Henri Salvador, four years on
Posthumous album, Tant de temps
The recently released Henri Salvador album, Tant de temps, presents eleven new tracks. Eight of them are previously unreleased songs dating from 1999, with one from 1991, and are two rearranged 1962 recordings. Four years after his death, Henri Salvador’s posthumous album also marks a return to his partnership with the arranger, producer and singer Benjamin Biolay, twelve years on from Chambre avec vue. RFI Musique met up with the singer’s last wife, Catherine Salvador.
RFI Musique: The first surprise is to discover so much previously unreleased material by Henri Salvador.
Catherine Salvador: It was just as much of a surprise for me. In fact, I’d forgotten these songs.
Most of them were recorded in 1999, so before Chambre avec vue.
Despite his reputation for laziness, Henri was a hard worker. He used to play music with his friends all the time. During the summer of 1999 he started working with Francis Maggiulli. They put together a demo of a few songs and the photos that feature on the album also date from that session. The atmosphere was really happy and relaxed and Henry was very happy. A bit later on, we received the song Jardin d’hiver and Henri got going on his new project and put these songs to one side. I had completely forgotten that they existed. When he died, Francis Maggiulli sent me a copy of the songs as a gift. Up until then, whenever people asked me if there was any unreleased material, I would say no. Immediately after Henri died, I was in no state to make a new record. But time went by, and the creative director Laurent Manganas kept telling me “You can’t let that lie”. But I wasn’t happy with the arrangements that had been stuck on to the demos, they were to expansive and syrupy. In the last years of his life, Henri had moved into a sparer sound, and it wasn’t possible to release the songs as they were. That’s when we thought of Benjamin. He accepted to do two songs, then four, and then he felt so at ease in the studio with the musicians that the album just happened naturally. Once we’d pared down the structure of the demos to get back down to Henri’s voice, Benjamin really got going. I think that he put a lot of emotion into it and had a lot of fun.
Were you with him in the studio?
The songs had been validated by Henri, he had enjoyed making the demos and written or co-written some of them… Given all the conversations we had during our life together, I knew what he wanted and in particular what he didn’t want. Knowing Benjamin’s work and what he’d been given to work with, I didn’t want to interfere. If I had gone into the studio they would have all been embarrassed. I would simply get a report each evening by internet, and I was delighted when Benjamin added Syracuse arranged in a Ravel or Debussy style, which Henri would have adored. Benjamin knew that for Henri, Ravel was unsurpassed. He took the original voice of Henri’s recording from 1962 and added these subtle, sophisticated arrangements. I was really moved when I listened to it: Benjamin hadn’t told me about it. He had done the same thing with Mon amour, a song that Henri loved and that he was incapable of singing on stage. The only time he tried to do it during the whole period we were together, he started crying and couldn’t get to the end.
If I had been in the studio with him, Benjamin wouldn’t have had these crazy ideas. Even though I kept tabs on everything, my absence from the studio gave him creative freedom. I often think of what Henri used to say: you need to let an artist spread his wings. Why should I interfere in the work done by Benjamin and Henri?
Benjamin made it all more beautiful. He was particularly keen not to alter the voice, even though it was all recorded in one session. Despite the modern tools he had access to, he didn’t use any of them. It’s true that it’s a miraculous voice, at eighty-two years old. I hope that Henri is happy and proud that we haven’t tarnished his name or his work.
Qui es-tu?, sung in a duet with Hubert Mounier, is another unknown song.
I didn’t know the song, but Benjamin was aware of it, because he is a friend of Hubert Mounier’s. The duet dates from 1991 and the time of the Affaire Louis’ Trio. Henri accepted to do the duet, but it was never released and lay dormant at Universal. On the other hand, I was the one who wanted a duet with Benjamin Biolay on Ça leur passera. He has made a huge contribution to this album and I’m very grateful to him.
Henri Salvador Tant de temps (Polydor-Universal) 2012