Marie France, underground icon

M.F. covers B.B. (Brigitte Bardot)


28/10/2009 - 

Marie France, singer, actress and indie pop icon of the 1970s, is back in the spotlight with a compilation of Brigitte Bardot covers. All too often limited to her role of "muse", Marie France has proved she is far more than a sequinned creature of the night. She is a talented recording artist who has survived four entire decades and lost none of her on-stage charm.

Marie France Garcia was born in Oran in 1946, at a time when Algeria was still under French rule. Growing up dreaming of glitz and glamour, Marie France relocated to Paris in her teens and reinvented herself on the capital's underground scene. Here, she joined other young radicals dancing on the glowing embers of May 68, becoming a member of the arty gang that hung out at La Coupole (a gang that included film-maker André Téchiné, Jean-Pierre Kalfon, Jacques Higelin and Sapho.) Marie France also took to the stage at trendy Left Bank cabaret L’Alcazar in 1969 where she performed a burlesque act impersonating Marilyn Monroe. The coquettish showgirl by night turned activist by day, campaigning on the barricades alongside the FHAR (the Homosexual Front of Revolutionary Action) and as part of the group Les Gazolines in defence of gay rights.

Marie France also added her piquant charm to a number of arthouse movies by the likes of Adolfo Arieta and Fernando Arrabal and starred in more mainstream films such as Josiane Balasko's Les Keufs, La Gamine (with Johnny Hallyday) and Belle Maman (with Catherine Deneuve.) Twice in her career she played the role of a singer in André Téchiné films (Barroco in 1976 and Les Innocents in 1987.) Meanwhile, Marie France also trod the boards in the theatre, working under the directorship of Frédéric Mitterrand and appearing in Navire Night, a play by Marguerite Duras who famously said of Marie France: "It is impossible not to be troubled by her. Everyone. Women as well as men".

After showing off her vocal talent in Téchiné's film Barroco (where she sang the Philippe Sarde song On se voit se voir), Marie France went on to record her debut single in 1977, a "sexy punk" number written by Jay Alanksi and Jacques Duvall from which both the A and B-sides - Daisy and Déréglée - became cult classics. (The single is currently exchanging hands on the collectors' market for several hundred euros!) Headlining at L’Alcazar and Le Gibus Club, Marie France became a sort of polymorphous muse and collective fantasy. Alain Kan dedicated a song to M.F. and got her to strike a provocative pose on the cover of a record by his punk outfit Gazoline. And on their debut album, released in 1977, Gainsbourg's backing band Bijou recorded their own deliciously perverse tribute to the singer (on a track entitled Marie France.)

Scarlet woman

Marie France went on to team up with Bijou when she recorded her own debut album, 39 de Fièvre, in 1981. The album, on which M.F. posed on the cover in a skin-tight red leather dress, featured a number of French reworkings of rock'n'roll classics such as Fever as well as a handful of original songs. Marie France followed the album up with several singles (released on RCA with Jay Alanski), but fans had to wait until 1997 for her second album, Marie France (released on an independent label.) The album, which featured a guest appearance by Bashung's guitarist Yan Péchin, included songs by Duvall, Daniel Darc and Soft Cell singer Marc Almond as well as a number of tracks penned by Marie France herself.

While little happened on the recording front after this, Marie France remained active on the cabaret and theatre circuit. In 2003, she published her autobiography, Elle était une fois (Denoël), and three years later she re-emerged with Raretés, a compilation featuring eight cabaret songs (written by Frédéric Botton and arranged by André Manoukian for a stage musical that never saw the light of day), a series of duets with Marc Almond and a song by France's indie pop darlings Les Rita Mitsouko. Marie France returned to her punky roots in 2008 on the "surf garage rock" album Phantom Featuring Marie France, which featured songs by her old friend Jacques Duvall. In December of that year Marie France recorded another avant-garde cult classic: Marie Antoinette Is Not Dead (produced by Jac Berrocal.) 

Over the past few months Marie France has returned to the live circuit with a glamorous new show based on covers of Brigitte Bardot songs. These have now been released as an album (complete with a fabulous cover of Marie France dressed up as Bardot shot by cult French photographers Pierre & Gilles.) Rather than simply copying the legendary sixties sex kitten, Marie France has made Bardot's songs (written by Serge Gainsbourg and Jean-Max Rivière) her own, performing them with sensual vocals and acoustic-style arrangements courtesy of the same jazz trio who have accompanied her on stage. Marie France visite Bardot contains all the big BB hits as well as a number of lesser-known gems such as Les Hommes Endormis. Marie France, who is currently wrapping up a new album of her own material with Jacques Duvall and Seb Martel, has proved herself to be an extraordinarily versatile artist over the years, transforming herself from underground gay icon to a cult figure on the French music scene.

Le Soleil


Marie France visite Bardot (JPB Production) released on 2 December 2009

In concert at the Pompidou Centre, Paris (28 October 2009.)

Jean-Eric  Perrin

Translation : Julie  Street