Jacques Higelin


18 October 1940 - 6 April 2018

Born into a working class household in Brou-sur-Chantereine, Seine-et-Marne, Jacques Joseph Victor Higelin grew up to the sound of the piano, His father, a railway worker, spent much of his leisure time playing music. As a child he enjoyed singing and learned the great popular songs of the period, by everyone from Maurice Chevalier to Charles Trenet, musical influences which were to persist throughout his musical career. Encouraged by his father, Higelin began little by little to sing in cinemas during the intervals. More attracted to the world of show business than to his studies, Jacques left school at 14. At the beginning of the sixties, he enrolled at the René Simon drama school.

In 1961, Jacques Higelin, left to do his military service. During the two years, he spent six months in Algeria, where he met the Algerian musician, Areski Belkacem, with whom he became close friends. Upon returning to France, he resumed an acting career, but increasingly began to focus on music over film. By the end of the decade, he was also very active in the artistic underground in Paris, and he began to channel his music towards radical militancy. At that time, Higelin met up again with Areski. His friend became Brigitte Fontaine's partner and the three of them joined the Saravah label, still in its early days. He began attracting popular attention through his live concerts, typically held in smaller venues, and released his first solo album, in 1971. In the same year he sung a version of 'The International' at the celebration of the centenary of the Commune, the violent Nineteen century working class revolt in Paris. In this period many of Higelin's songs were effectively blacklisted from French radio because of his controversial left wing political beliefs, and his association with socialist groups.

After some years of silence Higelin returned in 1975. Not with the folky sound he had before but with a rock album called 'BBH75'. IN 1976 he formed a new group, the Super Goujats, whose 21 year-old guitarist, Louis Bertignac, went on to found the group Téléphone. In 1979 Higelin brought out one of his major works of his career, 'Champagne pour tout le monde' and 'Caviar pour les autres', two albums released simultaneously. The atmosphere of both albums is highly theatrical, like the new diabolical stage persona Higelin was forging at that time.

To celebrate François Mitterrand's election victory in May 1981, Higelin gave a concert with the band Téléphone, in the centre of Paris, the 'Place de la République'. Starting in September 1983 Higelin played for four months at the Casino de Paris. Nightly, in front of dumbstruck but enchanted houses, he remarried his partner, Kuelan. A series of projects followed the next year. He recorded Prokofiev's 'Peter and the wolf' with the Israeli National Orchestra, conducted by Zubin Mehta. At the Palais de Trocadero in Paris he put on a new show, 'Corde raide et piano volant', a mixture of jazz and circus during which a tightrope walker traversed the esplanade.

He finished the year on a quieter note, touring Africa, from Zaire to Senegal. He met a host of musicians there and shared the bill with local stars such as Stanislas Tohon in Bénin. The African influence returned during his Bercy concerts the next year featured two African guest singers as yet little known in Europe, the Senegalese Youssou N'Dour and the Guinean Mory Kanté..

In 1988 he released 'Tombé du ciel' written entirely by Higelin, the disc was produced by Jacno. The album was followed by a tour in which decided playing small venues. During this tour, he teamed up with life-long friend Brigitte Fontaine. Again the albums followed suit through the nineties. On October 8th 1997, he invited many of his friends to give a concert in aid of 'Les sans papiers', immigrants without immigration papers. Compered by Claudy Siar of Radio France Internationale, the soirée featured a whole variety of musicians, ranging from Brigitte Fontaine, to Areski to Dudu N'diaye Rose and the Algerian Rai star Cheb Mami.

In 1997 Higelin released his 22nd (!) album, entitled 'Paradis païen' ('Pagan paradise'). In 2000 he undertook an extensive tour through the US. The americans awarded him with an enthusiastic welcome even though they could not help being surprised by this unconventional character, who bears so little resemblance to the usual French chanson stars such as Aznavour or Julien Clerc. In 2004 he decided to try something different and explore the repertoire of Charles Trenet. Jacques Higelin had always been a major fan of the late, great performer and he now staged a show called 'Higelin enchante Trenet' in which he sung around 20 of Trenet's classics.

Eight years after his last studio album, 'Paradis païen', Higelin finally turned his attention to composing again. Much to the delight of fans, a new Higelin album, 'Amor doloroso', hit record stores in November 2006. In 2010 he teams up with the same production team for 'Coup de foudre', an album greatly inspired by the southern swamp blues from New Orleans, USA. It is about this time that a tour is cancelled due to health issues. Depressed by this and by the crisis in Europe he locks himself in a greenhouse in Saint-Rémy- de-Provence to come up with a suprisingly light album in 2013. In 2017 his good friend Bernard Lavilliers tells in an interview that things are not going well. A few months later Higelin dies at the age of 77. The album ´75´ released in 2016 for his birthday would turn out to be his swansong.

On the web:

- Jacque's website: http://www.jacqueshigelin.fr
- Jacque's pages on Radio France: http://www.rfimusique.com/siteEn/biographie/biographie_6311.asp

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

Ivano Fossati (Italy)

What do we think:

DB: The wolf of the French chanson, a stage animal pur sang. Higelin comes across as left of centre considering other pop artists. On his albums he's like Jekyl and Hyde. Intimate and passionate. In Anglo Saxon reference, sometimes he's Randy Newman and the next he's Jerry Lee Lewis. But then completely french. His concerts are marathons going on for hours. Funny enough you should avoid live-albums of Higelin. They are mostly:"start the tape and we'll see when it ends". When you're there it's great but just the sound doesn't do justice to the performance. Stick to the studio albums for listening at home and try to catch Higelin when he's at a theatre near you (or book a trip to France for that matter).

PR: DOUBLEBASS' description is spot on. Higelin is not a very productive artist, but his albums are always of good or high quality. His music is best described as pop music, but it has some arty and sometimes ethnic influences, as well as rock and folk. As a performer, he is completely dedicated to the audience and, apart from being a great singer, Higelin is also a great entertainer with clownesque touches.

Recommended albums:

♪♪ - Higelin et Areski (with Areski Belkacem) - 1969

♪♪ - Jacques 'Crabouif' Higelin - 1971

♪♪ - Irradie - 1975

♪♪♪- Alertez les Bebes - 1976

♪♪♪♪ - No Man's Land - 1978

♪♪♪♪♪ - Caviar pour les autres / Champagne pour tout le monde - 1979

♪♪♪ - Higelin 82 - 1982

♪♪♪♪ - Ai - 1985

♪♪♪ - Tombe du Ciel - 1988

♪♪♪♪ - Aux héroes de la voltige - 1994

♪♪♪♪♪ - Paradis Paien - 1998

Higelin enchante Trenet - 2005

♪♪♪♪♪ - Amor Doloroso - 2006

♪♪♪ - En plein Bataclan (live) - 2007

♪♪♪♪ - Coup de foudre - 2010

♪♪♪ - Beau Repaire - 2013

Further listening:

Inedits (with Areski Belkacem) - 1970; Jacques Canetti presente Jacques Higelin - 1973; BBH 75 - 1974; Follow the live - 1990; Illicite - 1991; Au coeur d'Higelin - 1991; Le Rex - 1992; Higelin Live - 2000; Entre deux gares - 2005; 75 - 2016

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