Translating Brassens is a subjective process.
It is the author as much as the songs that I try to convey. These songs are personal interpretations that strive to respect the spirit of Brassens while addressing the linguistic and cultural differences between French and English. It can be done to the extent that English speakers can appreciate in their mother tongue some of the verve, musicality and genius of a great wordsmith.
My goal is to end up with a song that flows and holds together, remains faithful to the original, and doesn’t sound “translated”. I have no qualms about taking liberties (see Melanie) —huge ones at times (Le roi)— in the process, but in so doing I imagine having Tonton Georges looking over my shoulder and nodding his approval with a puff of pipe smoke, should he ever have spoken English.
Georges Brassens recorded 119 original songs over three decades, from 1952 until 1976. In addition, he set to music 16 works from some of his favourite poets. All of these, plus three recited poems, constitute Brassens’ official recorded work. It spans 12 recordings that were eventually released as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12. This is the body of work that interests me.
Since Brassens’ premature departure from the mortal scene in 1981, unreleased songs and texts in various states of completion have sprung to life. Who is to say what Tonton Georges would have done with them? More gems lurk, waiting to be mined… here are those I chiseled for now.
I’ve looked for translations of his songs before and I’ve never found any that captured Brassens’ wit and earthiness – until now. Thank you so much for a superb job of translating the songs, or rather, of making it look like they have always existed in English. Your voice is perfectly matched to the material and conveys the same warmth as le Bon Maître. I’ll keep an eye on your touring schedule and try to get to see you whenever you come to the South of France. Tom Kennedy, France