Anna St Clair’s cult popularity never quite translated into record sales. Her strong-mindedness put her at odds with her record company, which perhaps explains why this remarkable French singer left such a disappointingly small legacy. Nevertheless, it is one that has kept her in high regard among fans of late 1960s folk-pop.
She was born Nicole Rudent in 1948.
After leaving school, she toured Europe, from Sweden in the north to Spain in the south. After becoming enchanted by the nascent hippie movement, she earned pocket money decorating pavements with chalk drawings and bon mots. When friends gave her with a guitar as a gift, she learned quickly to play it and began earning her keep by performing in bars and clubs.
London proved the last leg of her European tour – the near-penniless flower-power child was deported for vagrancy. (This was in the days before the UK joined what is now the EU, and freedom of movement was not then an enshrined right.)
However, the experience proved positive all the same. While she was deciding what to do with her life, a man she met on the ferry back to France implored her to continue with her music. She decided to follow his advice.
Within a short while she had been spotted in a bar in Paris by scouts from the Philips-Fontana stable. For them, her tall, slim frame meant she was easy to file in the drawer marked ‘The new Françoise Hardy/Marie Laforêt/Marianne Faithfull’. They knew this would make her easy to promote and she was promptly offered a contract with Fontana.
However, she wasn’t happy with their PR plans. When the label suggested she don a black wig for public performances, she refused point blank. However, label bosses got their way in the end, up to a point – the sleeve of her debut EP, Les corbeaux, featured a drawing of a woman with a black bob.
With lyrics by her sister, Jacqueline Jadeault, and orchestral backing from the respected Jean-Claude Vannier, the EP was issued in late 1967. The lead track garnered a decent amount of airplay, though the release is now perhaps better known for the track L’amour à travers et à tort. For many fans, Lola is another high point of the EP.
Another radio hit followed, the two-track 45 comprising Ne vois-tu pas que c’est toi que j’aime and Les caméleons, which was released in July 1968.
The highly regarded L’amour par quatre chemins, issued in November that year, consolidated her popularity. The song was written by Boris Bergmann, a songwriter who, Anna has later said, understood her well and wrote songs for her that fitted her perfectly.
Her problem was that her releases were selling, but not in sufficient quantity to be decent chart hits. She remained firmly in the shadows of the stars whose success Fontana had hoped she would emulate.
Anna delivered another quality performance on Sage comme une image – a version of Tom Jones’s If I promise – which was released as a single in the spring of 1969. By this time, she had begun to want a greater say in her career. She’d approached producer Lee Hallyday about working together, but he turned her down.
Her disappointment was compounded when her proposal for an LP was also refused. Indeed a host of material remains unreleased to this day.
For the 1970 single Sur les chemins des Andes Anna was teamed with another respected producer, Raymond Donnez, who had previously worked with Sylvie Vartan, amongst others. The song choice, however, was questionable. The A-side, a take on El condor pasa, the South American tune that is best known internationally in a version by Simon and Garfunkel, had already been recorded in French by rival Marie Laforêt four years earlier. (The flip, Le bonheur nous attend quelque part, a version of the Kenny Young-penned Friday, you can brush me off your mind, is worth seeking out.)
That year she finally came to work with Lee Hallyday. However, the resultant single, À force de danser, failed to attract the attention of record buyers and soon disappeared into the bargain bins. (Again, the B-side, La guerre d’amour, her take on The Box Tops’ You keep tightening up on me, has its admirers.)
Sadly, the release proved the end of her recording career.
With thanks to Fane Jones for additional research and sound files and to Chanteurs des années 60 for additional information.
Our pick of the pops
La guerre d’amour
Sage comme une image
Le bonheur nous attend quelque part
L’amour à travers et à tort
C’est que tu n’est pas loin
L’amour par quatre chemins
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Find Anna St Clair EPs and 45s at GEMM