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Marianne Faithfull

Posh pop chanteuse and, consequently, long-time girlfriend of MICK JAGGER (until the early 70s), controversial wild-child “it girl” of the swinging 60s, MARIANNE FAITHFULL, had more than her fair share of tabloid column inches as her drug addiction spiralled into freefall. A handful of hits behind her (including breakthrough JAGGER-RICHARDS-Oldham piece `As Tears Go By’), the singer-cum-budding actress was well on her way to become a leading light in showbiz – and then the public breakdown.
In one of the most astonishing comebacks of all time, from homelessness to hospitalization, 1979 revealed that a fresh but croaky, former “Girl On A Motorcycle”, had weathered the storm, resuming a certain degree of musical rebirth with the `Broken English’ LP. Although it still took several tough years to get totally clean of her habit (1987’s `Strange Weather’ set marking her u-turn of sorts), MARIANNE FAITHFULL grew as an innovative artist who could spread seamlessly between torch singer, songwriter and actress.
Born Marianne Evelyn Gabriel Faithfull, 29 December 1946 in Hampstead, Gtr. London (daughter of a university professor and an Austro-Hungarian baroness), she was sent to St. Joseph’s Convent School in Reading, Berkshire. At the age of 17, while attending a party with her artist boyfriend, John Dunbar, she was spotted by Andrew Loog Oldham (The ROLLING STONES’ manager), who signed her to Decca Records almost immediately.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL’s delicate debut 45, the aforementioned `As Tears Go By’, soon careered into the hit parade in summer 1964 (and later in the States), and even featured Messrs JAGGER and RICHARDS in session, alongside string arrangements from Mike Leander. However, her follow-up cover of BOB DYLAN’s `Blowin’ In The Wind’, failed to emulate the earlier success of PETER, PAUL AND MARY. Marianne’s soft-pastel sound was innocent and almost BAEZ-like – a long way off from her heady days of the future.
A slight change of tack and beat, a re-hash of JACKIE DeSHANNON’s `Come And Stay With Me’ furnished Marianne with her biggest hit to date at No.4. Exclusive of her forthcoming LPs (as with her Top 10 follow-up, `Summer Nights’), John D. Loudermilk’s 2-minute ditty `This Little Bird’ was hardly rock’n’roll, but er… someone, er… liked it. Squeezed in between these singles (and not forgetting a heavenly take of LENNON & McCARTNEY’s `Yesterday’), FAITHFULL released a couple of folk-esque gems, a diversion from her work for Oldham.
Simultaneously issued in May 1965, alongside her more Baroque pop-orientated eponymous set, MARIANNE FAITHFULL {*6}, the traditionally-biased COME MY WAY {*5} was disregarded by the critics at the time, although it still managed to also reach the Top 20. `Portland Town’, `House Of The Rising Sun’, `Fare Thee Well’, `Once I Had A Sweetheart’, `Black Girl’, LEE HAYS’ `Lonesome Travellers’ and IAN TYSON’s `Four Strong Winds’ were all folk staples by now, but showed the lady a little uncomfortable outside usual pop confines.
NORTH COUNTRY MAID (1966) {*6} – half the tracks stemming from an earlier US-only, pop-meets-folk set, GO AWAY FROM MY WORLD (1965) {*6} – pushed the same buttons musically, although on this occasion trad fare (`Wild Mountain Thyme’, `Scarborough Fair’ and `She Moved Through The Fair’ included), sat at the same folk-rock table as covers of DONOVAN’s `Sunny Goodge Street’, TOM PAXTON’s `The Last Thing On My Mind’, BERT JANSCH’s `Green Are Your Eyes’, CYRIL TAWNEY’s `Sally Free And Easy’ and EWAN MacCOLL’s `The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’; as with her previous set’s title track, session guitarist/arranger Jon Mark (later known to JOHN MAYALL’s Bluesbreakers aficionados) penned the track, `Lullaby’.
Around the same time, she gave birth to a son, Nicholas, although Marianne was soon to separate from aforesaid husband John Dunbar. The sultry blonde bombshell then began a much-publicised affair with JAGGER after, allegedly, bedding the other three! (not Charlie). Busted for drugs with Mick and Co on many occasions, the couple visiting the Maharishi Yogi in ‘68, although her career in the flower-power years had taken a sharp nosedive; albums FAITHFULL FOREVER… (1966) {*6} – a US-only compilation – and LOVEINAMIST (1967) {*5}, selling relatively poorer in comparison to her breakthrough year.
Also in 1967, Marianne appeared and supplied backing vocals for The BEATLES on their star-studded `All You Need Is Love’ single and promo TV video. Lured into acting, she also featured in The Three Sisters (a Chekhov play), I’ll Never Forget What’s’isname (from ’67) and in the cult 1968 film, Girl On A Motorcycle (starring alongside Alain Delon); she miscarried with JAGGER’s baby and six months later, both were arrested in their London home for possession of marijuana.
A solo B-side single, `Sister Morphine’ (written with “the Glimmer Twins”), was withdrawn on home-soil and it looked like her music career was coming to a dead end. In the summer of ‘69, while on the set of the movie Ned Kelly (about to star alongside JAGGER), she was found in a coma after overdosing on barbiturates (100+ Tuinal). Marianne was duly dropped from the film and, as a consequence, went into hospital to try and cure her heroin addiction and depression. A year later, after a season playing Ophelia in Hamlet (alongside Nicol Williamson), much was made of her suspected suicide bids which were reported by the press; her split from JAGGER also in the dailys.
After around five years in the proverbial wilderness, a hazy Marianne returned with a new contract (on the NEMS imprint) for the single, `Dreaming My Dreams’, a pleasant if not brilliant comeback penned by WAYLON JENNINGS. Almost gone were the come-to-bed vocals of the 60s starlet, and at nearly 30 years of age, she looked settled into an AOR impasse. Pop and country her chosen way back into the limelight at this point, two albums appeared for the label, DREAMIN’ MY DREAMS (1977) {*5} and the almost copycat re-release: FAITHLESS (1978) {*4}; `All I Wanna Do In Life’, `I’m Not Lisa’, `Lady Madelaine’ and others frustratingly repeated to the annoyance of unforgiving fans – well, nearly!
Toward the closure of a tortuous decade best forgotten in the eyes of FAITHFULL, no one quite expected the grace and danger of her proper Island Records rebirth, BROKEN ENGLISH (1979) {*9}. Her last set(s)’s unfruitful attempt at C&W was now a mere blip in her career. Marking a pinnacle in her up and down lifespan, helped in the writing department by her long-time guitarist, Barry Reynolds, the title track opened a profoundly bitter-sweet masterclass. Highlighted by her explicit `Why’d Ya Do It’, the leather-clad mistress was in full swing using sex as her croaky vocal weapon backed by “the in-thing” electro/new wave; her cover of LENNON’s `Working Class Hero’ also a must-hear, as was her Top 50 rendition of SHEL SILVERSTEIN’s, `The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan’ (once a US hit for DR. HOOK). In the same month as its release (on 23 November), she married Ben Brierly of punk rock band, The VIBRATORS (and author of `Brain Drain’ “Broken” track), although her future seemed always to be dogged by her drug intake.
A couple of albums followed in relatively quick succession; 1981’s DANGEROUS ACQUAINTANCES {*6} and 1983’s Wally Badarou collaboration A CHILD’S ADVENTURE {*5}, showing a slide back into the pop mainstream. That she wanted to retain her freshly-acquired “rock-chic” street cred, the session-friendly LPs lost a bit of momentum, although they had their moments: `For Beauty’s Sake’ penned with STEVE WINWOOD from the first of these, and the strum-fest of her vacation to `Ireland’ for the latter.
On the back of an almost bypassed vocal performance with composer MARK ISHAM on the co-credited foreign-only soundtrack to the 1986 movie, TROUBLE IN MIND {*5}, the following year unveiled some further mainstream material. Now living in Cambridge, Massachusetts with new husband and writer, Giorgio Della Terza, FAITHFULL issued another comeback album of sorts, STRANGE WEATHER (1987) {*8}.
The set delivered some powerful and poignant passages, showing her weathered, world-weary vox to shining effect; Edith Piaf would have been proud of her. Nostalgic and nocturnal, a bluesy/jazzy Marianne could meld the old with the relatively new, as witnessed on the TOM WAITS title track, a cover of DYLAN’s `I’ll Keep It With Mine’, LEADBELLY’s `I Ain’t Goin’ Down To The Well No More’, Dubin & Warren’s `The Boulevard Of Broken Dreams’ and a sandpaper-vox re-fit of her most famous hit, `As Tears Go By’.
Ironically, just as she kicked hard drugs into touch, Marianne was deported from the States in ’88. The singer subsequently chose to settle in Ireland to finish off her autobiography, simply titled Faithfull. She’d also divorced Giorgio in 1991, a year after playing the role of Pink’s domineering mother in ROGER WATERS’ live rock opera adaptation of PINK FLOYD’s The Wall. Somehow, her own in-concert album, BLAZING AWAY (1990) {*7} – recorded at St. Anne’s Cathedral in Brooklyn, NY on 25/26th November 1989 – went relatively unnoticed, although it featured a career-spanning array of her most prominent pieces, including an opening salvo rendition of Edith Piaf’s `Les Prisons Du Roi’.
In a different context and preceding another studio set, there were covers of PATTI SMITH’s `Ghost Dance’ (from a Irish AIDS benefit set) and VAN MORRISON’s `Madame George’ (from a 1994 tribute to the man). For 1995’s A SECRET LIFE {*6}, Island Records matched her with the Twin Peaks talents of ANGELO BADALAMENTI, who not only produced the set but co-wrote several of FAITHFULL’s forays into film noir land. Despite the tender and grandiose `Flaming September’ and `She’ (long-time friend Frank McGuinness contributed poems for `The Wedding’ and `Sleep’), its arty effects and atmosphere were lost on the record-buying public.
Subsequently siding with “dark cabaret”, inspired wholly by German-born composers Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht (plus a few others from Noel Coward to NILSSON), RCA Victor/BMG would commission a live album for release in 1996. 20th CENTURY BLUES {*6} was a collaborative work with pianist Paul Trueblood, his/their interpretations of `Alabama Song’, `The Ballad Of The Soldier’s Wife’, `Pirate Jenny’ (the latter a song she performed at the Threepenny Opera In Dublin) et al, dividing fans old and er… older.
Having taken time out to appear with the likes of The CHIEFTAINS on their album, The Long Black Veil (in 1995) and METALLICA on their “ReLoad” opal, `The Memory Remains’ (in 1997), it was time once again to revisit Weill (and Brecht) for another dose of nostalgia a la THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS (1998) {*6}. Very ambitious with a full orchestra as backing, Marianne brought to life Weill’s works she’d already recited live at St. Anne’s in Brooklyn.
Like a “Broken English” part II, in the sense that it was just as lyrically intriguing, the DANIEL LANOIS/Mark Howard-produced VAGABOND WAYS (1999) {*7}, delivered FAITHFULL back into the critical limelight. Tracks such as `Electra’ (accounting all the infamous women in history), `Incarceration Of A Flower Child’ (a late 60s number authored by ROGER WATERS about SYD BARRETT), ELTON JOHN & Bernie Taupin’s `For Wanting You’, and a cover of LEONARD COHEN’s `Tower Of Song’, were excellent by the day’s high standards – Marianne F was indeed the saving grace amongst her contemporary divas.
With KISSIN TIME (2002) {*7}, the seemingly indomitable singer surpassed herself yet again, roping in a raft of cutting edge artists from the alt-rock world to create one of her most intriguing and challenging works to date. The presence of BLUR (on the title track), PULP (on her autobiographical `Sliding Through Life On Charm’), plus BECK, BILLY CORGAN, DAVE STEWART, JON BRION and others on a respective handful of songs, on paper they might at best, have threatened to overshadow FAITHFULL’s singular talent, at worst, become a muddled celebrity knees-up. In the event, she managed to meld the various link-ups into a seamless whole without compromising either her own artistic vision or that of her guests, each of whom succeeded in teasing out different facets of her musical character.
On 2004’s critically-acclaimed 17th album, BEFORE THE POISON {*7}, FAITHFULL was as sociable as ever, calling upon the songwriter-y services of NICK CAVE, PJ HARVEY, JON BRION and DAMON ALBARN (again!). Sounding ever more like the grand dame of avant-pop, a melancholy Marianne was as unnerving and fatalistic as she’d ever been, while concerning herself with a post-9/11 globe; from PJ’s `My Friends Have’ and `No Child Of Mine’, to Nick’s `Crazy Love’ and `There Is A Love’, these were arguably her most profound pieces in years.
Still an actress regarded in high esteem, appearing in an array of post-millennium TV shows and movies from Absolutely Fabulous, to Marie Antoinette and Irina Palm (for the latter she received a European Film Award for Best Actress nomination), FAITHFULL was indeed very candid when she revealed on a This Morning show, in October 2007, she’d been living with hepatitis C for over a decade; a few years back, she successfully underwent treatment to rid her of breast cancer.
Back on track in late 2008 with yet another guest/collaboration recording, the double-disc EASY COME, EASY GO {*7} – officially released outside the EU the following March – producer Hal Willner and the her ever-faithful retainer Barry Reynolds (alongside session men Greg Cohen, Marc Ribot and Jim White), Marianne donned her covers cap. Many too many to re-address here, one could validate several jazz, blues, folk, soul and show-tune re-vamps and a stellar cast list, including CAT POWER (for NEKO CASE’s `Hold On, Hold On’), NICK CAVE (for The DECEMBERISTS’ `The Crane Wife 3’), RUFUS WAINWRIGHT (for ESPERS’ `Children Of Stone’), ANTONY HEGARTY (for SMOKEY ROBINSON’s `Ooh Baby Baby’), KEITH RICHARDS (for MERLE HAGGARD’s `Sing Me Back Home’), SEAN LENNON (for BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB’s `Salvation’), JARVIS COCKER (for Bernstein & Sondheim’s `Somewhere (A Place For Us’) and KATE & ANNA McGARRIGLE (for both JUDEE SILL’s `The Phoenix’ and NIC JONES’ trad `Flandyke Shore’).
Continuing her fixation with jazz, blues and rock music, 2011’s well-named HORSES AND HIGH HEELS {*6} was recorded in the French Quarter of New Orleans. This time around featuring four self-penned collaborations (a few shared with Doug Pettibone), there were cameos for LOU REED, WAYNE KRAMER and DR. JOHN, whilst the songs re-hashed in her own honey-over-hedgerow hue, were best served by LESLEY DUNCAN’s `Love Song’, ALLEN TOUSSAINT’s `Back In Baby’s Arms’, The GUTTER TWINS’ `The Stations’, JACKIE LOMAX’s `No Reasons’ and CAROLE KING & Gerry Goffin’s `Goin’ Back’.
Celebrating 50 years in the music biz and not likely to put on her pink slippers until she draws her last breath of a ciggy (as depicted on the cover shot), she finally won over a section of Brits when reaching Top 75 status with her universally-acclaimed 20th set, GIVE MY LOVE TO LONDON (2014) {*8}. Named after a title track she scribed with guest guitarist STEVE EARLE, the concept was continued with ANNA CALVI (on `Falling Back’), with ED HARCOURT and French producer Dimitri Tikovoi (on `True Lies’) and with TOM McRAE (on `Love More Or Less’), whilst covers came thick and fast from ROGER WATERS: `Sparrows Will Sing’, NICK CAVE: `Late Victorian Holocaust’ (ditto `Deep Water’ with Marianne herself), LEONARD COHEN: `Going Home’ (featuring ENO on backing vocals), The EVERLY BROTHERS: `The Price Of Love’ and Hoagy Carmichael: `I Get Along Without You Very Well’.
At 70 years young, who knows where and what Marianne will come up with in the future, but one thing’s for sure, it’ll be cutting edge and/or absolutely fabulous. Until then, and bridging the gap to commemorate 50 years in the business back in 2014, a live in Europe CD/DVD package NO EXIT {*7} was unveiled in September 2016. While one can only comment on the 9-track audible disc rather than the fuller visual accompaniment (blame earMUSIC’s format), the high spots mainly blow in from her previous set and also resounding renditions of `Sister Morphine’ and `The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan’.
© MC Strong 1994-2010/GRD-BG/GFD-MCS // rev-up MCS Sep2016

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