Clothilde, the “Emily Strange” of French Girl Pop…
Clothilde, Queen of the S.M. (Swingin’ Mademoiselles)… Why Clothilde? Why not that more star-worthy, international acclaimed Françoise Hardy, or the more akin to the sub-genre, France Gall? Because she’s the most characteristic, archtypical French mademoiselle, that’s why! Christine Pilzer, even Jacqueline Taïeb before her, both may’ve been rediscovered first in this style unique to French Sixties Pop, and Stella also may’ve been the most out and out “anti-Yeye” with her slightly anti-establishment and derisive lyrics countering the Pop system and establishment but, Cleo’s all about text, not that much as a whole production. As such, we feel Clothilde takes the crown. Not only has Clothilde the most natural (albeit unknowingly) disposition as a chanteuse, singing such subversive lyrics with as much second degree and detachment but, the music itself is highly original : inventive arrangemen including French horn, musical saw, church bells, barrel organ, marimba, brass fiddle, woodwinds and busy fuzz guitar amidst all that slapstick comedy-like audio bric-à-brac.. Almost avant-garde in concept, it was imagined and produced by Clothilde’s impresario, manager and indeed creator, legendary Disques Vogue A.D. Germinal Tenas. … This could’ve only come out of France!
Born Élisabeth Beauvais (nicknamed “Babette” by her friends…) on February 22/ 1948, Clothilde had a short but noteworthy career sprawling barely over the year 1967 with only two classic EPs and an italian only single. Nevertheless, she was the quintessence of Swingin’ Mademoiselle’s, all of her songs, co-authored mostly with arranger Jean-marie Di Maria and the afore-mentionned Germinal Tenas, are little masterpieces of black humor and double-entendres, making her in effect unique, sitting right on top of the French 60’s Girl Pop pantheon.
She was the daughter of famous writer and journalist Robert Beauvais, an auteur and producer of numerous radio and television programs he would emcee with his wife (her mother!) Gisèle Parry. Robert Beauvais was also known for writing theater plays and works of reflection in a humoristic mode (much like Sacha Guitry!). And Babette’s mother Gisèle, was another famous actress of british descent. Prestigious french actors like Michel Simon and Louis Jouvet were frequent visitors of the family house in the Paris suburbs of Montmorency…
Following Clothilde’s vanishment from the scene, and wild stories claiming she commited suicide and was dead, thru a chance connection on YouTube, then a little detective work and a few phone calls later… we finally tracked down the missus and got her to spill the beans on interview
Tell us about your background, your mum had on a TV variety program that invited all the Pop singers of the day, which you witnessed from backstage just previously to your own singin’ career…
My mother had, among other things, a TV program called: “Vient de Paraître (Just Released)” where I saw all the new stars coming: I saw for ex. Serge Lama (famous french auteur; ed) arriving laid on a strecher after his serious car accident, with nurses helping me to sit down, Stone & Charden (Swingin’ Mademoiselle Stone and Eric Charden who formed a famous duet much like Sonny & Cher; ed.) who were beginners, Hervé Vilard (of “Capri, c’est fini” fame; ed.), Michel Polnareff who had first short modish brown hair before he became famous… So, my mum would make me assist those programs where she’d greet artists who just had their first record out; I was a student in Art Deco, in 1965/66 more or less two years before I started singin’ myself. I remember Polnareff who didn’t wear sunglasses then and was singing on his piano, Lama and Stone & Charden who were promoting their first record…
Tell us the path you took to eventually sign a contract with Vogue records in 1967?
I came to this singing career because one day when I was in bed at home feeling depressed and, my mother who was making TV serials brought over Germinal Tenas to work on the soundtrack and he saw me and had a stroke. He was looking for a girl to sing his songs and I matched exactly what he was looking for. So he started calling and couldn’t stop doing so as I said no; I was extremely shy at the time. Finally, my mother who was sick at the time, reproached me of being selfish and shutting the doors to all opportunities while she has worked a lot for a break. So I finally gave in and said yes, telling to myself how terrible it was, that I was engaging myself in a venture that goes beyond me and that I didn’t want to pursue.
And Indeed, I went unwillingly to Vogue records’ offices and I sang accapella in front of a lot of people, and they selected me… to my confusion, it worked! I was quite unhappy to be dragged into this because what I wanted was to sing my own songs and I couldn’t. The music was ok but I really disliked the lyrics, I hated what we were doing, I hated my image… I felt very bad.
Germinal Tenas, retrospectively is one of the major producers of sixties counter-culture in France. Preachin’ derision and sonic fiddle, his few productions in the 60s are so much slap in the faces for the whole Yéyé masquerade… He’s the mastermind behind such musical ufos as Chorus Reverendus and Jean-Bernard de Libreville, producing crucial tracks for Antoine et Les Problèmes along the way. Here’s his side of the story :
“At the time there was a famous sarcastic comic magazine called “Hara-kiri” (… totally cult irreverent mag’ born in the sixties!; ed.) which I was fan, I was fan of Wolinski, Topor (famous cartoonists; ed.) who had created it. So… since I loved all that black offbeat humor, I wanted to produce a semi-detached girl who would sing in that style, not the usual sugary type of Pop songs. I wanted the anti-Yéyé, an anti- Françoise Hardy, somebody who could almost be provoking (I always liked to provoke, then…) and, I wanted mostly to find a girl with a very soft beautiful voice and who at the same time could say horrible things in a semi-detached way like out of touch, as in the song : “La Chanson Bête et Méchante”; I was looking for the girl and couldn’t find her. The songs, I already had two in mind that were already written one of which was “La Queue du Chat”, we were yet to make the first EP and didn’t know what we would do on the second. So, when I met her, the fact that on the one hand she was ravishing, cute as you can see on the pics, and on the other hand, she had that rebellion, it appealed to me a lot : it was Love at first sight. It’s true that she never wanted to do that record, it’s her mother who pushed her heavily sayin’ that I was a decent guy workin’ at Vogue’s and that she would not work all her life providing for her.. and it was made to be despite her. As much her dad, who was a very cultivated and witty author, he loved the songs, and her mother who was a Radio producer, she too liked the idea… as much she, Élisabeth didn’t want to show and make the scene on stage for one, and secondly, she didn’t do that kind of thing. Since I was feeling for her… I never told her because I didn’t want to mix it with business; one must never have a flirt with someone you’re going to produce… she knew because women always sense those things but, I stayed rigorously at my place, all the more because she was extremely difficut to manage and I knew that, if anything should happen… first of, I didn’t necessarely appeal to her, let’s say there was a relation that was a mix of respect, friendly esteem… and hate. She cordially hated me because, I was 19 and showed I had ideas, and wanted people to do it my way and nobody could divert me from that. Not one detail… not one dress or make-up, or way of movin’ that wasn’t planned, everything was thinked upon; for years I worked that way. Nothing else was tolerated. When she dared give her point of view, I would say : “Did I ask for it? No! So why do you give your point? I know what I want, I know where I’m going, I don’t want to be bugged by you trying to divert me from my goal; it’s complicated as it is to make it realise my way, I don’t need someone to tell me, what I want you to do you haven’t done, so…”, I would go through with it and that would be unbearable to her because she couldn’t express herself without me sayin’… she felt stifled because I was stifling. Nowadays, I’m still demanding but my experience and status is so that I am respected, however then even I had to prove things so, I was very dictatorial and… honestly, if I hadn’t been so enamored with her, I would’ve dumped her. Until I came to realise that her anger and very rebellion to my rule made that visually on TV she would come to sing my music with such detachment, aloofness and distance, nary a smile that it would serve the purpose even more! It was perfect.”
(Back to Elisabeth-Clothilde…)
… Did you feel manipulated? Oh yes, completely so. I had no freedom, was forced to wear the clothes Germinal gave me, to sing the way he wanted… so, I was turning my back against him, was very cold towards the whole project. But, I was young and had very narrow ideas… I’m very friendly with Germinal.
Were your interested in performing growing up and/or were there any artists that influenced you and that your were a fan of? Yes, of course. I wanted to be an actress and a singer (not that way… ) but, what happened was that I was not feeling well, had a lot of psychological problems, my mother was sick and the mood was difficult at home. I was very self-destructive, each time that a door would open and an opportunity would come (and there were a lot of opportunities!), I’d shut it down, as much for performing on stage and all… it’s incredible, I would destroy everything (I would paint and destroy my paintings afterwards!)…
Don’t you regret it now, because it could’ve been a springboard to better things… ? Of course but, it’s impossible when you are young and a bit narcissistic, to be exposed like this and sing about things which you didn’t rely to at all… the music was ok but, I was barely 18 and my friends were very sarcastic about it, only the future father to my child was supportive, telling me to do it to breakthrough and later impose my own songs. I ended up hiding and not answering to calls from Vogue. My parents were already in show business so, I didn’t realise the chance I had and, in those days it was an easy thing to sing.
Did you start out wanting to sing or… ? … I wanted to be an actress.
Were you influenced by any artist (you said about being a Rhythm’n’Blues fan)? … I also loved french chanteuses like Francoise Hardy, as well as I would later like french chansons by Julien Clerc and Alain Souchon, of course I loved Brassens, the classics like Brel and Leo Ferré, and songs with meaningful lyrics from artists people don’t know anymore like Cora Vaucaire and later Barbara. You had the songs with well written lyrics that I loved and I would also like what I call the “little cunts” of chansons like France Gall, especially her Serge Gainsbourg period (I loved Gainsbourg!)…
Did you meet any of them? No, I met Francoise Hardy who wasn’t particularly nice; she was very aloof, would say hello to everyone but me at Vogue’s…
Was she aloof from being guarded of because she was the star? I don’t know, probably both. I didn’t find her particularly sympathetic but I like her songs a lot, her lyrics… but, I wasn’t a fan in the sense one would give the word nowadays…
Were there any youth idol or a chanteuse who would inspire you to do what you wanted to do even though later you would be manipulated in doing Clothilde? Not at all, much for the lyrics, yes; I liked Roda Gil’s lyrics a lot, I wanted to write lyrics to songs later… so I was more influenced by the lyrics than by the song tune.
What were the inspiration behind the image and sound of “Clothilde”? Was it purely the vision of producer Germinal Tenas? The image of “Clothilde” was created by Germinal. It was all in the school of “chansons Bête et Méchant”, stupid and nasty songs, I didn’t like it at all and found it very burlesque and caricatural.
The report one usually hear is, that Germinal had in mind of producing a kind of anti-France Gall… Maybe…
And that is why he molded you into that; do you know anything about this? I never heard anything about that, no. I think he had in mind a petite girl singer who’d sing nasty songs with a distance …
Maybe he had that in mind but never told you? Maybe he had that in mind but, I don’t remember him ever telling me about France Gall, there was this whole mood in the music that…
Like, for ex. the Beatles versus the Stones, their manager Andrew Loog Oldham had that idea with Jagger’s gang and told them: I’m gonna market you into being anti-Beatles, like the bad boys alternative to their cleancut image; did Germinal had this thought about making you the anti-France Gall? Oh yes, he never told anything about France Gall, there indeed was a sort of black humor into it but, I didn’t find it funny at all, I didn’t suscribe to it and found it all pretty daft…
So, it was purely Germinal’s concept and you had nothing to do with the wholeprocess? Right, that’s it. Ok, I had that kind of natural posture that suited his vision but, he wanted me to use some specific body language on top, I was very distant and cold and finally, he realised that natural distance was good, he should have… when I saw him again lastly, he finally told me that he was quite stupid at the time, he should’ve given me more freedom of expression …
So you’re not sore at him, you didn’t have any falling out or what, you still see him? Of course! I’m not angry at him or anything like that, he’s still a friend and I adore him. I saw him a year ago, he’s such a figure, he’s funny. He’s all my youth, I like him a lot. I’ve got nothing against him but at the time, he was impossible to work with. We had too conflicting characters and different ideas and tastes.
What was it like to work with Germinal Tenas both in and outside the recording studio? For me, it was dreadful. In everyday life, he’s like a pal… I see him very little nowadays but, he’s more than a friend, I don’t know about him but, for me he represents old times, my youth and all, it goes quite deep but, back in the day it he was pretty terrible to work with. On the other hand, I was pretty difficult to get by too, at that time I could be very temperamental and he was forced to follow some rules like when I told you about our first recording session: he told me that nobody would be in the studio, because… he really pushed me in the studio, I had to fight my feelings and I went there walking backwards…
What did you expect, what did you hope to attain by doing this? I just wanted to obey my mother … Without hoping that later on you would succeed in… ? Not at all, It was done in such despair, it was doomed from the beginning. I remember one day I was being chased by girls who wanted me to sign autographs and I told them: “no, I’m not Clothilde, my name is Elisabeth Beauvais” and I showed them my ID, and they said it was impossible because they’d recognised me, and I insisted saying “not at all” so, I was at odds with the celebrity spirit I should’ve got myself into at that time.
It came at a time you were almost too young? Not too young… No, because I wouldn’t have done it this way later, just that it shouldn’t have happened …
Because Germinal must’ve thought this thing up tongue in cheek and you took the whole thing upright? No, not at all. Most likely it was the contrary. It was him who took this personna he had created quite seriously… he was only 19 at the time, he was very young! I was much into things more solemn like Francoise Hardy, songs with deeper lyrics and… this didn’t appeal to me at all! So, like I started saying: during the first session, I forced Germinal to shut all the lights in the studio and to burn only candles instead… Because he promised me there wouldn’t be anyone but, he had invited all the press! So I didn’t give in and, we recorded to the light of candles so, I was being difficult too.
You are credited as a co-writer on the first EP, How much creative input did you have overall? I wrote like three sentences: I wrote like the chorus to “102-103”: “… Avec son poisson-chat, depuis 103 ans déjà, 102-103, dans son aquarium froid, elle attends son Nicolas…” and he (Germinal) would correct me and rewrite some verses in terms that wouldn’t rely to me at all; for “La Ballade du Bossu”, I had started to write fun lyrics, dirty lyrics with name-games like: “Si j’avais su qu’un Beau sucerait, le sein-bolique qu’apporterait mon corps (If I had known that a beau would suck, the symbolic tit that my body would bring!; ed. )…” and it was silly, because I was thinking about “Freaks” the movie, and a circus atmosphere… and immediately he would meddle with the lyrics and wouldn’t let me free so, it really wasn’t what I wanted to do.
If he had been older, maybe he would have been more in a teachful manner? Yes, absolutely. He would’ve give me more freedom. It was infernal.
So, on a creative level, you really hadn’t any say? Any whatsoever. He would force me to wear certain clothes; I liked clothing in those days, I liked wearing clothes he wouldn’t let me wear. The se clothes he’s make me wear, I’d find atrocious …
Atrocious, really?! Oh, yes! … the look you have on the covers are rather stylish!? … I had bought a sort of fuddy-duddy jumpsuit (on the second EP. cover; ed.) but, it was my way of preventing to wear the things he would make me, if he’d hear me, he wouldn’t be happy but, it’s true that we had real different tastes regarding clothing. He was a very intelligent person but, it’s true we were very different and didn’t share the same view on things. It couldn’t have worked out… it’s like, you know a matchless love affair…
(Germinal Tenas has to say something about this too…)
“All the fancy mod clothes she wore were my doing, I dressed her from head to toe and she hated it. I wanted her to be hip and fashionable and she didn’t want it, if she had had her way, she would have worn just tees and jeans like a protest singer; she refused to do photo-modelling for magazines, she would showas little of herself as possible, just the minimum needed. I wanted her to be sophisticated and detached, I disguised her and made-up her look. In those days, Fechner and me (Christian Fechner, author, composer and fellow AD of Germinal at Vogue. He discovered Antoine and later transformed his backing band les Problèmes into the French Monkees : Les Charlots, He also btought Cédric et Cléo, and made them the Sonny & Cher of France and had Sullivan stand in for the French Donovan; ed. ), we Art Directors were in that mindstate of having to create an artist from A to Z, nothing was left to chance whether it’d be songs, the creative aspects, musical arrangements, what the artist would wear or say in an interview, etc.”
Was he ever your boy friend? Oh! No. Not at all, never!
How old were you at the time? I was on year younger then him, I may have been 19 and he was 20. I had between 18 and 19 during that venture.
When have you started… ’66? 1967…
The two records are from ’67? ’67, I think.
The recordings are wildly creative with unsual lyrics, composition and overal sound – what was the general reaction towards this from both yourself and the general public?There wasn’t that much public because I barely did any Live.
You never toured or anything? No, I didn’t want to! Germinal… I know Antoine asked for me to tour with him but I refused. I was afraid because I didn’t have much to promote… It’s impossible to do when you’re shy and emotional as I was and when I hated what I was doing, something that didn’t match my personality. One could make that effort for something coming from one’s own, defending one’s own lyrics but in this case, it was awful. So, I didn’t want to make that tour with Antoine… It was played a lot on the radio because people found it amusing that gimmick with “La Queue du Chat” (it was this song which hit most…), I remember Jean Yanne who made fun of the song saying: “Listen to this shit” and would play it non-stop… so it made quite well! … Now, we’d call this a Novelty hit, something gimmicky, done tongue in cheek. … Yes, in those times it was fashionnable. It’s true his was quite original, the sound…
So it was done in 1967? Yes, ’67. … I thought the first Ep was done in ’66. So it was still pre-hippie? Yes, it was done right before.
Are there any fun or memorable publicity events, TV shows and so on that have lasted?No, no good memories. Yes, TV. Each time we would get together with les Charlots: funny, they don’t remember me… which tells how popular a singer I was, while during a year I would meet them and I’d ask them to make me laugh because I was ominous, so terrorized by the camera I was, like Francoise Hardy could be… And I would tell them: please, make me laugh! … So they would stand behind the camera making faces, they would make me crack and relax and I have a good recollection of that show we did together because it was the first time I’d be relaxed.
What’s the name of the show? I don’t remember (“Chansons pour vous” aired November 10 /1967; ed.)… But, I also remember we shot another TV program where one figured four times on the same day and the director had the good idea to film me with leathered clad rockers we call “Blousons Noirs” in France who were supposed to chase me and slap me me with their belts, I had to turn around the corner of a wall and… as soon as I did, they would really hit me! … I didn’t dare say anything.
That was a TV shot outside? That was a TV shot in exteriors outside the studio, “Le Nouveau Dimanche” (aired April 23/1967; ed.), a shooting that lasted all day… so, on one of the four scenes I am with those Black Leathers which were suppose to hit me and they would really hit me! That shows how crazy I was to not usher a word of complaint while these hoods would really slap me …
You mean they took advantage of that scene to hit you because as Rockers they probably hated Pop? Yes, probably. I wouldn’t know… The TV show you shot with Pierre Dac (a huge french Comic actor in those days; ed.) for instance, you didn’t had a good recollection of this as well? Yes, I did because, I would meet nice people on there; Pierre Dac was charming …
What was that show? … I was on the same program as Chantal Goya, I think. It was about married people …”Qui marions-nous?” (aired May 27/1967; ed.) ? Yes, I think so.
You were never friends with Chantal Goya? No, I don’t recall … I also did one TV with another nice guy, somebody quite famous (hums the song: “C’est un beau roman, c’est une belle histoire “; ed.), I don’t remember his name but he’s quite famous (… in fact, Michel Fugain’s “Un beau roman” who later fronted 1970’s french pop group: Le Big Bazar; ed.) … just to say there was nice guys too!
You never did any photo sessions like the ones we see on “Salut Les Copains”magazine, class type pictures we see with everybody like Hardy, Johnny Hallyday, Sheila, Sylvie… standing ? Not with everybody but, I did a feature on “Salut les Copains” I remember, several pages…
What magazines, for example, theres’s “Salut les Copains”, “Moins 20” and “Mademoiselle Âge Tendre”… ? It was “Salut les Copains”, I don’t remember others, it was a long time ago, maybe… I turned the pages on all this!
(Upon checking all the issues of that time, “Clothilde” appears to be nowhere on this magazine… she may have confused with “Moins 20”; ed.)
Were you acquainted with any other fellow pop stars, especially at Vogue? Wasn’t there a general mood like everybody would meet after the show and party together?Not at all. Yes there was… no.
I mean, there were like little clans, Ronnie Bird for instance had his group with Zouzou… ? No, I was always… I wasn’t feeling well at the time…
So, in those days you weren’t feeling well (already), unhappy with yourself? Very bad! … Depressed, for what reason; can you tell or it’s too personal? It’s too private. … It had nothing to do with show business? Well, that wouldn’t help… it would add to my bad feeling. Maybe I was still in my tender years. You can ask me other questions but… It will always turn around my feeling depressed at that time that would show a lot on the screen.
Maybe you were too self-conscious about this but, did the people saw that? … I was scared stiff front of the camera, I felt badly and, I had the feedback from my friends who would make fun a lot of what I was doing; they thought it was daft so… it was tough for a kid like me. …
So, there wouldn’t be any other fellow artists with whom you’d hand (there’s always people with whom you feel attracted too more then others)? No. … No in a particular group of people, Ronnie Bird… I mean the real Ronald Méhu? I don’t recall… I kept only a blurred image of that period, always with an everpresent Germinal. The times I was feeling ok… yes, the photo shoots, if he wasn’t present, then I would feel relaxed, because I wouldn’t wear the clothes he wanted me to wear, otherwise I was always under him and it would make me feel uneasy.
You mentionned an episode about a girl taking your records and going on a summer tour passing herself as you in the southern coast of France; would you care to elaborate on that anecdote? Yes. She sang playback on my records, making fake local TV, she managed to have musicians believe and follow her: she would go on these sets where these gullible musicians would wait for her outside! She would go into nightclubs with my record and would sing playbacks on the hit: “La Queue du Chat”. When people would say she didn’t look like the girl on the cover, she’d answer that photos never show the reality and are always pre-arranged… When I came back from holidays, people were asking fot their money back because she would borrow a little from everyone, everywhere. If I remember well, this girl even made auditions at the time. She managed to have people follow her on local TV premises, musicans whom she would borrow money (including the guy who asked me for his money back!) and she would tell them to wait for her outside while she entered the set and would come out seemingly two hours later but, people would not follow her inside. She was like those mythomaniac who would make you believe things, saying they had to be on which program at a certain hour and sign some records, etc. The only interesting aspect in this story was that I, as Clothilde, never took opportunity of my celebrity to do these sort of things while a perfect stranger managed to squeeze out some money and benefit from my fame. I mean that someone motivated can arrange his way thru and accomplish things and I was a little out of the system.
You mean she must’ve benefited of cocktails, hotel services and all the star treatment that would’ve been bestowed to you? Right. But I wasn’t in that set of mind at all, cocktails and all were not my bag.
So she had free holidays at your expenses? Exactly.
What happened with the guy who asked you for his money back? When I came back from holidays, he called me (I don’t know how he got my phone, probably thru Germinal) giving me a roasting. I didn’t understand, thinking it was a joke and played along, saying: ” Yeah, Yeah! I’ll give you back… (I don’t remember how much it was then)”. And he wouldn’t recognize my voice so he would feel sort of uneasy whle I thought we were putting me on all this time. He called back Germinal who would then call me back in return and things would clear up.
Germinal said he then invited that fake singer in his office at Vogue, setting a trap pretending he wanted to congratulate and thank her for the tribute she had made to you… Yes, he gave her a hell of a slap I found a bit lousy!
Oh! you witnessed it? No, no. He reported me afterwards. I wouldn’t have loved at all that he gave her a slapping (laughs; ed.).
And he then supposedly said to her that either she stopped her rip-off or, since she wasn’t of legal age, he would sue her parents… ? I wouldn’t know what he said to her, I don’t remember but, what was funny as I said was, that I would be so out of it that other people who would come to benefit from my record. The only interesting aspect in this case is that in effect, someone took my identity while I was so oblivious to this business that I would flee when people chased for my autograph and say to them: “No, I’m not!” giving my real name.
In fact, with this attitude, you gave way to freeloaders? Yes, or rather… people who were more motivated were able too… I mean, if I’ve had more faith in what I was doing I could’ve sang myself in nightclubs on summer etc. I was so totally off-beat.
Reverting to that italian single episode: could you clear the mystery on how it happened?
I don’t remember at all. I remember of a mister who came to make me rehearse and split his hair trying to make me prononce in a correct way the italian words. It was much sharper then in French. My french sessions went on rapidly, I didn’t have to repeat a dozen times (contrary to certain popular chanteuses I won’t name here!)… but here, during that session with that coach it was terrible: in sentence had to be repeated, it was so sharp. So, I was a bit deterred.
Was this episode the last straw that made you quit? Not at all, I told you how from the start I felt awkward about this: it was the building up of my difficult relationship with Germinal like I said.
Why was there a need to make a record of an Italian version, was there any popular request from italian fans? I have absolutely NO idea. It just happened that way, one day they said: you are having a coach to make you sing the songs in italian. You will have to ask Germinal about it.
Your singing career only lasted 2 EP’s – what brought it to a close?I’m a sporadic singer, haha! … In fact, I hid myself. Why did I brutally cut short to my singing career? Well, it’s incredible. I will tell you this but it’s pretty silly. I went one evening to an exhibition of paintings from a painter whose children were my friends at one time too. And there, one of the boys (I still see him today; I told him about this last time and he was flabbergasted!) made fun of me: he called around all the people who were at the exhibition and said: “look, here’s Clothilde the great songstress!”… I was completely at loss with this maliciousness, he said nasty things. He was making fun of me and everybody even was feeling uneasy from his attitude, and I came back home where I said to myself: I quit. It wasn’t just being sarcastic, it was mean. Too much is too much so I said to myself that I would never answer calls from Vogue records again. … That was what brought it to breaking point, the last straw? Right!
How long did it all last, six months, one year? Oh, it lasted well a year because we made two records…
It must have stopped around ’68? … I don’t remember the exact dates, it was right after the second record. I had enough and the meanness from that boy made that, just like a child brat I stopped the whole thing, not caring one bit… it annoyed Germinal but, he finally understood and said: “Ok. well, if you don’t feel like it anymore, there’s nothing much to do”… He told me so, that he knew and did understand; I mean, it’s not like you had eloped and disappeared? Oh yes, I did flee and vanished. The Vogue label would call me and I wouldn’t answer the phone. So Germinal told me he understood I wanted out and said he would tell them it’s over; he saw it being hurtful for me. You can’t force someone.
(Germinal again here :)
“Had she continued, she would certainly by now have been a tremendous author and her biggest asset as well as defect is that she would never bow to the star system and lick butt, play along the people’s game so, she had such an unyielding personnality that she couldn’t have soldiered on with that mentality in such a superficial world. We never had that angry dispute that make partners split, all the bad temper would have just the effect of sliding on her indifference, that’s how quiet she was. No, she just had enough of me, had other desires and didn’t want to do it anymore, although you don’t get out of a contract just like that, as easily as she would make you believe, it was all in her mind, she made up that legend but, hadn’t I be so friendly with her parents at the time, it would’ve costed them a lot of money to break such a deal because she was still minor. I allowed it and let it go because I had such feeling for her. I hadn’t exactly finished what I had to say in my creative roll, I would’ve recorded a third EP and switch from the nastiness and subversiveness of “Chanson Bête et Méchante” on the first record to more surrealist lyrics we had started to do on the second with “102-103″, never the sugary romantic songs of the Yeye mainstream… But, finally I wasn’t going to fight it with the record label where I was employee, for an artist who had no desire to continue anyway, it just didn’t make any sense. I think it was a lot of wasted talent : she could’ve been a great singer and artist had she had that profile and the will to integrate and play along the rules. All her wanting to sing now came from that intial career she had anyway. But in the end she couldn’t have continued because she didn’t have some producer like me on her side to back-up anymore and she was too refractory, she just didn’t have that people/ showbizzy attitude.”
What course did your life take after this too? I was very happy to end this masquerade. I felt free… and later my life turned very gloom, I had my child … Very gloom?! My life was very gloomy, yes. I lost my mother, there was a whole difficult past to deal with which I don’t want to discuss here, I was a single-mother, I fucked-up a lot, had no confidence in myself. I did a lot of things, sketched a lot of illustrations where I worked. I was very perfectionnist, the nostalgia of not being an actress like I first wanted, stayed on within me. I think I didn’t feel confident enough to be an actress … holding back that feeling I choked myself completely. By not being an actress, saying no to what was my true calling, it choked me. I came into a system where I would internalize myself, thru drawings… while in fact I should’ve externalize but one have the will, I didn’t have that strength.
You didn’t start another artistic career like being a painter? I did iconography, I took back studies, I… really fucked-up.
What kind of studies? … Law studies? No, I studied graphology 5 years, then I finally dumped it.
You never went to a Hippie commune, for example? Not at all. I ‘m not into communities, I’m very much a loner while suffering from it. I find it difficult to be amongst people.
Otherwise, you never shot any movies, you never made any cameos? No. … Because your son is an actor? Oh, he’s very different from me on that level. He’s very extrovert while I am introvert. He’s great on stage, a real showman.
So you raised him alone? Well, I raised him at home, there was my sister…. his father would come and see him. It was me who wouldn’t marrry. … You never got married? No. It’s a childhood love and his dad is … well, I don’t wanna talk about it. He’s a just a fine guy.
Since the recordings were first released, they have become one of the celebrated of French records from the period – and fans all over the world are in love with them and the mystery of “Clothilde”! Were you aware of any of this?
I wouldn’t know, there must be like 3 and a half fans out there …
There’s actually more. In your everyday life you never heard of anything, no hearsay or feedback about this cult? Sure, people told me. Because there are some who would play around with internet. Germinal too, told me that.
Nobody ever got in touch with you, like for example for the “Femmes de Paris” compilation release? Yes. On young man called me and invited me over to a party on a barge: I said I would come but asked him not to reveal my idendity (laughs; ed) a belgian guy whose name I forgot, very nice. He was throwing a party where he would play my records; Jacqueline Taïeb was there. I came but, nonbody knew I was there.
Did you knew Taïeb at the time? Sure, I did. We did shows together but it was “Hello/ Goodbye”. … Reverting to interesting trivia, you told me Cléo was very mean to you? I don’t recall for sure but it seems it was Cléo, my parents were quite famous and she thought I had the opportunity of a singing career thanks to my influential parents … That they pulled some strings? Exactly. But, it wasn’t so. I remember some nasty comments… Your folks were renowned? My parents were very renowned, on Radio and TV. Their name were Robert Beauvais and Gisèle Parry. A very famous couple in the 1950’s and 60’s, dad was writing books and did a lot of things… so, Cléo would resent this; but it really isn’t that important, those are gossip that would hurt an 18 year old kid (Clothilde aka. Élisabeth was actually 19; ed.). … It’s precisely those little insider’s details that are interesting! (laughs; ed.) I wouldn’t want to be mistaken but, I think it was Cléo. Françoise Hardy was very distant… ? Françoise Hardy, yes… I saw her once in the company of Dutronc. I remember, what stroke me was that she would say hello to everyone, but me. I found that… Why? Because I wasn’t worth the trouble, she didn’t know who I was and… she wasn’t someone who… And yet, to some it goes through their head but, she had the reputation of being someone quite simple, not acting as a Diva or a Star? Of course. But, being subdued and keeping a low profile like her doesn’t make you all the more pleasant and likeable. She seemed remote. While not being exactly unpleasant, she was not sympathethic either, you see? … Indifferent? Maybe it’s to be taken in account of her shyness? I don’t think it was the case as far as I was concerned. I had her on the phone much later… my stepmother Ginette Garcin, who was a famous actress and also a singer (also notable performer of Swingin’ Mademoiselle classic: “Cresoxipropanediol en capsules” with funny, witty lyrics by Jean Yanne; ed.), she told me to call Francoise for advice on song lyrics and Hardy was very rude to me on the phone, gave me the cold treatment. I don’t understand this, one can tell things in a nice way… But, all this is not important; what you can say is that I don’t recall having been close to anyone in particular. In comparison to Françoise, I for ex. met Nicoletta once (… french chanteuse who used to go out to clubs like the Bus Palladium and party a lot alongside other popular swingin’ girls like Zouzou; ed.) and shed had been charmingly nice, I mean… Nino Ferrari (Nino Ferrer’s real italian name; ed.), he was very nice too. I still could make a difference between people who were nice and people who are unsympathetic. It’s all very interesting because, people so idolize Francoise Hardy nowadays that it’s good know about things backstage… I remember once in Belgium, I was feeling so ill at ease, socially awkward on the set that I would talk to no one. … Maybe, in return people would find you unpleasant too? And when I left, they called me: “Goodbye Clothilde!” because I left without saying a word, unpolitely for them, and someone would add: “… But, she’s not feeling well!”, and there I said to the guy: “Thank you, sir!”. Another time once, my mother who was a producer, heard someone say backstage: “Clothilde is so unpleasant, she’s cold”… you see? But it was all because I was so terrorized, in a panic… You think that’s why Francoise would give you the cold shower treatment? No, no. I think she didn’t see me because she’s so tall on account of her being 1m70 and me only 1m50 (laughs; ed.)… I’m joking but, I haven’t a good recollection of the person.
Did you question your career in music right from the start? As you wrote on the liner notes when Vogue record company were claiming everywhere you were the “Révélation Féminine 67 (the female pop singer discovery of 1967)” and you added … “I’d like to believe them … but”? Yes, that’s what they wanted me to be: “the best newcomer of the year”, there was one of the two gentlemen heading Vogue who liked me a lot… what’s his name? But, I didn’t play along at all. I think that if I had played along those lines, things might’ve been different… but, it was against my nature to play along anyway.
“I’d like to believe them …”, meaning that you didn’t believe in it at all? I didn’t have faith in it at all, yes.
Did the double entendres of “La ballade au bossu”shock people very much at the time and how did you feel about it? I wrote the first verse of that verse, and the chorus, more or less.Then Germinal wrote the rest. It didn’t shock anyone because people were listening mainly to “La Queue du Chat”. It didn’t even pass as ironic, people were just not listening to it.
Where there ever recorded more songs than just the two EP’s and the Italian versions?Of Clothilde? None. I did some demos afterwards… Really?! … With a boy I like a lot by the name of Gérard Cohen. A very good musician… When was that? A long time ago, I was 37 years old. … So, it was well after Clothilde? It was much later. I felt like it without really wanting, I wanted to sing my own songs.
In what style was it… French chansons? It was in the mood of songs by Alain Souchon (typical emblématic french singer of the late seventies in a variety bag; ed.), there was one song about boredom…
You made an album worth? No, there were 4 songs. They were not commercial at all… When Souchon appeared on the scene, it was totally my universe. It worked for him. … That melancholia? With a lot of wordplay in the lyrics, yes. I also made songs before that with another boy.
So there’s a lot of unreleased material around! They are no unreleased Clothilde songs. There are things that I recorded but no records out, only tapes. There were two period of times, there was a period with Stéphane Meer, a musician too who works a lot… with him it was material of a different kind, songs like “Les Petites Sorcières de Banlieue (“the little witches of the suburbs”; ed.)“, it was more in the style of Julien Clerc (.. another famous french pop singer who appeared in the late sixties with the french version of the “Hair” rock opera; ed.), the songs of Roda-Gil (Étienne Roda–Gil, very famous songwriter and screenwriter who started a fruitful collaboration with Clerc in ’68, also writing songs for Johnny Hallyday, Claude François, Juliette Gréco, Barbara and other famous singers of the french Pop gotha; ed.), more in a poetic mood. … Nothing came out but you could’ve started a new career! Well, I don’t know, it all depends on record labels. I don’t know why it never came out…
Whom did you contact after Vogue? I don’t remember anymore. I didn’t take care of that aspect, it was all in the hands of musicians. They probably tried to shop it around and it dragged on and on.
So, you didn’t stop altogether just like that? I did stop abruptly with Vogue. It was much later, I was 34… 16 years later! (That would make it around 1984; ed.)
: : D I S C O G R A P H Y : :
All in 1967
* Clothilde Vogue EPL 8528
Face A1 : Fallait pas écraser la queue du chat (Germinal Tenas – J.M. di Maria)
Face A2 : Je t’ai voulu et je t’ai bien eu (J. Hourdeaux – Germinal Tenas)
Face B1 : La chanson bête et méchante (J.Cl. Aron – Germinal Tenas)
Face B2 Le boa (Germinal Tenas – D. Mocka)
Arranging by Germinal Tenas and Eric de Marsan; Cover by P.P.P.
* Saperlipopette Vogue EPL 8567
Face A1 : Saperlipopette (Bleuet et chiendent) (G. Ténas – J.-Y. Gaillac)
Face A2 : La ballade du bossu (J.-M. di Maria – Clothilde)
Face B1 : 102-103 (G. Ténas – Clothilde)
Face B2 La vérité, toute la vérité (G. Ténas)
Arranging by Germinal Tenas and Eric de Marsan; Cover by M. Ifannau
* Clothilde italian DET Single (dip 007)
Face A : Ora so Cos ‘e’ (fallait pas écraser la queue du chat)
Face B : Qualcosa che non va ? (la chanson bête et méchante)
: : TV G R A P H Y : :
* Vient de paraitre (aired in COLOR on March 21/1967); sings: “la queue du chat”
* Le nouveau dimanche (aired April 23/1967); sings: “la queue du chat”
* Qui marions-nous? (aired May 27/1967); sings: “la queue du chat” featuring french Comic legend Pierre Dac and Chantal Goya
* Discorama (aired June 25/1967); sings: “la queue du chat”
* Chanson pour vous (aired in COLOR on November 10/1967); sings: “102-103” ,
“on n’est pas des garçons faciles” (Unreleased song duet with les Charlots), “Saperlipopette”
* Les femmes et moi (aired January 27/1968) – Cléo shares the program too!
Clothilde sings: “102-103”
Thanks to Romain Pontaud.
Interview conducted and translated by Alexandre Hussenet (adding from a set of original questions by Sævar Markús Óskarsson and Matthew Meek)