During the nineties, one of the figureheads of the " neo-realist " trend which invaded the French musical landscape, revitalising it with fresh poetic energy. was a group full of cheeky humour, La Tordue.
The two founder members of La Tordue met in Paris’s Belleville quarter. Benoît Morel, born in Rennes, whose passion was writing and drawing, was working as a designer at Gallimard (one of Paris’s most prestigious publishers) when he crossed paths with Pierre Payan, a multi-instrumentalist looking for lyrics. Both of them were born in the sixties and shared the same ‘literary’ music tastes: Ferré/Aragon, Les Frère Jacques/Prévert and Gaston Couté, a fin-de-siècle anachist singer-songwriter.
Benoît had already tried lyric writing for Les Têtes Raides, another leading light of the neo-realist movement whose absinthe-reeking java melodies conjure up the lost Paris of yesteryear.
Soon they were three, joined by Eric Pfil, known as Fil, from Savoie. They made their début on the musical scene in October 90 with the release of a self-financed single and appearances as support group for Les Têtes Raides. Their first top of the bill appearance came in March 92, in a small Parisian theatre, Le Tourtour. Their droll and tender live performances, using innumerable instruments (concertina, guitar, piano, double bass, saw, saucepan…) were a huge success, both critically and publicly.
From the beginning, they frequently performed live in all kinds of venues, from the street to festivals. They followed up their Le Tourtour success with a 400-date tour, for the most part in France, including their début at Le Sentier des Halles, a minute Parisian theatre where numerous great names started out. This venue has become their regular showcase in the capital.
In 93, they opened the Transmusicales rock festival in Rennes. The following year they were selected by FAIR (Fonds d'Aide à l'Initiative Rock) and won the Tremplin du Chorus des Halles competition, following this up in 94 with the Grand Prix du Sentier des Halles and the Prix du Coup de Cœur Francophone. On June 19th they were at the Music Festival in Romania and on July 13th they were guests at the Francofolies festival in la Rochelle.
Without an album and with hardly any publicity, la Tordue had already made a name for itself, so when they released their CD "Les Choses de rien" in May 95, its success came as no surprise. In only three months the album had sold more than 3000 copies, a great score for a disc launched without any publicity whatsoever. The sleeve design was widely acclaimed: it was the work of a group of graphic designers, Les Chats Pelés, which includes Benoît of la Tordue and Christian of Les Têtes Raides. The disc received excellent revues and attention from just about every paper.
Their concerts went from strength to strength. In March 96, they were in concert at La Cité de la Musique with their friends Les Têtes Raides and also Casse-Pipe and Miossec, both active exponents of the new blend of realist tradition and rock. And a few months later they were back at the Francofolies festival in la Rochelle.
Their second album, "T'es fou", was released on April 1st 1997. La Tordue lived up to expectations and the disc was reviewed as enthusiastically as the first in 95. They were rewarded with the prestigious Académie Charles-Cros prize, following in the footsteps of the greatest French musicans. A long tour followed, including a foray into Eastern Europe from June 20th to July 5th. Then, from November 4th to 23rd , they did a three week stint at the Européen in Paris.
Gone with the Wind
La Tordue released their third album "Le Vent t'invite" (The Wind Invites You) in March 2000. The superbly-produced album scored an impressive hit with French music fans, establishing the group as one of the most interesting acts on the new French chanson scene. Following the success of "Le Vent t'invite", la Tordue embarked upon an extensive national tour, stopping off in Paris to play a gig at La Cigale at the end of March 2000.
The following year la Tordue had good reason to celebrate their tenth anniversary together - in the course of their decade-long career they had managed to play over 1,000 concerts and sell some 150,000 albums overall. Tenth anniversary celebrations included the release of the live album "En Vie" and a mini-tour of 40 dates. (Highlights of this tour included a memorable gig at l'Elysée Montmartre on June 11th and several appearances at summer festivals up and down the country.
La Tordue undoubtedly owes its success to the curiosity of the group’s members, whose experience ranges far beyond music alone: literature, poetry, graphic design. Their work is transfused with a rich artistic inspiration coupled with an impertinence and a poetic frankness of which Gerges Brassens would have been proud.
Despite the tour coming to an end, bass-player Mathieu Morel decided to keep on working with La Tordue and took part in their new album that was released in November 2002 by Sony. Entitled "Champ Libre" and produced by Loo & Placido (who also worked on B. Fontaine’s Kekeland), the album featured 12 new tracks mixing reggae, ska, etc. Faithful to their political commitment, La Tordue dedicated one of their songs "Le Pétrin" to protest against ‘double punishment’—a French law that results in deporting foreigners who are residing in France after they have served a prison sentence. The track was sung in a dozen of foreign languages by numerous artists such as les Femmouzes T (who also sing on the track entitled ‘Le Zèle des Iles’), Lo’jo Triban, Magyd Cherfi from Zebda, Sergent Garcia, Dezoriental and Danyel Waro.
The album’s second star song, l’ "Heureux Mix" was turned into a very successful single. It mixed samples from a multitude of French and foreign songs, including Brassens’s, Bob Marley’s and Marlene Dietrich’s.