Live Review | The Wheelhouse, Wombwell | Review by Allan Wilkinson
Hedley Jones, the host of the Barnsley House Concerts, which are regularly held at his home in Wombwell, was given the first opportunity to fly the French tricolore above the Wheelhouse tonight, in honour of his French guest; an honour that has up to now been bestowed on predominantly American and Canadian visitors to the venue. Flossie Malavialle’s debut was well received by an enthusiastic audience made up of friends and fans alike, all who were well aware of Flossie’s exceptionally versatile voice and eclectic taste in songs and songwriters as diverse as the Beatles, Janis Ian and Colum Sands to Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel, with the odd Janis Joplin thrown in for good measure. Speaking to Flossie earlier in the evening I asked the singer about her early influences and what she might have heard around the house in back in Nimes. “Originally, when I was a kid, it was mainly Classical music because my mum was playing the piano and she had a piano in the house, so she used to play all these beautiful pieces. When I was about ten or eleven I was given as a Christmas present the Red album by the Beatles The Beatles: 1962-1966, double compilation and I started listening to The Beatles. I absolutely love their music and became a fan really. I just love their music so much. Another Christmas, I was very lucky at Christmas, I got a guitar that all my family paid money towards and started playing the songs that I was singing most of the time, which were the Beatles songs and so that’s how it started”. With an almost insatiable appetite for songs from just about all imaginable genres, Flossie soon gravitated to the local live music scene in France, joining several bands whose repertoire expansion was necessary entertainment and dancing to. “I got involved in more music with bands in France and started singing loads of different things, variety mainly, stuff that was played on the radio, because we were there to entertainment people and make them dance, so I had to sing loads of different styles of music, which was a fantastic school really, to develop your ear and understanding of how it worked and singing with other people as well, learning how to sing in harmony”. Tonight at the Wheelhouse, starting with the Eagles classic “Peaceful Easy Feeling”, Flossie soon had the audience on her side with her infectious personality and diverse repertoire. The slower tender ballads such as Keith Pearson’s “More Hills to Climb” and Colum Sands’ “The Child Who Asks Why” were augmented by a more rockier bluesier side of Flossie with interpretations of out and out rockers such as Bonnie Raitt’s “The Road’s My Middle Name” and Marilyn Middleton’s raucous “Wild Women”. It is however with songs of Flossie’s native tongue that make the hairs on the back of the neck stand up. As an ambassador of French song, Flossie delivers fine interpretations of French chanson with songs such as “La Vie En Rose” made famous by Edith Piaf and “Les Feuilles Mortes”, better known to Jazz lovers as “Autumn Leaves”, but adopting the French Yves Montand version and most significantly, Jacques Brel’s haunting “Amsterdam”, which opened Flossie’s second set tonight. I asked Flossie whether she felt it was something of a struggle to have songs in the French language cross over into the mainstream anglosphere. “In France we get all the UK charts and all the American charts. Anything you will hear over here, we have in France as well, but the other way around is not true. We have our own French singers and bands as well but you never hear them, or very rarely you get to hear them on the UK radio. I think it’s mainly because French as a language is not maybe as well-known as English. It’s the international language and everybody has to speak it, it’s a very powerful language as such, but yes it’s true, apart from the older generation of singers like Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel. People over here would have heard these people and Sacha Distel too, I know they were popular in England, whereas the present French people actually singing now in France, you never get to hear them. I think the only one who made it was Vanessa Paradis with “Joe Le Taxi” and that’s a song that people remember”. It was clear tonight at the wheelhouse that the majority of the audience relished in the fact that songs were being sung in the French language and it transpires that this is the attitude of Flossie’s fans up and down the country. With two albums celebrating the songs of Piaf and Brel, Flossie explains what it means to have these songs accepted in the UK. “The Flossie Sings Brel album was released in 2007 and that coincided with a show I did at the Darlington Arts Centre, in the theatre, which was all in French with a mixture of Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel songs. I already had an album of Edith Piaf songs, so I decided to record an album of Jacques Brel songs to complement it. We had to work towards the album so it was ready for the concert. The concert was a sell-out, which was really in some ways for me absolutely amazing because the whole evening was in French. The theatre can hold up to 320 people who all came to listen to French music, which was amazing, the power of French music. It was Piaf and Brel, two well-known names of the music but really I couldn’t believe it. Even the people of Darlington said they never thought that one day a French woman would actually fill the theatre with French songs”. It’s not just songs in the French language that appeals to Flossie, who has also recorded songs in English and Spanish. “I think people like to hear the songs in their original language and what they say to me is, we love it when you sing in French, we don’t understand a thing but it just sounds nice. It sounds exotic I suppose. I also do a traditional song in Spanish and I obviously tend to explain what the song is about but people do like to hear the song. Once they know what it’s about, even if they don’t understand every individual word, they do like to know what the song is about and they enjoy it even more”. I suggested that it seems to be reminiscent of Opera, where even though much of it is sung in the Italian language, it appears not to confuse the genre’s vast worldwide audience. “It’s the emotion, that’s what it is and that’s the power of music, it doesn’t matter which language you sing it in, it’s the emotion in the voice and what you can convey through your voice, your instrument basically, that’s what it is”. Flossie’s sense of humour was not only apparent in her between song patter, but also in one or two of the performance, particularly Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” with Flossie’s delightfully quirky impression of a stoned Janis Joplin. Currently a very busy travelling singer, Flossie has just completed a successful tour with Show of Hands, which has brought her to a much wider audience. “I was lucky enough to be chosen by Show of Hands to do their support for their County Towns tour, which started at the end of September and finished last week in Cornwall and so it was absolutely fantastic. We played in beautiful venues, some of them were like a thousand people in there, some two hundred, but the whole experience was great and the guys (Steve Knightley and Phil Beer) and Miranda Sykes who was playing with them on the tour, are really really fantastic people, lovely and selfless people and I was honoured to be part of this whole adventure”. Fulfilling her original plan of travelling as much as possible after twelve years of teaching English full time in secondary schools in the South of France, Flossie has said that she would love her music to take her around the world so that she can discover other cultures, languages, foods and music etc. With another major tour planned for early next year, Flossie is truly spreading her wings. “I’m flying to France for a holiday, obviously for Christmas with my family and then I’m back for a couple of gigs in the region and beyond in January and then at the end of January there’s a second tour starting, this one with Keith Donnelly and I’m going to be singing his compositions. We recorded an album of his songs in the middle of the last tour and with this we are going to be doing the support for Fairport Convention on their Wintour, which starts at the end of January and ends on the 6th March, so another adventure”. Flossie made it clear tonight that the size of her audience makes absolutely no difference to her, whether it’s a 1000 seater in Chichester, a 145 seater in Darlington or a house concert in Wombwell, where you know just about everyone by name. The numbers don’t matter as long as those in the audience can take something special away with them after a show. “It’s fantastic if you can do this. If you can relate to a sentiment in a song then it’s great that you can share that with people. It’s a whole experience of life in a couple of hours and if people leave the room with a smile on their faces, forget about the credit crunch, what credit crunch, for two hours then you’re somewhere else, dreaming of other things and it’s great if we can do that. It’s just fantastic to be doing something that you enjoy so much and being able to share it with people who enjoy it as much as you do, what more could you want? It beats teaching definitely! Finishing with the Edith Piaf classic “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien”, better known as “No Regrets” and a final encore of Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz”, this time more sober than the earlier “Me and Bobby McGee”, Flossie raised her bottle of water, mingled for a while with her audience, then left for a well-deserved return to France to be with her family for the festive season, leaving a satisfied gathering once again at the Wheelhouse.