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Tous les garçons et les filles - Françoise Hardy

In the on-line Cambridge dictionary the word "ambience", a word of French origin, is defined as "the character of a place or the quality it seems to have".

To English people in the sixties, maybe to all non-French people in the sixties, Françoise Hardy, who died a month ago on June 8th aged 80, was a personification of French ambiance. The sound of her singing voice, her music, her oh-so-cool-yet-casual fashionable beauty - all seemed to be the essence of romantic France.

My older sister - she is 12 years my senior - studied French, intending to teach it, spending a year at Grenoble University and living a further year in a French family as an au pair. This ambition was put permanently on hold when she fell in love with an engineer from the midlands who she had met at Manchester University, married and began a family.

Years later, after dinners when when I was staying with them, knowing that I was studying French for "A" Level, and was into French literature, she would enthusiastically discuss Balzac, Flaubert, De Beauvoir and even Françoise Sagan with me over a bottle of Chablis. She would get out her dusty French records from the attic, most of which were by Françoise Hardy, and ask him to play them for her - it seemed the record player was his domain. He duly obliged, but "accidently-on-purpose" kept playing the 33 rpm LP's at 45, transmuting Hardy's vocals into nightmarish arias by Alvin and the Chipmunks. He thought this was hilarious, repeating the joke with every side and record change, and singing along with gibberish, mock-foreign language lyrics, until my sister gave up, and he was able to drown out our chat with his own musical preferences: Mahler, followed by Jake Thakray. I could see this hurt her, as clearly as I realised that he felt threatened by my sister's expertise in all things French, especially as epitomised by Françoise Hardy. Love, like life, can be complicated.

Françoise Hardy's first hit was "Tous les garçons et les filles". Released in early 1962, when she was 18, it was number One in France, Belgium, Spain and Quebec!

Simple and elegant, Hardy observes her young contemporaries, all couples it seems, all in love. She envies their happiness, their carefree freedom:

"Ils s'en vont amoureux sans peur du lendemain" (they fall in love without fear of tomorrow).

Hardy sees herself as an "âme en peine", a lost soul, because no-one loves her. At the end of the song she looks forward to the day when she too will be in love and therefore happy but the sustained melancholic feel of the song reminds us of the bigger picture, the ongoing tragedy of life, that romance often ends in sadness, a bittersweet memory like a wisp of smoke in the heart.


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