Alastair Campbell plays the songs of Jacques Brel

I often find that discovering that somebody shares one of your passions can efficiently neutralise any misgivings or antipathy you previously held towards them. So it was this morning, as I listened to Alastair Campbell’s programme on Radio 4 about the legendary chanson singer Jacques Brel:

Former Labour strategist Alastair Campbell reveals his passion for the music of the late Belgian singer/songwriter Jacques Brel. At the peak of his career during the 50s and 60s, Brel’s music explored emotions darker and deeper than the conventional popular songs of the time, and his live performances were famed for their intensity and ferocity.

Contributors include Brel fanatic Mel Smith, impresario Jean Michel Boris, accordionist Jean Corti, journalist Olivier Todd and Brel’s daughter France.

[As for me, I’ll offer you pearls of rain that come from a country where rain never falls]. However, Rod McKuen’s English translation replaces that imagery with “But if you stay / I’ll make you a day / Like no day has been / or will be again.”

Sometimes the lyrical changes can be more substantial. One of his most famous songs, Jacky, has been covered by, amongst others, Scott Walker and Marc Almond. While Messrs Walker and Almond stuck to translations that were reasonably faithful to Brel’s original vision, not everyone has been quite so honourable:

And if one day I should become
A spinner with a brutish tongue
The scourge of all those politicians

And I will tell them how it is
Those sorry gutless sacks of piss
Will be no match for my ambitions

My pal will be called Tonio
Trade Union bridges we will burn
I’ll be The Edge to his Bono
And the Eric to his Ern

Revenge will be my frosty dish
I’ll whack my enemies with fish
And former rivals on Fleet Street
Will tremble now beneath broadsheets

For if they say things I don’t like
I’ll bash them senseless with a pike
Just ask The Guardian’s Michael White
And he’ll tell you Who’s the Daddy

If I could be for only an hour
If I could be for an hour every day
If I could be for just one little hour

Cute brute in a boot-yer-ass way

Next Week: Peter Mandelson plays the songs of Serge Gainsbourg