The singing fool

Do you know which French singer was given the nickname Le Fou Chantant? I’ll give you a clue: one of his most famous songs is called La Mer. You’ve probably heard that song at least once, perhaps in its English version called Beyond the Sea, performed by Bobby Darin and others, and more recently by Robbie Williams for the film Finding Nemo.  No, it was not Debussy, he didn’t sing!

A mural in Narbonne

The singer’s name is Charles Trenet – had you guessed it!?  Charles Trenet was born in Narbonne on May 18, 1913, at a time when his father was notary public in Saint-Chinian, and where Charles spent much of his early years.  Charles’ mother had inherited her parents’ house in Narbonne, which is where Charles Trenet was born.  The house stayed in the Trenet family until Charles donated it to the town of Narbonne, on the proviso that it would be opened to the public as a museum.

I went to visit the Maison Natale de Charles Trenet, which is what the house is called today, during the last European heritage weekend.  A guided visit had been announced for 1:30 pm, and I thought that would be a perfect for my first visit.  When I got there, quite a few people were already waiting.  When the doors opened, a larger than usual number of people were admitted – lucky for me!!  🙂  We were ushered into what had been Charles Trenet’s living room on the ground floor of the house.

You can see that it was a little crowded!  The whole house is furnished as it was when Charles Trenet was still alive.  Here are some shots of the sitting room:

Our guide explained that Charles Trenet redecorated whenever he thought something looked a little shabby.  Consequently, there were four different kinds of wall coverings in the living room! 🙂

From the ground floor, a staircase swept up to the first floor (the second floor if you are in the US) – the mirrored wall in the entrance hall gave the impression of a double flight staircase!

The first floor of the house was the domain of Charles Trenet’s mother.  Here’s her little boudoir:

Next door was the bedroom where Charles was born:

The christening robe of little Charles has been framed and hung on the wall above the bed.

After his mother died, Charles Trenet had a sauna cabin installed In the room next to his mother’s bedroom – the only modification he made to the first floor following his mother’s death.  Apparently he spent half an hour in the sauna every morning – in his later years he attributed his good physical shape and the condition of his voice to that habit.

The bathroom next to the sauna is incredibly dated – I’m not sure which period it is from –  the 60’s or the 70’s?  The large fireclay bathtub in powder blue must weigh a ton, perhaps literally!

Across the hallway from the bathroom is the kitchen, with the same brown tiles as in the bathroom!

Amongst my pictures of the house, I cannot find one of the family dining room – this room was always very crowded during my visit, so perhaps that’s why.

There was another flight of stairs to climb to the second floor (third floor for readers in the US).  One of the walls surrounding the staircase was hung with red drapes.  On the narrow wall there was a picture of Christ on the cross, and the next wall up showed various record covers and publicity shots – a somewhat odd juxtaposition, but whatever…

The second floor was where Charles had his private rooms.  The large sitting room contained many personal mementoes and photographs.  The upright piano is where Charles would have worked on his songs.

His bedroom was next to the sitting room, and it was fairly spartan in its furnishings.

The bathroom next door was of a more recent vintage than his mother’s bathroom.  There were still some toiletries on the shelf above the sink.

Across the hallway from the bathroom was a guest bedroom.  I’m not sure that I could live with that colour scheme 🙂

The kitchen on this floor must have been state-of-the-art at one point!! The wall-mounted refrigerator on the left is from the 1960s.

Charles Trenet had a number of homes in France, but he frequently visited his birthplace and he was always very attached to Narbonne.  I leave you with a song (e-mail subscribers, please visit the website to view the video), and a picture of the bronze statue in the little front garden of the house.

The Maison Natale de Charles Trenet is located at 13 Avenue Charles Trenet in Narbonne, and open to the public every day except on Mondays.  You can find full details here.

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Remembering Charles

I wonder how many of you have heard of the French singer Charles Trenet?  If you haven’t heard of him, you have probably heard one of his songs, perhaps La Mer (Beyond the Sea) or Que reste-t-il de nos amours? (I wish you love).  Both songs have been covered by many artists – have a look for them on the net, you’ll find many of them!  Charles Trenet was a big star in France, and most people know the lyrics to some of his songs.

What the Wikipedia page fails to mention under the heading ‘Early life’, is that Trenet’s father was the notary in Saint-Chinian at the time Charles was born.  Although he was born in Narbonne, little Charles spent his first years in Saint-Chinian, where he took piano lessons from a local music teacher.  The house where the Trenets used to live, is today the Maison des Vins and the veterinary practice – at some time it was divided into two.

Earlier this year year, the municipality of Saint-Chinian decided that it would be fitting to remember the fact that Charles Trenet was once a citizen of Saint-Chinian.  To that end, the Rue de la Promenade was recently re-named  Avenue Charles Trenet!

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The re-naming ceremony took place outside the Maison des Vins, one recent Sunday.  The sun shone, and the atmosphere was festive!  Part of the ceremony was the induction of three of Charles Trenet’s collaborators into the Confrerie des Chevaliers du Saint-Chinian, the Fellowship of the AOC Saint-Chinian.

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Of course there was an aperitif after the official business had been completed!

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The “festivities” continued in the abbatiale, the former abbey church.  Here a monumental picture of Charles Trenet was unveiled, hanging on the end wall.  It looks impressive, doesn’t it??

Jean-Pierre Tutin and Jean-Jaques Debout, both of whom knew Charles Trenet very well, were playing some of the Trenet repertoire, while the rest of us snacked on cheese and apple cake.

Jean-Pierre Tutin

Jean-Pierre Tutin

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Jean-Jacques Debout

You’ll be able to hear Jean-Pierre Tutin in Saint-Chinian later this year, on July 7, 2016, during the music festival.  He will be playing and singing music by Charles Trenet.  I’ll write more about the music festival in due course, once the programme is finalised.

The last event of this day of celebrating Charles Trenet was in the parish church in Saint-Chinian.  Here a recital of the music of Charles Trenet was played on the organ by William Henriet, another Trenet collaborator.  Hearing 20th century music played on an 18th century organ was interesting – let’s leave it at that! 😀

All in all, a great day, and I’m sure there will be more events in Saint-Chinian with a “Trenet” theme.