Leo Ferré


24 August 1916 – 14 July 1993

Ferré was born in Monaco as the son of Joseph Ferré, director of staff of the 'Casino de Monte-Carlo' and the Italian 'Marie Scotto'. At the age of seven Leo joined the church chorus of the cathédrale de Monaco. He also started writing music at a young age. In 1926 he already composed songs to poems of Verlaine and at the age of 14 he wrote 'Kyrie d'une Messe à trois voix'.

In 1935 he went to Paris to study law and politics. After finishing his education he went in the army until 1940. After returning to Monaco he started writing music again starting with an adaption of 'Ave Maria' for his sisters wedding. As from 1941 he started writing more chanson like songs under the pseudonym 'Forlane'. After attending a concert of Charles Trénet, he offered him three of these compositions. Trenet recognised a great talent and persuaded him to come to Paris where he became a songwriter for famous singers of that era, like Edith Piaf, Renée Lebas, Yvette Giraud, Henri Salvador, Juliette Gréco and Les Frères Jacques. In 1947, appalled by crimes of war commited in the Spanish civil war, he wrote his first anarchistic song called 'Mon général' which was a five minute proclamation for the communist party.

In the fifties he started recording under his own name. Songs like 'Monsieur William', 'Le pont Mirabeau' (a poem by Apollinaire) and 'Paris-Canaille' where all recorded in this era. In 1956 and 1957 he recorded two albums with poems from his favourite poets, Louis Aragon and Charles Baudelaire. In the sixties, chanson vedettes like Charles Aznavour, Henri Salvador, Greco, Nicoletta and Dalida recorded his songs. At this time Ferré grew more and more into the communist ideas going around in St. Germain. Songs like 'Les temps sont difficiles', 'Poètes, vos papiers' and 'La mémoire et la mer' are more proclamations then songs. Even a song about his deceased pet monkey', 'Pépée', grows out into a statement.

Impressed by English artists like the Moody Blues he writes 'La solitude' in 1969. This is the beginning of a period in which Ferré mixes rock with chanson and his communist pamflets. Together with the band 'Zoo' he records two albums, next to the project 'Amour anarchie'. It is in this period that he composes ‘Avec le temps’, which became one of his signature songs, also thanks to a great interpretation of Dalida. During the seventies, Ferré starts to lead a reclusive live. In 1981 he refuses to perform for the president François Mitterrand. Instead he rather records a song for the IRA called 'Thank you Satan'. In 1983 and 1987 he undertakes an extensive concert tour through most of Europe singing his old chansons.

In 1987 he is honoured with the 'Victoires de la Musique', which he refuses to accept. In 1990 he is invited by the French communist party to perform at their 70th anniversary gathering. Together with Renaud and Francis Lemarque he performs at the Bercy. In 1991 he teams up with Renaud to protest against the Golf War. To emphasize his point of view he starts another European tour in 1992, but this was cut short due to serious health problems. At the end of the year Ferré is hospitalized in Paris where he dies after a long sickbed on 14 july 1993 at the age of 76. He is buried in Monaco. After his death his son holds the legacy alive with regular releases on the label 'La mémoire et la mer'.

On the web:

- Léo's website: http://www.leo-Ferré.com
- Léo's grave: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=6792

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

Catherine Ribeiro (France)

What do we think:

DB: Ferré is no easy listening. This is a person that has the ability to pin you to your seat. When he sings/talks you HAVE to listen, there is no other option. Ferré is a fascinating person within the French music scene. Anarchistic and ruthless yet also very very romantic. Even if you don’t speak a word French his thunderous voice is spellbinding. To me his best work is made at the start of the seventies when songs still had that 5 to 7 minute length. Later on he recorded tracks (the word song is not apropriate here) that lasted 20 to 40 minutes. Tedious stuff. Stick to his old work unless lengthy thunderspeeches brings you back to sweet memories of religious childhood experiences.

PR: Léo Ferré is an extremely intense artist and perfomer. Together with Brel and Aznavour he is one of the three most important male artists of the French music scene ever. He released a huge number of records, none of which can labled bad. With such an enormous output it is hard to chose what to buy when you want to start with Ferré. 'Avec le temps' is one of his most accessible records and might be a good start. A collection of his older songes (fifties and sixties) is also reccomended. Warning: listening to Ferré can be done best with a bottle of wine or cognac and make sure you do not have to go to a party afterwards. The desolate, melancholy and sometimes angry feeling his music creates, will haunt you for several hours...

Recommended albums:

♪♪♪ - Le temps des roses rouges - 1950

♪♪♪ - Les fleurs du mal (Léo Ferré chante Baudelaire) - 1957

♪♪♪♪ - L'album blanc - 1969

♪♪♪♪ - Recital Bobino 69 - 1969

♪♪♪♪- Amour anarchie - 1970

♪♪♪ - Amour anarchie, vol. 2 -1970

♪♪♪♪♪ - La solitude - 1971

♪♪♪♪♪ - Avec le temps -1972

♪♪♪ - Il n'y a plus rien -1973

♪♪♪♪ - Je te donne - 1976

♪♪♪ - La frime - 1977

♪♪♪ - On n'est pas sérieux quand on a dix-sept ans - 1987

♪♪♪♪ - Les vieux copains - 1990

Further listening:

Chansons de Léo Ferré - 1953; Paname - 1960; Les chansons d'Aragon chantées par Léo Ferré - 1961; Les chansons interdites et autres - 1961; Léo Ferré à l'Alhambra - 1961; Léo Ferré La langue française - 1962; Ferré 64 - 1964; Verlaine et Rimbaud chantés par Léo Ferré - 1964; Léo Ferré 1916-19... - 1966; Léo Ferré 67 - 1967; Léo Ferré chante Baudelaire - 1967; Les 12 premières chansons de Léo Ferré - 1969; Amour Anarchie - 1970; Léo Ferré chante et dirige La Chanson du Mal Aimé - 1972; Seul en scène Léo Ferré 73 - 1973; Et... Basta! - 1973; L'espoir - 1974; Ferré muet - 1975; La Musica mi prende come l'amore - 1977; Il est six heures ici et midi à New York - 1979; La violence et l'ennui - 1980; Ludwid - L'imaginaire - Le bateau ivre - 1982; Les Loubards - 1984; Ferré 84 enregistrement public au Théâtre des Champs-Elysées - 1984; Une saison en enfer - 1991; La vie d'artiste - 1998; Thank you Ferré - 1998; Metamec - 2000; Sur la scène - 2001; Un chien à Montreux - 2001; Les chansons de la période Odéon (1953-1958) - 2002; Maudits soient-ils! - 2004

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


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