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Baker's Dozen

The Golden Past: Marianne Faithfull's Favourite Albums
Joel McIver , February 4th, 2013 06:42

Following the recent reissue of her landmark album Broken English, and in advance of her 50th anniversary as a performer next year, Marianne Faithfull tells Joel McIver about her 13 favourite LPs

Photograph courtesy of Patrick Swirc

It is 34 years since Island Records released Broken English, Marianne Faithfull’s seventh album in the 14 years since she had first emerged into the public eye in the not-yet-Swinging early to mid-Sixties. Both chunks of time are significant, the 34 because the album has barely dated a jot and the 14 because of the transformation which Faithfull had undergone (‘suffered’ might be a better word) since her career began.

In 1965, when the 19-year-old actor and singer released her debut album Come My Way, her image was one of a helpless pop waif, made slightly interesting by her links to European aristocracy. That soon changed: over the years between Come My Way and Broken English, Faithfull endured vilification by the establishment and press thanks to her romance with Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger (for whom she left her then-husband, infant son in hand) and her unclothed presence at Keith Richards’ drugs bust in 1966. She also developed addictions to heroin and cocaine and spent periods of time homeless: so much for the 60s England of Carnaby Street and you’ve-never-had-it-so-good. As a result, Broken English was a pretty savage album, a resounding fuck-you to those who had written her off, and – ironically – a hit among critics and consumers alike.

“It’s an angry album, isn’t it?” remarks Faithfull, down the line from Paris, where she’s been living for some years. “It’s all a long time ago, of course, but in terms of music and projection, I can still feel it. I’m not angry any more, but Broken English was a very strong statement and it has lasted a long time. It doesn’t sound like a period piece to me.”

Far from it. It’s a curious album in many ways, a result of the many writers who contributed to it, but it’s as stark as ever. Songs such as ‘Why D’ya Do It?’, Faithfull’s graphic rendition of a woman torn by infidelity, and the title track, inspired by the Baader-Meinhof terrorist group, cut deeply to this day. Ostensibly easier-on-the-ear tracks such as ‘Guilt’, which deals with Catholicism-via-smack, combine something of the spirit of punk with Faithfull’s many influences, making them not really easy on the ear at all. To sweeten the pill, filmmaker Derek Jarman was commissioned to make an accompanying film conflated from three of the songs, which appears on the new, two-CD reissue for which Faithfull is currently doing press.

“Derek’s work was really lovely, and not really appreciated at the time, except by a few people,” she muses. “Now people really love it, and I’m so pleased, because people are a lot straighter these days, aren’t they? They’re not as repressed, of course, as we were when we were growing up.”

Nowadays Faithfull is a 66-year-old grandmother with a wistful tone clearly audible in the famous, cracked voice which she continues to employ in live shows and theatre productions. I have to ask if, when she looks back at those youthful high times, hanging with the Stones and riding the counterculture wave, she really enjoyed herself that much. “I had some great times,” she ponders, “but it was terribly difficult to be so young and not understand social intercourse at all, and being with people who were so much older. Some of my greatest friends, who are dead now, of course – and I wish they weren’t – were very subtle, clever, sophisticated people. I didn’t really understand a lot of what was going on until afterwards. That made me very fearful. There was a lot of fear in my life.”

She continues, “It would have been great to have had those few years where you go to college or university. It would have been very good for me. At that time I was going through all these incredibly intense experiences, of success in the pop business, which was hard in a way. I know it’s awful form to say that but it’s true. Having a baby, getting married, going off with Mick, falling in love, all that… it was very interesting. Almost too much for somebody of my age at the time.”

When did life start to get less intense, I ask? “The most important thing was getting clean, wasn’t it? That’s when I started to balance out. That wasn’t until 1986. It’s a long time ago now. I’ve had my hiccups, it hasn’t been continuous all the time, but I’m all right at the moment. I love living in Paris. God, I couldn’t stand living in Britain. The whole culture is very hard for me. I have a lovely time when I visit and see my son and my little granddaughter, who is just joy, more than anything, but if I actually had to participate in society, I wouldn’t be able to do it. It’s too naff. Too dumb.”

In 2014 Faithfull will be celebrating an unexpected anniversary of 50 years as a performer. “It’s a big deal,” she says. “I’ll make a new record, with just eight songs – I don’t know if I can come up with more than that – and we’re doing a beautiful big book with all the pictures of me, and there are thousands. There’s also a documentary film and a tour. I never expected a 50th anniversary, it’s fantastic and I’m very grateful. I’m in good shape and I don’t know anybody my age who works as hard as I do, although I can’t tour as much as I did because I get very tired.”

Numerous awards have come Faithfull’s way in recent years, notable among which has been France’s highest cultural honour. “I’m a Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres,” she chuckles, “along with Dizzy Gillespie and Clint Eastwood. It’s the top award. I wouldn’t want an English one.”

Don’t say that, I say. Who knows, maybe she’ll be on the Queen’s next New Year’s Honours list. “I don’t think so,” says Faithfull. “I’m too unconventional. My whole life has been the feminine Antichrist, hasn’t it?”

To read about Marianne’s favourite albums click the picture below

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