Gérard Manset

Antiwar songs by Gérard Manset
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Gérard MansetGérard Manset, né le 21 août 1945 à Saint-Cloud, est un auteur-compositeur-interprète, peintre, photographe et écrivain français.

Né d'un père ingénieur dans l'aviation et d'une mère violoniste1, Gérard Manset passe son enfance dans la banlieue parisienne, à Saint-Cloud, puis dans le XVIe arrondissement de Paris. Il échoue au baccalauréat à cause d'une mauvaise note en français[réf. nécessaire].

En 1964, il est lauréat du concours général (en dessin), et entre à l'École nationale supérieure des arts décoratifs de Paris1. Le Salon d'automne l'accueille dans sa section « gravure » en 1966, année pendant laquelle il expose également au Salon des artistes français. Parallèlement, il démarche des agences de publicité avec ses dessins, sans résultat.

Il commence à jouer de la guitare, s'intéresse aussi à la batterie. Puis il emprunte à sa sœur sa méthode de piano, et commence seul l'apprentissage de cet instrument.

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Gérard MANSET

Throughout his 30-year career Gérard Manset has deliberately kept himself apart from the French musical mainstream, pursuing his own distinctive style. The talented singer/songwriter has always cut an intriguingly mysterious figure, fleeing the attentions of the French media and preferring his solitary studio work to concerts or any form of contact with his public. Manset has now achieved cult status on the French music scene and his albums are now recognised as some of the most seminal works of the 70’s and 80’s.

Gérard Manset was born on 21 August 1945 in the Paris suburb of Saint Cloud. The young Gérard spent a happy childhood growing up in this rather well-to-do suburb with his older brother and younger sister and then his family moved to the equally affluent 16ème arrondissement in Paris. Little else is known about Gérard Manset’s childhood years, besides the fact that he failed his baccalauréat because he got an extremely low mark in French. After leaving school, Gérard, who had displayed notable artistic talent from an early age, went on to study at the Ecole des Arts Déco. Soon after enrolling at art college, Gérard began taking his portfolio of illustrations around various Paris advertising agencies - unfortunately, this enterprising approach failed to bring in any work.

It was during his time at art college that Gérard got involved in the thriving 60’s music scene. He started out playing drums but then moved on to that quintessential 60’s instrument, the guitar. Meanwhile his sister was taking piano lessons at home, despite the fact that she was barely interested in the instrument. Taking advantage of his sister’s lack of motivation, Gérard borrowed her piano book and promptly began teaching himself. |

Debut Album

Gérard went on to compose a handful of songs but at this stage in his career he never dreamt of performing them himself, envisaging his career in the music world would be as a songwriter and composer. Gérard showed his early material to a variety of Paris record companies, but failed to elicit any interest. So in 1968 Gérard decided to go into a studio and produce his own album "Animal on n'est mal". Pathé Marconi agreed to distribute Gérard Manset’s album later that year but, unfortunately, the release of "Animal on n’est mal" coincided with the student ‘revolution’ of May 68. French teenagers’ minds were hardly concentrated on record buying. Indeed, Pathé Marconi’s timing could hardly have been worse and "Animal on n’est mal" soon faded into oblivion after selling just a few hundred copies.

Gérard Manset’s album did receive a generous amount of airplay however which allowed the young singer to make his first mark on the French music scene. A few months later Gérard returned to the studio to record a second album, entitled simply "Gérard Manset". This album which appeared to chart the course of an almost mystical personal quest (if the tracks "Je suis Dieu" and "On ne tue pas son prochain" were anything to go by) received rapturous reviews from the critics.

Encouraged by this critical triumph Manset went straight back into the studio and recorded his third album "La Mort d'Orion". This album, best described as a modern rock symphony, featured extremely sophisticated arrangements and some wonderfully rousing string crescendos. Released in 1970, "La Mort d’Orion" proved to be both a critical and commercial triumph. Indeed Manset’s album went on to sell over 20,000 copies (a remarkable feat for such a strange and innovative album) and French critics showered it with rave reviews.

"Il voyage en solitaire"

After the success of "La Mort d’Orion" Manset would go on to set up his own recording studio, Le Studio Milan. Over the next five years Manset would devote all his time and energy to his studio work, producing numerous albums for other French artists. Manset was equally at home behind the mixing desk, working as a sound engineer or producer, as he was composing musical arrangements and songwriting. In 1972 Manset turned his attention to his own career once more, recording a new album entitled "Long long chemin". This album, which spawned two singles, "Jeanne" and "l'Oiseau du Paradis", proved to be moderately successful.

Three years later, however, Manset rocketed to the top of the French album charts with the phenomenally successful album "Y'a une route". Manset’s 1975 album, which produced the hit single "Il voyage en solitaire" went on to sell a staggering 300,000 copies. But whereas many singers would have been overjoyed at such a success, Gérard Manset remained deeply uncomfortable about the sudden media interest in his personal and professional life. The following year, in retaliation, he recorded a new album pointedly entitled "Rien à raconter" ("Nothing to Say").

By 1978, Manset was back in the studio once again, working on a new album entitled "2870", on which he experimented with a more electronic sound. In spite of his aversion to media hype - Manset was a deeply private man who hated the idea of interviews and promotional campaigns - his albums continued to do well in the charts. In fact over the years this talented singer and musician had built up a strong following of extremely loyal fans. In 1980, however, Manset decided to take a break from the French music scene and fulfill his childhood dreams of adventure.

Manset the adventurer

Having sold his shares in Le Milan Studio to his business partner, Manset set off to explore Asia and Latin America. Manset’s travels in these continents’ most exotic regions would provide him with a wealth of raw material for his songwriting. In the course of his travels Manset would also branch out and explore several other arts, discovering a passion for photography and drawing. Later in his career Manset would also recount his Asian and Latin American experiences in a book.

Manset’s extensive trips around Asia and Latin America were punctuated with short visits to Paris, during which Manset would shut himself away in his studio and record a series of albums inspired by his travels. The highly accomplished "Royaume de Siam", recorded in 1979, was followed by the fascinating "L'atelier du crabe" (which soon spawned the hit single "Marin'bar" - a song which Manset would later disown and refuse to re-release, claiming it was far too commercial. In fact; he only authorised the re-release of "Marin'bar" on CD in 1999). In 1981 Manset returned to his Paris studio to record a new album "Le train du soir", which was followed by "Comme un guerrier" in 1982. While Manset continued to devote all his time and energy to his recording career, he steadfastly refused to have anything to do with live concerts. In his eyes, performing on stage was tantamount to being exhibited in a zoo and he insisted that his kind of music should be listened to in the quiet of fans’ homes.

In 1984 Manset returned to the recording studio to begin work on his eleventh album. The sober-looking record sleeve of "Lumières" set the tone for this new work : stark, minimalist music and lyrics pared down to the absolute essential. Manset set himself apart from singers and musicians who simply set out to entertain their public, he was concerned first and foremost with getting his personal message across.

Manset’s twelfth album, "Prisonnier de l'inutile", was released the following year. In fact "Prisonnier de l'inutile" was not so much a new album as a sequel to "Lumières". Manset had written the songs for both albums around the same time, and the two appeared to fuse into one another, bathed as they were in the same atmosphere of melancholy and regret.

Gérard Manset could hardly be said to have lived his life trapped in the world of French showbizz, and yet in the mid 80’s the singer decided that he wanted to escape from his career as a singer and explore other branches of the arts. Taking a long break from the music scene, Manset turned his attention to painting once more. He exhibited his paintings for the first time in the summer of 1985, then went on to organise an exhibition of his photography work in the spring of 1986. This exhibition was followed by the publication of "Chambre d'Asie", a sumptuous photo album of Manset’s travels in Asia. After these two successful exhibitions the multi-talented Manset turned his hand to writing, publishing his first novel, "Royaume de Siam", in April 1987.

In 1988 Manset decided to withdraw all his old albums from sale and replace them with new CD versions. Manset would go on to spend an intense period in the studio surrounded by a hi-tech team of sound engineers and producers, supervising the digital remix of all the albums he had recorded to date. (The only album that did not benefit from a new CD remix was "La Mort d'Orion", which was not re-released until 1997). The result was a boxed set of 5 CD albums, featuring a retrospective selection of Manset’s recording work.

This intensive session in the studio re-ignited Manset’s passion for music and, encouraged by several friends and colleagues, he soon returned to the studio to record a new album entitled "Matrice". Released in 1989, this strongly rock-influenced album explored the darker side of social realism with doom-laden songs such as "D'une époque à vomir, l'histoire dira ce qu'il faut retenir ..." ("History alone will tell us what, if anything, is worth saving from our vomit-inducing era !" ). French critics went wild for Manset’s new album, praising it to the skies and the public was also extremely enthusiastic. "Matrice", considered by many as the finest album of Manset’s career if not the decade, went on to sell over 100,000 copies.

Encouraged by this new success, Manset went back into the recording studio just ten months later to work on a new album entitled "Revivre". Although you would never have guessed it from the rather stark, austere-looking cover, this album was a much more joyous affair than "Matrice", featuring wonderfully exotic songs about the Amazonian Indians and life in the tropics. Yet "Revivre" failed to generate the same success as Manset’s previous album - sadly, it appeared that Manset’s melancholy tales of urban distress appealed to a wider audience than his exotic ballads set in the Amazon.

In 1993, Gérard Manset turned his attention to his writing career once ore, publishing his second novel "Wisut Kasat".

The following year Manset was back in the recording studio, putting the final touches to his fifteenth album. With its loud psychedelic cover and magnificent ballads such as the single "Paradis", "La Vallée de la Paix" promised to be a more uplifting album than many of the artist’s earlier works. Manset himself described "La Vallée de la Paix" as one of the most optimistic albums of his career, as if he were pointedly trying to shake off the melancholy image which had become inextricably linked to his name.

Tribute to Gérard Manset

By this stage in his career Manset had become a seminal figure on the French music scene, his work influencing a whole new generation of young singer/songwriters. In 1996 Francis Cabrel and Alain Bashung teamed up to record a special tribute album to the man who had inspired much of their own work. "Route Manset" featured a wide variety of singers (including Françoise Hardy, Jean-Louis Murat, Salif Keita and rai star Cheb Mami) performing their own versions of Manset’s greatest hits. The compilation album certainly added a new dimension to Manset’s songs which sounded entirely different when they were not performed with their author’s distinctively cold, almost cutting tones. Music fans will never know what Manset himself made of "Route Manset" - true to form the reclusive singer/songwriter declined to make any comment on the album.

Manset spent most of his reclusive years locked away in the studio working on new material and in October 1998 he made a comeback on the French music scene with a new album entitled "Jadis et naguère". This new album covered many of Manset's favourite themes, providing a kind of retrospective of his earlier work. The song "Comme le buvard boit l'encre" (Like The Blotter Soaks Up Ink) was chosen as the first single release. Manset remained fairly reclusive when it came to giving interviews about his new album, however, refusing to promote "Jadis et naguère." on television or embark upon any concert tours. In the rare interviews the singer did accord to newspapers and music magazines he declared : "I find it immodest and totally ridiculous performing my songs in front of a live audience!"

The following year Manset supervised the re-release of four of his albums on CD and put together a Greatest Hits compilation featuring the famous "Marin'bar".

After thirty years in the music business Gérard Manset remains shrouded in a complete veil of mystery. Even the legendary singer/songwriter’s albums provide few clues to the complex man who lies behind works such as "Matrice" and "Il voyage en solitaire". In one of the rare interviews Manset accorded to the French music press, the singer famously described himself as a "a lifelong rebel and eternal failure."

Cult Artist

Despite his reputation for being a misanthrope who shuns nearly all contact with the media, Gérard Manset remained busy behind the scenes, penning songs for other singers. He has continued to write material for artists of all generations and from all musical backgrounds, ranging from Juliette Gréco ("Je jouais sous un banc"), the group Indochine ("Entrez dans le rêve") and young, up-and-coming singer Raphael ("La mémoire des jours" and "Etre Rimbaud"). Despite – or maybe because of the element of mystery he has cultivated around his personality – Manset has become something of a cult artist in recent years. When French designer Philippe Starck brought out the "Ombre" compilation to coincide with his exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in 2003, he included "Le Paradis terrestre" from Manset's debut album "La Mort d’Orion."

Finally, after six years honing his next album to perfection, Manset returned to the music news in 2004 with "Le langage oublié". This musically eclectic album with its songs of pain, suffering and rebellion, found Manset seeking the truth behind reality. Appropriately enough, the album cover featured René Magritte's trompe-l’œil painting "Les Demoiselles de l'Isle Adam."

April 2004

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