Them’s the Vagueries

Simon Hale is entranced by French band Nouvelle Vague at Birmingham Town Hall.

Nouvelle Vague (the name means ‘new wave’ in French) are a cover band ‘avec une différence’ – as they demonstrated in all their glory at Birmingham Town Hall.

The supremely talented Gallic group gave their own intimate and intoxicating interpretations to the punk and new wave hits of the 70s to 80s that make up the bulk of their material. Bossa nova, lounge, jazz and sixties pop were all behind the English and French song set in which any losses in language understanding were made up for in sheer entertainment.

The gig began with band leaders Marc Collin and Oliver Libaux looking around quizzically for the source of some female singing as they took up their acoustic guitar and keyboards alone on stage. Where was it coming from, we asked ourselves, for reverberating around the auditorium was a playful version of Altered Images’ I Could be Happy, the title track of the band’s latest album.

The answer came as singer Melanie Pain rose from the seat behind us in the stalls with microphone in hand. Looking chic in a short black backless dress, she continued to sing her way to the stage. There she joined Liset Alea, looking equally stunning in a long black split skirt, and the two sang songs with more than a touch of burlesque by the likes of New Order, Buzzcocks and The Clash.

Five of the songs were from the new album including two of their own, Maladroit and La Pluie et le Beau Temps, both performed in traditional French chanteuse style. These charming numbers were in stark contrast to the dramatic parodies of The Clash’s Guns of Brixton and Dead Kennedys’ Too Drunk to Fuck that were far too funny to cause offence.

The small mainly middle-aged audience sat politely reserved until scores rose to their feet to dance to the jazzy beatnik rendering of Depeche Mode’s Just Can’t Get Enough. Two poignantly sung favourites from the back catalogue, The Lords’ Dance with Me and Tuxedomoon’s In a Manner of Speaking, were further reminders of Nouvelle Vague’s versatility.

The band’s cult following were sent home happy after providing the chorus to a soulful version of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart. Let’s hope Nouvelle Vague return to Birmingham soon – and get a bigger audience. They deserve it.