SINGING in French is one thing, but singing in French to an audience of French people in the French capital, well that’s another kettle of poissons entirely, writes Robin Popham.
Still, it was time the International Ukulele Club of Sonning Common lived up to its name, so off 25 of us went on our own tour de France, to give three concerts over a weekend in Paris, with our glorious leader Sam Brown, our ukes, our music…. and our trepidation.
We went by plane, train, ferry and even, appropriately, a bicyclette, since four members decided to show some good old English pluck and cycle from Caen to Paris on old-fashioned bikes and dressed in tweed.
So to our French premiere, at a little place called Ma Pomme en Colimaçon, not far from the Père Lachaise cemetery where Jim Morrison of the Doors and Oscar Wilde are buried. That illustrious rock hero and the dandy with the silver tongue both died in Paris: would we? We were feeling a bit nervous, since two of our venues were where the best ukers in Paris sing and play. We expected a tough audience.
I can’t say Ma Pomme was exactly packed, but neither was it empty and away we went. The opener seemed to go well, but now came le grand départ for Henley’s Peter Moody. He sang A Bicyclette, in French, a charming song made famous by the great Yves Montand.
What a performance! No trace of nerves and we all relaxed. It was going to be fine. After all, we also had the wonderful Naomi Vallance in the band who stormed the place with her version of That Man.
Singer and guitarist Lynne Butler also brought the maison down with her yodelling on She Taught Me How To Yodel.
There were two other French songs on our running order list, and here we brought out our secret weapon: Nathalie Bourgeois, our Parisian band member.
So the Charles Trenet classic La Mer and Edith Piaf’s Milord — supposedly about Edward VII and his love of Paris nightlife — were beautifully sung and perfectly understandable to the audience.
The set was followed by a jam session with half a dozen French players who, as the song Ukulele Lady says, had brought their ukes along. The next day’s performance was in a bandstand in a park at lunchtime in the 20th arrondissement with a French market nearby. Would the shoppers buy our brand of music? Well, they did and a good crowd gathered to watch this strange British phenomenon. Not only that but several French ukers turned up too and joined us on stage at the end.
Finally on Sunday lunchtime, we were at Aux Petits Joueurs, another Parisian uke players’ rendezvous, where the owner put on a special English brunch in our honour. It was certainly a fusion, with bacon and egg plus croissants and crêpes on the same plate. But if you play anything from the classic Ukulele Lady to Motörhead’s Ace of Spades and rapper Pharrell Williams’ Happy perhaps “fusion” is the mot juste.
We were tightly packed in on the tiny stage, and this was the best audience of the weekend. We played for more than an hour, and the French players took up their ukes after we finished for a jolly singalong.
Sam Brown had triumphed again, her style and joie de vivre winning over the French audience as it does in the UK. Where next for the truly International Ukulele Club? Who knows. There are rumours of Spain, so regardez this space.