Jac Berrocal
I nterview with Dan Warburton
13th April 2004


Photo by Ron Anderson

Your first album Musiq Musik and some of the pieces on Parallèles were recorded in or near Sens, in Burgundy. Is that where you grew up?

No, in fact I was born in Charente Maritime, in 1946. I'm Burgundian by adoption; my father was transferred there after the War by his company. Neither of my parents was from Burgundy – my father was from Paris, and my mother from the south of France. Apparently I have some English blood on my mother's side. A lot of English settled in France after the Hundred Years War. The name Berrocal itself is Spanish, though I've never really looked into exactly where it came from. My father's family arrived in France at the end of the 19th century, during the first wave of Spanish immigration to France. The second wave was after Franco, of course.

Musiq Musik was recorded in the crypt of a Romanesque church, and of course Sens is famous for its cathedral. Was a religious upbringing an important influence on your musical development?

Yes, but my parents weren't at all religious, and I'm certainly not, and yet religious art has always interested me: the magic of art, the architecture of great cathedrals, mosques and synagogues, all the decor of the liturgy, and the music that goes with it. It's part of our culture – you don't have to believe in God to love it. When I think about it, I'm astonished to think that I was exposed early on to all this liturgical art, to these dark churches, bleeding statues.. Christianity is hard – it's always pain represented in those paintings.. But at the same time there is this sumptuous music, the costumes. That was very important for me. When I was young I was at boarding school, and I used to serve breakfast to the Carmelite nuns to get out of maths lessons, and I remember the sound of their voices singing Gregorian chant. It was magical. I sang in a choir specialising in Renaissance music. We sang motets in Latin. That four-part polyphony was beautiful. We didn't understand the words, of course, we just learnt it by ear – it might as well have been in Arabic. We gave concerts in churches and theatres, and in 1956 we sang at the funeral of Archbishop Lamy in Sens, and everybody was there. We were performing in front of thousands of people, plus all the nuns and priests in costumes, with the incense and the candles.. Better than the Olympia, better than Carnegie Hall!

Did the Berrocal family listen to records at home?

No, there was nothing. We had the radio, but records were too expensive. They came later. My father played the violin – not very well – but he played a bit of jazz, 1930s swing style. He played by ear. It was quite amusing. In 1960 I left the school, and the choir too, and I remember I found myself at a jam session of some school friends who had a rock group. In fact they were jazz musicians – they liked Count Basie and Django Reinhardt as well as Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochrane and Gene Vincent – and they did their own idiosyncratic, typically French version of rock'n'roll. You know, rock'n'roll is swing when you think about it: Basie was one of the first rock'n'rollers. Listen to that rhythm section! Anyway, one day these guys had a gig and the lead singer was "ill" – he was terrified of singing in public – so they asked me to replace him. I said I didn't know anything about singing, but as I'd been hanging out at all the rehearsals and knew more or less what he did, I did it. So I started my career as a rock'n'roll singer.

Were you singing in English?

I wouldn't call it English.. in France we call it "Yoghurt!" (laughs) It didn't last long, but I enjoyed it. Later when I started the trumpet, I listened to a lot of jazz on the radio. The Jazz Messengers, Basie, Ellington..

Why did you choose the trumpet?

The trumpet came in a rather bizarre way. I never knew either of my grandfathers – they both died in the First World War, one in 1914, the other in 1916 – but at home there was a photo of my grandfather (on my mother's side) when he was young, in his village brass band, playing the cornet. It must have stuck in my mind, because when I discovered jazz later on the radio, that was the instrument that touched me immediately. The trumpet arrived late – I started while I was doing my national service near the German border (when you're called up you're always sent far from home. If you manage to stay in your hometown it's because someone's been pulling strings so you can go home to Mummy and Daddy every night..). One of the guys I was with was a gunsmith, and he played New Orleans style, and there was another guy in the same barracks who played in a very classical style. Not classical music, but in a classical style. So I took lessons with both of them. It seemed natural to do so, because by this time I was listening to all kinds of different music. I liked everything – Vince Taylor, Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald.. one day I heard Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry playing "Lonely Woman", and I was blown away. Then I remember they broadcast a concert from the Olympia, with John Coltrane and his quartet. That must have been 1961, or 62. You could hardly hear the saxophone for the public whistling and shouting – "You can't play, get off, get back to the hotel!" – and he was playing "My Favourite Things" and you could barely hear him. I was absolutely enthralled; I couldn't understand why people were booing. I'd never heard anything like it. Of course, two years later the same people who were booing were cheering him. I heard all this – Coltrane, Ornette, Don Cherry, Mingus too – on the radio, on Europe 1. You wouldn't hear commercial radio stations play that stuff today.

Were you playing in public yet?

I tried a few things out with friends, but it was difficult. It was a bit like what happened in England later with punk: none of us knew how to play anything, but we wanted to play. Our drummer Bruno was mad keen on Art Blakey and Elvin Jones but he was actually losing his eyesight, going blind, and he had no rhythmic sense at all. Sometimes he actually missed the drums altogether! That was how I met [accordionist] Claude Parle, who was into Cecil Taylor and John Cage. It's funny: when free jazz arrived, I was actually listening to Tibetan music. That was even crazier than Ornette Coleman (imitates). I didn't follow any particular style, I listened to everything. Ferré, Brassens of course, Brel, Nougaro, but not just chanson. Moving from Léo Ferré to Charles Mingus wasn't a problem. I wanted to listen to everything. I had friends who only listened to jazz, and a certain kind of jazz at that – and I still have many friends who hate Brel because he's too expressionist (which is what I like about him) – but I was lucky. I saw as many concerts as I could. I was in Paris during the week and went back to Sens at the weekend. It's not far away, only 100km.

I suppose you were affected by the arrival of the American free jazz musicians in France at the end of the 1960s.

Absolutely, but I wasn't tempted to play the stuff myself. The first things I did were kinds of happenings in the early 1970s. People wanted kind of.. folk things. I soon found that even dedicated left-wing student activists had pretty limited ideas of what music should be. I managed to piss them off after about two minutes. Maybe what we were doing was no good, I don't know. They made us stop! Then we had all kinds of heated discussions, how can you be on the left and do this, or not do this.. all that shit.

When did you meet [promoter and Futura Records label manager] Gérard Terronès for the first time?

That was at the beginning of the 1970s. I knew about the other groups he was involved with through fanzines. Back then, when somebody launched a fanzine, everybody bought it. There were things about new music, happenings, independent labels, everything. I started to do things, but I don't think they were ever very good. I did several things with Claude and Roger Ferlet, before Claude left to play with Don Cherry. Don invited him to tour in Sweden. Unfortunately Claude didn't carry on with music. He eventually got married and he stopped playing altogether, which was a shock. So we continued as a duo with Roger.

Is it true you met Ferlet hitchhiking in Finland?

Yes, in 1970. It was midnight in Lapland and this [Citroën] 2CV stopped and he said: "Where are you going?" I said "The Arctic Circle" and he said he was too. He said he was there to visit the country, which was true, but he was also there to pick up local girls! So was I! (laughs) He said: "The car's fucked, I don't know if we'll get there but get in." Anyway, we started talking about music, and talked all night, and he said he played a bit of guitar, and I said "let's do something together".

How did you meet Michel Potage?

I'd already met Michel Potage in 1967; he was involved in theatre, and wrote and painted too. We decided to work together in a kind of music theatre. Michel's work was always in between theatre and music. We staged things at the Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris, later on with Roger Ferlet, Claude Parle, and others, including Raymond Boni, Bernard Vitet and Pierre Bastien.

Where did the idea for Musiq Musik come from?

We recorded it in the crypt of Saint Savinien et Potentien in Sens, a Romanesque church with touches of Gothic. It's one of the oldest churches in the region. My girlfriend and I went back there recently. You have to make an appointment to see it now because it's a bit out of town and it's not in good condition. The story was that back then studio reverb cost a fortune, and I realised that natural reverb was more beautiful, and cost nothing at all! Thanks to the local priest we were allowed to record in this church. He told us that in the crypt there were the remains of two martyrs, Saint Savinien and Saint Potentien who were beheaded in 73AD, right where Michel set up his mics. For the music itself we started with a kind of basic plan, but that soon fell by the wayside. We just fell in love with the sound of the church, that thousand year old reverb.. When it was finished we played it to the priest, and he liked it. He was a very open-minded guy. I took the tape to Pierre Barouh at Saravah, who I was on good terms with – you have to approach labels when you have an album ready, even if you have to redo things later – but for financial reasons they couldn't bring it out right away, so I took it to Terronès. I don't know how many he printed, maybe a thousand.

How was it received?

Very strangely. It wasn't a jazz record, and it certainly wasn't rock, and it didn't have much to do with contemporary music either. Prior to that recording Roger and I had been travelling in India, Pakistan and I'd been to Iraq and Syria, so what resulted was a kind of sonic postcard. But as a result of that we started to get a bit of work. We tried to recreate the kind of stuff that was on the disc, but by then people had moved on to other things, a kind of music theatre.

What was the scene like in Paris in the mid 1970s?

It was bubbling. Back then you met people more easily than you do today. You could meet a fantastic guitarist like Raymond Boni and he'd call you and you'd do something. Everyone was up for something. We all had day jobs though. The Intermittent de Spectacle status already existed, but a lot of what we did wasn't declared, so that didn't solve the problem. Only those musicians who were really well known could make a living from music. The rest of us were journalists, shopkeepers, office workers – I did all kinds of jobs. We didn't have the Instants Chavirés, but there were places to play, like the Salle Olmstet in the 13th arrondissement, and the Théâtre Mouffetard. They were very active, putting on plays by people like Fernando Arrabal and what have you. With 150 people it'd be full. It was a historic place, and very beautiful inside too.
What was interesting about that time was that people put a lot of energy into what they were doing, and a lot of their own money too. If the project was short of a few centimes, you put them in yourself, even if you didn't have them. "Too bad, we'll have pasta for dinner instead of dining out, and you can stay over at my place." Nowadays you ask someone to do something and it's "how much am I going to get paid, how many hours work will it represent?" and so on. Which I don't criticise, don't get me wrong, but I do feel it can stifle your creativity. The kind of improvised music scene we had, the things we did, couldn't exist today. Things like dumping a ton of sand in the Musée d'Art Moderne, which Michel did when we did "Escale au sable à l'ancienne et à la moderne" in 1976. The folks at the museum wondered what the hell we were going to do with it, but they said yes. Or at the Sens festival, Norbert Letheule, who read texts accompanied by Benoît Duteurtre dressed as a nurse in an SS uniform, with Jean-François Pauvros – who isn't exactly small – sitting on his shoulders playing guitar. When we did the Transmusicales with Michel Potage and Claude Parle in 1978, Michel was wearing makeup and a feather boa, like a transsexual and I was dressed from head to toe in leather with nothing underneath, and Claude was playing "Lili Marlene" and building a panel out of plaster at the same time. There was plaster everywhere. Try suggesting that to a festival today. "We don't want that!" There was a spontaneity to it that was almost suicidal, terrifying. People would be afraid: "This guy's crazy, he's going to kill himself!" There were people riding motorbikes on stage, and Richard Marachin who put fifty crates of beer on the stage by his piano and drank them while playing Chopin. Try suggesting that to a festival today!

You released your next album, Parallèles, on your own label d'Avantage in 1977.

Yes, and the reissue on Alga Marghen includes other tracks that were never released, including "Occupé". We did that in 1977/78 and Michel made a fantastic cover for it, very simple, in green moulded plastic with an "Occupé" sign, like the ones you find on toilets in trains. It would have cost a fortune to produce, but we were ready to do it. But then for some reason, psychological or whatever, Michel decided he didn't want it to come out at all. Later, when I saw it had appeared abroad as a cassette bootleg, I listened to it again and thought it was worth releasing. I asked Michel for permission to release it on the reissue of Parallèles, and he agreed.

It was also Michel's idea to record in a pig farm ["Post-card"], I believe.

Yes. It's also true we found the text on a postcard in a rubbish bin (I'm not telling you where – that's a secret!), and we knew we had to record it. We adapted the text – originally it was half French, half English – but left it pretty much intact. We decided that Michel would read it, because he had some experience in theatre. Then we wondered what sound we could have in the background. We tried out some trombone noises, and one day we were talking about animals with Daniel [Deshays, producer], and Michel mentioned that a friend of his father's had a pig farm. So we called this guy up and he said yes. So off we went to record with the pigs. Live, with the pigs. Not stick them on top afterwards in a studio. We had to do it quite fast because when we started playing the pigs got quite agitated. (laughs) I like that kind of flux in the piece. I'm very happy with it.

"Rock'n'Roll Station" remains the album's most famous track, and perhaps your best known work to date. Where on earth did that piece come from? I always imagine the text as something you'd dreamt..

No, I wrote it one day at work in the office, and I asked Michel Potage's girlfriend, who was good at English, to translate it. "Rock'n'Roll Station" was originally written for me to perform. Actually, I had thought about Lou Reed's voice – I love Lou Reed – but as it happened I had some friends who ran an antiques shop, and it was there I met Vince [Taylor]. As soon as I heard him speak, I knew that was the voice I wanted. Maybe in the text I had been thinking of Vince without realising it, in a way. Not that it's specifically about a rock'n'roll singer on the way down, or the Stations of the Cross, if you like, but a kind of nostalgic thing because people had forgotten what rock'n'roll actually was. Rock'n'roll as such didn't exist anymore. The Stray Cats hadn't started up yet.. Who was there, apart from Vince? Meeting Vince led me to go back and watch some of the footage of him performing in the 1960s, and as David Bowie said, he really was one of the greatest showmen in rock'n'roll. You were almost afraid he'd hurt himself; it was so sensual, sexual.. He was good looking, and he was as popular with the boys as with the girls. Anyway, I read him the text, told him it was for a record, and he said he liked it. We changed one or two words – we inserted the reference to "Brand New Cadillac", which was his hit record, but that was about it.

What about the bicycle?

That happened at the recording! Originally it was supposed to be for bass, cello, trumpet in the background, and Vince. But [cellist] Philippe Pochan overslept and missed the session! He was fucking crazy. Anyway, there was this bike hanging around the house – we recorded it in a 1930s house in Paris, on rue Charles Weiss, a house constructed by Le Corbusier, where Bernard Vitet's parents lived – so I said to Daniel Deshays: "Can we try something with this?" He said: "What the hell do you want to do?" I remember Vince said (imitates Taylor's accent): "Très bien c'est comme une batterie!" (laughs) Daniel had a Revox, and a few mics. One for the voice, two for the bike and one for the bass. Vince warmed up with some Billie Holiday songs (which I think Daniel ended up rubbing off, which was a shame) and that was it. I think we did two takes. No overdubs. It went down like that. For the record, since the information on the Alga Marghen disc is incorrect, the tracks "Parallèles" and "Galimatias" were recorded in the basement of the Théâtre Mouffetard, and "Bric-a-brac" was recorded in a house in Montmartre, whose address I forget, because Richard [Marachin] specifically wanted to play on a Bechstein!

Did you ever try to present the music from Parallèles live?

It would have needed a lot of rehearsal, a lot of planning to coordinate the events. What we were doing was linked to a kind of music theatre – it's true it's a kind of music that's almost unplayable in a conventional concert; it needs a specific mise-en-scène, a bit like Mauricio Kagel's music.

When Parallèles came out, punk was in full swing. Was the formation of your group Catalogue influenced by that?

Michel and I listened to a lot of stuff. We'd heard about the Sex Pistols and the Clash, but we came to them a bit late. What really blew us away was PiL – I remember when Michel bought the first PiL record, it was much more powerful than the Pistols, with Jah Wobble's enormous bass sound and Lydon's voice.. fantastic. That first PiL record is amazing. Punk was a hot music, The Pistols were hot, but PiL was coooold. A glacial universe.
Where did Catalogue come from? I don't know.. We were invited to play at a festival of improvised music in Antwerp in 1979. I was already working on the record called Catalogue, which wasn't exactly the same group; there was Michel, Jean-Pierre Arnoux on drums, Patrick Prado on saxophone and Jean-François Pauvros on guitar. I'd known Jean-François for a few years already. I must have met him about 1976. I saw him live with [percussionist] Gaby Bizien about the time No Man's Land came out, and it was fantastic. So we went to Antwerp with that group, and Catalogue became the name of the group by default. The album Catalogue will be reissued on Alga Marghen, along with a disc of poetry / texts I did in 1985 with my friend Jacques Doyen. There's a rare text by André Breton called "L'Union Libre", one by Artaud, and another satanic prayer I wrote myself. That'll be on another disc, by the way, not the same one as Catalogue.

Antwerpen Live was recorded in August 1979. Also that year you met Steven Stapleton. How did that come about?

We met about 1979. He was in Paris and came round for dinner. I remember that well, because we had no money at the time (except for wine) and my girlfriend, Annick, went out "shopping" and stole an enormous roast beef. We ate meat all evening. Steve was always fascinated by "Rock'n'Roll Station". He brought me a copy of his first record, and said he wanted to do something with me. It was to be a completely open project. "We'll see what happens in the studio," he said. So I went to London with my old Tibetan oboe and pocket trumpet. It was a studio where the Clash had recorded, Nick Rogers was the engineer, and it was high speed. We had very little studio time, we had to go quickly. I had no idea what we did would be classified as Industrial music. Very strange! I played on two Nurse records, To The Quiet Men from a Tiny Girl and a track called "Conseil des Ministres" on An Afflicted Man's Musica Box. Another extract from that session appears on Hotel Hotel, as the track "21.12.1914", which was the exact date of my grandfather's death in the First World War. There were several people on that album: AMM was on it too, with Keith Rowe and Eddie Prévost. Later, in about 1983, I wanted to invite Nurse to play here. For once I actually had the money to pay everyone, travel, gig and hotel, and I told Steve to come with whoever he wanted, but he didn't want to.

Back to Catalogue.. How come it was Hat Hut who brought out Penetration? That was after all a jazz label.

Werner Uehlinger heard the Antwerpen Live disc and liked it. He said he wanted something recorded in Switzerland. Penetration was recorded live in April 1982 at the Brasserie Birseckerhof in Basel, and it was a very good live recording. Werner especially liked one piece we did called "Khomeiny Twist". We had some problems with that.. I remember it offended one of my friends, who accused me of making publicity for the Ayatollah. It's funny, but you can say anything you like about the Queen or the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Pope and it doesn't shock anyone anymore. I'm not religious at all, as I said earlier, but when people have a go only at Christianity that pisses me off. They wouldn't dare attack other religions because they're too afraid – go attack an imam or a rabbi and you've got a problem. It's all too easy, somehow.

How long did Catalogue stay together?

Nearly eleven years, ten with Gilbert [Artman, drums]. It was strange how our public changed. Rock promoters invited us and were bemused, and jazz festivals invited us and lived to regret it! (laughs) We played once in Austria, and Cecil Taylor was there and loved it. He told me it was the only thing in the festival that didn't bore him. The journalists hated it, though. They said it was punk rock.

How did the punk community receive the discs then?

The punks thought we were strange, the jazz community hated it, and the rock press said it wasn't rock'n'roll. The Germans and the British loved us, but the French didn't know what to do with it. (laughs) You know, people have always treated me as a marginal, but I never signed a piece of paper saying "I am a marginal". It's everybody else who's marginal. Even today, people have no problems going to see an exhibition of modern art but they still find it difficult to get into new music, even "old" new music. Play people some Schoenberg, Webern, Stockhausen, Kagel or Xenakis and they wonder what's going on. Their eyes might be ready to accept a Jackson Pollock, but their ears still haven't understood Ornette Coleman. They still want nice easy rhythms, melodies (sings "Yesterday"). I think the wider public is more open-minded than journalists on this one, but try taking somebody to a Derek Bailey concert and see if they realise that this is a great artist. They'll say it's noise, or say he's taking the piss, or something. I'm not asking people to like what we do, I just ask that they at least listen to it – really listen.

How did Catalogue rehearse together as a group?

Someone would arrive with a bit of text or something, "motherfucker", "the Queen is dead", anything, and that would make a piece. That was what I loved about Catalogue – the freedom, the improvisation. One word could make a whole piece. We could go anywhere. There was something deliciously cheap about it, I loved the lyrics, which were completely incoherent. Catalogue was definitely a group with no message.

You were together right through the 1980s, which was a period of enormous political turmoil in Britain, if not in France. Were you following musical developments across the Channel?

I loved Joy Division, but I discovered them quite late. I loved that astonishing coldness with hot instrumentation. They were an amazing group of performers who created something unique, very rare. Like I said before, punk was pretty hot stuff but with Joy Division you have to make the effort to go towards them. It's more like poetry; you don't scream it out. Yes, the 1980s.. (pause) Well, politically, we didn't have the same kind of trauma that you had under Thatcher. Under Giscard in the 1970s things were generally OK. It's a complex subject, this.. (pause) Under a dictatorship you often get an explosion of great art, whereas if you subsidize everything and hand money out left right and centre you end up with a lot of shit. It's all tied up with business these days, the Queen, Chirac, Putin, they're all prisoners of business. And artists are too.

At the end of the 80s did you feel Catalogue's music was somehow less relevant?

I think groups, like friendships, couples, marriages, wear out after a while. You never manage to do everything you want to do, you don't even always know what you want to do together, and you reach a point where you end up doing the same thing, and not necessarily very well. With Catalogue, we reached a point where we had to go off and pursue individual projects. Personally, I've never understood why couples wear out – at the beginning, when you're with the woman or man of your life, you're ready to walk 10,000 kilometres with a bunch of roses and make love even if you're tired out! Why can't we carry on doing that forever? (laughs) No, I think it's good that we could separate and still remain good friends. The problem with Catalogue was that we never had a label to follow us along the way, a label manager to call you up like an art dealer calls up a painter and says: "Are you working now? It would be good for you to do something because I've got plans for an exhibition here and there". If there's nobody behind you, if there's no concert in view, or no recording session in the pipeline, it's more difficult. It's a question of supporting artists. If I've done this poetry record for Alga Marghen it's because they asked me for it. I can carry on working by myself at home, but if nobody is interested I might as well stop. Actually, I think from time to time an artist should stop working, stop painting, stop writing.. not definitively, but to be able to start up later with something really strong. Anyone can turn out shit; as human beings we're fantastically good at turning out shit – we do it every day! From time to time though I have to walk round and round my room, not wanting to do anything, even masturbate. It's like fasting. You don't eat, you don't drink (well, not much), you stop, take a break and see what comes later. There's no great urgency to create until the desire to create comes one day. But it's true that if you have other people who trust you, who call you up, who encourage you to work, it helps.

Aki Onda being a recent example..

Yes! Aki contacted me. He apparently knew all my old stuff, which was nice. I listened to his music but what he wanted to do was something quite different. It wasn't easy for me. We didn't have much time to rehearse – and I need a lot of rehearsal. I have to say I love rehearsing; rehearsals are often much better than concerts. Anyway, Aki didn't have much time, so I suggested reading a text by Artaud, and everything I suggested he agreed with. That was nice, but sometimes I need people to say the opposite..

Earlier you mentioned individual side projects in the 1980s. One of yours was Hotel Hotel [Nato], which is an album that seems to go in many different directions.

I wonder what's happened to Nato. I think [Nato label manager and producer] Jean Rochard moved to America and worked with Prince's musicians. Yes, on Hotel Hotel there are homages to Ayler and Coleman, there are singers from Austria, Palestine, Japan.. It goes from the middle ages to goodness knows where. It was reasonably well-received by the press, except for Télérama who said it was a piece of shit – well, they would, wouldn't they? There's a bit of everything on it. It's more pop.. motorway music, music to drive to. (smiles)

And at the end of the 1980s you put together a quartet with [drummer] Jacques Thollot, [bassist] Francis Marmande and [bassist] Hubertus Biermann. How did that come about?

I heard on the radio that Chet Baker had died. I knew Jacques had played with Chet, and so I called everybody up on the phone at 3am and said we had to do something. I woke everybody up, Marmande, everyone. I called Daniel Deshays at 5am and he said: "OK whenever you want." And then I realised, shit, now we have to make the record! (laughs) I'd already played with Jacques and Lizzy Mercier-Descloux in an event called "Aboriginal Embassy" [on September 16th 1982, at the Galerie Jacques Donguy in Paris]. We were with Michel Potage, Jean-François Pauvros and an Australian aborigine poet. My girlfriend's father filmed the event but somehow the film got lost, which is a shame. The aborigine, whose name was Shorty, got stinking drunk and launched into an amazing performance about the suffering of his people. Yes, it's always magic to play with Jacques – he's a fantastic musician, poet, drummer.

The album La nuit est au courant came out on Didier Petit's In Situ label.

Yes, because Didier played with us one day because Francis Marmande had gone off to Vietnam. It was Hubertus' idea to replace the second bassist with a cello.

Whose idea was Outlaws In Jazz [with Daunik Lazro, Didier Levallet and Denis Charles]?

Daunik's. He more or less put that group together. He suggested we play some repertoire associated with free jazz – I'd already played a couple of free jazz pieces with Daunik on Hotel Hotel – each musician brought along things he wanted to play. I brought the Ornette piece "Unknown Artist". Personally, I think the Outlaws record came out too soon. We should have released something after we'd done several concerts, instead of getting a group together in a studio to record and then stringing together a set of dates to promote the album. We played a lot of concerts and many of them were much better than what's on the album – I'm speaking mainly about what I did on that album: everyone else is wonderful, but I don't think I'm on the same level. I'm not usually all that self-critical, but compared to the atmosphere we had live, I'm not satisfied with what I did. So my advice to musicians is to gig first and record afterwards. Or record live, like we did with the quartet with Jacques, Francis and Hubertus. We were supposed to do a second Outlaws disc, but Denis Charles died, and that was the end of the group. I don't know if we could ever do it with another drummer, and I haven't seen Daunik for ages.

How did you hook up with James Chance?

In 1995 Jason Willett from Megaphone [Megaphone released the Berrocal compilation Fatal Encounters in the US, Megaphone 008] was trying to set up a project for me with Charles Gayle. We sent Charles several things but he didn't respond. Then Jason called me and said he'd had James Chance on the phone and he'd mentioned working together, and James agreed. He also suggested working with a group in San Francisco called The Ruins. That didn't happen but their bassist Ron Anderson did end up playing on the session with James. So I went to America in 1996. I was nearly refused entry in Washington because I'd had a bit to drink on the plane, and when they asked me what the reason for my visit was I made the mistake of saying I'd come there to work! (laughs) I managed to calm down and got out of there and took a taxi to Baltimore. I met up with James next day. I threw some ideas his way, we could do this Don Cherry piece, something by Ornette, something by Giuseppi Logan, and he mentioned some Billie Holiday material from the 1930s as well as something by Iggy Pop. We recorded it all but the disc never came out, because the label went under. There was a 7" single, which Jason wanted for radio play. People over there still liked 45rpms apparently, so the single came out, but it wasn't really representative of the album as a whole. I have the tapes here, and there are some tapes in the States. It's me, James, and an American rhythm section. There are about 45 minutes of music. For me that's about the right duration. I had a few offers from labels in France to release it, but there was no money involved so I refused.

Guy Girard's film about you Les Chants de Bataille will shortly be released on DVD. You're no stranger to the world of film either.

True, I've done a bit of cinema. That started by accident when I was in India in 1971. I landed a part in Dev Anand's first film called Hare Rama Hare Krishna. I'd like to find a copy of that on video, by the way. After that a friend who worked in casting called me and offered me some bit parts. There were some films for television, and I was in Jean-Pierre Mocky's film Le Miraculé [in 1987]. I enjoyed working with him, because there was a lot of improvisation on the set. Playing music is quite different. It's not the same pain.. but acting can be painful too. It was a training in another artistic discipline, and that's always useful. I met a lot of idiots, but I met some great people. Jeanne Moreau was a great help to me, and taught me a lot. When you're dealing with a great actor or actress there's no problem. The problem is with the other petits cons! (laughs). I also did some soundtrack music for a film called Docteur Chance, which starred Joe Strummer. There was a soundtrack album to that film on BMG with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, but it's probably out of print now.

Your work with Yvette Horner reflects your interest in musical forms that some people might consider passé – how does that square with the aggressively avant-garde stance of your earlier projects?

Well, I listen to all kinds of stuff, and I always have done. It's true I sometimes feel lost as far as today's music is concerned, as I think I don't know enough of what's going on. I still need to go back to medieval music, but certainly not out of nostalgia. I'm not nostalgic; I like listening to things from the past. What Vince Taylor did was rock'n'roll, but at the same time it was as timeless as Mozart's "Requiem." It's just fantastic. Like Monk, or Bessie Smith. Who gives a fuck when it was recorded? It works. Or take an album like [Scott Walker's] Tilt, that mixture of the murky, the squalid, and that voice, almost a countertenor, so austere. It's completely crazy, completely out, completely timeless. It's a real UFO of a disc – you can't compare it to anything else. It's one of the great discs of the last decade. Right now I'm reading a biography of Robert Desnos, and thanks to that book I've discovered a French singer who died early, in 1930, called Yvonne George. I listen to her singing and plunge into that universe. Like Henri Garat – do you know Henri Garat? He was an amazingly popular singer back in the 1930s but nobody remembers him now. He did a fantastic version of "Blue Moon" in French. You know Elvis' version, of course, which is wonderful, but listen to Garat's version of the same song (finds the CD and plays the song). You see, I'm interested in all this. I'm sure one day rock'n'roll will come back, like bebop will come back.

You've collaborated with many people over the years, from Vince Taylor to Steve Stapleton, from Yvette Horner to Aki Onda. Is there anyone out there that you haven't played with that you'd like to play with?

Yes - Marilyn Manson.

An edited version of this interview formed the basis of the article Songs from a Parallèle Universe, which appeared in The Wire #247, September 2004.