Yann Perreau talks to the dark lady of cabaret and ‘la chanson française’
A TOP HAT, DEEP DARK EYES, HUGE red lips outlining the words ‘Hey stranger, can you tell the story?’ Welcome to the universe of Anne Pigalle, the spiritual daughter of Edith Piaf, Marlene Dietrich and Serge Gainsbourg: a precious treasure to ‘chanson française’. Anne sings in a way that might remind us of Parisian bohemia, but she actually started out in the UK at the time Punk, hanging out with the likes of Mick Jones and Johnny Rotten (who called her Fifi). Her life and her music constitute a fascinating journey into the underground cultures of London, Paris, LA and Tokyo.
Starting as an adolescent in the late 70’s, she has always done everything on her own terms, truthful to the DIY ethic of punk, but along the way, she has still managed to collaborate with the likes of Michael Nyman, Trevor Horn and Donald Cammell amongst others. Her faithful fans love her uncompromising honesty and unashamed ‘fleur du mal‘ style.
You’ve been described as a singer of ‘cabaret’, and you perform with a very theatrical style, but you also come from a great French tradition, the one of ‘la chanson française’. How would you personally define your music?
‘I like the word cabaret only if it used to refer to the original dark and powerful German / Austrian style. For me someone like Tricky is kind of modern cabaret. I have a very eclectic taste in music, but generally I like emotions and sounds that I find genuine and innovative at the same time. I like Piaf, I liked punk, I like Jazz, I like some rap. Right now I’ve started to work on a new project which I’m very excited about, which should brings everything together.
Why did you choose Pigalle as a name?
For me Pigalle is a place of mystery where everything is hidden, physically and emotionally, on all levels…
You’ve recently returned to London after a period in the Untited States, but when you first came to London it was as a teenager…
‘I first came to London because I loved the music and the strong sense of rebellion which existed during the punk days (in our school in Paris, my girlfriend and I were the only ones who wore punk clothes and everyone thought we’d come out of some asylum!). Also there was a strong connection at the time beetween Paris and London: many English bands got more receptive feedback by playing in Paris and France to start with, so they enjoyed coming here. That’s how I met my boyfriend; he was sharing a squat with Glen Matlock.
What about your collaboration with Trevor Horn and ZTT Records?
‘Originally Mick Jones suggested that I should go and see Paul Morley and I did. He signed me to the label, and the unconventional idea of mixing things up was an exciting one, but things quickly got very incestuous and I think Trevor was always perplexed by my voice; perhaps finding me too human. I’m a creative artist and I need to keep going, so I went on to other things. I put together the concept of the Wednesdays at the Cafe de Paris, in the 80s. It was a beautiful venue where I could perform something a little different to what else was going on in London. I chose the venue for the sounds and the style and the atmosphere. It was somewhere where you could dress beautifully, but was cheap to get in. The place had a soul.’
Why have you decided to sell your music through your website, whilst ignoring ZTT’s request to re-release your early material?
‘It’s been along time since the ZTT days; and my style has developed since then. I’ve always worked very hard at what I do, even if I’ve not always been in the public eye. So after coming back to London, I felt it was essential to start from scratch in a spiritual way, and do as much as possible on my own. I don’t seek to denigrate anything I have done in the past, but I am a daughter of the future.’
To find more about performances and new recordings by Anne Pigalle, visit www.annepigalle.com