Formed in Paris in 1987, French alternative music group Les Négresses Vertes quickly became known for their upbeat and energetic attitude. The band, who blend together punk roots, folk and alt-rock, released seven albums in the late ’80s and ’90s, before disbanding in 2001.
Celebrating the 30th anniversary of their iconic debut Mlah, the band has now reformed after 17 years apart.
Following several shows in Europe and at festivals across the summer, the group return to the UK this month for dates London and Manchester, performing the album in its entirety along with some special extras.
We caught up with Stéfane Mellino to find out about the tour so far, and what UK fans can expect from their shows next week.
You can watch the video for the band’s Zobi la Mouche below:
What made you reform after all these years?
The idea to reform the band came from the wish we have to celebrate thirty years of our first album. It was also a way for us all to be together again, to do a tour performing these special songs which we founded the band on. It was really a pleasure to be back in front of audiences. We started in Belgium because we didn’t want to make a comeback, you know, on a tv show like, “ahh they’re back blah blah blah and then you go on stage and you are cr*p” so we decided to go reform the band and see if we still have the sound, if we still have the same energy, and then we went straight out for the live shows. There’s 7 of us on stage now, 5 original members from the first album, because y’know our singer died 25 years ago, and we also have a new accordion player and a new drummer.
What can UK fans expect from the 30th anniversary shows?
We have a long history with England. The band really started with a remix of our track Zobi la Mouche thirty years ago and during this period we came to London. We were not very well known in France, so we started by playing in London, doing some busking, and some shows in clubs. For us, it’s really a pleasure to come back. We played Beautiful Days Festival in Devon this past August and it was so nice to be back in front of an English audience.
When you first toured, you were perceived as quite punk orientated, do you think that still rings true?
Yeah. For us over the years we’ve been compared to The Pogues, and our singer Helno was quite a mix between Joe Strummer and Shane McGowan. He had quite a punk attitude. We all came from the French punk scene in Paris which was not very big, but was very creative at the end of the ’80s. I think it’s really rare for a French band like us to still play in England, and we have these opportunities and are very proud of it.
Do you have any plans to release new music?
At the moment it’s really just a chance for us to be together and to play this album. The album has a special energy, as our founding album, and now we recreate it around the same songs in a way that’s already a victory for us. We don’t have to plan, we don’t imagine ourselves writing a new album right now. We just want to enjoy the great time we’re having together.
What are your favourite songs to play live?
We’re playing our Mleh in full, and for the encore we come back with two tracks from different albums, but it’s a surprise so I don’t want to tell you more. For me, one of my favourites of course is Zobi la Mouche. The fly keeps moving, it’s a party song.
After this tour, what’s next for the band?
In the 16 years we’ve been separated, every one of us have done our own projects, so when all of this is finished I think we’ll just return to these solo projects. That’s it. But the tour is not finished, more and more dates come every day, people want to see us back. We just came back from Germany last week, and we’ve not been there in a really long time, but the fans were so happy to have us back. We have some really good opportunities. Let’s go for it.
Do you have a favourite city to play?
We’ve played more often in London than in Paris. When we were famous twenty years ago, the big places we were playing were all outside of France. A favourite city, I don’t have one really. When we play in England, we are really happy, we get such a good feeling being in front of people who understand what we are doing.
What is it like to play shows in England when all your songs are French language?
I think the people, they understand our energy and the energy is the bridge between people. You don’t understand the meaning of the words but you understand what we are saying from the energy we are playing the songs with. It was the same for us when I was a young kid. My mother would listen to the radio, and the first time I heard Satisfaction (Rolling Stones) I didn’t understand a word. I just understood that the music was talking to me. That’s why I think language is not only a question of language, it’s a question of authenticity, a question of image and a question of what the people can imagine you like. The energy we use to play the music acts as a translation.
Les Négresses Vertes tour dates are listed below:
25 September 2018 – O2 Academy Islington, London
26 September 2018 – Band On The Wall, Manchester