When it all began two weeks ago, we focused on the significance of the French national anthem La Marseillaise, but with the presidential election finally now over and the result bringing relief for many at home and abroad, despite reservations about there being an ideal candidate (can country can produce one?) it seems only right to celebrate Emmanuel Macron’s victory over the far-right National Front party of Marine Le Pen with a Gallic number. This could be by any array of stars from Edith Piaf to Serge Gainsbourg, but how best to beat back the tides of xenophobia and embrace the ideals of liberté, égalité and fraternité? Let’s go with the mischievous anarchist singer and poet, Georges Brassens, whose song featured in the film Les Copains (1964) directed by Yves Robert.
Ripe with wit, and dark humour, Brassens is less known outside of his native country, but is one of France’s greats, and has certainly influenced many others, including the singer and songwriter Jake Thackray. This song is all about friendship, and refers also to the name of a ship, with the title literally translating as “mates come first”, or “shipmates come first”. It is full of historic references, including the wreck of and rescue from the Medusa in 1816, and the writings of Montaigne’s humanist essay on friendship. Above all this jaunty, upbeat song is all about the positives in the human spirit, and how if we stick together, we will survive. In a period of political choppy seas, and boat loads of refuges, what could be more appropriate
Des bateaux j'en ai pris beaucoup,
Mais le seul qui'ait tenu le coup,
Qui n'ait jamais viré de bord,
Mais viré de bord,
Naviguait en père peinard
Sur la grand-mare des canards,
Et s'app'lait les Copains d'abord
Les Copains d'abord.
I've boarded a lot of boats
But the only one which really stayed on course,
Which never got on the wrong tack,
Never got on the wrong tack,
Sailed along, taking it easy
On the big duck pond,
They called it Friends First,
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