"Isabelle Gall, who was born in Paris on 9 October 1947, grew up in a highly creative musical environment. Indeed, young Isabelle came from a family of extremely talented musicians. Her grandfather helped set up the famous French children's choir Les Petits Chanteurs à la Croix de Bois, while her mother, Cécile, was a singer. But it was Isabelle's father, Robert Gall, who was the real star in the family. Robert Gall had risen to fame on the French music scene writing songs for a host of legendary French chanson stars such as Charles Aznavour ("La Mama") and the late great Edith Piaf.
Isabelle soon proved to have inherited her own share of musical talent and learnt to play the piano and the guitar at an early age. In her early teens Isabelle went on to form her own group with her brothers. Then, thanks to a little help from her father, the precocious young singer (who adopted the pseudonym France) went into the studio to record her first single at the tender age of fifteen. Released in September 1963, the single "Ne sois pas si bête" (Don't Be So Silly) went on to prove a huge hit with the French public. Indeed, France's début single soon rocketed to the top of the French charts, selling a cool 200,000 copies. France Gall went on to make a major name for herself in the midst of the yéyé craze (the fashionable 60's sound which fused Anglo-Saxon rock'n'roll with French variété).
Encouraged by this early success, France left school and went on to record a second single in 1964. Written by her father, Robert, the song "Sacré Charlemagne" went on to prove another major hit, catapulting France to fame and making her a serious rival for other young French 60's starlets Sheila and Sylvie Vartan.
France's early career was also much aided by her encounter with the legendary singer/songwriter Serge Gainsbourg.. Gainsbourg, who had already written numerous hits for other singers (which have since gone on to become veritable classics of the French repertoire), took young France's career in hand, writing her a number of famous hits which were seemingly innocent (but actually full of erotic subtexts).
In 1965 France Gall entered the Eurovision Song Contest with one of Gainsbourg's most famous songs. Her performance in Naples on 2 March 1965 was broadcast live to an audience of 150 million viewers and the young French singer went on to triumph in style, winning the contest with Gainsbourg's "Poupée de cire, poupée de son". Ironically, France Gall was not representing France, but Luxembourg! But this did not appear to matter to French music fans. "Poupée de cire, poupée de son" went on to become a huge hit in France and the following year Gainsbourg penned another best-selling single for France Gall, giving her the song "Les Sucettes". ("Les Sucettes" acquired its own special place in French music history. 19-year-old Gall's innocent performance of the song completely missed Gainsbourg's ironic/erotic subtext, much to the delight of certain French music critics). Apparently, France never quite grasped the full sense of Gainsbourg's famous double entendres, but the pair's collaboration came to an end shortly after "Les Sucettes".
In spite of her phenomenal success in the charts, this period of France Gall's life was not a particularly happy one. France was too young and naïve, to enjoy her new-found fame and success. But there was no stopping her irresistible rise to fame. In 1966, at the tender age of twenty, Gall was voted France's n°1 female pop star. Then, the following year, the young singer went on to score another huge hit with "Bébé Requin" (a song co-written by Jo Dassin).
After the success of "Bébé Requin", France Gall took a break from the French music scene. She re-emerged every now and then, however, to record a series of unimpressive duets with actor Maurice Biraud ("La petite") and actress Mireille Darc ("Ne cherche pas à plaire", 1967). France neglected her own recording career, but she remained firmly in the media spotlight, dating 60's idolClaude Francois, then going on to enjoy a four-year relationship with another popular French singing star, Julien Clerc (1970 - 1974).
During this tumultuous period in her life, France also quit her record label Philips.
1974 proved to be a major turning point in France Gall's personal life as well as in her professional career. For it was in '74 that she first met the brilliant French singer/songwriter michel Berger. Berger had started out performing his own work in the 60's and managed to score quite a few hits. But then in the early 70's his songwriting and production work had taken the upper hand and he had gone on to work with veronique sanson (producing her début album "Amoureuse") and Francoise Hardy ("Message personnel"). Shortly after this initial meeting Michel Berger and France Gall began a passionate relationship. In fact, from this point on, the young couple would rarely be seen apart. France Gall's relationship with Berger would also result in the spectacular blossoming of her own career. Berger created a whole new repertoire for the young singer and France Gall soon made a major comeback on the French music scene, rocketing to the top of the charts with her new single "la Déclaration" in 1974. This proved to be the first of many hits which Berger wrote specially for Gall. Indeed, each of the singer's successive albums would contain several best-selling hits. "France Gall", the first of the singer's albums featuring Berger's work, was released in 1975 and before the end of the year the album produced another two best-selling singles besides "la Déclaration": "Samba Mambo" and "Comment lui dire ?".
Meanwhile, Berger and Gall's relationship was beginning to become increasingly serious and on 22 June 1976 the couple celebrated their wedding in Paris.
|Berger, The One-Man Hit Machine
Berger soon got into the rhythm of writing a song for France, followed by a song for himself. But in the early years of their collaboration Berger was so inspired by his new wife and muse that he managed to produce enough material for two albums a year. In 1977 France went into the studio to record a new Berger album entitled "Dancing Disco", which included two new hits - the frenetic disco-inspired track "Musique" and a more tender ballad entitled "Si maman si". Three years later, thanks to Berger's prodigious songwriting output, France was able to return to the studio and begin work on another album, "Paris-France". This album not only included the moving "Besoin d'amour", but also featured France's famous smash hit "Il jouait du piano debout" (He Played Piano Standing). The latter was inspired by the British pop star Elton John.
1978 went down in French music history as the year of "Starmania", the legendary rock opera which Berger wrote in collaboration with the Quebecois songwriter Luc Plamondon. Needless to say, Berger cast his wife in one of the lead roles in his new musical and France went on to give a memorable performance as Cristal, starring alongside Daniel Balavoine and the Canadian singers Diane Dufresne and Fabienne Thibault. Berger's rock opera proved to be an enormous hit with the French public. Indeed, the "Starmania" album, released in 1978, rocketed straight to the top of the album charts and the musical, which premièred at the Palais des Sports in Paris the following year, was a sell-out success. In fact, "Starmania" proved so incredibly successful that over the next twenty years several different casts would recreate the musical all over the world. Needless to say, many of the songs from Berger's musical also went on to become classics in their own right.
On 14 November 1978 France gave birth to a daughter, Pauline. Then, following her acclaimed performance in "Starmania", the singer returned to the recording studio to begin work on a new series of singles. France rocketed back to the top of the charts in 1980 with a brand new single entitled "Donner pour donner" - a song she performed as a duet with British pop star Elton John. This partnership was a truly exceptional occasion - and, as if to underline the special nature of the event, "Donner pour donner" (co-written by Michel Berger and Elton John) did not appear on any album but was only available as a single.
|France Gall Performs Her First Major Concert
In 1981 France returned to the recording studio to set to work on her fourth album "Tout pour la musique". Thanks to Berger's consistently excellent songwriting, France's new album soon went on to produce a string of chart-topping singles including "Résiste" and "Diego libre dans sa tête". Later that year France took another short break from her recording career after giving birth to her second child, Raphaël (on 2 April 1981). When France did return to work she immediately threw herself into preparations for her first major concert. For, in spite of having recorded a whole string of hits since meeting Berger, France had not actually performed in concert for her fans. Greatly encouraged and supported by her husband, who also directed and choreographed her entire show called "Made in France", she appeared at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysée in Paris in 1978. The concert proved a huge hit. Indeed, the stadium was packed every night for five entire weeks! However, France's live performance rapidly turned into an ordeal, and after five non-stop weeks the singer, suffering from physical exhaustion, spiralled into a major depression and her doctor ended up ordering her to take a break from her career for several months.
The indefatigable France soon returned to the media spotlight however, returning to the studio in 1984 to begin work on a new album entitled "Débranche". France also ventured back onto the live circuit, performing a major run at Le Zénith in Paris. She opened at Le Zénith on 11 September and, this time round, gave two months of non-stop concerts without showing the slightest sign of strain. Needless to say, her concerts proved an enormous hit, attracting rave reviews and hundreds of loyal fans.
In the 80's European showbiz stars suddenly turned their attention to humanitarian issues, teaming up to perform huge fund-raising concerts. Michel Berger and France Gall were both very active in this domain, giving generous amounts of time and energy to worthy causes. In 1985 British and American artists got together in London to organise the famous "Feed the World" concert, raising funds for famine victims in Ethiopia. A group of French artists soon got together and followed their Anglo-Saxon neighbours' example, recording the charity single "Chanteurs sans frontières" (which was written by Langolff and Sechan). Needless to say, Michel Berger and France Gall were invited to participate in this venture together with the crème de la crème of the French music scene.
Besides devoting precious time to this collective recording venture, Berger and Gall also became involved with another major fund-raising project, "Action Ecoles". This French project encouraged school children and their families to send much-needed supplies of rice to areas hit by famine. The French singer Daniel Balavoine and the well-known actor Richard Berry were also closely involved with "Action Ecoles".
Sadly, tragedy struck the fund-raising world in January 1986, when Daniel Balavoine was killed in a helicopter crash over Mali. (He was taking part in the Paris-Dakar rally to raise funds for a humanitarian association at the time). France Gall and Michel Berger, who were both close friends of Balavoine, were devastated by news of his death.
France returned to the studio in 1987 to begin work on a new album entitled "Babacar". This album was largely inspired by the singer's experiences in Africa. Indeed, the title track "Babacar" was a song about the desert slowly encroaching on Africa's crop-growing land. France's album also included a personal tribute to Daniel Balavoine, in the form of a moving ballad entitled "Evidemment".
Following the release of her new album, France turned her attention to her live concerts once more, performing a popular three-week run at the Zénith in Paris. She then kicked off an extensive national tour. A double live album featuring highlights from the tour, "le Tour de France 88", was released a few months later.
|Grief and Tragedy - But France Gall Soldiers On
France's next album, released in 1992, proved to be a major event in the French music world because it was a joint album with Michel Berger. The ten songs on "Double jeu" - written by Berger, of course - were all recorded as duets. The album by the popular husband and wife team proved a huge success and two extracts, "Laissez passez les rêves" and "Sentimental et léger" soon went rocketing to the top of the charts. In July of that year Berger and Gall announced their intention of performing a series of concerts together in the autumn at the famous Paris venue La Cigale. But the joint concerts were never to be. Tragedy struck again in August, while the couple were holidaying in their house in Ramatuelle (just a few kilometres from St Tropez). Berger suffered an infarction and was immediately rushed to hospital, but doctors could do nothing to save him and he died on August 2, aged just 44. France and her family were absolutely shattered by Berger's death. It was also a black day for the French music scene, which had lost one of its leading singer/songwriters. France spent several months grieving, but in the end she decided to resume her career and devote herself to performing her late husband's work. In September '93 France gave a series of concerts at Bercy stadium (the biggest venue in Paris). Greeted by rapturous applause as soon as she appeared on stage, the singer went on to give an outstanding performance, electrifying the atmosphere with emotion.
France continued to perform her late husband's repertoire at every opportunity, participating in countless gala tributes held in Berger's honour, where she was joined on stage by the couple's closest showbiz friends. In September 1994 France branched out in a different direction, performing a highly acclaimed acoustic concert at the Salle Pleyel (a venue generally reserved for classical music).
|France from Los Angeles
Following the success of this performance, France decided to take a break from the French music scene, moving to Los Angeles for a few months with her children. While France was in the States she also spent much of her time in the studio, recording a new album dedicated to her late husband. France not only recorded new versions of the songs Berger had written for her, she also included songs which Berger had originally performed himself (such as "Les Princes des Villes" and "Que l'amour est bizarre"). The closing track on the album was the legendary "Message personnel", a song Berger had originally written for 60's star Françoise Hardy.
This album, entitled simply "France", was released to general critical acclaim in 1995. The following year France Gall returned to the media spotlight, performing a highly successful run at the Olympia in Paris (5-17 November 1996). The singer then embarked upon another major national tour, giving concerts up and down the country right through until December of that year. In the spring of '97, France gave another memorable performance, giving a special acoustic concert on French television. She was joined on stage by Charles Aznavour who gave an emotional performance of "la Mamma".
Sadly, in the winter of '97, tragedy blighted France Gall's life once again, when her daughter Pauline died at the age of 19. Following Pauline's death, which had a devastating effect on her, France Gall withdrew from the showbiz world completely, taking a break from her professional activities altogether. She emerged from her 'recluse' period in the autumn of '99, however, to attend Michel Sardou's wedding on October 11th. France joined a host of other celebrity guests at the wedding including veteran rocker Johnny Hallyday. France went on to make a surprise appearance with Johnny the following year, performing "Quelque chose de Tennessee" live on stage with him when he performed at the Olympia on August 15th 2000.
Looking for peace and quiet, France Gall would often withdraw to the house she bought in Senegal.
In December 2001, Polydor released a box gathering together all of her Sixties’ tracks, which had been originally brought out by Philips. Featuring no less that 74 songs, among which the famous "Sucettes" penned by Gainsbourg and the not so well-known "Nefertiti", such a venture reminds us of France Gall’s leading position on the French pop music scene as early as in the sixties.
Today she remains one of the most popular stars on the French music scene and deservedly so!"
December 2001 (rfi musique)
france & michel