Interview with Paul Nicholas

Here’s a recent interview I did with the very lovely actor and singer Paul Nicholas, who was in Bath last month performing at the Theatre Royal in the Agatha Christie play And Then There Were None.  A little while back I had interviewed Paul via email for another project, but I wanted to do a fuller interview with him about his career in general and he was very happy to oblige when he was in town.  I met him at the theatre stage door and he took me to the Society Cafe in Kingsmead Square for a coffee and a chat.  Very nice it was too.

Aside from the fact that Paul is just really casual and easy to chat with, what I enjoyed most about this interview was the fact that he was refreshingly honest about what he enjoys about his career, which is doing things that people enjoy and that he feels he can do well.  He’s had a long and varied career and shows no sign of slowing down now he’s getting older (he’ll be 70 later this year), but then why would he?  He’s doing projects he enjoys right now – and lots of them too.

Just before the interview I had been given a copy of a French TV show Dim Dam Dom, featuring a behind the scenes report on the film Cannabis (dir Pierre Koralnik, 1970), which Paul had appeared in with Hero Culte favourites Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin.  I thought Paul might like to see the show, so I gave him a copy of it before starting the interview:

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Hero Culte (HC):  You’re playing double bass with Serge [Gainsbourg].

Paul Nicholas (PN):  Really?  I don’t remember any of that

HC:  Yeah, it’s quite funny because he’s talking to the interviewer in French and you’re saying, “What are you saying? What are you saying?” and he says something like “I’m saying you’re my friend but you are a bad boy”

PN:  He was very nice

HC:  It’s just you two messing about together…

PN:  Oh, great, well that will be nice to see – thank you

HC:  It’s in black and white

PN:  Yeah, well, aren’t we all? At least there’s sound!

HC:  Yeah but you don’t say a lot, you’re being quiet

PN:  I was quite shy…

HC:  Also, they were just all talking in French

PN:  Yeah, I didn’t… You know, the funny thing about that film was, I was supposed to learn French and I didn’t speak French.  So we tried it and I didn’t know what the hell I was saying and my pronunciation was probably really bad.  So we ended up [with Serge] speaking in French and me speaking in English.  So we never quite knew when the other one had finished.  Cos he didn’t speak very good English.

HC:  (laughs) Anyway, I wanted to ask you how’s the play, And Then There Were None, going?

PN:  It’s going very well actually.  It’s sold out [in Bath], I think, pretty much.  It sold out last week in Guildford.  So we’re very happy with it.  It’s probably [Agatha Christie’s] most famous novel, but it’s a real potboiler.  You know, it’s good entertainment for the audience and they’re enjoying it.  It’s good, solid entertainment and they kind of know what they’re going to get.  They’re gonna get Agatha Christie, they’re hopefully gonna get actors who can do it, produced by a guy called Bill Kenwright [Hero Culte Note:  Bill Kenwright was in the musical comedy Passion Flower Hotel with Jane Birkin] who has done loads of stuff over the years, so it’s a pretty bankable evening.  Particularly when the prices of tickets are pretty expensive.

HC:  It’s like a fulfilment thing, isn’t it?  It’s that thing that you know there will be a resolution at the end of it and working your way through that.

PN:  Exactly.

HC:  You might guess it, you might not.

PN:  Exactly.  So I think it ticks all the boxes for the audience.  And for us, as performers, it’s great to go out and play to full houses, particularly with a play because we’ve all done plays where you’ve had only a few people in so to be involved in something that works is good.

HC:  Do you prefer theatrical work to film?

PN:  The thing about filming is it’s so bitty.  You know, you might do two minutes a day or whatever.  So it’s not very satisfying whilst you’re doing it.

HC:  And it’s not always shot in chronological order, is it?

PN:  No, so it’s not very satisfying.  You know, when I was young I did a few bits and pieces film wise and I didn’t particularly enjoy it.  Now, of course, you’d give your left arm to be in a film and nobody wants you!

HC:  You could be like Ian McShane and have a renaissance!

PN:  Yeah, but the thing about Ian McShane is, he always had a career in America.  Cos he went over quite young when he started to do well, and then he had a bit of a dip… In fact, I did a film with him called Yesterday’s Hero

HC:  I’ve seen it!

PN:  Yeah, dreadful, isn’t it?

HC:  It’s really enjoyable though.

PN:  Is it?  I’ve never seen it.

HC:  I didn’t know if it was a vehicle for you and the lady singer, I can’t remember her name…

Paul Nicholas Y Hero

PN:  It was Suzanne Somers, she was a big star in America with this show called… Three’s Company, which was a spin-off of Robin’s Nest that was here.  So she was quite a big star…  No, I don’t know what it was really, I think it was at the time when Elton John was involved in the Watford football club and so there was a kind of pop/football tie-up and that’s what the film was about, wasn’t it, basically?

HC:  You know who I thought was terrible in it, and it’s a shame as I usually like him, Adam Faith.  I thought he was just awful in it.

PN:  He was playing a coach, wasn’t he?

HC:  Yeah, and he was really vindictive.  He had the sheepskin coat and everything.

Adam Faith Y Hero

Adam Faith – apparently he had cheek implants for the film to make him look like a cross between Joe Shishido and Tim Burgess, maybe…

PN:  He was a very nice man.  He was also in Stardust

HC:  Which you were in…

PN:  …Which I was in, and he was better in that probably because it was about pop singers and he knew about that.  I think, you know, with pop singers who don’t really have a lot of acting experience unless they’re real naturals you have to be careful about what you do as that kind of performer.  Now, I started off as a rock ‘n’ roll piano player but I’d done quite a lot over the years and learned quite a lot, probably… I’m not sure that Adam did that much…

HC:  He did Budgie!

PN:  Yeah, he did Budgie and he was dead right for that, wasn’t he?

HC:  Yes, he was.

PN:  I mean, some things you’re right for and some things you’re not. But if you’ve not really done it a lot or if you’ve not been to Drama School, then it’s quite daunting to become an actor

HC:  Did you go to drama school?

PN:  No.

HC:  When did you start?  Quite young?

PN:  I started playing piano for Screaming Lord Sutch – do you know who he is?

HC:  I LOVE Screaming Lord Sutch! O my god!

PN:  I was a Savage.

HC:  Were you?!! [very excited]

PN:  Yeah, Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages.  If you go on YouTube, in 1903, well, actually, it was 1962, the BBC when they first started they did a documentary on him called Sutch is Life, or something like that.

Hero Culte Note:  It seems to be called Screamin’ Lord Sutch and it was, apparently, from 1965.  You can watch about half an hour of it here

Paul Nicholas Sutch Doc

PN:  And it was a one hour show but if you go on YouTube you can see bits of it and you can see me as a 17-year-old playing the piano for him.  So he used to do this thing called Jack the Ripper, it was a terrible act…

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HC:  Did he have his Tarzan outfit on?

PN:  No, we used to wear those…

Paul Nicholas Sutch Doc 4

Back of Joe Meek’s head – recording in the studio

Paul Nicholas Sutch Doc 5

HC:  I’ve got a French TV show with Screaming Lord Sutch and he’s wearing his Tarzan outfit and he looks *really* nice…

Hero Culte Note:  You can see photos from it here 

PN:  Well, we used to wear those. The funny thing about him was, he used to have really long hair in 1962, before anyone had long hair, so his whole act was based on being a wild man.  And if you look on YouTube you’ll see the opening number that we do, he couldn’t sing, but you’ll see he fires a gun at the audience and we all pretend to be frightened.  It’s all a bit of an act, so from my point of view I then learnt that I enjoyed the fooling around and the dressing up much more than just playing the piano and singing.  And so it wasn’t then until I managed to get into Hair, the musical, that I got to do a combination of drama and music…

HC:  Were you wearing anything?

PN:  I did! Yes, I was the only one who did wear something, cos I sang a song called Where Do I Go? and they all stood up around me and took their clothes off.  But I didn’t have to cos I was singing.  So for me, that was a real breakthrough, because that was that combination of music and drama which I’ve sort of been doing ever since.  And it was while I was in that show that I got Cannabis.

HC:  Yeah, I read that.  But you were in Season of the Witch as well, weren’t you?

PN:  I was, yeah, with Julie Driscoll.

HC:  What’s she like?

PN:  Well, she was a pop singer and she had a hit called Wheels on Fire and this guy, this BBC producer, wanted to do this show about two guys in Brighton who fall in love with the same girl. She was the girl, I was one of the guys and the other guy was Robert Powell.  So we worked together, in fact I saw him the other day he came to see [the play] and he said to the director, “I haven’t seen this guy for 30 or 40 years” or whatever it was, but it’s not true I had seen him, erm… (laughs)

HC:  He just forgot.

PN:  Yeah, he forgot, I didn’t forget!  Erm, yeah, so I did that and again I got that whilst I was in Hair – I think they were looking for a hippie type person…

HC:  Buy you’ve played lots of bad boys – you’re a gangster in Cannabis, you were sadistic in Tommy, weren’t you?

PN:  A little bit, yeah

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HC:  And then you were a psychotic killer in See No Evil and a granny killer in What Became of Jack and Jill?

Paul Nicholas See No Evil

See No Evil – Paul Nicholas trying to strangle Mia Farrow whilst she’s in the bath and getting his face squished!

Paul Nicholas Jack and Jill

Butter wouldn’t melt in What Happened to Jack & Jill? but the atmosphere was dead at Grandma’s party…

Paul Nicholas Jack and Jill 1

HC:  Did you like playing bad boys?

PN:  Yeah, well I have to say it’s easier to play a bad boy than it is to make people laugh.  It’s much easier. But, erm, yeah I did get a lot of bad boy roles but they were all slightly, I mean Cousin Kevin was slightly tongue in cheek.  In fact, I’m directing that this year, Tommy.

HC:  On the stage?

PN:  Yeah, at the Blackpool Opera House with Joe McElderry playing Tommy.  Do you know Joe McElderry

HC:  Erm, was he in X Factor?

PN:  Yeah, he’s a very good singer.  Yeah, so I did play quite a few bad boys but what can I say?

HC:  It’s a bit at odds with your pop star image in the 1970s though…

PN:  Yeah, the reason I did that was when I started off as a rock ‘n’ roll piano player, and being in groups since I was about 16, the one thing you want to have is a hit record.  And I never had a hit record and then I got into Hair and that career.  But when I got a bit further down the road, in my late 20s, I thought I’d like to have a hit record.  So I went out and looked for some songs and I eventually met these guys, who played all these songs, and they said they had this song Reggae Like It Used To Be, and I said, “Well, let’s hear it” and I said, I thought that sounded like a hit; a bubblegum sort of light song.  And I went with Chris Neil, this bloke I’d been in Hair with, and he was becoming a producer, and we stuck my voice on their backing track, put a couple of strings on it, some vocal backing.  I found a very good plugger who did plugging at the BBC, cos you need to get it played, and he then became my manager.  And we had a hit.  And then we had a few more because we came up with some sort of style, bubblegum sort of songs, because I couldn’t go on and be a heavy sort of rocker, could I?

Paul Nicholas Captain

Paul Nicholas – not a heavy rocker

HC:  But what about Stranded in the Jungle?  How did you get to that one?  Were you a fan of the New York Dolls or P J Proby?

Paul Nicholas Jungle

PN:  I got a little pop show on ITV and I had to do things and that was a number I found, Stranded in the Jungle.  When did the New York Dolls do that?

HC:  Very early 70s…

PN:  No, it’s an older song than that…

HC:  The fifties… the Cadets?

PN:  Something like that.  I don’t know, but I knew of the song and I had a friend who used to sing it to me.  So I looked it up and did it on that little show that I had.

HC:  It’s great!

PN:  Yeah! (laughs)

HC:  I have to tell you, I bet everyone says this to you… when I told my friends I was interviewing you they were all really jealous, you know why?

PN:  Yeah, but that was fifty years ago and I’m not like that anymore!  Well, that was a good show for me.

Just Good FriendsYum yum – Paul Nicholas and Jan Francis

HC:  Do you mind that people mainly remember you for Just Good Friends?

PN:  No, no, no.  Not at all, I mean, you’re glad that anyone remembers you for anything.  Basically, the great thing about this business is that you don’t quite know what’s coming around the corner.  What happened was, I made a bit of money as a pop singer and I went to live in America for a year and when I came back I didn’t really have any work, but I got one TV show.  It was a play with Judy Cornwell called A Little Rococo and I played an antique dealer on the telly who had an antique shop and this older lady came in, she had children and everything, I was this younger guy  and we had a sort of love affair.  And, er, blah blah blah.  And that was the only thing I did but also Andrew Lloyd Webber called me about doing a show called Cats.  But the good thing about the TV show was that John Sullivan, who wrote Only Fools and Horses and lots of other shows, saw me in it.  And he got me in to audition with Jan [Francis] for Just Good Friends, which was very brave of him but interestingly because when you establish yourself as a pop singer, which was sort of the freshest thing in people’s minds, they’re not going to think of you as an actor in a sitcom.  Not really, not in the 70s they weren’t.  But he did, which was great.  But, mind you, he had seen me act in A Little Rococo.  So I went along and I met him, I met Jan Francis and I met Ray Butt, who’s the director.  And we both spoke to them, we both read a bit.  And they thought it would be a good idea to do the pilot.  So we did the pilot and then it was shown to John Howard Davies.  John Howard Davis was the original Oliver Twist in the original movie, he’s the one who goes up and says “Can I have more?”, in the black and white movie.  The one that I think Carol Reed did.

Hero Culte Note:  It was actually David Lean who directed it

PN:  But he [John Howard Davies] then became the head of comedy and he wasn’t sure about me, he thought I was a pop singer and he wasn’t sure I’d be able to sustain it.  So, Ray Butt who was the director, ran a very scientific test to see if people liked me.  He showed it to 5 secretaries (laughs) and they came up and they said, “We think he’s right”.  And we did the show and it became pretty much an instant success.  And that was it really.

HC:  There weren’t as many episodes as I thought there were…

PN:  No, there was only 21, I think, and a couple of specials.

HC:  Anyway, we all loved it – women of a certain age (myself included) in particular remember it with fondness!  But what about music, cos you were in lots of musicals but also musical films too?  It obviously means a lot to you, music?  Do you enjoy doing that type of work more?

PN:  Not particularly.

HC:  No? (surprised)

PN:  To be honest with you, the only thing I’m interested in terms of what I enjoy – for me the thing is, can I do it?  can I do it okay?  and does anyone like it?  So I don’t care if it’s being in Tommy or if it’s doing teenybopper hit singles that people like.  It doesn’t matter to me.  The problem is, for me as a performer, if people aren’t quite sure what you are then they don’t take you seriously.  Because they can’t quite work it out or because they think, “He’s not serious in that”.  Which is true because I’m not really serious about anything.

HC:  Which is a good way to be!

PN:  Well, I am in that I take my work seriously but I can’t get locked into one thing.  There’s nothing wrong with having a good bubblegum hit record if people like it.  There’s nothing wrong with being a killer in an Agatha Christie if people like it.  And it’s, of its kind, good.  I mean, those records that I made weren’t musically groundbreaking or anything but they had an appeal and they were something that people liked to listen to.  For a limited amount of time.  And the public are never wrong.  To be honest with you, I do think there’s a bit too much snobbery with music.  Why can’t you love everything?

HC:  A bit of everything, yeah? But not everything.

PN:  Yeah, well, you don’t have to love everything but what I’m saying is you should be open-minded enough to listen.  I mean, I’m not crazy about classical music to be honest with you, there are bits that I like.  But a lot of classical music is like an arrangement in search of a tune if you ask me.

HC;  Too many notes!

PN:  Too much orchestration, where’s the tune?  They have to embroider it cos the tune’s not very good.

HC:  Were you in any other bands?

PN:  Yeah, I had my own band but we were basically a covers band.  So what was ever working at the time…

HC:  And that ties in with you wanting to do things that people like…

PN:  Yeah, but you know it was boring because all you were doing is replicating what was out there and it wasn’t particularly interesting.  In those early days most of the really great bands were in the North, like the Beatles, the Hollies, most of them.  Down in the South, there was…

HC:  The Troggs!

PN:  Yeah, but they were later, weren’t they?  Are they from down here?

HC:  Yeah, Andover

PN:  Yeah, but they were later.  I’m talking about 1961, 1962.  So the only really decent band that I can think of, other than people like Chris Farlowe, John Mayall, people like that, there was this band that I really liked called Cliff Bennett & the Rebel Rousers.  They were a great band, they had a saxophone, they were really good, but again they were a covers band.  But they were doing rhythm & blues.  A lot of bands in the South in the early 60s were doing covers of Cliff Richard or Presley, but the guys in the North like the Beatles and the Merseybeats were writing their own stuff, which Southern bands didn’t tend to do.  And then later came bands like the Who – I worked with the Who when I was on a package tour.  You had these package tours where you had the Who, and I played piano for Del Shannon, my band backed Del Shannon.  You know that song Runaway?

HC:  (nods)

PN:  So you know the song I mean (hums the keyboard line), well, I used to do that and I used to screw it up every night and poor old Del used to turn around and look at me (laughs).  So I knew the Who, and Keith Moon, for example – when I had my band in North London, he used to come and see my band.  And then I saw his band, which was the Who, playing at a place called the Railway Tavern in Harrow, and they were just very special.  They wrote their own songs, visually they were very interesting, they were very of the time.  And Townsend was great, and Daltrey was great.  And they were really a great antidote to those Northern bands.  So I sort of went through all that but we were not good enough, basically, we weren’t interesting enough.  So when Sutch came along, for me, that was an interesting thing because, well, you’ll see it [in the documentary].  I mean, it’s not great but you have to remember that I’m only 17 at the time, so it was great fun.

Paul Nicholas Stardust 2 Paul Nicholas Stardust

HC:  Can I ask you about Stardust?  Did you enjoy working on that?

PN:  Yeah, that was produced by David Puttnam who then, I think, produced this film called Lisztomania after Tommy.  Have you seen Lisztomania?

HC:  Yeah, it’s mad!

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Paul Nicholas as Wagner (Hitler!) in Lisztomania – Mad Max Fury Road eat your heart out!

PN:  I think Ken Russell gave up on it half way through (laughs) but Stardust I don’t remember much about it, except I wasn’t in it for very long cos I was the flash lead singer or I wanted to be the lead singer but pissed the rest of the band off.  And I suppose that was quite true to life.  It was directed by Michael Apted, who did quite a lot of stuff thereafter.  But I knew David [Essex] prior to that film and I knew Keith [Moon] prior to that film.  I remember one very funny incident on that film was because Keith was always meant to have a slightly bigger part in the film; I don’t know, but he and the writer who was called Ray Connolly, a pop writer, a nice guy.  We were filming at the Belle Vue in Manchester where Jimmy Savile started, I think…

HC:  [Groan]

PN:  Yeah! And Keith and Ray had not really got on very well and I think it was something to do perhaps, I don’t know, I’m surmising, that Keith wasn’t exactly happy with his part.  So it was bubbling and bubbling and they began to have a row.  And they began to, you know… [gestures fisticuffs] and the makeup guy is standing up and going [adopting camp voice], “Don’t hit his face! Don’t hit his face!”, cos he was worried about the continuity.  It was just so funny, “Don’t hit his face! Punch him in the stomach but not his face!”  So, other than that I don’t really remember much about it.  I had known David for years and for David that was really the height of his fame, because the film he did prior to that, which was called That’ll Be The Day, when he was doing that film he got to number one with Rock On in America, which was a great record.  So it was all great for him.  But I got thrown out very early by Adam Faith!  He said to me, his line for getting rid of the band members was “Do you fancy a cup of tea?”, which was the line he said and so I got a cup of tea quite early on in the movie.

HC:  What about Three for All?

PN:  Well, don’t even talk about that!

HC:  (laughs) You don’t like it?

PN:  I’ve never seen it.  Don’t we put paint on our faces or something?  Is it alright?

Paul Nicholas Three For All

HC:  Yeah, I mean it’s kitschy, you know…

PN:  Daft!  Adrienne Posta’s in it.

HC:  Yeah, she was lovely.

PN:  She’s good, very good.

HC:  Oh, Richard Beckinsale, I had such a crush on him!

PN:  Yeah, he was in it.  Wasn’t he the manager or something?

HC:  No, wasn’t he Jet Bone or something?

PN:  [laughs] Robert Lindsay was in it.

HC:  Was Arthur Mullard in it?  Or am I making that up?

PN:  I think he might have been in it.  Yeah, I think he was in it.  I did something once with Diana Dors playing my mother, was it that film?  I think she was my mother in it, which was a bit of a coup for me because she was a bit of an icon for me, growing up, Diana Dors.

HC:  Yeah, but I think she was going through that phase of doing anything – you know, “Have you got any films for me?”

PN:  Yeah, but she was a nice woman, I remember.

HC:  Everyone says that.  What about working with Ken Russell?  What was he like?

PN:  I think Ken Russell started life as a cameraman as a stills photographer, I think, so he did all those early films for BBC on those composers, all of which were very visual and very interesting.  I think the great thing about Ken Russell was that he… I watched Tommy the other day and I suppose I don’t want to slag him off because he was a good director in a way but he was very good at the visual, he knew what he wanted visually, but I’m not sure how good he was at the beginning, the middle and the end bit.

HC:  That doesn’t matter in film!  But I know what you’re saying, it makes it easier for the viewer if there is a beginning, a middle and an end!

PN:  If you can follow the story (laughs), sometimes people want that.

HC:  I sometimes like films where you don’t know what’s going off!

PN:  Yeah, well that’s good too.  So he was very good in that sense and I think the film did quite well, but then we went on to Lisztomania and he’d done many, many more [films about composers] prior to that, a little less off the wall, you know, a little more arty than Lisztomania, but he was on a roll with Roger [Daltrey], I think, and I’d done alright as Cousin Kevin.  But truthfully I think, and I don’t really know, but I think he was better at the visuals than telling the story.  And if he wrote it himself, probably his imagination took over a little bit too much.  Cos for some people you have to have a beginning, a middle and an end.

HC:  Yeah, that’s not going to appeal to everybody.

PN:  No, if it’s just a series of images, exactly.  So, the version of Tommy that I’m doing is a version that was done in conjunction with Pete Townshend and a guy called Des McAnuff, and he has given it a beginning, a middle and an end so it makes a little bit more sense to an audience.  It was done on Broadway, and it was done at the Shaftesbury in the 90s.

HC:  And when is that starting?

PN:  That starts in September.  It’s a three week run in Blackpool at the Opera House, which is a very big venue, and the producer wants to see if anyone comes, cos you never know.

HC:  What happened with your glam rock musical Blockbuster?  We never got to see it cos I don’t think it made it over here…

PN:  I did it, it wasn’t too badly received but nobody came.  Well, I wanted to try it out in three venues, but it wasn’t very fair on the musical because we did it just after the kids went back [to school] and that’s a difficult time in the theatre.  We went to Dartford and we went to Birmingham and we went to Croydon.  We needn’t have bothered about Croydon.  And, to be honest with you, they didn’t come enough so you’d be worried about putting it on for 25 weeks or whatever.  The thing is, in this day and age there are so many great would-be West End shows out on the road that in order to compete, it’s quite difficult.  I mean, I think they just did Saturday Night Fever here, didn’t they, a few weeks ago?  And I produced that with Robert Stigwood and David Ian in 2000.  Even shows like that with a bigger name might find it a bit difficult.  And with a brand new show… but it wasn’t a bad show, we had all those songs from the seventies.  Great songs, great songs written by Chinn and Chapman.

HC:  That would have been excellent.  Can I ask you about something, you might not remember this – there was a German film you were in, or supposedly in…

PN:  Was that Alice and the thingummybob?

HC:  No, it was called Feminine Carnivores

PN:  It was called what?

HC:  Feminine Carnivores

PN:  It wasn’t me

HC:  Die Weibchen?  It was filmed in Czechoslovakia.  You’re credited on IMDb but I couldn’t actually see you in the film…

PN:  You didn’t see me in it then?

HC:  No…

PN:  Well, I’m not in it, that’s why!

HC:  It says you are on IMDb…

PN:  Maybe it’s another Paul Nicholas?

HC:  Well, that explains why I couldn’t see you in it but it’s a shame as it was a very stylish film.  But was it you who did the music for Adventures of a Private Eye?

PN:  Yes.  I did it with Chris Neil, I think.  We wrote the theme song

HC:  It was very good, a bit glammy.  I want to ask you about something else as well – did you work with Michel Polnareff on The Three Musketeers soundtrack? [I show him this from the CD Le Cinéma De Michel Polnareff ]

Polna Nicholas 1 Polna Nicholas 2

PN:  Oh yes, Annie Fargue, my darling Annie Fargue.

Hero Culte Note:  Annie Fargue was Michel Polnareff’s manager and at one point also his girlfriend

HC:  She died a couple of years ago, didn’t she?

PN:  Yes, she did.  She was a lovely woman.  Are there any pictures of her in there?

HC:  No, I don’t think so, but it says this about you working on The Three Musketeers. Was it you?

PN:  No, a different Paul Nicholas.

HC: But it sounds just like you.  It does really sound like you.

PN:  Hang on, let me have a look at that… I know Patrick Wachsberger… Patrick Wachsberger was the son of the guy who produced Cannabis

HC:  Is his name Nat Wachsberger? [total geek, I know…]

PN:  Something like that, yeah… [reading the booklet]  Well, maybe I have done it and forgotten.  But I have no memory of that, but I know Patrick Wachsberger, I remember him, he was a young guy.

HC:  But did you know Polnareff?

PN:  No.

HC:  You’ve never met him?

PN:  No.

HC:  Because I think he used to go out with Annie Fargue…

PN:  Yeah, he did, didn’t he?  But that was later though, I knew Annie quite well…

HC:  Cos she took Hair over to France, didn’t she?

PN:  Yeah, that was when I first met her but then I later met her because she was a very good friend of Robert Stigwood.  And I went on holiday with her and things like that, so I knew her really well and I had dinner many times with her and Robert.  And the last time I saw Annie I think was when I was doing Saturday Night Fever at the Palladium.  Something like 15 years ago.  And then I read she died; I sent her some flowers.  That probably is me, then.  Because the time makes sense, maybe they got me to do it and I can’t remember.  What is it, one song?

HC:  No, I think it’s throughout the film, but there’s a really great song which I think is on this CD – yeah, it is – it’s called Wake Up, It’s A Lovely Day.

PN:  I don’t remember it at all.

HC:  It’s so catchy.  It does sound like you.

PN:  It probably is then.  No, it must be because of Patrick Wachsberger.  He produced it and he probably said, “Why don’t you sing that?” and I’ve done it.

HC:  Just gone in, done it and forgotten about it…

PN:  Yeah, exactly.

HC:  That’s excellent cos I’m a really big fan of Polnareff.  But going back to Cannabis, which you just mentioned, how did you end up being cast in a French film?

PN:  Cos my old man was a showbusiness lawyer and his name was Oscar Beuselinck and he was a friend of Nat Wachsberger – and I guess they must have been talking and he must have said, “My son’s in this, blah blah blah…” and I just went over there [to France].

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HC:  On the DVD there’s an extra, an interview with Jane Birkin and the director Pierre Koralnik.  In the interview Jane says that Serge thought you were really handsome.

PN:  Well, apparently, it’s funny you should say that cos some guy who was a musicologist – if there’s such a word – a French guy, came to visit me at some point two or three years ago because he was kind of doing a roundup of all Serge’s songs and he said he wrote a song called Paul and he said, “Was that based on you?”

HC:  Is that an unreleased track from the soundtrack to Cannabis maybe?  But he has a son called Paul…

PN:  Well, I said I didn’t think Serge would write a song about me, but he was trying to track down the reason…

HC:  Okay, well, that’s interesting… But the thing about Serge was because he always thought he was ugly…

PN:  Did he?

HC:  Yeah, because of his ears and his nose and he wasn’t what people thought of as conventionally handsome but, you know, I think he was… but because of that he did have ideals of male beauty, like Robert Taylor and Alain Delon and so on… And he obviously thought you were handsome…

PN:  Yeah, yeah… I was very light on my feet, I noticed.  Carmen, my daughter, said, “Look at you, skipping down there…”, it was funny because I had a look the other day at the opening shots of Cannabis and we come out and there all these dead bodies and all these women lying there with no clothes on.  And we couldn’t keep a straight face cos if we looked down we could see all these women, you know…

HC:  There are some really stylish scenes in Cannabis, but for me it’s a little disappointing after seeing Anna – which is a musical comedy film Serge did with Koralnik – and that was pure style, pop art, great music, the beautiful Anna Karina and Jean-Claude Brialy. And then there’s Cannabis, which is just not as stylish and accomplished as Anna

PN:  I think they were going for a commercial American style gangster crossover thing…

HC:  And it was made to order as well…

PN:  It was a bit sort of… it didn’t feel that good.

HC:  No.  But it had its moments.

PN:  But for me, you see I’d never done a film before so it was a learning process for me.

HC:  Was there a lot of hanging around?  It looks like it from that behind-the-scenes thing… you know, with all the ballet dancers, where you’ve gone off to that place that’s a bit like the Albert Hall…

PN:  I don’t remember it…

HC:  You’ll see it on the DVD, but you were mad in that film – you went up onto the top of the roof and you were running across the roof…

PN:  Oh, I remember that, that was on the top of the Paris Opéra.  Wasn’t there a fight or someone was chasing me?

HC:  I think you killed the ballet director, maybe, cos he was one of the guys behind the drugs gang?

PN:  I don’t know what it’s about even…

HC:  It was a very strange film in that you’re trying to work out what it’s supposed to be – if it was re-edited maybe…

PN:  It could be better. Yeah.

HC:  There was some strange thing going off which I couldn’t really work out, they kept going on about the blind people, I think there was a gang of blind people somehow involved in all of the drugs smuggling, I don’t know…

PN:  I think some of it got lost in the translation…

HC:  I think it might have done!  It was very surreal.  Talking of which, do you remember that you had to go around barking like a dog?!

PN:  No, in that film?

HC:  Yeah, you just got down on all fours in the middle of the night because you were jealous of Serge and Jane when they were off together…

PN:  Shagging…

HC:  Yeah, and you’re in the other room, fed up because you think he should be paying you attention instead of Jane.  So you just start barking like a dog!

PN:  That was probably Pierre Koralnik’s nod towards art

HC:  No, that was you being crazy!

PN:  Oh!

————————————————

We start chit chatting about other stuff, about where the Agatha Christie play is going next – And Then There Were None is currently touring, then Paul leaves in July to go and do Tommy in Blackpool before returning to do And Then There Were None for another 7 weeks.  At the end of the year he will be appearing as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.  We round off the interview with this:

PN:  So I met David Ian (who’s just produced Gypsy, which just opened last night or the night before) on a show called Pirates of Penzance.  And we formed a company and the first thing we produced was Jesus Christ Superstar cos I did that in 1972, so we did a 25th anniversary concert with me in it and this was about 20 or 30 years ago when we did this now.  And then we went on and did things like Saturday Night Fever…  The film you didn’t mention was Sergeant Pepper[‘s Lonely Hearts Club Band]

HC:  I haven’t seen that one, is it good?

PN:  It was produced by Robert Stigwood, it had the Bee Gees, and the music was done by George Martin who worked with the Beatles, and it was pretty much hailed as a disaster.  (laughs)  I haven’t seen it either.

HC:  I’m going to watch it now!

PN:  But that was great cos I was working with people like George Burns, and working with George Martin, the Bee Gees I knew anyway, cos years ago I did a record that they sing on, one of their songs called Holiday.  And they sing backing vocals to my crappy lead vocal.  So, anyway, we did the Saturday Night Fever thing, we put that together.

HC;  You obviously have a strong connection to Robert Stigwood?

PN:  Yeah, cos when I started off quite young I did a few early records with him – one of which was written by David Bowie called Over the Wall We Go.  And I was called Oscar.  You can look that one up, it was banned by the BBC cos it was taking the piss; at that time there were a lot of prison breaks so Bowie wrote this song (and in those days he wasn’t called David Bowie, he was called David Jones).  He was doing the mime, I remember, he was learning all the mime stuff.  But he was quite a serious guy; he and I were quite different in that sense but he wrote that song, I recorded it  and he’s on it as well.  He says something in the middle of it; it’s a comedy song.  I think we did the Ken Dodd Show on TV, as Oscar.

I also did a song by Pete Townshend at that time, called Join My Gang, which is very, very rare.  It wasn’t a hit but I think it scraped into the bottom of the Radio London Top 40 or something.  They never recorded it either.    So I had a little association with the Who at that point but prior to that I’d already done that tour with them, with my band doing the backing for Del Shannon.  And Herman’s Hermits and all those people.

HC:  I’m going to look these songs up – but I really want to see that Sutch documentary!

PN:  Well, you’ll see me as a 17-year-old dressed in a leopard skin!

Well, I’m not sure how old he was, but I definitely saw him dressed in a leopard skin – look at this lovely photo shamelessly stolen from Ronnie Harwood’s website, which you can find here

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I had spent a lovely hour chatting with Paul Nicholas, learnt a lot of surprising stuff about his musical career (although afterwards all my friends claimed to have known he was in The Savages, I’m pretty sure they didn’t as not one person mentioned it to me when I said I was interviewing him!) and I finished off by taking a few photographs:

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I did one “arty farty” one as Paul called it – I took a double exposure and also shot using the bulb mode, but the result just looks a bit odd, look:

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Also, notice in the shot of Paul outside the theatre that everything is in focus except his face (a bit like Robin Williams when he was out of focus in Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry!) – how did I even manage that?!  Unlike Ken Russell, I can’t get me visuals right!

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And Paul took this one of us together as well – a few of my friends were very jealous…

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Later that evening I went to see And Then There Were None.  It was very entertaining, Paul was excellent in it as were the rest of the cast (including Susan Penhaligon, Frazer Hines and Mark Curry) but the one who I was very pleasantly surprised by was Emmerdale‘s Verity Rushworth, who was just fabulous.  If you get a chance to catch And Then There Were None whilst it’s on tour, definitely do as it makes for a very enjoyable evening.  It’s next in Richmond from 26 May 2015 but the rest of the tour dates can be found here.

Thanks very much to Paul Nicholas for taking the time out to do this interview with me.

My Favourite Stuff: Michel Polnareff Rabelais press photo

A recent acquisition, I’m not quite sure when this photograph is from but I suspect it is from the Rabelais premiere on 16 December 1968.  This is Michel Polnareff with Jean-Louis Barrault and an (as yet) unidentified woman.  Anyone know who she is?  Let me know, please.

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Michel Polnareff article in After Dark October 1976

I found this magazine in America with a 2 page article about Polnareff.  It’s not a brilliant article actually (there’s a lot missing or glossed over…) but it’s amazing to find something like this in an English language magazine so I thought I’d share it anyway:

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After Dark, October 1976, pp68-69

Michel Polnareff in Bravo magazine 21 November 1966

For Valentines Day this year I got some amazing presents including 2 Michel Polnareff Italian language singles (Love Me, Please Love Me and L’Amour avec toi in Italian on one single and Ame caline and Le roi des fourmis in Italian on the other), plus this German language magazine Bravo from 21 November 1966 (no 48):

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I’m including the cover just because I like The Troggs, but there’s also a large photo of Françoise Hardy, some photos of The Walker Brothers and an article on The Troggs.  It’s a great magazine, but the reason I’m posting it here is because of Polnareff, of course:

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If I had the time I’d translate it – maybe at a later date, but there’s so much to share on here and so little time.  Also in the same magazine, they helpfully provided the French and German language lyrics for La Poupée qui fait non:

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Must get back to my articles about Polnareff EPs at some point – I’ve only posted about two of them so far and there is so much more to cover.  Anyway, more soon.

Douches Ecossaises 4 July 1966

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What a joy it is to watch a well-made and stylish music show – this one is Douches Ecossaises directed by Jean-Christophe Averty who makes great use of early visual effects, which may look a little dated now but which would have been exciting at the time and still look interesting when compared to what they do nowadays; people have little imagination these days. Sigh!

I’m looking at this one because, as ever, it’s got a TV appearance from Michel Polnareff – yet again promoting La poupée qui fait non – and there’s also another favourite of mine in the show:  Zouzou.  

Originally transmitted on 4 July 1966, Michel Polnareff had just turned 22.  He looks really happy in this clip, but before we get to Polnareff here’s the rest of the show in order:

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First up is French actor Christian Marin, who I know from Costa Gavras’ 1965 film Compartiment tueurs.  Here though he is singing a song which appears to be called Pourvu qu’il ne flotte pas au mois d’août, but I’m not really sure about that.  It’s not my cup of tea – very old school, accordeons, silliness etc – but Christian Marin has a great face.

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Next up, scary triplets – Les Jiminis 3 – singing Ah ! Quel malheur d’être petite fille.  Good job their parents had 3 kids because if this song is anything to go by it sounds like they use them for child slave labour, at least they can share the chores (washing, scrubbing, polishing etc) between the three of them.

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I’m not a fan of kiddies or kiddy-pop so this does not appeal to me at all.  The closest I come to liking kiddy pop is that bit in Keith West’s Excerpt from a Teenage Opera when the kids sing the Grocer Jack chorus.  These Jimini kids are way too frightening for me.  Brrr!!!

Quickly moving on:

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This is Albert Santoni singing Mon bateau.  Back to the old school again with this one – accordeons, hand clapping, background cheers, hat tilting, it’s got it all.  It sounds like a rather bad drinking song – maybe they were drunk when they recorded it. Next!

Ah! This is more like it:

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Slightly morbid clip for a song from this singer/songwriter Maurice Dulac, but it’s understandable because the track is called La veuve Sylvie, which translates as Widow Sylvie.  Maurice tells Sylvie she’ll never be his widow because he’s still alive and he’ll never marry here anyway.  Why not?  She’s to-die-for beautiful but she’s already been widowed twice before and Maurice is not going to be her third husband. Or is he…?

Great use of visuals here with the lovely little skellybobs:

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Now for a bit of dancing from Vélérie Camille:

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Very attractive lady but she looks like she’s getting on a bit so it’s all about the hands as far as she’s concerned – she wouldn’t want to put her back out, would she?  Very graceful and looks stylish but I’m not here for the dancing.  Plus she looks like the template for Pete Burns’ cosmetic surgery here:

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What has Françoise Fabian got for me?

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She’s a French actress, who later went on to appear in Buñuel’s Belle de jour and got the part of Maud opposite Jean-Louis Trintignant in Rohmer’s Ma nuit chez Maud.  Lucky!  I like her already.

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She’s a very attractive lady and here she is singing a track that seems to be called Les honneurs de l’amour – I know nothing about this, but what’s new?  It’s not bad actually, sounds like something from a film soundtrack.  It’s okay.

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And here’s Jacques Loussier with a jazzy Bach track and lots of monochrome zig-zagging all over to make my eyes go funny:

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This is good but I prefer The Swingle Singers doing Bach.  I like a bit of Bach, me.

Next up, the fabulous Zouzou. I can’t get enough of Zouzou, she’s one of my absolute favourite French singers, and this is a track written for her by the handsome Mister Jacques Dutronc – Il est parti comme il était venu. 

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Like Françoise Fabian, Zouzou also appeared in a Rohmer film: L’Amour l’après-midi.  I’m not sure why she didn’t make a bigger career out of films because she was very good.  There was talk of drug addictions and a couple of stints in prison during the 90s.  Quite sad, but I think she’s fine these days, which is good news.  Anyway, I can’t recommend Zouzou more – check out her music.  I always say this, but this particular track reminds me of Nico/VU, only better.  I think.

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From one extreme to the other – fancy following a fabulous track like that with Albert Raisner and his harmonica, eh?  O well, sit back and let it play…Douches ecossaises 31Douches ecossaises 32Douches ecossaises 33

Albert is all about the hands as well, so maybe he could join forces with Vélérie Camille and they could do a “all hands on deck” double act?   It couldn’t get any worse. Or could it…?

Douches ecossaises 34What’s this?  It’s Henri Virlogeux (ignore the typo in the TV credits, they have got his name slightly wrong) doing some ridiculous bull fighting sketch.  I will let him off but only because he was in Truffaut’s Les quatre cents coups; in Henri-Georges Clouzot’s stunning unfinished film L’Enfer; and in Balducci’s Trop jolies pour être honnêtes with Jane Birkin, amongst other things.

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You are forgiven for wasting my time, Henri.  Next, here’s Stone – what is she wearing, I wonder?  O no, NOT that horrid black and white suit again!  She certainly got her money’s worth out of that purchase.

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In any case, this is Seul, a French language cover version of Norwegian Wood.  It’s alright but Stone can do better than cover versions.  And she can change out of that suit at the same time.

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I shouldn’t complain, should I?  No, I should not because this is what happens when I complain:  Georgius doing a track called On l’appelait fleur de fortifs.  They may call it that but I call it a blast from the past – the French love their chansons, don’t they?  I would say it seems a bit out of place on the show but it doesn’t really – it’s a free for all here.  I’m just waiting for Polnareff now but in the meantime at least the visuals are good:

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Next up in this Michèle Arnaud produced TV show is, you’ve guessed it, Michèle Arnaud!  Not too shy to give herself a slot on her own shows from time to time.  It’s a wonder her little boy Dominique Walter is not here too but you can’t have it all.  Well, you can because this track, Ballade des oiseaux de croix, was written for Michèle Arnaud by my number one favourite: Serge Gainsbourg.  In that case, sing away, Michèle, sing away!

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Right, the first track from Claude François (yeah, sorry there are two…) is Mais combien de temps – a slowie.  I must admit I quite like this track.  I tend to think of Claude François as an all-singing, all-dancing freak show but I am secretly fascinated with him – especially since I saw the Cloclo film last year.  Who would have known he was such a weirdo?  Hiding a son, running porn magazines, sleeping with countless groupies, all at the same time as portraying himself as a cleaning living family friendly chap. Amazing.  Of course it could be an inaccurate biopic as it was with the Gainsbourg film – spit!  Anyway, here is Cloclo:

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Wow, it’s a Gainsbourg-fest here, with Pourquoi un pyjama? from Régine:

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I love Serge – I love him SO much – but what is this song, eh?  It sounds like it was written for Klaus Nomi but instead has been sung by the Divine looky-likie Régine.  It’s not a good one.  And if asked for an opinion, I would say that even though Régine claims never to wear pyjamas, I could give her 100 reasons why I would rather she wore some. 

To make up for the disappointment here is Claude Bolling with a tiny kitten!

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Bolling was a French jazz pianist and he seemed to work with everyone and recorded loads of film soundtracks – including Vivre la nuit (which Serge was in) and Qui? a fabulous film starring Romy Schneider.   He was a busy guy, here he plays Kitten on the Keys with a little help from a gorgeous kitten, aw!

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And, now, the moment I was waiting for – Michel Polnareff with La poupée qui fait non and some scary ladies in masks who keep shaking their heads at him:Douches ecossaises 53Douches ecossaises 54Douches ecossaises 55Douches ecossaises 56

He looks totally cute here, doesn’t he?  No need to answer – I know I’m right.

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No special effects for Michel, just some quick editing which made it difficult for me to get the screen grabs I wanted, dammit!  Excellent clip though and worth waiting for.

Next up, another Gainsbourg collaborator, Valérie Lagrange – actress, singer and a very interesting and beautiful lady.  She’s appeared in films by Barbet Schroeder and Andrzej Żuławski, you know?  Anyway, this might not be Gainsbourg but it’s fabulous. It’s Le même jour by Francis Lai and Pierre Barouh.  Incredibly catchy, you’ll find, and doesn’t she look wonderful?

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Next, round two for Claude François who claims he has a tiger by the tail – Je tiens un tigre par la queue – he might be better off putting it in his guitar like Dutronc did.  The track’s okay and Cloclo’s dancing is good too, plus there are some good visuals.  This is alright, I suppose, but I preferred the first track.

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Not sure why he looks like he’s about to sneeze in that second photo…

Finally, to close the show with something annoying there’s a sketch from Muller et Ferrière (I guess they’re a comedy double-act, I really don’t know) with Jean-Christophe Averty in the municipal showers.  It’s not my kind of funny.

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But they seem to find it amusing, giving Jean-Christophe Averty the douche écossaise treatment.  O well.

Luckily the closing credits are fabulous so the show doesn’t have to end on a bad note:

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More French music shows soon.

My Favourite Stuff: my Polnabook collection

Earlier this month ipanema éditions published a new book about Michel Polnareff – Le Polnabook – which is currently the pride and joy of my Polnareff collection.  It’s a large hardback book, presented in a box, and full to overflowing with beautiful photographs of Michel Polnareff from childhood through to the current day.  The book is well-designed with little pouches containing numerous inserts – reproductions of original concert tickets, programmes, sheet music, postcards, posters.  It’s visually stunning but the problem is I just want to get all the bits and pieces out to look at them properly but I’m terrified I’ll damage the book if I play with it too much.  Here’s me trying not to ruin it too much:

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I got my copy via Fnac but I’m sure it’s available elsewhere – the recommended retail price is €44 but I wouldn’t even think about the price; it’s worth every penny and must have cost a fortune to make.

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I have various other books about Polnareff, some of which are well-read and used and others not to much.  Here they are in no particular order:

Polnaculte by Benoît Cachin (Tournon, Paris, 2007) was a book I found when I went to Nice to see Polnareff in concert.  It’s well-researched and informative, including interviews with various musicians and songwriters who worked with Polnareff from 1966 through to the 2000s, taking each song, recording and TV appearance in turn.  It’s one of my favourite Polnareff books and one I always use when I’m looking for information for my little Polnareff articles – it comes highly recommended by me!

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Polnareff Mania by Christophe Lauga (Scali, Paris, 2007) is a book I totally understand – a book by a fan and a massive collector of all things Polnareff.  It’s a book I only bought earlier this year when I went to Paris to interview the French singer Evariste, but it’s one that should be taken very seriously by any Polnareff fan and I’m sure I’ll be referring to it in future articles.

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Polnareff Le Roi des Fourmis by Christian Eudeline (Eclipse, Besançon, 1997) is well-used by me and unfortunately it shows it.  For years it was my only real reference book and it’s been a great source of information for me since I bought it in 1997.  It contains lengthy interviews with fellow musicians and friends and lots of invaluable information.  If you can find it, buy it.

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Polnaréflexion by Michel Polnareff in collaboration with Jean-Michel Desjeunes (Dire/Stock 2, France, 1974).  This is the first Polnareff book I ever found and it’s fairly rare now.  Highly amusing but doesn’t really tell the story of Polnareff, just selected highlights.  A must for any Polnareff collector even if there are no photographs or illustrations.

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Polnaréférences by Philippe Margotin (Lagune, Enghien-les-bains, 2007) feels, to me, a little bit like a cash-in book to coincide with the success of Polnareff’s comeback tour.  It just seems like a summary of everything else that you can find in the other better books about Polnareff; it doesn’t seem to have any new information unavailable elsewhere but maybe I am wrong.  In any case, don’t take my word for it – it’s cheap enough to buy a copy and try it anyway.

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Les Photos Collectors by Fabien Lecoeuvre (Ramsay/Vade Retro, Paris, 2004) is a beautiful collection of photographs of Michel Polnareff in a large hardback format.  It’s not a biographical or a reference book, it’s more of a photography book with informative captions but for any Polna-lover it’s a must – there are lots of photographs in the book I hadn’t seen before.

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Polnareff par Polnareff by Michel Polnareff in collaboration with Philippe Manoeuvre (Grasset, Paris, 2004) – this is absolutely hilarious.  I bought this when I went to see Polnareff in concert in Nice and I remember sitting on the beach reading this and laughing out loud.  It is outrageous and unlike its predecessor Polnaréflexion it seems to be more of a traditional autobiography.  It’s great fun but I can’t pretend that I believe everything Michel Polnareff has to say about himself!  Buy it now!

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There are, no doubt, many other books about Polnareff and I will inevitably get them at some point or other to join the rest of the Polnabook collection.  I’ll have to do little items on my Gainsbourg, Birkin and Hardy book collections some time soon, when I can dig them out.

Michel Polnareff on Douce France 18 June 1966

I’ve been watching my French music shows again.  Here’s another Polnareff appearance from 1966, promoting La Poupée qui fait non on Douce France (18 June 1966, dir François Chatel) but before we can get to Polnareff I’m afraid you’ll have to endure the rest of the show like I did.  It’s not a brilliant line-up, it has to be said.  Especially as quite a few of the songs were “performed” in playback by an actor called Jacques Ary rather than the original performers.  Not sure if it was a bad week for availability or if the producers actually thought people would be amused by this.

Anyway, let’s start at the beginning:

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The actress Mireille Darc is being driven around by some crazy chap called Roger Vattier – a very prolific French actor who was obviously having a quiet year in 1966.  This opening sequence is kind of reminiscent of Godard’s Week End which was released in 1967, but that might just be a coincidence – even if the show is pretty much a car crash.

Vattier is trying to convince Darc to participate in a musical comedy show or some such but apparently she says she is too frightened to sing.  The sketches they participate in together throughout the show continue in that vein until finally she sings at the end.  A stupid premise for the show, but that’s what we have to work with here.

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The first act up is one of the ones who bothered to show up in person – François Deguelt.  Maybe he should have stayed at home too.  His back-story is that he had represented Monaco in the Eurovision Song Contest twice in 1960 and 1962.  You can tell.  And let’s just say he is old enough to know better than to sing a song like Oui, non, oui.  Non, François, non!

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He looks like a replacement school teacher who is trying to act cool in front of the school kids and can’t quite pull it off.  That’s what I think anyway.  Next!

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I’m guessing this was Jacques Ary pretending to clip the hedges and singing along to the Charles Aznavour track.  I’m not sure I get the point but Mireille Darc looks amused…

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If François Deguelt was trying to act younger than his age, it would seem Mario Lattre is going in the other direction.  He’s a tenor and he dresses and acts like someone far older than his years.  He’s very dull.  The track is called Un sourire et un ciel bleu or something.  I don’t like!

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Antoine was obviously busy campaigning to get the pill on sale in the supermarket so Jacques Ary donned a wig for the occasion and stood in for him – no need to look so happy about it, Jacques!

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Then comes the punch-line: the camera pans back to reveal the extra hand protruding from his chest, holding the harmonica.  Oh, yeah! as Antoine would have said.  Maybe.

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Laura Ulmer provides some relief for me, performing Tous les Garçons ne pensent qu’aux Filles.  She’s a cutie-pie and I don’t mind this song at all.  I don’t recall hearing it on any of the French girls compilation albums but it’s no doubt on one of them and if it’s not, it should be.

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Couldn’t you just eat her?  Thanks, Laura, for making it more bearable.  Mireille and Roger are back and then it’s straight on with some dancing in the park from the ballerina Liane Daydé and the dancer and socialite Jacques Chazot.  How do you become a socialite, I wonder?  I don’t want to become one but I just wonder how you get that added to your CV as a profession.  Anyway:

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It ends when Liane vanishes into thin air and Jacques is left with a handful of rose petals.  One of the perils, I guess.

Où est donc passé Nino Ferrer?  Well, he’s gone AWOL so Jacques Ary will have to do instead.  Here he is looking for Mirza:

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Big bugger, that Mirza, so I’m not sure how he managed to lose him.

Thank god Michel Polnareff bothered to show and saved the day or at the very least the show:

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La Poupée qui fait non never sounded so good.  Shame it had to be followed by some pointless sequence with a scary looking guy (Jacques Ary again?) and a guillotine:

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Still, it’s over fairly quickly this time and then it’s followed by a chap called Georges Ulmer doing a track called Quand l’amour a décidé.  Talk about keeping it in the family, Georges Ulmer is Laura’s daddy.  But no, his track’s not really my cup of tea.

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Jacques Ary does another turn, this time pretending to be a traffic warden dishing out parking tickets.  Sigh!

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Isabelle Aubret is next with a track called Le bonheur.  I know her for doing a Serge Gainsbourg cover and I’ll stick to that thanks.

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Roger and Mireille share a little joke.  I feel left out so I make up my own joke:  it looks like Carol Vorderman bleached her hair and had a bad night’s sleep.  It’s not funny but it’s funnier than Douce France.

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Eddy Mitchell is taking a fag break during the filming of a John Ford western.  Or something.

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Between puffs on his cigar he lip-syncs Fortissimo.  I liked Eddy Mitchell in Alain Jessua’s Frankenstein ’90 (released in 1984) and I don’t mind him as a person but I can’t abide his singing.  Sounds like he is severely backed-up.  Crack open the All Bran, Eddy!

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Finally Roger has convinced Mireille (who I also know for her work with Serge Gainsbourg) to sing a song for us.  It’s quite sweet – Si tu devines.  Not a bad way to end the show.  What do you think, Roger?

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Thought so.  Polnareff was the best though.

Discorama Beatnik Special 30 May 1966

From time to time I get French TV shows sent to me through the post – sometimes they are truly exciting.  This is one of those TV shows that is really worth watching and not only because Michel Polnareff is on it performing, yet again, La poupée qui fait non: 

Discorama, 30 May 1966, director Raoul Sangla

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Why a Beatnik Special?  Well, because as Michel Sardou says in his song Les Beatnicks, they are the subject we are talking about.  The beatnik movement was a bandwagon a lot of people jumped on back then, I guess.  Sardou looks well on it and who’d have guessed he’d do a track like this considering what he became?  I’d never heard it before but enjoyed it very much.  By the way, Sardou says the beatniks have hair and it’s what gives them their strength – more on long hair later!

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I don’t know if Michel Sardou ever really was a beatnik but next up, here’s someone who was…

…one of my special boys – Michel Polnareff.  Sigh!  This is his third TV appearance with his smash hit La poupée qui fait non and he looks so pretty here.  For the beginning of the appearance he is joined by his cute hamster Véronique.

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Next up is Stone – a girl in trousers going for that androgynous look with her Brian Jones style haircut.  I wouldn’t mind but I really hate that black and white suit she seemed to wear quite a lot back then.  She’s cute though.  This track C’est ma vie (It’s My Life) was written for her by Eric Charden, who later became her singing partner and husband.  It’s quite good.  As in Sardou’s Les beatnicks, the lyrics of this one indicate that people laugh at the beatniks.  But Stone says she chose her life and wants to be the way she is – a common theme with the young singers back then.  Not quite sure why Stone has to be “stage directed” by the sexy beatnik guy (Is it Eric Charden?  It could be – he looks lovely with this image if it is him) but it is quite amusing to see her being beckoned down from the roof and directed to dance and then directed to exit!

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Next, one of the most exciting English rockers, Screaming Lord Sutch – appearing here without The Savages to lip synch The Train Kept a-Rollin’.  Can I just say, Lord Sutch looks very sexy here in his caveman gear and cape (and, no, I’m not joking!).

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That’s just a bit too much excitement, what with Lord Sutch flashing his nipple and all.  Anyway, next up a great garagey-folky track from Elsa called Ailleurs.  You can find this track on the rather wonderful Swinging Mademoiselles (Vol 1) LP, which is where I know it from.  It’s about travelling the world, probably by hitch-hiking.  Beatniks!  A great song but not a massively inspiring performance here, hence not so many screengrabs.  Sorry, Elsa!

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The next track is a treat – Édouard performing My Name is Édouard complete with his long wig, apparently a parody of Antoine with his harmonica etc.  Looking at him close-up, this Édouard guy looks quite cute so it’s a shame he has his Cousin Itt wig on.  Regardless of whether or not he’s taking the p***, this is a great little rockin’ number about meeting a girl in Liverpool and not being able to communicate with her because all he can say in English is “My name is Édouard”.  The saddest line of the song:  At her place, there aren’t any chairs.  Sob!  Still, it’s okay cos Édouard can sit on his hair.

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Apparently Édouard is the songwriter Jean-Michel Rivat, who wrote the wonderful Bébé requin for France Gall.  It’s a shame Édouard was just a joke, but this is such a catchy track I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t like it.  It’s lots of fun anyway.

It’s another shame – the show closes with The Beatles doing Help!… I don’t hate The Beatles but for me they’re a bit over-played and a bit over-rated.  My favourite UK beat band were The Troggs, who were much more edgy.  But that’s just my opinion.  Here’s a few screengrabs to make amends but that’s all you’re getting!

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Tete de bois et tendres annees 25 May 1966

I realised I can’t just call these articles “Michel Polnareff on TV…” because there are times when a French music show just has too many good bands on it to be able to leave them out of the post.  So this is kind of a “Michel Polnareff on TV” post but it’s also about Antoine et les Problèmes, Christophe and Les 5 Gentlemen.  There’s a lot to say about this show.  Let’s start at the beginning with the credits – very nice they are too:

Tete de bois 1 Tete de bois 2 Tete de bois 3 Tete de bois 4 Tete de bois 5 Tete de bois 6 Tete de bois 7 Tete de bois 8 Tete de bois 9 Tete de bois 10 Tete de bois 11 Tete de bois 12 Tete de bois 13 Tete de bois 14First up, this Albert Raisner guy and his harmonica – he seems to bring it with him everywhere so he can get in on the action.  He looks a bit too old for introducing this kind of show to the stubborn and young people as well!

I like this next bit, although the “bomb” didn’t go off or even knock the letters down:

Tete de bois 15Tete de bois 16The first band on were Les Knack with Serre-moi la main.  It was okay but not really my cup of tea – a bit of a sub-Beatles, R&B type beat band:

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If Les Knack were not my cup of tea, well, the next bit would have got thrown out with the slops as far as I’m concerned.  It was a medley of bits and bobs sung by Johnny Hallyday and Petula Clark.  I can’t stand Petula Clark – there’s something about her that is very middle-aged and very prim and proper, and just plain dull.  The word brio springs to mind when I think of her, in a negative way – I’d rather hear Jane Birkin stumbling over her words in French with her English accent than Petula’s over-enthusiastic approach to French pronunciation any day.  The less said about this the better really:Tete de bois 21Now, the spat between Antoine and Johnny Hallyday has been well documented, but this programme seems to have been some kind of showdown for them.  With Johnny taking it all far more seriously than Antoine ever could or ever would.  Next up was Antoine singing an adapted version of Les élucubrations – the offending song in which he suggests that Johnny Hallyday should be locked up in a cage at the Medrano circus.  To keep the peace, or just for fun, who knows, Antoine sings instead that Albert Raisner should be locked up in the cage at the Medrano instead:

Tete de bois 22 Tete de bois 23Antoine is wearing a plastic coat – maybe he was expecting some spitting from the audience.  Or from Johnny.

Next up, Monty with L’Île de Beauté.  Again, not 100% my cup of tea but it’s catchy and gets everyone in the audience singing.  Not bad really, a bit bluesy with a Spencer Davis Group kind of sound.  Anyway, he’s quite a charming fellow:

Tete de bois 24 Tete de bois 25Something well worth a look next: the super-cool Christophe performing one of my favourite tracks Excusez-moi, Monsieur le Professeur.  Apparently Christophe’s lost his way, but he’ll be back tomorrow.  Let’s hope so, or we’ll miss him.  What a stylish so-and-so he was with his Dennis Hopper looks and his great suits.  He’s one of my favourites for sure.Tete de bois 26 Tete de bois 27What a come down to have Miss Petula Clark on next, but at least it’s with something fairly decent – L’Amour avec un grand A:Tete de bois 28No fights have broken out between Johnny and Antoine – yet… – so Albert Raisner tries to set one up between Antoine and his Problems instead:Tete de bois 29 Tete de bois 30 Tete de bois 31Raisner puts them in a boxing ring and they battle it out with Les contre-élucubrations problématiques.  Despite all the goading, Antoine’s not having any of it: “You can, of course, tease me, but if your mothers had known about the pill you would not be here getting on my nerves”.  What a shame this is not in colour – it would be far more spectacular, I’m sure.

Unfortunately Johnny Hallyday’s next and Antoine’s laughing “hé, hé, hé” must have wound him up even more because he’s going for first blood – and he’s not even in the boxing ring with Antoine so he has to do it with words instead.  I bet Antoine was shaking in his Chelsea boots when he heard Johnny singing Cheveux longs et idées courtes, which translates as “long hair and short ideas”.  It’s a pathetic little song aimed at Antoine in retaliation for the Medrano comment, made in passing but obviously deeply felt by the much-loved Johnny.  Did it hurt him so much that Antoine didn’t love him too?  I guess so, otherwise he wouldn’t have had to pay a lyricist to write such absurd words for him about how having long hair is not in itself enough to change the world.  Who ever said it was?  Childish, Johnny, very childish.  And it’s only you who ends up looking the fool:

Tete de bois 32Albert Raisner’s itching to get his harmonica out so he sneaks up on Johnny at the end and joins in:Tete de bois 33Before you know it Petula’s publicist husband must have pulled a few strings because she’s in on the action as well.  Albert has to lend her his miniature harmonica:

Tete de bois 34 Tete de bois 35Albert makes sure Petula gives him his tiny mouth organ back straight away though.  Don’t want to lose that little beauty, Albert.

Next, the little Tête de bois cartoon character is giving renditions of a few songs in a Pinky & Perky type vocal fashion.  It’s amusing for a few seconds.  Tete de bois 36The best thing is Tête de bois version of Antoine with its long hair:

Tete de bois 37Next is Audrey with Les amours d’artistes – terribly dull and it seems out of place on the show:

Tete de bois 38Albert Raisner just won’t let the Antoine / Johnny fight thing go away, so he sits between them and starts out innocently asking Johnny about Protest Songs and about Bob Dylan.  Antoine quietly shows his disagreement with Johnny’s opinion on all of this with a shake of the finger.  You get the impression it’s not going to end there.

Tete de bois 39 Tete de bois 40 Tete de bois 41Dylan’s not on the show himself, so they just show some footage of him over in Europe being mobbed and then introduce the band Les 5 Gentlemen who were a French garage punk type band and I’m a bit of a fan, so that’s all good with me.  I’d rather see and hear them than Dylan and his nasal offerings any day.  What a rare treat to see this band doing a rather good cover version of The Sandals’ Tell Us Dylan, translated into French and called Dis-nous Dylan:Tete de bois 42 Tete de bois 43Johnny pipes up again about how he likes Dylan but he’s just sorry that Antoine doesn’t have his talent.  Ooh!  But at least Antoine can write his own lyrics and he doesn’t just “sit on his backside with his arms crossed” and pay someone else to do it for him!  If Petula Clark’s got Johnny’s back (see her less than subtle squeeze of the arm as he makes his catty comment), I’ve got Antoine’s – bring it on, Hallyday!Tete de bois 44Raisner diplomatically comments that that’s just an opinion.  It is – it’s just Johnny Hallyday’s opinion and that was probably written for him by someone else as well.  Yeah, I mean business, people!

To wash away the bad taste in the mouth that all this bickering leaves, Christophe pops up dressed as a cowboy.  Quite nice, but I thought he looked rather lovely in a suit myself:

Tete de bois 45 Tete de bois 46Christophe’s singing La Camargue whilst on horseback.  No, really.  Well, okay then it’s a pretend horse and I’m not sure I approve of Christophe doing this kind of thing.  I’m in two minds – either it’s too silly for someone as cool as him, or he’s so cool he can do stupid stuff like that and it doesn’t matter.  I still love him anyway, so it’s obviously not put me off:

Tete de bois 47After that there’s a cutesy little song from Chantal Kelly with (I think) Monty on guest vocals – Notre Prof’ d’Anglais:Tete de bois 48 Tete de bois 49This track’s been on at least a couple of those French pop compilation albums.  She seems quite sweet.  I like it.

Next up, the one I’ve been waiting for – Michel Polnareff.  It’s his second TV appearance doing La Poupée qui fait non.  This performance is from outside the studio in a club called the Top Ten or something like that.  The idea is they show footage of young French kids out clubbing in Paris and the provinces.  Tete de bois 50On this occasion Polnareff is there doing a playback, surrounded by young kids – one kid in particular appears to be in love with him, looking at him with hungry eyes and singing along with all the words:Tete de bois 51 Tete de bois 52 Tete de bois 53 Tete de bois 54 Tete de bois 55 Tete de bois 56 Tete de bois 57 Tete de bois 58Antoine’s back next, escaping Hallyday’s evil clutches, taking his chances on Une autre autoroute.  He does a nice job of it – it’s such a good track with a lovely bit of guitar playing on it:Tete de bois 59 Tete de bois 60 Tete de bois 61There’s no show-boating for Antoine but then again he’s not taking any chances on the harmonica front, what with Albert Raisner being in the vicinity and champing at the bit to join in when and wherever possible; Antoine brought his own blues harp with.

Talking of show-boating…Tete de bois 62Johnny gets in a four-piece backing band and a group of dancers to liven up his performance of Jusqu’à minuit.  He does a bit of Clo-Clo style dancing himself as well, hoping to out-shine Antoine and his brilliant but understated jerky dancing, no doubt.  Never mind, Antoine, Johnny was always going to make sure he had the last word on this whatever happened.

Petula has been missing the limelight too, so she gets to introduce the smiley, chirpy singer and alleged wartime collaborator Charles Trenet who sings La Tarantelle de Caruso (I think):Tete de bois 63Petula can’t stay away for long; she’s such a limelight hogger that even the dancers try to kick her as she sings Si tu prenais le temps:Tete de bois 64 Tete de bois 65And that’s your lot, aside from the credits which were sung by Monty, Petula Clark, Johnny Hallyday and Charles Trenet.  Nice little touch that and what a fun show.Tete de bois 66 Tete de bois 67

One last thing – Johnny Hallyday, you were great in Robert Hossein’s film Point de chute and I salute you for this, but please leave little Antoine alone.  Thank you!

My Favourite Stuff: Michel Polnareff 1979 Japan Tour Programme

I have seen Michel Polnareff in concert – in Nice in June 2007.  But I wasn’t at this concert in Japan in 1979; the programme is an item of memorabilia I purchased several years ago.  Here it is:

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The above page is my absolute favourite part of the programme – okay, I can’t understand the rest as it’s in Japanese but that’s beside the point; I am certain this has to be the best article in the entire book.  It’s a kind of “fan letter” to Michel Polnareff from someone called Yuko Yoshimi.  I don’t know if it was translated from Japanese or if it was originally written in French but something has to be wrong somewhere, or else Yuko Yoshimi was being slightly (and possibly unwittingly) insensitive when writing this.  I imagine it’s meant as a compliment but at times it doesn’t come across that way.  Anyway, to add yet another level to the “lost in translation” aspect of this, here’s my translation of the letter into English.  Bear in mind I’m not fluent in French so I may have missed out on some of the subtleties somewhere along the way:

Dear Mr Michel Polnareff

The first time that I saw you was at NHK [Japan Broadcasting Corporation] and I realised that I did not really know you: but when you played the piano I realised that I would never really know you.  Your music is so beautiful that, without knowing why, I compared it to that of a violin.  You are such a mysterious character.  I stood near the door and although near you, the distance between us seemed tremendous.

I have seen you only once, but the one memory I have is of a dazzling light that radiated from you which I’ve never seen in any other star or any other human being.  Michel Polnareff – the very name is a music, you are the choreographer of the world.

You are a child and like a child, you confuse beauty and truth.  You are not handsome and yet beauty emanates from you. You hide yourself behind a mirror and you use your sunglasses to avoid seeing the ugliness of the world, and having to suffer it.  I can glimpse your concept of beauty, but I could never grasp a reflection.

This is why there is this unbridgeable distance between us.  If you were the ocean, I would not want to cross it.  If you were the sky, I could only contemplate it.  If you were a locked door, I would not dare open it.  And you know very well that nobody would dare to.  I think that to understand all this brings me closer to you.

I love your world.  You come from space and no one else but you can breathe there.  David Bowie is accessible, but you, I cannot reach you.  You do not have to be an astronaut on their way to the moon because it belongs to you.  Seeking to know you is like trying to go to another planet.

Without being sexy, even so you are the symbol of sexuality.  Music, you sculpt it.  You do not like a woman for her looks but for herself and whatever she may be.

You sing love like a sublime sin of the Renaissance.  And now where are you going to take me?

Without knowing one another, I’ll visit your planet, go to your capital city, my invitation in my hand, and climb aboard your spaceship where I will respect all the blackout lights.

YUKO YOSHIMI

Amazing, eh?  I hope I’ve never been so clumsy when I’ve written fan letters!

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Check out that ballet school photograph if you want to know which way Michel Polnareff dresses!

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