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Extract from forthcoming book: AROUND EUROPE IN 180 PROGRESSIVE ROCK GROUPS see Projects for details

ANGE is the main prog band in France together with Magma, but is less known abroad than Magma although they did tour extensively in the UK and opened for Genesis in front of 30,000 music fans at the Reading Festival in 1973. The band was originally created in Belfort, in the north-east of France in 1969 by the two Décamps brothers, Christian (vocals, accordian, acoustic guitar and keyboards) and Francis (keyboards), Tristan Décamps, another keys player and vocalist also played in the band after 1997. Jean- Michel Brézovar (guitar and flute), Daniel Haas (bass and acoustic guitar) and Gérard Jelsh (drums) completed the original classic line-up.


A major band, although you wouldn’t think so if you read previous histories of prog rock, where they are no more than a foot note, if they appear at all. It seems, in retrospect, rather prejudicial, judged perhaps not by how good they were, but their insistence on singing in their native tongue, apart from PAR LES FILS DE MANDARIN (issued as ‘By the Sons of Mandarin’, but this still not swim across the English Channel in significant numbers!); also, from a lack of promotion and distribution despite recording for a major record label, Philips. Ange leader and muse Christian Décamps takes great exception to Ange being described as “the French Genesis”, with much justification, for while there are similarities in some respects as we are about to find out, they were no more so than for Genesis in terms of assimilating influences. Nothing starts with nothing after all.


Ange was highly rooted in the legends of the country and the tradition of ‘chanson française à texte’ - think for instance of Jacques Brel, a true influence since they performed a fabulous reprise of his famous ‘Ces gens-là’ song on their sophomore album “LE CIMÉTIERE DES ARLEQUINS” (1973). The band is still alive and well despite the silence of the medias; the band has a faithful fanclub and the combo completed a 50 years birthday tour.


From 1999 on, the band had a new line up with Tristan Décamps (Christian’s own son) on keyboards and the fabulous guitarist Hassan Hajdi, one of the best prog guitar players in France. “EMILE JACOUTEY RÉSURRECTION” (2014) is a fabulous bridge between the two periods. Meanwhile Francis Décamps created Gens de la lune, a band very close to Ange in its musical style and lyrics.


PROG ALBUM CHOICE (Thierry): GUET-APENS (1978) features a landmark, an epic ‘Captaine Coeur de miel’, showing excellent existential lyrics (the story of a desperate and alcoholic sailor) and featuring a gorgeous guitar solo; a true oasis in the punk turmoil of that time. The other tracks are also gems such as the moving ‘Réveille-toi’, the story of a lover who tries to give life again to his dead wife by making love with her, ‘Un trou dans la case’, the memories of a young boy discovering sex, the bucolic ‘Dans les poches du berger’, all showing excellent vintage keyboards and mix.


PROG ALBUM CHOICE (Phil): CARICATURES (1972): Their debut no less, just three pieces on each side. After a Francis Décamps overture, Jean- Michel Brézovar cuts loose on guitar; ‘Tels Quels’ has become one of my favourite Ange pieces. Brézovar’s flute graces the superb multi-part suite ‘Dignité’ leads us to Genesis (Oh, no!) but not in any plagiaristic way! Christian delivers a short speech on the title track, although I must admit there are a few difficulties in translation – a work in progress for me! That is the ‘Parlez’ section; there is also a ‘Chanté’ one. A broodier, jazzier and more experimental album than most, this is probably the essence of its appeal for me.


2ND CHOICE: ÉMILE JACOUTEY (1975): Whilst in England, Christian read an article in L’est Republicain’ about a farrier in his seventies from Saulnot in Haute Saône. Christian met Émile at his house and recorded their conversation; the character of Émile Jacoutey inspired some of the songs. Christian, Francis (who adds a hunting horn to ‘Les noces’) and Jean-Michel (who adds mandolin) were joined by Daniel Haas on bass and acoustic guitar and Guénole Biger on drums, percussion, marimba and vibes. The first side is arguably the best Ange made. I love to hear the old man’s voice on ‘Sur la trace des fées’ (the B-side to the minor hit ‘Ode à Émile’) and the powerful and visceral synth/ choral lines on ‘Le nain de Stanislas’. ‘Jour après jour’ was only released as a ‘demo’, but was one of Ange’s catchiest songs, and surely should have been a big hit. Christian himself in an interview with ‘Acid Dragon’ in 1993 said that the four-part suite ‘Ego e Deus’ was not the finished article (He was “somewhat disappointed by the B-side” and “there was not enough time to polish” (The context was a recording contract demanding an album a year and 225 days on the road), but I can still listen and enjoy it as a bonus. And the album earned Ange a Gold disc for over 100,000 sales.


Of the others, AU-DELA DU DÉLIRE (1974) is a top album that could easily have featured as one of the ‘preferred’ albums; this is one album where there is an elephant in the room – yes, Genesis! – on ‘Ballade pour une orgie’ and ‘La bataille du sucre’, but make no mistake this is ANGE! While working in London, I used to play ‘I Know What I Like’, on the pub jukebox,and I smile to myself when I hear ‘Fils de lumiere’, because if I were in Lyon this is what I would have chosen – the guitar work is particularly splendid (and there is also an exhilarating axe break on ‘Exode’). Mostly sung, but part spoken there are no really long pieces apart from the 9 minute title track. After a cuckoo starts PAR LES FILS DE MANDARIN (1976) (What is it about Euro prog bands and their bird song?), Ange start to get in to the heavy guitar riff – with admirable restraint of course! ‘Au café des Colibro’ has become one of my Ange ‘faves’. The atmosphere of the circus oozes from the magnificently naïve sleeve: a tightrope walker upon the waves; a white figure with the words “toi qui a ecouté ; a clown in front playing the accordion, his faithful dog at its side. The imagery is captured in the music, Christian’s voice high with emotion. The albums, like most from Ange, is full of surprises: the acoustic number ‘Ainsi s’en ira la pluie’ has harmonica, and it’s amazing how 12-bar chords can appear at the end of a number and fit perfectly! From the radio friendly refined folk of ‘Saltimnabques’ to Brezovar’s occasional flute work and his dependable rock guitar, there is much to like, but the album stalls a bit on the second side; lots of words, quite low key, more acoustic, and it is a relied when ‘Procession’ bursts out of the three-part ‘Hymne À La Vie’. Ange’s second LP LE CIMÉTIERE DES ARLEQUINS (1975), apart from a sensitive tratment of the aforementioned Jacques Brel number, has the intriguing ‘Bivouac (1ère Partie)’, a short musical play with parts, the catchy ‘De temps en temps’, a long symphonic title track which takes a dark turn at the end (even the sleeve is scary!); all the ingredients are there: the theatrical chant, the interplay between organ and wah-wah guitar; the peppering of electric guitar breaks; the romantic balladry, etc.


Sadly, Ange’s work in the eighties, in common with most progressive groups, was not so good. The punk dragon came to slay the prog dinosaur, but as we all know the dragon won out in the end. Of course, Ange never wrote as many great songs as Genesis, that goes without saying – but then again, who did? But, I must repeat they were not Genesis, they were ANGE, and could still fill venues, despite the evident Europhobia (although I do believe if more people had got to hear them – there was no access for me, for example – they would have got the accolades their rich music of the seventies deserved.

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