Jane Birkin to evoke memories of Gainsbourg and others in Athens

Her own musical career has been largely based on the songs written for her or about her by the late French pop icon Serge Gainsbourg, as Jane Birkin highlighted during her first performance in Greece several years ago. Performing on a hot summer evening at the open-air Lycabettus Theater in Athens, the barefooted, scantily dressed, still slim, and still sexy Birkin recalled memories of Gainsbourg, her former partner of 12 years, time and time again between songs. The show’s entire set featured Gainsbourg numbers rearranged and delivered in a sensual and mystical «Arabesque» style, «which he would have liked,» Birkin told her Athenian audience. The show was based on «Arabesque,» an album of Gainsbourg songs she had just released. The London-born singer and actress who went on to develop closer ties – both personal and artistic – in France than in her homeland, returns to the Greek capital for a second performance, tomorrow night at the Athens Concert Hall. As expected, the late Gainsbourg – who passed away in 1991 as a heavy-drinking cultural icon in France and a revered cult figure in various other parts of the world at the age of 62 – will figure again in Birkin’s set. But this time, his former spouse will present a repertory that includes work penned by other contemporary artists of various periods such as Bryan Ferry, Manu Chao, Neil Young, Tom Waits, The Smiths, Franz Ferdinand and Goran Bregovic. Tonight’s set list will be largely based on material from two recent and well-received albums by Birkin, 2004’s «Rendez-Vous» and 2006’s «Fictions.» «Rendez-Vous» had featured a collection of duets with a variety of guests, including Beth Gibbons, the singer of the groundbreaking 90s Bristol act Portishead, and the stylish crooner Bryan Ferry. «Fictions,» which continued in this vein, includes contributions from assorted acts such as Gibbons, Neil Hannon of Divine Comedy, Kate Bush and a selection of new French chanson songwriters, including Dominique A. «Fictions» also features a few well-chosen covers, including songs by Tom Waits and Neil Young. Johnny Marr, guitarist and songwriter of the iconic pop-rock act The Smiths, played guitar and harmonica on several of the album’s tracks. All this artistic diversity in Birkin’s more recent ventures may help carry both her own mind, and the minds of fans, away from her pivotal association with Gainsbourg. But as she would be the first to admit, Gainsbourg remains at the core, as indicated by Birkin’s collaborations with younger acts such as Dominique A, whom the late figure probably influenced. Birkin and Gainsbourg, 18 years her senior, met when she took a role in the 1969 film «Slogan» at a time when both were on their way out of relationships – Birkin with John Barry, composer of the James Bond series scores, and Gainsbourg with Brigitte Bardot. «Everybody told me he was a mad, bad Russian, but after a dinner together I discovered he was very charming. He was still in love with Brigitte Bardot and I was still in love with John, but little by little we healed each other’s wounds,» Birkin told British music magazine Uncut in a recent interview, recalling her late partner who hailed from a Russian-Jewish family that relocated to France. The newly linked pair quickly struck notoriety and success with the infamous Gainsbourg-penned duet «Je T’Aime, Moi Non Plus,» a major hit in 1969 that launched a long-lasting collaboration between the two. Concertgoers can expect to hear more about it from Birkin tonight.

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