When Jane Birkin lopes onstage at the Barbican to thunderous applause, it’s hard to believe she was once the curvaceous, doe-eyed bombshell who spent much of the swinging Sixties and Seventies at Serge Gainsbourg’s side, causing scandal aplenty whilst wearing hardly any clothes, with the sound of her orgasmic groans on Je T’aime being banned from radio stations across the globe.
At over 60 years old, she’s no less lively or charming, although her appearance these days is somewhat more demure. With her hair cropped short and dressed in an oversized white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, suit trousers, waistcoat and tie; she looks uncannily similar to the late great Serge Gainsbourg.
Support band Moriarty, meanwhile, are the perfect introduction for Jane Birkin’s only UK tour date since 2003: a French-Canadian folk outfit that combine 1930s music-hall theatricality with vintage instruments and quirky, bluesy vocals, including a weird but wonderful jazz cover of Depeche Mode’s Enjoy the Silence.
For someone known so widely for her powerful duets with an assortment of famous faces (Bryan Ferry, Brian Molko and Franz Ferdinand to name but a few), I was half hoping that Jane would have some special guests performing alongside her. Although this turned out not to be the case, I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. Her epic one-woman show lasted well over two hours with just a four-piece backing band, showing Jane’s charisma and strength as both chanteuse and raconteur.
Combining the intimacy and mournful nostalgia of her latest album, Enfants d’Hiver, with a reinvention of some of Serge’s jauntier tunes inspired by Jane during her time as his muse, the result was a spectacle which was by turns fierce, melancholic, buoyant and debonair.
The highlight of the evening was an endearingly eccentric performance of Yesterday, Yes a Day, in which Jane wanders through a thrilled audience twirling a contraption resembling the bare bones of an umbrella, except embellished with fairylights. Other noteworthy renditions included a haunting cover of Tom Waits’ Alice, and never-before-heard interpretations of some of Serge’s best-loved songs, including Pas Long Feu, Les Petits Papiers and Exercice En Forme De Z.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the only number from Enfants D’Hiver to be sung en anglais, was a politically-charged lament about the activist’s current incarcerated status in Burma, whilst dark ballad Strange Melody was sung as Jane curled into a ball on the stage floor, with all lights extinguished except one solitary spotlight.
Whilst my A Level in French is woefully far from enough for me to translate every word, Jane Birkin’s voice was so sweetly evocative that by the end of the evening even the English-speaking members of the audience understood enough to give her a well-deserved standing ovation.
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Image courtesy of Marc Broussely
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