The Port Of Amsterdam


Brel’s birthday and Jon says, “I was only dimly aware of Jacques Brel when Pete Flood and Brendan Kelly from Bellowhead suggested we try this song out. I’m still yet to look much deeper into his work, but he was clearly an extraordinary poet and performer.”

My own introduction to Brel strated with Scott Walker and that came courtesy of Julian Cope, who compiled The Godlike Genius Of… LP in the early 80s. I subsequently became aware of If You Go Away (that I now understand to be a slightly ropy translation), especially Dusty’s version and Terry Jacks’ Seasons In The Sun. I’ve still only dabbled and I suppose part of the problem is that I never got very far with O Level French, although some of it lingers. So, French and Brel. Hmmmm. Another project then and probably as unrealistic as a sudden urge, based on Sunday’s post, to dive into Shakespeare. On the strength of this, however, does anyone fancy forming a free ranging study group? Start with the bio page on Wiki but do follow some of the song title links through. The Lines about the raindrops in Ne Me Quitte Pas quite brought a tear to my eye. This is a brilliant song, partially because of the purloining of the Greensleeves melody, but sung in a way that quite stopped me in my tracks this morning.



28 Responses to “The Port Of Amsterdam”

  1. Jo says:

    First came across Jacques Brel as a lovelorn teenager drawn to all things melancholy. I love this song and cried the first time I heard the Bellowhead version as it took me back to my youth. So thanks Jon – a good night with Spiers and Boden last night and a great start to the day!

  2. Phil says:

    Help! My comments are all going into mod limbo!

  3. Phil says:

    “Seasons in the Sun” is a sentimentalised travesty of the original Brel. In the original the last line of every verse except the last is “…I know you’ll take good care of my wife”, & the last but one – addressed to his best friend – ends with “and since you’re already having an affair with her, I know you’ll take good care of my wife”! (The last verse is addressed to the wife – “because of all I’ve put up with, I know you’ll take good care of my memory”.) I worked out a translation once and sang it at the local folk club, but never wrote it down.

  4. Jane Ramsden says:

    Wonderfully well sung, Jon! Yes, a definite track-stopper!

    And thank you, Skyman, for the informative Brel Wiki link. I can live without saccharin ‘Seasons In The Sun’ but have long admired ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas.’ Amazing how many different singers have recorded versions of it. I ought to put my language degree to some use and delve a bit more into his work. Too many cats… too little time …

  5. steve Fielding says:

    Bowie sings a pretty good version of this

  6. SRD says:

    Not nearly as bad as I’d feared after Jon’s trip into Brecht/Weill, in fact it’s quite good. I know that sounds terribly patronising, and I don’t really mean to be never having the ability or guts to do it myself.
    I always feel that Brel doesn’t need translating, the strength of the songs comes through without a need for complete understanding. Hence my despair at such wishy-washy versions as have been made in the past, but Jon does get the mix of anger and pathos about right, although personally I prefer a bit more anger, more like the Bowie rendition.

  7. Muzza(N.W.Surrey. UK) says:

    ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas.’…… that French for …’I can’t give up smoking’?..

    Another song with an unsavoury subject…why would one sing of such things when one can sing about nightingales, fair maids, cows winding oer the lea…et al…..I ask yer!

  8. Diana says:

    This is one of those songs that the more you hear it the more you like it. Jon’s solo and Bellowhead’s version are both good. I remember hearing Brel’s singing this in his distinctive voice, but also remember Scott Walker’s version but have never heard Bowie do it.

    Muzza do agree with you it is rather a strange song and who eats “fish heads” I wonder?

  9. Steve says:

    Pity you didn’t write down your translation of Brel’s Le Moribond, Phil. I’d love to learn it.

  10. Diana says:

    Try Youtube – Brel sings in French but with English subtitles.

  11. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Steve: Or here’s another transalation, and written down, from Dermott’s Place on WordPress:

    But since we are doing links and it is Easter Sunday, here’s Tom Waits on YouTube doing his ‘Chocolate Jesus’ – Immaculate confection! That’s probably about as religious as I get… Yes, folk(ie)s! Ted is full of mini-eggs and back with a vengeance!

  12. Jane Ramsden says:

    More serious contemplation from Good Friday was ‘The Preston Passion’ live on BBC1 at midday. Very well put together and very affecting, with 3 tableaux from 1842, the First World War (particularly moving) and present day. 5 days left, if anyone wants to watch it. Well worth the hour, and can be found on iPlayer via this link:

    I was naturally interesTed in the dark satanic (cotton) mill history and the analogy with Samuel Horrocks, mill owner and mayor, reading the Riot Act, but washing his hands like Pontius Pilat. (I believe he was an MP for 30 years, but was known as the Silent Member, which says it all.) Four men died in the riot, and a brief history can be found at this Wiki link:

  13. Jane Ramsden says:

    However, if one compares the Preston Strike of 1842 with the Calton Weavers of Glasgow (previously mentioned on AFSAD under ‘Sweet Mossam’) striking for a living wage amongst mill workers is a repeat history. 6 workers were killed in Calton in 1787, as per this repeat link:

    And there was the famous Lister’s Mill strike in Bradford, Dec 1890 to Apr 1891, which led to the formation of the Independent Labour Party 3 years later, as discussed on here under ‘Doffin’ Mistress’ (which is of course about a Lancashire cotton mill, so we come full circle.) If this is what happened in mills across 3 different places and across 100+ years, basic socialism doesn’t appear to come naturally, but has to be nurtured and re-nurtured.

    Here endeth Ted’s Easter message of ‘look after your fellow beings’… it’s all in the songs…

    And now need to play multi-catch up on said songs, as been away several days! May have to wait ’til tomorrow though, as off out for Easter meal. Folk will be played!

  14. Jane Ramsden says:

    Mention of Spiers and Boden in the first comment leads me to post the latest tour dates. Might get to one of them! ‘Arrygate, as we call it round ‘ere, might be the nearest:

  15. Diana says:

    Well done Jane – verily a wealth of information – I do remember the “Doffin Mistress” notes, re: Listers but well worth a repeat. Followed your link to Tom Waits but not struck. Still you did well on link for Brel much better than my hint.

    I do like Muzza’s idea of “Ne me quitte pas” is giving up smoking but of course you and I know it is”Don’t leave me”.
    As for the Preston Passion I am sbout to see some of it now cos after your remarks it has taken my interest. So off I go!

  16. Jan says:

    Nice to see you back on form, Jane With lots of interesting info and links. Where would we be without you?

  17. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Diana and Jan: Thanks for your kind remarks. We are all Ladies of Letters on here, but there are also some Laddies of Letters as well!

  18. Linda says:

    This version sounds a lot more mellow than the rather “gritty” Bellowhead version like both .
    @Diana Bellowhead at Buxton

  19. Jane Ramsden says:

    As promised under yesterday’s song (and for the second time, since I lost the completed review last night – grrrr!), here is a sampler session of the lovely Gill Sandell & considerably-talented accompanying musicians whom I saw at Halifax Square Chapel on Sunday 6th.

    Part of Gill’s biographical notes on her website read: “Gill Sandell has developed rapidly as an independent singer/songwriter and guitarist in the last few years. She also plays accordion and flute, and sings backing vocals, as part of Emily Barker [of the Wallender ‘Nostalgia’ theme-tune fame] & The Red Clay Halo, and collaborates regularly with other musicians and bands. Her debut album ‘Tarry Awhile’ has contributions from fellow band-members of The Red Clay Halo, Timothy Victor’s Folk Orchestra, and Magoo. The second album ‘Light The Boats’ – released 16 September 2013 – also features guest appearances from Adrian Crowley and Chris T‑T. Her lyrical modernist folk and sweet delivery conceal a dry wit and some darkly complex and carefully nuanced song-writing.”

    New to me, I can heartily concur with that last line. Gill’s soft, clear, ethereal, girlie-feminine voice juxtaposes with some meaty-muscular song-writing. The lyrics, & you can hear every word live, are interesting and thought-provoking.

    Accompanied by Anna Jenkins (violin/Red Clay Halo), Jo Silverston (cello/Red Clay Halo) and Ted Barnes (guitar/10 years touring with Beth Orton), these are also accomplished, experienced, multi-instrumentalist talented musicians, all on Gill’s 2nd CD ‘Light The Boats,’ which I bought.

    I particularly like the eerie, yet restful, quality of some songs. Particular favourites are ‘Distance’ and ‘Sickle Swing,’ but samples of all tracks can be heard on Gill’s website. For more information (including tidbits like Gill used to be in a band managed by Ricky Gervais for 6 months, before he decided his future lay elsewhere!) visit:

    Here are YouTube links to the songs ‘Distance’

    and ‘Sickle Swing’ – love it! – complete with lyrics, & a boat! I bought that badge!

    There are plenty of other live YouTube videos – love your bird print skirt, Gill! But don’t forget to make some Easter rabbit badges next time! Lol.

  20. Linda says:

    Think this is one of those love it or hate it songs…I quite like it.

  21. Linda says:

    Fay on Radio 3 today from Hull ……..think its on in the afternoon between 2 and 4 check programming….still like this song

  22. Linda says:

    Glad Pete Flood and Brendan Kelly suggested this one… two completely different versions but like both…

  23. Linda says:

    Marmite day…..Hate marmite but I like this song amazing how this version and the Bellowhead version are so differant

  24. Linda says:

    Here again Muzza Watched a documentary on Brel a while back very interesting man…..

  25. Jane (Maryland, US) says:

    I wondered why someone would observe “Marmite day”. (National holiday? Weekly day to eat Marmite?) A bit of googling revealed that Marmite is a well-known British metaphor for an acquired taste or something that people either love or hate. This site is educational in many ways!

  26. OldMuzza(NW Surrey UK) says:

    Hooray Jane (Maryland US)…….so good to see that you have given a clue to your whereabouts…..I have been trying to get folk to do this for years.
    Welcome to the AFSAD blog….unfortunately, it’s not so chatty these days.
    One word of warning….I like Marmite…..and if YOU ever get to try it….. for heavens sake don’t spread it on too thick

  27. Linda says:

    I like this song but sorry don’t like marmite….

  28. Linda says:

    Muzza its the marmite song again !!!!!

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