Just prior to that however, I had taken a short break and headed down to the South of France, a part of the world that I loved and would forever be drawn to.
I remember that evening, strolling down the promenade of a small harbour town, that I heard a busker, a French busker singing a rather beautiful song that I thought I had heard before. Captivated, I stopped and listened. It turned out that the song that the musician, Gilbert Moreno, was playing, was actually completely original, written by him, but of a genre that reflected the quintessential mood of traditional and eternal French music. Piaf, Aznavour, Mathieu, Brel. It resonated with me in a way that made it impossible for me to ignore. I spontaneously suggested to Gilbert a slightly madcap idea. ‘come to London with me and record some demos of your songs’. I had no idea what we could do with a traditional French songwriter in the hardbitten rock environment of London, but somehow it didn’t matter. Why couldn’t we promote him to the French market? How my partners might react was another concern.
Gilbert was completely up for it. He had only one condition. He needed to attend a song festival in Lisbon, Portugal, first before coming to London, as a friend of his was performing there and a promise to attend had been made. It all sounded like a great idea, typical of the free spirited mind set we all followed in those days. And so, without any further thought, we huddled into our small Fiat and headed for Lisbon.
Song festivals are strange and rather surreal events. Witness Eurovision. For my part, I quite like the format and the song festival we attended in Lisbon was typical of the genre. Held in a casino ballroom, mildly ritzy, yet featuring generally rather bland entries performed by shimmering, well choreographed performers.
The morning of the festival, almost as if written in the script, Gilbert came running up to me and announced that he would be performing his masterpiece, the song that had captivated me originally ‘Virginie’. Apparently the French entrant was indisposed or ill or something along those lines. It was almost caricaturely absurd but there it was. He had proposed himself as understudy, been accepted and that evening, Gilbert, alone on stage with his guitar, performed the song that had originally drawn to him without accompaniment as there had been no time to prepare. He was spellbinding. He didn’t win of course, he was too good. But he performed with flair, was well placed in the order and recognized by the judges for his last minute volunteerism. We also had, as a bonus, a great story to tell. Standing in for France at the eleventh hour. We felt elated on the long drive back to London. Three musketeers having faced the best of Europe!
Strangely, my concerns about how my partners would feel about my odd escapade, arriving back accompanied by a French busker and a promise to record some songs were misplaced. Gilbert was received with enormous enthusiasm and goodwill by all, and Colin was ready and willing to spend endless hours recording Gilbert’s songs for presentation to possible takers.
So there we were. We had several projects in hand. Charlie with his EMI contract, Kit Russell, Maya, Gilbert Moreno and my production commitments. We also had Maya’s husband, Bertrand, chasing me for new product and recordings for Maya. What was clear was that Rob was drifting into his own direction. There was no personal problem, we were all great friends but clearly a change was in the air. And it came in two ways, one half expected and one like a thunderbolt, following a spontaneous visit to Pizzaland in Notting Hill Gate.