrote to her record company to inform them she was cutting her showbiz ties and "leaving civilisation" for an undetermined period.

 

Fleeing Paris to seek her own Utopia, Valérie teamed up with a group of like-minded friends from the arts (including Jean-Pierre Kalfon, Pierre Clémenti, Tina Aumont and Bulle Ogier) and they set up their own commune on an island off the coast of Italy. A spirit of total freedom reigned in the commune and Valérie spent her days teaching herself to play guitar and practising her English with Bob Dylan lyrics. In 1970 French film director Barbet Schroeder asked the group to star in La vallée, a film about the peregrinations of a bunch of young Europeans seeking paradise in New Guinea.

 

Valérie's Utopia turned sour, however. Her husband committed suicide and she decided to continue her search for the ideal lifestyle elsewhere, taking her nine-year-old son off to Bombay where one of her friends was living at the time. The pair stayed with him a while, but then went off to live with a group of peasants near Katmandu before finally settling in a hippie community in Goa. Valérie eventually began to feel the pull of home, however, and decided that a return to her roots would be better in the long term for her son's education.

 

Fitting back into conventional everyday life after such a long absence was no easy matter, however. And Valérie soon ended up seeking refuge in a tiny village in Provence, which had become the home of an artistic commune (to which veteran French rock star Jacques Higelin belonged for a time as well). Valérie continued to lead her free-thinking bohemian lifestyle abroad, too, spending a year and a half on an island near Ibiza.

 

Post '68

 

Valérie's travelling lifestyle finally came to an end as May '68 fervour subsided. In the early 70s a new chapter of her life began when she met English songwriter and composer Ian Jelfs. Their relationship developed into a passionate love story and creative working partnership. The couple accompanied Graeme Allwright for a while, but eventually decided to adopt the free spirit of the busking lifestyle instead, Valérie singing on café terraces with Ian accompanying her on guitar. Valérie made occasional forays into film, but kept far out of the Paris showbizz spotlight, preferring to earn her living with her busking repertoire of songs by The Beatles, The Stones and Bob Dylan. She also played with Jean-Louis Aubert and Louis Bertignac (long before their Téléphone days). Meanwhile, Valérie and Ian re-invested their busking revenues in music, recording demo tapes which record labels turned down on a regular basis.

 

Jelfs, a former member of the group Alice, was a passionate convert of 'world' music and it was he who first introduced Valérie to the joys of reggae. She became the first artist to record a reggae song in French, scoring a minor hit with her 1977 single Si ma chanson pouvait. That same year Valérie also provided guest vocals on Alain Bashung's Roman-photo. But it was her encounter with French producer Philippe Constantin that really heralded her comeback to the French music scene after more than ten years' absence.

 

Back in the spotlight

 

Valérie Lagrange exploded back at the forefront of the French music scene in 1980 with Faut plus me la faire, an album featuring a vibrant fusion of rock and reggae. With this album she also went down in music history as the first French signing to the Virgin label. Faut plus me la faire became the biggest hit of Valérie's career, thanks largely to the independent radio stations which began broadcasting in France around this same period. Valérie soon confirmed that she was back to stay on the French music scene for good, releasing a follow-up album Chez moi in 1981. Two years later she was back with Les trottoirs de l’éternité, an album which spawned another chart-topping hit, La folie. Valérie also made a comeback on the live circuit, touring these three albums in the French provinces and abroad. She also made regular appearances in Paris at Le Théâtre Mogador and Le Forum des Halles. These albums were the fruit of many successful years of collaboration with Ian Jelfs, who acted as musical director on all three.

 

Valérie branched out in a new direction in 1985. Determined to do something about the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia, she teamed up with alternative French pop star Renaud and organised the fund-raising album Chanteurs sans frontières. All profits were sent to famine victims in Ethiopia. By the end of '85 Valérie was back in the music news with Rebelle, her final album on the Virgin label.

 

For the love of Ian

 

Valérie was finding it increasingly difficult to adapt to the 80s lifestyle, with its values so radically different from the idealistic spirit of May '68. Meanwhile, her partnership with Ian was undergoing its own problems as Ian sank further and further into drugs. In 1989 tragedy struck when he took an accidental overdose and ended up in a coma. The coma lasted three weeks and left him tetraplegic and unable to speak. Valérie's life was turned upside down overnight and she gave up everything to take care of her partner, her strength and determination eventually restoring his will to live.

 

Valérie gradually moved away from the music world as she spent an increasing amount of time looking after Ian, who made slow but steady progress over the years. In 1998 she made a minor comeback on the French music scene, however, with the release of a 'greatest hits' double album compilation featuring a new bonus track Au cœur de l’amour.

 

In 2000 Valérie turned her attention to her campaigning work once again, taking part in a fund-raising concert on behalf of AIDES (a Paris-based AIDS charity). Two years later she was back in the spotlight with the publication of her autobiography, Une vie pour une autre, a book which recounted her life and the day-to-day struggle of her tetraplegic partner Ian Jelfs.

 

Third time lucky

 

Valérie Lagrange made a major comeback in 2003 – no less than seventeen years after her last album, Rebelle. Her new album Fleuve Congo, a mix of new songs and rearrangements of old hits was masterminded by young musician and French songwriter Benjamin Biolay (who guested on the new version of La chanson de Tessa). The album also featured contributions from Valérie's old friends Jacques Higelin and Louis Bertignac. Besides the moving ballad Mon amour pour toi (dedicated to Ian Jelfs), Fleuve Congo also included an innovative version of the Brassens's classic La prière and evident influences from writers and poets such as Rimbaud and Kerouac. Valérie went on to make a noted stage comeback in the autumn of 2003, looking radiant and exuding impressive energy for someone now in their 60s. Declaring that life had given her "a third chance"and she was about to make the best of it, Ms. Lagrange kicked off an extensive tour of the French provinces with a one-off date in Paris (bringing the house down at Le Bataclan on 6 November).

March 2004

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

Close