Françoise Hardy: A birth-to-Sixties bio...

Françoise Hardy was born in Paris on January 17 1944. She had a troubled childhood, her mother, an assistant accountant, bringing up Françoise and her sister Michèle (18 months younger than Françoise) on her own. Indeed, the girls’ father only visited the family flat in Paris’s 9th arrondissement a couple of times a year. In fact, Monsieur Hardy rarely bothered to contact his daughters at all and he would contribute precious little, financially or otherwise, towards his daughters' upbringing.

Françoise’s troubled relationship with her father was not helped by the fact that the only other relatives to whom the young girl was close were her maternal grandparents, who lived in the Paris suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois. Françoise did not get on with her grandmother, whose harsh criticisms and negative comments only served to turn the already introverted child further into her shell. In a later biography Françoise would remember her grandmother as "a totally neurotic old woman with an over-bearing personality". The young girl’s natural timidity was not helped by the fact that she was sent to La Bruyère, a rather strict convent school for girls. Young Françoise grew up to be an extremely studious and pious student who found it difficult to overcome her shyness. This tall, thin girl with long, gangly legs and a somewhat gawky silhouette probably never dreamt that one day she would become one of the most popular French music stars of the 60’s.

Young Françoise soon began writing songs in her free time, inspired by the music she heard on the radio. Françoise was a passionate music fan, listening to Georges Guétary’s operettas from an early age, before progressing to French chanson stars Paul Anka, Charles Trenet and Cora Vaucaire. Sitting alone in her bedroom, Françoise would sing along to the radio, miming to her idols’ greatest hits. The solitary adolescent was often sent to Austria during the school holidays to perfect her German and it was here that she would spend hours listening to her favourite music and composing her own work.

After she had passed her baccalauréat with flying colours, Françoise received a visit from her father who arrived bearing a special birthday gift - a guitar. Now the young girl could really start practising her singing in earnest, and it was not long before she enrolled at the Petit Conservatoire de Mireille (a legendary 60’s singing school). Françoise’s mother pushed her daughter to continue her studies as well as attending the Conservatoire, and the young girl went on to gain a place at the Political Science Faculty. However, politics were certainly not Françoise’s cup of tea, and the young girl soon quit the course, defecting to the Sorbonne to study literature. Meanwhile, Françoise continued to sing and write songs in her free time. The burgeoning young singer would soon spot a record company advert in the local newspaper seeking new up-and-coming artists and plucked up the courage to audition. Françoise’s first audition did not prove a great success, however, but it did encourage her to attend others. Finally, after an intensive series of singing lessons and two further auditions, Françoise Hardy's luck changed. On November 14 1961, at the tender age of 17, the young singer was offered a recording contract with the Vogue label.

Françoise went on to record her début single in April 1962. This first single featured "Oh oh Chéri" (a song written by two of Johnny Hallyday’s habitual songwriters) and three of Françoise’s own compositions including "Tous les garçons et les filles". This last track greatly impressed Daniel Filipacchi, presenter of Radio Europe’s cult music show "Salut les Copains", who went on to play the song almost non-stop. "Tous les garçons et les filles" went on to become a phenomenal hit, selling an incredible two million copies, and young Françoise Hardy was catapulted to fame almost overnight (just as other 60’s idols Johnny Hallyday, Sylvie Vartan, Richard Anthony and pop diva Sheila had been before her). Thus at the height of "Yé yé" (the French rock'n'roll craze), Françoise Hardy found herself at the very forefront of the French music scene.

Françoise soon began to appear on the cover of all the top music magazines of the day. It was while working on a photo shoot for the magazine "Salut les copains" that the young singer would make an encounter which would change the rest of her life. Françoise was to fall in love with photographer Jean-Marie Perier, who transformed the young singer from a shy, gauche-looking schoolgirl into a modern young trend-setter. Besides being Françoise’s lover, Perier was to become a veritable Pygmalion for the young singer.

Françoise soon went on to become the new French 60’s covergirl, her image splashed across the top magazines and newspapers of the day. Indeed, her incredible popularity appeared to know no bounds. Impressed by the young singing star’s quiet beauty, the famous French director Roger Vadim would offer Françoise Hardy a leading role in his film "Château en Suède". Françoise’s role in the film earnt her much acclaim, and many critics declared that a great acting career lay ahead of the young teenager. But Françoise was not really interested in anything other than her singing career.This career reached new heights at the end of 1963 when the young singer was booked to appear at the legendary Paris music-hall, L'Olympia. Performing as a support act to 60’s Yé yé star Richard Anthony, Françoise Hardy brought the house down. Françoise soon followed this first concert success with countless others, when she embarked upon an extensive national tour. In 1963 Françoise Hardy’s début album was released to general critical acclaim. The album, basically a compilation of all the singer’s hit singles up to that point, went on to prove phenomenally successful. Indeed, it would go on to win the prestigious "Prix de l'Académie Charles Cros" as well as the "Trophée de la télévision française". Later that year Françoise Hardy would take part in the Eurovision Song Contest (where, bizarrely enough, she represented not France but Monaco with the song "L'amour s'en va").

The following year Françoise Hardy set off on an extensive European tour which included an appearance in Italy at the famous San Remo Song Contest. Here, the young French singer conquered the hearts of the Italian public with her memorable performance in Italian, performing the song "Parla mi di te". In spite of the fact that Hardy's voice was neither extremely powerful nor strikingly unusual, the singer would continue to woo audiences throughout her career with her exceptional lyrics and the sheer force of the emotion which she put into her performances.

In spite of her new star status Françoise remained a very private person, who was never totally at ease with the flamboyant trappings of the showbiz world. Yet, overcoming Françoise’s initial reluctance, Jean-Marie Perier soon persuaded the singer to begin modelling the creations of top French designers (such as Courrèges, Paco Rabanne, Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent). "Mademoiselle Hardy" soon became a star of the international fashion world as well as the French music scene. In 1965 Françoise Hardy ventured into the movie world again, landing a role in Jean-Daniel Pollet’s film "Une balle au cœur". Although the shoot proved to be long and arduous, Françoise’s performance in the film was showered with rave reviews from the critics when the film went on general release in February of the following year.

At the end of 1965 Françoise Hardy returned to the legendary Olympia, this time performing as a support act for traditional French chanson stars, Les Compagnons de la Chanson. The music press was incredulous that an ultra-modern star such as Françoise Hardy could perform with a group whom many critics considered to be utterly old-fashioned - and many others had forgotten altogether! (Françoise herself interpreted these comments as an unforgivable snub on the part of the press). Meanwhile Mademoiselle Hardy’s fame continued to spread beyond French borders and, through the intermediary of her photographer boyfriend Jean-Marie Perier, the young French singer soon began rubbing shoulders with the top names of the day. Hardy would soon be hanging out with The Beatles, Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones.

Françoise soon turned her attention to her acting career once more, starring alongside Yves Montand and James Garner in the American director John Frankenheimer’s film "Grand Prix". The film was not exactly a box office smash, but it was successful in launching Françoise Hardy in the United States. Indeed, shortly after the film's release, the American company Warner Bros would go on to contact Françoise Hardy’s French record label, Vogue, to sign a distribution deal for the singer’s records in the States. After a long and extremely successful promotional campaign, Françoise Hardy became a star in the U.S. The young French star's image would soon be splashed across all the top magazine covers and her presence sought on America's leading TV chat shows. Françoise soon became France’s most "exportable" female singing star. In fact, before conquering the States, Françoise Hardy had already soared to fame in Britain, where she had been recording from the very beginning of her career. Her album "In English" (recorded entirely in English of course!) proved a great hit in Britain and the young French star would bring the house down in London, appearing on stage at ultra-chic venues such as the prestigious Savoy Hotel, dressed in avant-garde creations by French designers Courrèges and Paco Rabanne. Yet Françoise’s incredibly hectic touring schedule was gradually beginning to wear her out, and her relationship with Jean-Marie Périer soon began to suffer. The couple would eventually split up in 1967. However, the void in Françoise’s love life was quickly filled by Jacques Dutronc, a sexy new singing star who had recently arrived on the scene and become the idol of thousands of teenage French girls. However, Françoise was unable to spend much time with her new lover in the early days of their relationship as both singers had extremely hectic touring and recording schedules to keep to. (Françoise was just about to embark upon an intensive 73-date tour!) And when she finally returned to Paris in the autumn of 67, she had to go straight into the studio to record 12 new tracks for her next album "Ma jeunesse fout l'camp". January 1968 proved to be another hectic month in Françoise's career. After appearing on numerous European TV shows, Françoise was then whisked off on another tour, which included numerous dates at British universities. In the spring of 67, Françoise then flew out to South Africa for another series of concerts. In 1968 Françoise Hardy, thoroughly exhausted by her globe-trotting lifestyle, decided to call a halt to her concert tours. The singer performed one last farewell concert at the Savoy in London, then quit the live arena to concentrate on her recording career. However, with the Yé yé wave finally drawing to an end in the late 60’s, Françoise must have already been wondering what was to become of her singing career. What’s more in 1969 the singer became involved in a lengthy legal battle with her record label, Vogue. Later that year Françoise Hardy's own production company (Productions Aspargus) closed down.

Yet, in spite of these obstacles, Françoise Hardy would continue her singing career, reinventing herself completely in the 1970’s. She began by casting off the image of ‘fashionable young girl about town’ that her former boyfriend Jean-Marie Périer had created for her. A more mature Françoise Hardy would emerge from the ashes, demanding to perform songs that reflected her inner self rather than cute pop tunes that would do well in the charts. In 1971 the new-look Françoise Hardy teamed up with a female Brazilian musician named Tuca to record an album on the Sonopresse label. This untitled work, which featured a number of Hardy’s most famous songs including "Chanson d'O" and "La Question" (one of the singer’s favourite texts) was to become a cult album. Despite the fact that this album failed to make any major commercial impact, the press hailed it as an absolute masterpiece. Hardy appeared to be completely unperturbed by poor album sales, preferring to find an audience who respected her true self rather than millions of adoring fans who were seduced by a superficial image.

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