Text & photos JF. Pierets
In an era where much of the contemporary music has been sampled or ripped-off from past sounds, there’s a man working the stage dressed in but a jaunty straw hat, a bow tie and golden knickers. His lively, roguish manner of performing sets a whole new view on today’s live concerts. Born in Belgium in a family of artists, Saint-Marteau seemed predestined to become a painter but found himself behind the keyboards of a rock band at the age of 16. Some unmentionable years later, he’s looking his audience straight in the eye and blossoms as a showman and a performer, bringing a truly unique, flamboyant repertoire, between rock and music hall, with songs that aim straight for the heart. At the moment Saint-Marteau is touring with a theatrical show called “Saint-Marteau se fait Gainsbourg”, which is built entirely around songs by the great Serge Gainsbourg. Let’s get to the bottom of it!
About his personae
The old adage goes that good things are worth the wait so it took me some time to discover my voice and the magical world of the spotlight. I created Saint-Marteau from scratch. He is a man with no past. A performer who sings in French and loves a good show. He’s definitely both a child of the 80’s and 20’s and likes to dress up as a mix between Maurice Chevalier en Vanity 6.
About performing on stage
Let’s face it, Grunge killed glamour. It fills me with the utmost dismay to watch a singer behind his microphone, murmuring about how badly he has slept or how tormented he really is. You know why? Because I don’t care. When I take the effort of going to a concert and buying a ticket, I want to be entertained, I want to see an act. When you are performing, a discussion of motives is besides the point. You have to entertain your audience. When you’re rolling over the stage in misery, make sure your rolling is interesting enough to look at. So to disrupt the deathly boredom of most live concerts, I opted for cliché’s. As a performer I see myself as some kind of superhero/singer, a cartoon character who brings his fantasy world into the spotlights.
About being influenced by French songs from the 1920’s and 1930’s
I love the old French chansonniers who were characterized by their suave manner and using a cane and tilted straw hat as their trademarks. Maurice Chevalier, Charles Trenet, they gained international fame as stage personalities because their shows were universal. They were as much suited for Tokyo as for London. Despite the fact that they where singing in French because that kind of stage communication goes beyond words or language.
About todays chanson
In the current generation of French singers I’m missing the edginess, the humour and the unusual. The things that are happening in France, on a musical level, are quite intimate and inwardly. I wanted to break through that trend with a show that goes way back in time but wanted to sauce it with some contemporary music elements. When you are performing with a boater or a cane, everybody knows where you’re heading at. It’s securely etched upon people’s memory. But when you mix that sort of entertainment with a rock band, it starts to get interesting. I feel very comfortable singing French chansons, I feel at home in the tradition of the revues, the cabaret. But that doesn’t mean I have to play the accordion with a bottle of wine next to me. It all lies in finding the right mix.
About his audience
Everybody is who he is and I’m certainly never going to hide my sexual preferences but I’m not aiming for a certaintype of audience, on the contrary. That would be too narrow minded. When I’m on stage I see all different kind of ages looking up and that makes me more than happy. The tongue-in-cheek aspect of my shows could cause eyebrows to be raised, but it doesn’t. It shows that good entertainment tickles all ages. Point taken.
‘By doing what I’m doing and by really going for it, I think I might be more engaged then someone who fulminates against the whole system.’
About being politically correct
I don’t have a political agenda and I certainly don’t have ‘a message’. I love l’art pour l’art. By doing what I’m doing and by really going for it, I think I might be more engaged then someone who fulminates against the whole system. Especially in times like this – with false morality and where they forbid grown up people to smoke – I think following your intuition is the perfect antidote against this childish approach. It’s even more effective then any political or social statement. You don’t have to start kicking at things to make a strong point.
About having fun
My shows are spicy in an old fashioned way. That’s much more pleasant then trying to shock with explicit details. After several decades of stage actors taking off their clothes every two minutes, we’ve seen it all and there’s nothing more to add to it. So it’s much more interesting to suggest things. To have fun. Having fun is much more daring these days then going naked.
I love partying, I love putting together fantastic outfits to set the room on fire until 6 in the morning, but I also love the obviousness of work. Because performing is a job, you have to be in shape. I have a very worked out physique and I do a lot of mental preparation before I step into a tour. When I’m on stage I don’t want to get stuck on having to improvise. I aim for a strict choreography and that needs the necessary discipline.
I’m not the kind of artist who swims into the tribute-circuit but I have a strong bond with the songs of Gainsbourg. I went through his complete oeuvre. There were almost 600 songs from which I chose the ones who resemble my own style. You have to see it as the opposite of a tribute. It’s more like shamelessly using someone else’s work for own purposes. I’m not a fan of Gainsbourg as a singer. He had a grand charisma but his live recordings are exuberantly bad and I’m not a fan of his murmuring, clumsy way of performing. But I truly adore him as a composer and a writer. His music. Gainsbourg is such a rich character. He’s Parisian but also a Russian jew. He was a kinky womaniser but also a grand poet and very funny. He was everything at the same time but I’m going to work with his lyrics, his music and transform it into a Saint-Marteau show. So don’t expect Gitanes and a five o’clock shadow.
About the future
Despite the fact that I consider Belgium a nice place to live and work, I might be ending up living in Paris or Marseilles. Who knows? As long as I can keep on doing what I’m doing because I love my life and I hope to take more advantage of it. But time will tell and you never know how the world will look in about 20 years from now.
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