The Les Clochards combine high-jinx, cheeky-chappy, faux-Francais, ‘Allo ‘Allo, theatrics with a level of musical inventiveness and professionalism that can only have come from years of practice and bags of talent. Styling themselves as five Corsican ‘clochards’, or hobos, the story goes that the troupe took the boat to mainland France to ply their trade as musicians on the streets in return for red wine remuneration. The Les Clochards are only too aware that a good back story is all part of the magic and mystery of any self-respecting rock ‘n’ roll band. This Dylanesque self-mythologising recurs throughout in humourous stories as told by the lead singer: a charismatic, shirt-button-dodging, occasional hip-gyrating frontman with a voice versatile enough to ably pull off ska, rock, heavy metal, and jazz. Tall tales range from the first time they heard radio in 1993; hanging out with Lemmy, Marley and Jagger on the island and writing ‘Ace of Spades’; and the bass player’s desire to find a wife, prompting a hilarious Flamenco-guitar rendition of ‘Like A Virgin’.
The band’s set is entirely comprised of covers, reworked in surprising and fun arrangements so that they sound entirely fresh. Several music-style bases are covered in this tight one-hour set. Their unique sound is largely due to their equipment: a home-made drum set, double bass, custom resonator guitar, saxophone, melodica, and 1960s stylophone. These are street instruments – designed to be easy enough to travel around with and loud enough to create quite a racket. The songs showcase the massive talent of the group as a unit, but also allow for individual prowess.
There’s lots of bounce and energy in a ska version of ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’. ‘(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life’ has an eastern, mystical flavour, created by the sax-player on stylophone. The lead singer throws more rock-star shapes on ‘Love Baby’. For the last song, ‘Sledgehammer’ - pronounced ‘EN-CORE’ by the singer, causing great ripples of laughter as the French-persona slips – we are treated to some Saturday Night Fever-style dance moves, and a punchy rap from the drummer. Other songs include: ‘Americano’; a rocky ‘Build Me Up Buttercup’; an unusual arrangement of ‘Nothing Else Matters’; a funked-up ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’; and ‘Sex Bomb’ which has the drummer standing up on his seat. There are too many funny moments to mention but another has to be the wonderful imitation of a stuck record on ‘Is this Love?’, which is only unstuck by the sound man climbing on stage and slapping the singer.
There is a lot of bang for your buck here. The Les Clochards create the sort of impression of chaos and unpredictability only possible through a huge amount of time, effort, practice and dedication. Every tiny detail has been thought through, right down to the charming anti-climactic strike of a triangle that sees us off into the night, smiling. Despite the singer’s suggestion that we might like to visit the bar, smoke a spliff outside, or pop a pill, this is a band that you don’t want to turn your back on for one second. A perfect hour’s entertainment.