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  • Writer's picturePhilip Bryer

I'd Rather Jacques

It became a thing in our house for a while that if I was playing a Jacques Brel CD it meant one of two things:

1. I was full to the gills with booze.

2. I had point one in my sights.

Like many, I was led to the originals by those Scott Walker cover versions and, after falling into a Brel-related conversation with the wife of one of Mrs B’s colleagues at a company party, she made me a CD-mix of the real thing. It is the aural equivalent of washing down three packs of Gauloises a day with Shane McGowan’s Christmas order at the off-licence.

Of course, when we planned a long weekend in Brussels years ago, there was one attraction which I insisted we visit: a museum dedicated to the great, tortured artist.

Looking at the website now, it seems they have spruced the place up somewhat. But I reckon a lot of the charm of the previous version has been lost. In our day, one drifted from room to room, here, one done up like a tram; there, a Parisian barroom; another like Jacques’ fifties-style living room with the inevitable rammed-to-the-rafters cocktail cabinet and ashtrays at every turn. Indeed, there seemed to be bottles all over the shop. No doubt in the name of historical accuracy.

Somewhere in each room was a TV with a stubble-faced Brel doing his stuff, sweating up a storm, choking out the all-the-trouble-in-the-world lyrics through a thick cloud of smoke, chuffing on his ciggy between verses, and tipping back a large absinthe as he relayed the wreckage of his life to an adoring public.

What larks!

I don’t listen to Jacques Brel much anymore, mind you, I don’t drink so much, either. I wonder whether the two things are connected?

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