Francis Cabrel was born in Agen (a town in the Lot et Garonne region in the South of France) on November 23 1953. But, shortly after Francis's birth, his family (who had emigrated to France from Frioul in Italy) moved to Astaffort, near Toulouse. Young Francis came from a modest background - his father worked in a cake factory, while his mother was employed as a cashier in a local cafeteria. But his childhood was a happy time. Growing up near the coast with his sister Martine and younger brother, Philippe, young Francis would spend his spare time fishing or playing 'boules'.
Young Francis grew up to be a shy, rather solitary adolescent. But the music which Francis discovered in his early teens was to bring him out of his shell and radically change the rest of his life. Bowled over by Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone", Francis immediately rushed out to buy a guitar (an act which, he later claimed, would make him a more 'interesting' figure to his peers). Francis also began composing his first songs and by the age of 16 he already knew that for him music was not a passing hobby but a veritable vocation. Francis's major influences in those early days were Neil Young, Leonard Cohen and, of course, Bob Dylan and the young boy would sit in front of the record-player for hours, translating his musical heroes' songs into French.
Expelled from the local lycée at the end of the lower 6th form, because of a series of disciplinary problems, Francis found himself a job in a shoe shop. But his passion for music was as strong as ever and he spent all his free time writing songs and practising his guitar. Francis soon joined the group Ray Frank et les Jazzmen and began performing gigs with them in local bars and clubs. The group went on to change their name to Les Gaulois, because all the members of the group had the same huge moustache. Francis, who was going through something of a hippie phase at the time, was no exception. He wore his hair long and grew a moustache big enough to cover the lower half of his face.
Francis eventually left the Jazzmen to concentrate on his solo career. In the autumn of 1974 the young singer took part in a contest organised by Sud Radio (the jury included a host of up-and-coming musicians such as Daniel and Richard Seff). Francis made it through to the final and went on to win the first prize of 2,000 francs with his song "Petite Marie", dedicated to his wife Mariette. Yet it was the Seff Brothers not Francis Cabrel who were offered a recording contract by CBS later that year.
Three years later, however, Francis Cabrel finally struck lucky, CBS releasing his début album "Ma ville" as part of their Nouvelle Chanson Française campaign. This first album contained a number of good melodies but Cabrel, succumbing to pressure from the marketing department of CBS, did not really get his true personality across. Indeed the version of "Petite Marie" on this first album is almost unrecognisable, the CBS producer having done his utmost to efface Cabrel's distinctive Southern accent. (Incidentally, Cabrel has now absolutely disowned this version of "Petite Marie"). After supporting the singer Dave for an entire month at the prestigious Olympia concert hall in Paris, Cabrel went on to win "Le Prix du Public" at the Spa Festival in Belgium in 1978.
1979 - Cabrel records his legendary album "Je l'aime a mourir"
Cabrel returned to the recording studio in 1979. This time round a more mature experienced Cabrel, familiar with the recording process, managed to impose his own style on the album. "Les chemins de traverse", released in 1979, went on to be a huge hit. Despite the fact that it was completely out of keeping with the French disco boom of the late 70's, the first single "Je l'aime à mourir" proved phenomenally successful (selling over 2 million copies!) Album sales promptly rocketed to 500,000 and Francis Cabrel found himself transformed from an anonymous singer into a national star almost overnight.
In 1980 Cabrel's third album, "Fragile", confirmed him as a gifted singer and sensitive songwriter. The moving love song "L'Encre de tes yeux" soared to the top of the charts, increasing Cabrel's strong following of fans. The second single, an r'n'b ballad entitled "La Dame de Haute Savoie", introduced a new Cabrel style, the singer replacing his traditional acoustic guitar with an electric one for the very first time.
Cabrel, who did not fit easily into the showbiz mould, was becoming increasingly torn between his professional life in Paris and his quiet personal life in his native South, far from the glare of the cameras. His new album, "Carte postale", released in 1981, reflected this split. Nostalgic ballads about country life in the French provinces stood alongside songs denouncing the hustle and bustle of city life and urban aggression. The singles - "Carte postale", "Répondez-moi" and "Chauffard" - reflected Cabrel's personal feelings on his lightning rise to fame and the ensuing upheaval in his personal life.
Cabrel's fifth album, "Quelqu'un de l'intérieur", released in 1983, appeared to mark a turning-point in his career. The most striking visual evidence of this was the album cover which displayed a photo of a new-look Cabrel with a short hair cut. The lyrics also marked a new departure, Cabrel turning his gaze from quiet introspection to take a look at what was happening in the outside world. Cabrel's songs were infused with a new social conscience - "Saïd et Mohamed" exploring the problems of newly-arrived immigrants, "Leïla et les chasseurs" denouncing macho behaviour and "Les chevaliers cathares" paying tribute to the little-known Occitan culture in the South of France.
Cabrel began to devote an increasing amount of time and energy to his recording schedule. In 1985 the album "Photos de voyage" carried on in the same vein as "Quelq'un de l'intérieur", the lyrics if anything taking a more explicit political stand. The song "Gitans" was an open attack on everyday racism, "Lisa" dealt with dissidents in the USSR while the title track "Photos de voyage" recounted tales of poverty and misery in the Third World. Meanwhile, Cabrel at the very height of his media fame, was toying with the idea of abandoning his singing and songwriting career altogether.
But his daughter Aurélie's christening persuaded him to take up his pen again and he wrote "Il faudra leur dire", a moving song with lyrics simple enough to be performed by children. The first version of the song, performed by a choir of children from Cabrel's hometown Astaffort, provided the soundtrack for a documentary about leukemia. Yet the song soon caught on and Cabrel went into the studio to record it in the best possible conditions with the Asnières Children's Choir. When it was released as a single later that year "Il faudra leur dire" rocketed straight to the top of the French Top 50, staying at the n°1 spot for several weeks.
1989 - Sales of "Sarbacane" top the 2 million mark
Cabrel fans had to wait another three years for the singer's new album. Indeed, the singer spent months honing the new songs on "Sarbacane" to perfection, working out the musical arrangements and recording part of them in a makeshift studio he had set up in his own home. "Sarbacane", undoubtedly one of Cabrel's finest works, proved an enormous hit with the public, selling almost 2 million copies. The singles "Sarbacane" (dedicated to his daughter) and "C'est écrit" also did incredibly well in the charts. By now Francis Cabrel had become one of the most popular recording stars on the French music scene and his life was one busy whirl of TV and radio interviews, autograph signing and promotion. Naturally, a tour was called for and Cabrel soon set off on an extensive tour - which included hundreds of dates in the provinces as well as several concerts at the Zénith in Paris - accompanied by his faithful musicians Gérard Bikialo (on keyboards), Denys Lable (on guitar) and Bernard Paganotti (on bass).
Meanwhile, Cabrel continued his work on behalf of humanitarian associations and charities, taking part in the famous "Soirée des Enfoirés" to raise money for the Restos du Coeur (the charity set up by the late great comedian Coluche to help the homeless). He also recorded compilation albums with other French stars on behalf of AIDS charities such as Sol En Si (Solidarité Enfant Sida) and Urgence. In 1990 Cabrel embarked upon a mini tour with singer Dick Rivers, delighting audiences with their re-worked versions of American rock'n'roll classics. This mini tour, performed without the slightest bit of publicity in smaller, more intimate venues such as the Bataclan in Paris, allowed Cabrel to make closer contact with his fans and wind down a little after his busy promotional schedule earlier in the year.
Following several more months of intensive touring, which took Cabrel all over Europe, South America and Quebec, the singer released a triple live album entitled "D'une ombre à l'autre". The 43 tracks on this mega opus included memorable acoustic versions of Cabrel's greatest hits.
Cabrel fans had to wait another three years for the release of any new Cabrel material, the renowned perfectionist shutting himself away in the studio for months on end to work on his next album. "Un samedi soir sur la terre", the singer's eagerly-awaited 8th album, was finally released in 1994. Musically things had changed little from the early days - Cabrel was still surrounded by his loyal group of musicians and the guitar remained the most distinctive feature of the "Cabrel" sound. But the song-writing was more expressive than ever. Twenty years after "Petite Marie" the new singles "Je t'aimais, je t'aime, je t'aimerai" and "La Cabane du pêcheur" displayed extremely mature, sophisticated lyrics. One of the most outstanding tracks on the new album was undoubtedly "Corrida", Cabrel's attack on the cruel sport of bull-fighting. The album was followed by a new tour and a series of memorable concerts in Paris - at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées, the Olympia and the Zénith. In February 1995 the music profession honoured Cabrel at the annual "Victoires de la Musique" awards ceremony, presenting him with an award for Best Album of 94 (for "Un samedi soir sur la terre"). Later that year Cabrel went on to win Le Trophée RFI/ Conseil de la Francophonie for his hit single "Je t'aimais, je t'aime, je t'aimerai".
Throughout his career Cabrel has tried hard to keep out of the media spotlight, leading a quiet life with his wife and two daughters. Yet the singer was prepared to become a prominent figure in his local community, working as a councillor and organising cultural events in Astaffort. It was Cabrel, for instance, who organised the "Rencontres d'Astaffort', a gathering of young singer/songwriters who came to the town for training and advice. Cabrel also proved himself to be an enthusiastic entrepreneur, setting up his own label Cargo with Charles Talar in 1995. The first artists the pair signed to their new label were Vincent Baguian and Michel Françoise.
In 1997 Cabrel continued his charity work, performing a tour with a host of French stars including Maurane, Michel Jonasz and Maxime Le Forestier, to raise money for the children's AIDS charity Sol en Si. Cabrel's live performances continued to attract a huge turn-out, his fans rightly suspecting that a new Cabrel album would not appear for another few years.
1997 also saw the publication of "Hors Saison", a photo album of Cabrel portraits taken by Claude Gassian. A special bonus CD accompanied the book, featuring the duet "Vengo a ofrecer mi corazon", which Cabrel recorded in Spanish with the Argentinean star Mercedes Sosa. The song, recorded at the Francofolies Festival in Buenos Aires, received a massive amount of airplay which encouraged Cabrel to release it as a single. (This was not the first time that the singer had recorded his songs in Spanish. The release of the album "Sarbacane" coincided with the recording of an entire album in Spanish, which featured new versions of the singer's greatest hits).
Cabrel rocketed back into the French music news on 30 March 1999 with a new CD album entitled "Hors Saison" (Out of Season). The album generated a huge amount of interest among fans and music critics alike, as it was Cabrel's first new album in five years. Recorded with the same crack team who had joined the singer in the studio for his last two albums (i.e. Manu Katché, Gérard Bikialo and Bernard Paganotti), "Hors Saison" did not mark a radical departure from Cabrel's usual style. Not surprisingly, "Presque rien", the first single release, received an impressive amount of airplay on French radio. And a few months later sales of the album "Hors saison" topped the 1 million mark, earning Cabrel a diamond disc!
Encouraged by the success of "Hors Saison", Cabrel kicked off a new tour at Le Zénith in Caen, going on to perform a long stint at the Olympia in Paris (28 September - 9 October). Ten days later Cabrel brought the house down at Le Zénith in Paris. Appearing on stage against a pared-down minimalist décor with eight musicians, the singer was supported by Quebecois diva Isabelle Boulay who, once her own set was finished, joined Cabrel on stage for a special duet. Cabrel brought his highly successful tour to a close in December '99.
The atmosphere of Cabrel's acoustic/electric tour was captured on a 3-set live album, "Double tour", released in 2000. In January 2000 and 2001 the singer went on to take part in the "Enfoirés" fund-raising tours, from which all profits were donated to "Les Restaurants du cœur" (a feed-the-homeless charity set up by the late French comedian Coluche).
Cabrel, who has built up a huge following of loyal fans both at home and abroad, is renowned for his modesty. Throughout his career the singer has done his utmost to keep his personal life out of the media spotlight and in his early interviews he showed himself to be an extremely shy person. In more recent interviews this timidity has given way to a more relaxed attitude and a mischievous sense of humour, which has only served to increase Cabrel's immense popularity.
2004 : "Les Beaux Dégâts"
While Cabrel continued his involvement with humanitarian projects, he eventually dropped his role in local politics. Considering that he had achieved his goals (which included renovating and re-opening an arts venue and a school), the singer did not stand in the next elections to prolong his position on Astaffort's local council.
Meanwhile, on the music front, Cabrel returned to the stage to take part in a series of concerts entitled "Autour du blues." These concerts, where Cabrel performed alongside international artists such as Patrick Verbeke, Tanya Saint Val and Beverly Jo Scott, resulted in two live albums (released in 2001 and 2003). The "Autour du blues" concerts also gave Cabrel the opportunity of working with the American musician David Johnson, who guested as sax-player on Cabrel's following album, "Les Beaux Dégâts" (released in May 2004). This album, produced in collaboration with Cabrel's loyal pianist, Gérard Bikialo, featured a new addition to the Cabrel sound in the form of a vibrant brass section.
The album proved to be a huge success, selling over 600,000 copies within a few months of its release. In the autumn of that year, the "bluesman" from the south-west of France hit the road on a tour he vowed would be on a human scale. Cabrel refused to play anything other than small or medium-sized venues, preferring to maintain direct contact with his audience. Needless to say, as this was the first tour Cabrel had performed in four years, tickets were all sold out weeks in advance. The tour, which kept Cabrel on the road until the end of the year, included a sold-out stint at Le Casino de Paris (2 - 14 November 2004).
In 2005, Les Editions Delcourt published a cartoon-strip tribute to Cabrel. "Francis Cabrel-Les Beaux Dessins" featured eye-catching illustrations of twelve of his songs.
Cabrel returned to the live circuit with his "Bodegas Tour" in the spring of 2005, playing dates across France and Switzerland right through until June of that year. On 7 November Cabrel took to the stage on a very special occasion, organising a fund-raising concert for New Orleans, the home of jazz and blues, which had been devastated by a freak storm. The concert, staged at the Palais des Congrès in Paris, featured an all-star line-up including Garou, Alain Souchon, De Palmas and Véronique Sanson.
A few days after the New Orleans concert, "La tournée des Bodegas" was released as a CD featuring live versions of songs from the album "Les Beaux Dégâts."
Cabrel kept a relatively low profile on the French music scene throughout 2006. He did join Michel Delpech in the studio to record a duet ("Le Loir et Cher") which appeared on the album "Michel Delpech &…." And he agreed to play one of the colourful characters in Louis Chédid’s musical "Le Soldat Rose", taking to the stage at Le Grand Rex, in Paris, on 12 November that year alongside a host of famous French music stars including M, Alain Souchon and Vanessa Paradis. In 2007, Cabrel marked the thirtieth anniversary of his career with the release of a double album entitled "L'essentiel 1997-2007."
2008: "Des roses et des orties”
On 31 March 2008, Cabrel released a brand new album of original material entitled "Des roses et des orties" (Roses and nettles). This album, the eleventh of his career, revolved around a vibrant mix of electric and acoustic guitars and sultry blues arrangements and was recorded, as per usual, in his famous studio-barn in Astaffort. While Cabrel’s lyric-writing remained as sensitive and poetic as ever, the tone of this new album was ostensibly harder-hitting than his previous work.
The songs on "Des roses et des orties" tackled a range of serious social and political issues such as immigration ("African Tour"), religion ("Les Cardinaux en costume") and poverty and social exclusion ("Le Cygne blanc"). Cabrel also examined the artist’s role in society ("Gens formidables") and even delved a little into his own personal life for inspiration, addressing a song to the biological mother of the young Vietnamese girl he had adopted in 2004 ("Mademoiselle l'aventure"). The singer also included a number of interesting cover versions on this new album, performing French adaptations of Bob Dylan’s "She Belongs to Me", Creedance Clearwater’s "Born on The Bayou" and JJ Cale’s "Mama Don't."