Inspiration came to Whitehorse musician Didier Delahaye in an old wooden box.
“The kind of old-fashioned trunk that was once used to store old stuff up in an attic but that was eventually elevated to the status of furniture,” he said.
When he was a young teen, living with his parents in France, Delahaye discovered a collection of records by the French folksinger George Brassens in that old box.
Brassens was a musical icon in the French-speaking world and soon became an idol in Delahaye’s world as he listened to the entire collection of records.
“I started listening, systematically, and I discovered songs that you don’t hear on the radio,” said Delahaye.
“Songs that challenged my budding literary fibres.
“Songs that made me chuckle and songs that made me run for the dictionary.
“This guy with the pipe and mustache was in a class of his own.
“His records and I became close friends, and then one day I could not contain anymore an urge to sing and share them with others.”
In 2002, Delahaye, who has been living in the Yukon and Western Canada for most of his life, began the tedious job of translating Brassens’ repertoire from French to English.
In 2004 he headed back to France to play the Brassens circuit — a series of festivals and concerts attended by Brassens fans from all over France.
Delahaye brought their beloved folk star back in English, and to his surprise, the francophone crowds loved it.
“They were totally taken aback to hear Brassens in the universal language of music,” he said.
Delahaye had Brassens’ personal friends come to him and say, “Thank you for bringing Brassens back this way.”
“They loved hearing the folk songs with a little bit of exotica (English) in them,” said Delahaye.
“They thought it was a hoot.”
Delahaye described Brassens’ following as more of a fellowship in which friends, young and old, come together to celebrate a singer-songwriter who told truths about the world through his music.
The singer’s sense of humour is demonstrated in his song Le Gorille (The Gorilla) that tells the tale of a horny Gorilla on the loose.
“On frantic as forth it was bound / To no longer be a virgin. / Go, go, gorilla!”
In 2006, 25 years after Brassens’ death, Delahaye recorded Brassens Redux in Brief, a seven-track CD of Brassens songs, translated into English.
He included The Gorilla on the CD but he has changed the melody.
“I take certain liberties though I try to respect the spirit of the work, but not right down to the letter,” said Delahaye, who thinks that Brassens would never have wanted his works to be thought of as classics that can’t be changed.
“I always try to figure out what Brassens would have thought,” said Delahaye.
Now that he has translated and recorded Brassens’ songs, the singer wants to focus on performance.
He will be kicking off the summer festival season by playing at the Alsek Music Festival in Haines Junction, June 9.
“I know his songs will raise some eyebrows in the Yukon, but that was the point,” said Delahaye.
He described Brassens as a powerful and strong individual who loved to defy convention.
“He had a bit of a rebel streak,” said Delahaye, eyes twinkling.
“He loved to make mince meat out of the clergy and the law.”
After the summer music season in the Yukon, Delahaye plans to return to France and share his CD with Brassens fans.
A Canadian tour is also in the works, he said.