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Dead Belgian – Love and Death: The Songs of Jacques Brel

by on 11 June, 2012

in Album Reviews

Liverpool quartet Dead Belgian came together to share the music of the iconic Belgian singer / songwriter Jaques Brel. Combining their own influences in European Folk and Prog Rock / Pop, Love And Death weaves between playful abandon, a delicate sparseness and compelling theatre. Brel’s work has influenced countless performers and English versions of his songs have been around for some time, in various guises. Love And Death, however, takes more direct approach. When not singing in the original French of the songs (for which there are translations in the booklet), Dead Belgian (Andy Delamere – percussion, vocals; Fionnuala Dorrity – vocals, guitar, ukulele; Simon James – saxophone, flute, clarinet, mandolin, vocals; Matthew Wood – accordion, vocals) have developed more faithful translations, and infused the songs with their own infectious approach.

Madelaine typifies this outlook, a raucous opening that sets a tone of happy abandon. Things can easily change, though – as you’d expect, even hope for, Au Suivant is compelling and theatrical. Brel’s song describing the army as a factory-like brothel is delivered with just as much passion as the more familiar version by The Sensational Alex Harvey Band (Next).

Ne Me Quitte Pas is more sparse and acoustic. Vocal, guitar and understated flute combine in a flawless delivery of one of Brel’s most poetic works. La Haine – jollys things up again before the essential inclusion of Amsterdam. Having inspired musicians as diverse as David Bowie and Bellowhead, Amsterdam opens with a vocal, sax and accordion combination that works perfectly. Fionnuala Dorrity’s vocal builds intensity throughout, closing in a tempestuous rant. Later in the album Jacky provides more theatrics, expertly rendered – Beautiful and an idiot at the same time.

Les Bourgeois seems to satirise Brel’s own bourgeois parentage, with an irresistible sing along chorus before a lively re-working of Le Moribund that’s almost enough to dispel the ghosts of Terry Jacks and Westlife. Gentle at first, although fast paced, leading to the joyful abandon that suits this music, even at its saddest, so well.

Jaurès is Brel’s homage to French socialist leader Jean Léon Jaurès. Despite a soft mandolin and a mocking sweetness in Fionnuala Dorrity’s voice, the intensity of the song, still comes through.

Demand our rights, our common wealth

Our youth, our freedom, earth itself

Demand the right to dream

Finally, My Death is stomped out defiantly to close the album.

Love and Death is rowdy, engaging and passionate. There’s no doubt that the songs themselves are the stars of this album, but that’s exactly why Dead Belgian embarked on this project. Despite the inevitable comparisons to the vocals of Edith Piaf and Nico, Dead Belgian have created a sound that is all their own, while remaining true to the spirit of Brel’s music and poetry.

Review by: Neil McFadyen


Free Download: Amsterdam

In the port of Amsterdam there’s a sailor who sings
Of the dreams that he brings from a wide open sea
And in the port of Amsterdam there’s a sailor who sleeps
While the riverbank weeps to the old willow tree
In the port of Amsterdam there’s a sailor who dies
Full of beer, full of cries, in a drunken town fight
And in the port of Amsterdam there’s a sailor who is born
On a hot muggy morn by the dawn’s early light

In the port of Amsterdam where the sailors all meet
There’s a sailor who eats only fish heads and tails
He’ll show you his teeth that have rotted too soon
That can haul up the sails that can swallow the moon
And he yells to the cook with his arms open wide
Bring me more fish put it down by my side
Then he wants so to belch but he’s too full to try
So he stands up and laughs and he zips up his fly

In the port of Amsterdam you can see sailors dance
Paunches bursting their pants grinding women to paunch
They’ve forgotten the tune but their whiskey voice croaks
Splitting the night with the roar of their jokes
And they turn and they dance and they laugh and they lust
Till the rancid sound of the accordion bursts
Then out of the night with their pride in their pants
And the slut that they tow underneath the street lamps

In the port of Amsterdam there’s a sailor who drinks
He drinks, he drinks, he drinks once again
He drinks to the health of the whores of Amsterdam
Who’ve given their bodies to a thousand other men
They bargained their bodies their virtue’s all gone
For a few dirty coins when they just can’t go on
Hold their noses to the sky and they aim them up above
And they piss hot tears over unfaithful love
In the port of Amsterdam, the port of Amsterdam


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Indie Folker June 11, 2012 at 7:55 pm

I fell in love with “Amsterdam” and Dead Belgian from the first listen. This is an incredibly exciting band!

Alex June 12, 2012 at 9:17 am

They are pretty unique alright :)