Two weeks ago I told my Mum I was looking forward to seeing this gig, very much. She was completely incredulous that I was going to see the famous French chanson crooner and was almost mocking in her surprise. Her reaction pleased me for two reasons : 1. I still have the ability to shock my mother albeit in a less rock n roll was to the way I shocked her as a teenager, and 2. She still has no idea, after ALL this time about what makes me tick.
My introduction to Charles Aznavour was firstly as a child in the 70’s. I distinctly remember listening to one of his songs whilst sat in the Kardomah coffee house in Swansea, on a dreary Saturday morning, feeling bored. Charles ‘as-no-voice, my brothers used to mock. I ignored them and henceforth kept my liking for Aznavour under wraps. My passion for chanson was re-ignited many years later via Marc Almond who has covered many of Aznavour’s songs but most notably “Yesterday When I was Young” and “What Makes a Man a Man”. It was my gateway to chanson and lead me to other artists I have come to adore, including Juliet Greco, and Jacques Brel.
When Aznavour announced last year that he would be playing the Royal Albert Hall, my friend Angie, whilst strolling along Blackpool’s sands of all places, asked if I’d like to go. Unfortunately a family holiday to Singapore and Hong Kong prevented this from happening. And I was gutted not to have been able to witness this French wonder, perform. His advancing years meant that I was unlikely to see him sing live. I viewed it as one of those opportunities lost in life and tried to forget about it. Then, in December 2013, Aznavour announced another date at the Royal Albert Hall! This was surely fate? I got on the phone to Angie and promptly booked a couple of tickets. We were both ecstatic for a second chance to see him perform.
Fast forward six months to yesterday. Angie was due to be flying in from Glasgow and staying with us, to return back today. However due to miscalculated timings and an over-zealous member of Easyjet staff, Angie missed her early morning flight. She called me at 7am, nearly in tears. I was truly gutted for her as I know how much she was looking forward to going. Eager for me to still go, Angie said that I should try and find someone to use her ticket. Luckily, after a quick scout around my friends, Tony stepped in. I was glad to be going with someone, and as much as I love Tony, I was still gutted that Angie was missing out.
We arrived at the Royal Albert Hall with a few minutes to spare before the lights went down and the support act, Nina Ferro, came on. She really wasn’t my cup of tea, reminding me of a caberet singer on a cruise ship. Had I known that my friend Stephen Hero was chatting to Marc Almond in the bar at that time, I would have joined them! 😉
Eventually Aznavour took to the stage to a standing ovation before he even opened his mouth. For a 90 year old he was extremely spritely, and was in INCREDIBLE voice. The first song was sung in French and he advised the audience that he would alternate between French and English. “C’est l’entente cordiale!” he exclaimed.
All his well known hits were in there, including “She”, “Yesterday When I Was Young” (which has particular emotional ties for me as it was my earworm when my son was being born), “La Boheme” (after which there was an unseemly tussle betwixt a middle aged man who’d made the trip from his seat to the front of the stage, and a similarly aged woman from the front row, in order to catch Aznavour’s handkerchief which was aimlessly tossed at the end of the song) and “Dance in the Old Fashioned Way”. Aznavour tripped through “What Makes a Man a Man” and I couldn’t help but compare it to Marc Almond’s version, also once sung on the very same stage in 1992 and which I prefer.
After a full 90 minutes with no interval, Aznavour exited the stage and returned briefly to more than a dozen bouquets and red roses from his adoring fans. I have never seen so many flowers proffered at the end of a concert! There was one embarrassing moment where a man offered Aznavour a bouquet about 3 songs from the end, and it was ignored. This was probably due to the crooner’s failing eyesight for which he apologised at the beginning of the show.
I am so delighted that I was able to witness at first hand, a true legend at work. His voice was strong and steady, filled with emotion, and his anecdotes in between songs were humorous. I hope that when I’m 90, should I have the good fortune to last that long, I have a quarter of his staying power! We made our way out of the venue, and I got chatting to a bloke on that stairway, as I was trying to remember the song sung in French directly before “She”. I thought it was a song which Marc Almond had covered as I recognised the tune and could see Marc singing it in English, in my mind’s eye. Once we got outside, who should we bump into, but David McAlmont talking to Marc! We briefly chatted (and I do mean briefly, as Marc was being whisked away) but it was so lovely to see them both together. A lovely end to a fabulous evening filled with plenty of entente cordiale!
Photo reproduced with kind permission of Nadine Lott