On 28 October 1973, Yorkshire singer songwriter Jake Thackray played a concert in Cardiff that he later described as the high point of his career.
It was the inaugural concert of the newly opened Sherman Theatre and Colin Evans, Reader in French at Cardiff University and friend of Thackray’s, had astonishingly persuaded French chanson ‘superstar’ Georges Brassens to play his one and only UK concert alongside Jake.
Little known outside of France, Brassens was a huge star in his own country and one of the most-celebrated French singers of the 20th century. During a career of nearly 30 years, Brassens sold more than 20 million records and in 1967 was awarded the poetry prize of the Académie Française.
Jake Thackray compared himself to Brassens (in typically self-deprecating style) as a ‘little known two-bit singer from Leeds’. Yet at this time Thackray was in fact at the height of his own fame having already made over 150 TV and radio appearances, often before audiences of millions on programmes such as Braden’s Week, The Beryl Reid Show and Look North. Thackray had also (briefly) fronted his own show Jake on the Box.
The Yorkshireman had become infatuated with Brassens’ songwriting and performances in the late 1950s whilst teaching in France, describing the Frenchman as ‘the best of the very best of all songwriters’. Thackray had modelled his own writing and performing styles on those of his chansonniere hero writing satirical, intelligent, hilarious, moving, irreverent and politically incorrect songs that were delivered in a deadpan style with no hint of ‘showbiz-iness or show-off-iness’. Jake’s songs also comprised stories peopled with unlikely yet instantly recognisable characters, decrying the bigot and the pompous while celebrating the despised and dispossessed. Like Brassens, Thackray employed a simple, artless delivery: one foot up on a small stool, a single microphone and part plucking, part strumming a nylon string guitar.
On 14 November 2017, at the Sherman Theatre, John Watterson, Jake’s biographer and the UKs foremost interpreter of Jake Thackray’s work, plus special guests Mark Goodall and his band Rudolf Rocker, renowned performers of Brassens’ songs, will celebrate that event that took place 44 years ago. The evening will start with some wonderful examples of Brassens songs sung in English. Then John will perform a mixture of Thackray classics performed at the 1973 concert along with a number of ‘lost’ songs written by Thackray but never released, uncovered during the research for John’s forthcoming biography of the singer. All this will be interwoven with stories about the original concert and some never heard before anecdotes from the biography.
Whether you are an ardent fan or new to the work of Thackray and Brassens, this promises to be a highly entertaining celebration of the work of two superb songwriters, full of fun, wit, warmth and wisdom.