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Tuesday, 10 April, 2001, 10:38 GMT 11:38 UK
Aznavour leaves on high note
charles aznavour
Aznavour: Eats a hearty meal before going on stage
By BBC News Online's Rebecca Thomas

It is the end of an era for legendary French singer Charles Aznavour as he bids farewell to his touring days.

But far from missing his worldwide travels, Aznavour, 75, is in buoyant mood.

"I am happy, very happy - it is about time I had a rest," he booms from his 5ft 3inch frame.

I have seen my audiences go up and up over the years and I now feel part of a big family

Charles Aznavour

Despite his protestations of fatigue, Aznavour seems to have boundless reserves of energy.

His final tour date on Tuesday in Divonne, in the east of France, comes at the end of eight months of continuous concerts across France.

Aznavour has a simple response when asked about the secret of his stamina.

"My methods are easy - I always make sure I have a good meal before a concert," he explains.

"I never go anywhere without my Michelin and Gault Millaud restaurant guides.

"So when I get to my hotel room I feel great and start playing on my piano straight away in readiness to go on stage."


On this last tour, Aznavour has played some of his best-loved songs - all written and composed by him.

Among the first to spring to mind are She, In The Old Fashioned Way and What Makes A Man.

My fondest memories are of Russia, Spain and South America - the people there find my peculiar voice very much to their taste

Charles Aznavour

Many of us could hum at least one Aznavour hit but he bans anyone singing along during his shows.

"Oh no, definitely not - I will not allow it," he exclaims. "My songs have to be listened to - everything is in the words.

"I have only one song where the audience can join in, Le Deux Guitares - but, then, they can only clap."

Aznavour the performer is clearly a hard task master. But it has not stopped him being welcomed all over the globe.

"I have seen my audiences go up and up over the years and I now feel part of a big family," Aznavour says warmly.

"It is of course true in France but I also feel totally at home in Belgium, Switzerland, America and the UK.

"But my fondest memories are of Russia, Spain and South America. The people there find my peculiar voice very much to their taste, even though they don't understand a word I am saying," he laughs.


Words are, however, the very rhyme and reason for Aznavour becoming a songwriter in his teens.

He was both enthused and infuriated by the poetic traditions of the French chanson - as practised by the likes of Maurice Chevalier.

People did not understand me and I looked and sounded strange too

Charles Aznavour

Aznavour found their lyrics beautiful but essentially vacuous and removed from reality and wanted to change the tide.

"I watched a lot of films and loved going to art galleries where everything I saw spoke about real life but all these songs were make believe and just seemed to be taking the Mickey."

Aznavour's lyrics drew on his own experiences of growing up in deprivation as the son of poor Armenian immigrants in Paris.

He also went beyond these confines to venture into territories unexplored in songs, such as homosexual love.

Aznavour is open about the hostility to his songs and to his unconventional appearance and "strange" voice.

"People did not understand me and I looked and sounded strange too."

He struggled for almost 20 years for his big break, sometimes even being booed off stage.

But Aznavour says he was never one for quitting: "I am stubborn and a great optimist. The more people try to stop me, the more I push to carry on.

"It runs in my family, even when we were starving, we laughed and sang."

Aznavour has sold more than 100 million records since becoming "acceptable" in the late 50s.

It is quite an accomplishment considering Aznavour has had no musical training.

"I am the world's best, worst piano player," he chortles.

His self-motivation is evident in other areas of his life. He has acted in more than 60 films.

And, having dropped out of school aged 10, he taught himself to read and speak several languages.

He now gets through around 100 books a year and works to help the people of Armenia.

He is planning a trip to Toronto with his wife, after which he will begin work on a new film.

"I love the movies," he enthuses. "I will work on a film for anything from one hour to three months - as long as it is "beau" I am happy."

See also:

31 Mar 00 | Entertainment
Aznavour's tall order
10 Apr 01 | Music
Aznavour bids adieu
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