• Charles Trenet in ‘Cavalcade des heures’

Following on from yesterday’s ‘What Are You Up To, Radio 3 – Essentially?’, I thought I’d point up one of the delights of ‘inessential’ revelations in Classical Collection which I caught two years ago.  I think it was Rob Cowan who played Mam’zelle Clio, sung by Charles Trenet.  I fell for its joie-de-vivre and humour straightaway and immediately ordered CDs and sheet music.  I wasn’t disappointed.  Here was a singer and composer with a very special talent to amuse, à la français, bien sûr (he was known as ‘le fou chantant’), as well as to pull on the strings of sentiment.  I knew La Mer, his greatest international hit, but nothing else.  Thank you, Rob Cowan.  May you continue to throw unexpected, non-mainstream and ‘inessential’ items into the mix of your new programme, whatever its title.

I’m attaching two contrasting clips from a film Trenet appeared in when he was turning 30, La Cavalcade des Heures (Yvan Noé, 1943).  In the first, he doesn’t sing on screen, but listens to a 78 of a song that he co-wrote and recorded a year earlier, Que reste-t-il de nos amours?.  Its mood is suitably seasonal: ‘Tonight, the wind that knocks on my door/talks to me of dead loves/in front of the fire which is going out.  Tonight, it’s a song of autumn/in the house that shivers/and I think of distant days.  [Refrain] What is left of our loves?/What is left of those fine days?/A photo, old photo/of my youth. …’  You may recognise the melody, which was reused for I Wish You Love and recorded by Marlene Dietrich, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Rod Stewart and others.  But nothing beats Trenet’s understated original.

The second clip shows Trenet singing a very different song, in his trademark trilby.  Débit de l’eau … Débit de lait is one of his most popular in France, mainly because of its clever and delightfully whimsical lyrics and tongue-twisting patter.  The refrain includes lines such as:

Ah qu’il est beau, le débit de lait, Ah qu’il est laid, le débit de l’eau
Débit de lait si beau, débit de l’eau si laid
S’il est un débit beau, c’est bien le beau débit de lait.
Au débit d’eau y a le beau Boby, Au débit d’lait y a la bell’Babée …

Here’s a resumé of the main threads of the story: two shops (débits) in the street, one ugly (laid) selling water (l’eau), one pretty (beau) selling milk (lait); Boby sells the water, Babée the milk.  They don’t get on and quarrel over the churns (bidons).  But they get married; Boby puts milk in his water and Babée puts water in her milk.  And Boby makes sure he keeps pretty Babée’s two best churns of milk for himself (Oui mais Boby garde pour lui Les deux plus beaux bidons de lait de la Babée jolie) …

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