Jane Birkin


14 December 1946

Although born and raised in England, Jane Birkin made fame as a singer, actress, film director and high society icon in France. Her material is mostly sung in French, therefor she is listed under French artists on this website.

Jane Mallory Birkin was born in London on 14 December 1946. Her father David, a well-known English aristocrat, was a commander in the Royal Navy at the time of Jane's birth. Her mother, Judy Gamble was a renowned actress with stagename Judy Campbell. Jane thus grew up in an extremely bourgeois, but artistic, environment with her elder brother, Andrew, and her young sister, Linda. Andrew would become a screenwriter/director.

Birkin emerged in the early sixties in London, starring as one of the models in the controversial 1966 film 'Blowup'. Birkin had the distinction of being the first actress to show pubic hair in a mainstream British movie.

In 1968, Birkin went to France to audition for the lead female role in 'Slogan'. Though she did not speak French, she got the role. In 'Slogan' she would play alongside Serge Gainsbourg, who became her collaborator. She sang the theme song for 'Slogan' with Gainsbourg which became their first of many musical collaborations. Birkin and Gainsbourg soon began a passionate affair - which rapidly turned into one of the most legendary partnerships in French music history. Gainsbourg, who was renowned for his love of wild partying and nightlife, soon began appearing everywhere with the beautiful young English actress on his arm - often with a trail of photographers hot on their heels. Thus before Jane had even made a name for herself in France as an actress or a singer, she found herself in the media spotlight almost 24 hours a day through her relationship with Gainsbourg.

In 1969, she and Serge Gainsbourg released the song 'Je t'aime... moi non plus' ('I love you.. me neither'), written by Gainsbourg initially for Brigitte Bardot (the record would not be released until many years later), which caused a scandal for its sexual explicitness. Arguably due in part to the publicity it got from being banned by radio stations in Italy, Spain, and the UK, it was a commercial success all over Europe. The song's fame is a result of its salacious lyrics against a background of female moaning and groaning, culminating in an orgasm at the song's conclusion.

In 1970 Gainsbourg was busy working on his new album 'l'Histoire de Melody Nelson'. At the end of the year Jane joined him in the recording studio to perform backing vocals on a couple of tracks, then Gainsbourg went to London in January 1971 to put the final touches to the album. Although Jane's vocals played a secondary role on 'l'Histoire de Melody Nelson', there was no mistaking the fact that Jane was the primary source of inspiration behind the album. Indeed, a close-up shot of her face appeared on the album cover, proclaiming her new status as Gainsbourg's muse. Gainsbourg's album, which was co-written and arranged by Jean-Claude Vannier (who went on to work on Jane Birkin's albums right up until the 90's) proved to be a huge critical success. Indeed, 'l'Histoire de Melody Nelson' was widely held to be the finest album of Gainsbourg's entire career.

On 21 July 1971, Jane gave birth to the couple's first child, a daughter named Charlotte. (Jane already had a daughter, Kate, from her first mariage). After a break Jane returned to the recording studio's in 1973 to begin work on her first solo album, 'Di Doo Dah', entirely written by Gainsbourg. The title track , proved to be a major chart hit, but the rest of the songs on the album were rather less impressive.

In 1975, Jane Birkin appeared in Gainsbourg's first film, also entitled 'Je t'aime... moi non plus', which created a stir for frank examination of sexual ambiguity. For this performance she was nominated for a Best Actress César Award.

In 1975 Jane also released a new album, 'Lolita go home', written by Philippe Labro, Jean-Pierre Sabard and, of course, Gainsbourg. The song which sent Jane rocketing back to the top of the French charts was 'La Ballade de Johnny Jane', taken from the soundtrack of 'Je t'aime moi non plus'.

In 1977 Jane tried her hand at songwriting, penning the lyrics to 'Yesterday yes a day', which was used in the soundtrack to the French film 'Madame Claude'. The following year Jane returned to the recording studio to begin work on a new album entitled 'Ex-fan des sixties'. The album proved to be a huge commercial and critical success. The album featured the Gainsbourg classic 'l'Aquoiboniste'; this surreal song, full of the most bizarre, complicated wordplay certainly proved that Gainsbourg was one of the most talented songwriters of his generation. And Jane was undoubtedly the ideal person to perform her partner's strange literary texts. After the success of 'Ex-fan des sixties' Jane turned her attention to her acting career once again, appearing in a series of more mainstream films (such as Claude Zidi's 1977 film 'l'Animal' in which she co-starred with the famous French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo and John Guillermin's 'Death on The Nile', in which she played opposite Peter Ustinov, in 1978).

Towards the end of the 70's, Jane disappeared from the public eye. She suffered a major upheaval in her personal life, as Gainsbourg plunged into several major bouts of alcoholism , all-night partying and depression. Finally, in 1980, Jane took her daughters and moved out of their house. Jane ended up separating from Gainsbourg, but the couple remained on good terms, seeing each other frequently and sharing custody of their daughter, Charlotte.

In 1980, shortly after her break-up with Gainsbourg, Jane began a passionate love affair with the French film-maker Jacques Doillon. Like Gainsbourg, Doillon would play a major role in Jane's career, offering her a series of roles in his own films and advising her on her film career. Birkin and Doillon's affair soon developed into a major relationship and shortly after they set up home together, Jane gave birth to her third daughter, Lou, in September 1982.

1983 marked another important highlight in Jane Birkin's recording career, for this was the year in which she renewed her professional partnership with Gainsbourg. The couple had continued to see one another since their separation and remained extremely good friends and in 1983 Gainsbourg penned a new album for Birkin, 'Baby alone in Babylone'. Incidentally, many critics considered this to be the finest record she ever recorded. 'Baby alone in Babylone' featured a bevy of Gainsbourg classics such as 'Baby Lou', 'Fuir le bonheur de peur qu'il ne se sauve' ('Flee happiness before it escapes') and 'Les dessous chics'. Jane's new album proved a huge hit with music fans and it went gold within a few months of its release. The album also proved to be a major hit with the critics and in 1984 the title track, 'Baby alone in Babylone', won the prestigious Grand Prix de l'Académie Charles-Cros.

In 1987 Jane went into a London studio to record 'Lost song', which Gainsbourg had written specially for her. On this particular album Gainsbourg drew inspiration from classical music. After having experimented with reworkings of Chopin for his daughters record 'Charlotte forever', Gainsbourg was influenced by Grieg's opera 'Peer Gynt' when he wrote the title track of Jane's new album 'Lost song'. Following the release of the album Jane appeared in concert in Paris at Le Bataclan in March 1987, her very first live concerts.

In February 1990 Jane returned to the recording studio to begin work on a new album of Gainsbourg tracks. In spite of the couple's separation, Gainsbourg had never really relinquished Jane as his muse. Indeed, Gainsbourg appeared to be increasingly inspired by her on his later albums. 'Amours des feintes', the title track of Jane's new album, expressed Gainsbourg's continuing attachment for his former lover. He even drew a charming ink portrait of Jane for the album cover.

1991 proved to be a tragic year for Jane. On 2 March 1991, Gainsbourg passed away and a few days later also her father died. Overcoming her grief, Jane appeared at the Casino de Paris in June, where hundreds of fans turned out to support her. Jane gave a highly moving performance, turning her concerts into a personal tribute to her former lover and songwriting partner Gainsbourg.

It was not before 1995 that Jane started working on a new album again. 'Version Jane' was a new album, entirely made up of old Gainsbourg classics. A host of modern French musicians were invited to re-work Gainsbourg's classics, among others Dudu N'Diaye Rose, Goran Bregovic, DJ Boom Bass, Jean-Claude Vannier, Les Négresses Vertes. The album was followed by a series of concerts in the famous Olympia theatre in Paris.

In 1998 Jane released the album 'A la légère', her first album without a single track by Gainsbourg. Jane's new album features eclectic contributions from a diverse range of artists including Alain Chamfort, Miossec, Alain Souchon & Laurent Voulzy, Gérard Manset, Etienne Daho, Françoise Hardy, MC Solaar and Zazie.

In the beginning of the new millennium, Jane took part in a gala evening celebrating the 20th anniversary of the abolition of death penalty in France. For the occasion she performed a few Gainsbourg’s songs accompanied by a band of Kabyle musicians. This performance announced a series of concerts, 'Arabesque',that opened in March 2002 at the Odeon in Paris presenting Gainsbourg’s repertoire re-arranged with Kabyle orchestrations. After a long Parisian stopover at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées from February 25thto March 1st, Jane travelled to Germany, Great Britain and even Russian and Ukraine. It resulted in successfull releases on both c and dvd.

On 30 March 2004, Jane released a new album entitled 'Rendez-vous'. The album features a series of duets, with among others Françoise Hardy, Alain Chamfort, Alain Souchon, Caetano Veloso, Brian Ferry, Etienne Daho, Paolo Conte, Manu Chao, Mickey 3D, Miossec, Beth Gibbons, Brian Molko, Feist and Japanese star Yosui Inoue.

In March 2006 she releases the album 'Fictions', for the first time in her career, almost exclusively sung in English. The album contains collaborations with artists from the new music scene on both sides of the Channel, like Neil Hannon (The Divine Comedy), Beth Gibbons (Portishead), Dominique A., Arthur H. and Cali. Other highlights on 'Fictions' are cover versions of 'Alice' (by Tom Waits) and 'Mother stands for comfort' (by Kate Bush).

In November 2008, a new record will be released: 'Enfants d'Hivers'. For the first time, all texts are written by Jane herself.

Throughout her career, Jane has always been deeply committed to humanitarian causes and the singer/actress was frequently to be seen marching through the streets of Paris, brandishing anti-racist placards and defending illegal immigrants. In 1991 she made a short documentary film for Amnesty International about a young Filipino woman. In 1994 she took up the fight against Aids, getting involved with the '3,000 scénarios contre un virus' project. Then in the spring of '94, Jane set off for Bosnia with the French humanitarian association 'Paris-Sarajevo-Europe'. The association provided much-needed moral and cultural support in Bosnia, distributing books, records and computer software and Jane was directly involved in transporting the material to the war-torn city. The singer has been vociferous in her support of Aung San Suu Kyi, General Secretary of the National League of Democracy (imprisoned for her defiance of the military regime in Burma). Jane invites visitors to her website to sign a petition demanding the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and her fellow activists.

On the web:

- Jane's website: http://www.janebirkin.net

If you like this, you probably like... / european counterparts:

Serge Gainsbourg (France)

Françoise Hardy (France)

What do we think:

PR: Jane is world famous... in France. As Gainsbourg's muse, she left a huge mark on French popmusic. Many French female singers have been inspired by of simply copied her 'whispering' and 'moaning' singing style. Despite what you may or may not think of her singing qualities, she did sang some of France's most beautiful songs. And she did manage to build a long lasting career in singing, acting and directing. Furthermore, she has a very friendly stage personality (having watching her perform on stage two times already). She deserves at least my respect for continuing exploring new musical directions, even after the death of her musical partner in 1991. And who knows what is there about to come... (I cannot wait to listen to her new record, 'Enfants d'Hivers'!)

DB: I can remember we had loooong discussions about the talents of Jane Birkin. PR thought she was great and I kept saying that the girl can't sing. Actually i still believe that she lacks much talent in the vocal department but she makes up with a mystical aura and some very interesting material over the years. The turning point for me was her Arabesque concert we saw at the Theatre de Champ d'Elysee in Paris. A great show and since then Jane has a special place.


♪♪♪ - Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg - 1969

♪♪♪♪♪ - Histoire de Melody Nelson (with Serge Gainsbourg) - 1971

♪♪ - Di Dooh Da - 1973

♪♪ - Lolita go home - 1975

♪♪♪ - Ex fan des sixties - 1978

♪♪♪♪ - Baby alone in Babylon - 1983

♪♪♪ - Lost song - 1987

♪♪♪ - Jane au Bataclan (live) - 1987

♪♪♪ - Amours des feintes - 1990

♪♪♪ - Je suis venu te dire que je m'en vais (live au Casino) - 1992

♪♪ - Versions Jane - 1996

♪♪♪ - Intégrale à l'Olympia (live) - 1996

♪♪♪♪♪ - A la légère - 1999

♪♪♪ - Live in Japan - 2001

♪♪♪♪ - Arabesque (live) - 2003

♪♪ - Rendez-vous - 2004

♪♪♪♪ - Enfants d'hiver - 2008

♪♪♪ - Au Palace (live) - 2009

♪♪♪♪♪ = outstanding album, an absolute must-have
♪♪♪♪ = great album, highly recomended
♪♪♪ = nice album
♪♪ = be careful, requires listening before buying
♪ = best to be avoided