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The French Connection: An In-depth History of France's Garage Rock Marvels
April 2002
By Alexander "Astro" Hussenet, Lance Monthly
(more articles from this author)
2002-05-10
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"The Bowlings of Avignon were another typical French mod band from the south who played Hammond R'n'Beat wearing stay-pressed, polo shirts and . . . bowling shoes!"

"Howdy garage rock maniacs! Here's the astro boy from the other side of the Seine with another blab about these parts of the world. Last time I dealt with the capital, now I' ll try to dig something up from the French countryside . . .

Oh! Before I start anything, my band, Bang! finally has a new 7" 33 rpm Ep entitled "Wild Blood+2," and it's out on Teen Sound Records from the Italian Misty Lane association. This follows another recently 7" 33 rpm Ep on Australia's Corduroy label, "A secret revolution+3" (our first 7" incidentally was "Astro Kid" issued in '97 as a single also on Corduroy). Check those out included some cool cover visuals!

[Editors' note: Write to rvstewartproductions@yahoo.com for details on how to order.]

The title cut to the Teen Sound Ep is our own personal version of the b-side of the mighty Seeds' last 45 for GNP, "Fallin' off the edge," and it's our only recorded cover so far. We intended to include this track on a tribute LP to my favorite fetish garage band with other modern day garage-bands long talked about in some garage circles that so far never materialized. The other tracks are our own played in our personal style of "Space Mod Beat." That is . . . a sort of garage-pop done in the minimalist way with electronic effects nonsense thrown in. Hey! It's only natural and honest that I' d want to start pluggin' my own band, don't you think? Ok, with that out of the way, let's start the (his) story:

Let me give you my personal recollections of the French scene. If you recall, last time I wrote about all the action taking place at the periphery. Well, it's all the more true in the provinces! Paris has never been a r'n'r city, no. The foremost was Le Havre 'cause it's a port and the people from that town were the first to witness the touring American and English bands on stage before they ever came to the capital. The Animals, and later, the Flamin' Groovies first played there, as well as the MC5 for instance! Le Havre teens were hip to British fashions long before Paris even heard about them, and they regularly tripped to London in the sixties.

One legendary local band still active to this day is the Little Bob Story. Little Bob started out in '64 as Little Bob's Red Devils since the original "beat boom," and made frequent inroads in London clubs as well as staging local battle of the bands at the famous original Paris r'n'r club, "le Golf Drouot." The Golf Drouot, or "Le Golf," is the French equivalent to the Cavern club in Liverpool or the Star club in Hamburg. Nearly all the rock biggies played on that club's tiny stage at one time or another from Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent and Bill Haley to the Rolling Stones and even a young David Bowie when he was known as a top mod face in "Davy Jones and the Lower Third." (Interestingly, in the December '65 bi-weekly magazine of the Golf Drouot Little Bob was pictured on stage a few pages after announcements that the Lower Third and Arthur Brown's Set were both coming for the 1966 New Year' s Eve concert direct from the London Marquee. The ad includes a picture of young David Bowie and his Lower Third! The Golf was twined with the Marquee then.) The Little Bob Story did achieve some moderate success in the late '70s and Bob has even completed some solo LPs up into the '90s. (Le Havre, a true outpost.)

Then comes Rennes, the rock capital of France, so they say, with the sole, real garage-band scene in France, where many local bands tried to out fuzz each other in the city' s cellars, bars and clubs during the heyday of that sub-movement in the mid '80s. I remember when I was a teen watching on TV in the late '70s and early '80s a special feature on Rennes in "Les Enfants du Rock" (the only true French rock show in those days ) with a mention of one legendary local band called Billy Ze Kick. (I wonder where they are now? Surely, they had some record releases.) Recently there has been Greenfish and the Smoothy Filth of some note from that town.

La Rochelle is another resort town facing the Pacific north of the Basque surfin' coast which is famous for its local mod and garage scenes. It was in these parts the official British mods of the post '79 revival first staged an organized holiday international, mod rally outside of Britain . . . notably with the Untouchables organization. There also was a small dynamic neo-garage scene in which the notable bands were: the Guzzlers (one mini album, "6 Bomb Tracks," and an LP, "Supersonic Wankers," as well as various singles all on Total Heaven circa. '96/'97 ); the Weak (with three LPs also on Total Heaven and the group is still around!)

Thirty kms from La Rochelle is the town of Rochefort where the TV Killers frequently performed. They're the premier modern French punk garage band with some repute in America. The TV Killers have a total of four LPs (two on Total Heaven, one on Radio Blast, and even one on the US label, Estrus! ). In addition, the band has a 10" on the Parisian label, Royal Recs (whose owner is the singer of the Splash Four! ). They are now called the Jakes.

Though the number one French garage band (in the Sonics' style) used to be The Squares from Nancy, with at least four LPs to their name (one on Billy Childish's Hangman Recs), one of the band members later formed Thundercrack who were recently signed with Estrus. I'm not sure if it's the same guy but, the guitar player has a custom guitars' workshop (he redesigned a vintage rectangular shaped guitar à la Bo Diddley in his catalog! ) and makes genuine loud fuzz, sustain and volume pedals to sell with retro shapes as well. They're too expensive for me, though!

But, most of the hard-core 60' s mod scenes were, until recently, located in cities in southern France: Lyon with the notorious Café Le Voxx in tribute to the famous British musical instruments; Seth with its psychedelic garage freaks; Avignon, Montpellier and Perpignan the true center of Mod in France. Once its famous local mod meetings appealed to faces all over Europe, and even rivaling the neighboring big town of Barcelona across the Spanish border. Alas! Nearly all of those people have progressed to the nu school jazz of electronica music and the house scene of D.J.'s and samplers . . . like Spider, a notorious mod character, who was the leader of the Bookmakers( an R&B/ Soul band from Lyon), he is now the most famous D.J. in southern France, gathering thousands at his open parties.

I don't know what has become of Roch, the ultimate French mod face and head organizer of the "Beat '66" association who staged gigs and mod all-nighters in the Catalan country of Perpignan. He once fronted the local Ugly Things, a freak-beat band that made some news/noise in the hood down south but turned out to be a total mock of a group after all! (It's ironic that a name like "Roch," or "Rock," was used for such a righteous mod face. We always thought he was the arch-enemy of the rocker-greasers.)

The Bowlings of Avignon were another typical French mod band from the south who played Hammond R'n'Beat wearing stay-pressed, polo shirts and . . . bowling shoes! And now they have mutated into various club oriented collectives of Drum 'n' Bass' Dee Jay with sampler, beat box, a bass player, sax player and some lady sings the nu Jazz-funk--nothing much to do with garage-rock anymore. (None of these bands have made any official releases but have confined themselves to the circulation of demos!)

One group that has persisted is the Strawberry Smell from the suburbs of Avignon, who once backed Art Wood of the 60's band, The Artwoods in a special mod rally gig in Lyon in 1994. He's the brother of Ron Wood late of the Stones. The band has numerous local auto-produced records out, and one single, "Lady Bloomington" on the British mod label, Detour. Strawberry Smell has currently signed for a record deal with a Japanese label .

Near Montpellier, in Loupian out of the countryside, was the notorious Hawaï Men (with three girls and two guys?), who dressed-out Barbarella style before the British Diaboliks out on Dionysus did! They released two 7 inch vinyls on their own label, CinéLux.

From the south-east in Chamberry, you have the underground label and fanzine, Larsen whose house band, the Slow Sushy Boys, manages a roster of other little bands like the one formed by their girl-friends, the Godzillas.

Bordeaux, another town with a good local scene with the Wonkey Monkeys, the Wisemen, and the Washing Machine (all have at least some singles out, a few on the latter' s own label, Bricolage Records). I believe the Bogeymen, a cool power mod band inspired by Small Faces and whose singer (a dead ringer for Paul Weller) now performs with Supersonic, were also from there. They had some singles, possibly an LP out (on Twist Recs?).

Toulouse, also a southern French town, has the Shoeshine Brothers and the Jerry Spider Gang, and probably others all congregating around the famous local record shop, Armadillo. Their was also some garage activity going on in Grenoble as a few people like Gilles Dandy, a notorious mod who played drums and recorded in the British revival, mod house band of Detour records, the Clique in the early '90s, and Rudy, the girl-bassist of British Jacques Dutronc tribute band Les Dutroncs, both came from that town. There was most certainly some garage happenings in the French-German frontier town of Strasbourg.

But the patriarch of all the French neo 60's garage-mod bands are undoubtedly Les Playboys from Nice and the French Riviera. They started out with moderate success in 1977 with their first single, "Le Roi des Fous," a classic French beat, and released at least two LPs. On stage this band was great and on par with the famous early '80s French cult groups, the Coronados and the Dogs. The Playboys were obviously greatly inspired by the famous local group of the sixties, Les 5 Gentlemen (you can read all about this band in the Ugly Things Zine! ). I think they still soldier on in their home turf (most of the members were school teachers! ).

Well, that concludes my global survey of France. While I'm sure I missed mentioning some town, band or person, my point is that the real garage band rock'n'roll events in my country have mostly come from the French province towns. I dunno' . . . maybe people are more direct, hungrier, and less inhibited in the country side, which better suits the rock 'n' roll spirit?!

So, if you ever come to Paris, go see the Louvres museum or gaze down from the Eiffel Tower. If you're a VIP, go watch the Fashion shows and, if you're rich, go feast yourself in a high class French restaurant. But don' t expect to see Rock'n'Roll action here. You have been warned!


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