Jane Birkin's Enfants d’Hiver

Enduring creative talent Jane Birkin talks to Dazed Digital about her first self-written album.

Text by David Hellqvist

Few people are true legends, and even fewer are unconditionally adored across the globe. Jane Birkin is one of those. Forty years ago, she met Serge Gainsbourg and together they charmed everyone with their loved-up music and sexy films. Their love imploded and Serge passed away but his legacy is very much alive, right now through an exhibition at Cite de la Musique in Paris. But Jane Birkin’s creative output flourished, and continues to this day.

And time has been kind to her. Over a plate of fancy ravioli in a Clerkenwell hotel, the 62-year-old multi talented artist charms everyone in her soft-spoken voice and kind face features. The characteristic gap between her front teeth just makes her even more likeable. But on Madame, from last years Enfants d’Hiver album, Birkin rails about ageing and being called the polite word for older women: “It broke my heart/Like a slap in the face”.

She came to fame, of course, with Je t’aime…moi non plus, her 1969 duet with Gainsbourg. Before that, the young Birkin starred in Blow-Up and met Serge while auditioning for French film Slogan. She was 23-years-old, straight over from London and spoke only broken French. Now, 40 years later, Birkin has released her first album with self-penned lyrics, sung in French. “It’s my first language now”, she says. “I write in French and then translate it into English, but I can still make terrible mistakes. I’ve always had a problem with knowing the difference between masculine and feminine words”, Jane says smiling. I’m sure we can find it on our hearts to forgive her, folks!

Birkin has enjoyed a creative high of late. If she has suffered from constantly living in the shadow of Gainsbourg (and her two other famous husbands; composer John Barry and film director Jacques Doillon), she can easily acknowledge the advantages. “It can be both a help and a hindrance but I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the beautiful music Serge wrote for me, even after we broke up”. Her work the last few years has not only seen her collaborate with the likes of Rufus Wainwright, Beth Gibbons, The Magic Numbers and the Divine Comedy, but also, in 2007, she directed her first feature film.

Boxes is about a woman with three children from three different relationships (but Jane denies it’s autobiographical) and, while moving house, she unpacks boxes containing memories from her past family, friends and lovers. A similar theme runs through her 2004 album Fiction, which was about childhood and coming home. “I’m very nostalgic”, Jane explains. “I lost my dad a couple of days after Serge died and my mother passed away a few years ago. It all made me realise how important family is and that we have to tell people we love them before it’s too late”.

Serge Gainsbourg is inevitably still a big part of Jane’s life. If nothing else because of Charlotte, the daughter she had with Serge in 1972. Charlotte, and her half-sisters Kate Barry and Lou Doillon for that matter, has followed Birkin into creative professions. Charlotte is, like her mother, both an actress and singer, Lou (born 1982) works as a model and actress, while Kate is a successful Paris-based photographer. But Serge is constantly with her, whether she likes it or not. “Everyday taxi drivers say to me ‘I miss Serge, I just went to see his grave’ and I dreamt about him the other night. I hadn’t thought about him for a while; I had to text Charlotte to tell her!”

Jane still lives in France. Enfants d’Hiver was written strolling along the sand dunes on the coast. “I walked on the beach with my bulldog and kicked the sand. I was angry – I had a mean approach to the memories I wrote about. I saw what I wanted to see them, I suppose you can call it a selective memory”. Still, she found the writing process enjoyable. “You might as well write about yourself or someone else will do it”, she reasons. Her music is stripped-down, it’s almost like the backing band is merely there to support Jane’s voice. But Birkin doesn’t agree. “That’s a bit pretentious to say. I have a little voice but it’s all I’ve got and I don’t plan to loose it!”

Jane Birkin plays the Barbican Saturday 21 February. Enfants d’Hiver is out now, more info on www.janebirkin.net

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