Christine Bovill is back at The Edinburgh Festival Fringe performing at The New Town Theatre in George Street with a run of dates of her ever popular Christine Bovill’s Paris show, and included in two of those dates (this show and 27th August) are shows dedicated solely to the most iconic performer of “Chansons Francaises” in the history of French 20th century music – the legendary Edith Piaf.
Christine Bovill’s Piaf show is a very personal show from Christine, a heartfelt tribute from her to a woman and a performer for whom she has somehow, through the songs that she sang, found an almost spiritual connection with. This show is however absolutely no “Tribute Show” in the sense that many such shows have become - Christine Bovill is the first person to point out that she looks and sounds nothing like Edith Piaf. Why then do so many people fill out whatever venue Christine is playing this show at across the world? The answer is simple – Christine Bovill the singer and interpreter of these songs, the songs themselves, and of course the enduring, now almost mythical figure of Edith Piaf herself.
Christine Bovill is a talented songwriter and performer in her own right and does so much work that is different from these “Piaf” and “Paris” shows, but this is where it all started, this is where a teenage girl who didn’t even like learning French at school in Glasgow heard for the first time on a vinyl record the voice of Edith Piaf singing in English then turned over the album (note for anyone not old enough to know, but you could do that with vinyl records – honestly) to the French language side and began slowly to learn French to understand the songs better. A mixture of the pain and honesty in Edith Piaf’s voice, and the stories in these songs captivated Christine Bovill for the rest of her life.
Tonight’s show takes us back to the very beginning of the Edith Piaf story, and very close to the end of it. Through these songs and the words and music of now legendary songwriters like Charles Dumont, Georges Moustaki and Michel Rivgauche we get a true feel for the essence of “Chansons Francaises” and Edith Piaf. There is another Piaf Show in this Edinburgh Festival Fringe run, so I don’t want to give too many of the songs or the stories behind them in Christine’s set away as there are some surprises. I am giving no secrets away though by telling you that there are outstanding performances here of Edith Piaf’s two most iconic songs - “La Vie En Rose” and “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien”. Oddly enough though, these are not my favourite Piaf songs, these are always for me “Mon Dieu”, and probably the most beautiful love song ever written – the heart-breaking “Hymne à l'amour”, Edith Piaf’s farewell to the only real true love of her life, her beloved Marcel Cerdan. Christine of course, performs both of these songs with emotional performances that bring both of them truly to life on stage.
This show (like the "Paris" one ) is as simple in format as you can get. No gimmicks, no fancy stage sets, just Christine Bovill performing the songs and the equally impressive talents of Michael Roulston accompanying her on piano....and it works wonderfully.
If you have any liking whatsoever for the songs of Edith Piaf and Chansons Francaises in general then Christine Bovill is one performer that you cannot afford to miss singing them. These songs are immortal, they are stories of true lives, true love and true tragedy perfectly captured in word and music. At times, they are almost people’s lives distilled down to three minutes or so of song. I have a belief that words and music are magical, they almost have their own spirits, and in the hands of some very special people – writers, poets, musicians, they can become reality. What made Edith Piaf so special was her ability to somehow capture the essence of these wonderful songs and become the people in their stories. Few performers have that special ability to become a muse for the words and music, but Christine Bovill is one of those rare performers too, and watching her not sing, but live these songs and the lives on the people in them is amazing to watch as for the few minutes of each song, they do come to life on stage. This rare ability to breath life into words and music and a deep love of them and of course Edith Piaf is why Christine Bovill sells out these shows everywhere they are performed.
Modern reality television has sadly spawned a generation of singers who think that the words of a song and the story of the people in it matter little and that volume of voice is everything regardless of the emotions of the song; they are so wrong. For any aspiring singers out there, go along and watch any Christine Bovill performance and you will learn more in an hour or so about how to emote a song than years at any stage or performance school will ever teach you
Review by Tom King