Notes based on an interview conducted October, 2010 with Michael Fishberg, CEO of Harkit Records
As Louise tells it, it all started in 1961 while holidaying in Italy with her brother Max and mother, socialite, Hélène Cordet. In the evenings, the family – Louise, her brother Max and her mother – would go to the beach with Italian friends and guitars and play and sing songs under the stars.
At Christmas that year, the Cordets decided to send out to friends and family a privately pressed LP of these “beach songs”.
Hélène owned with a business partner a rather exclusive club called The Saddle Room in London’s exclusive Mayfair district whose clientele included the crème de la crème of London Society, especially royalty.
The Saddle Room had the unique distinction of being one of London’s first discothèques (if you exclude those of the London French students’ clubs). Discos were already enormously popular in France, and Hélène had noticed that fact on her frequent visits to the country. Hitherto, such clubs in London (because of Musicians’ Union stipulations) usually had resident bands, but The Saddle Room was different. It only played records. It prided itself on being the place where all the new dances were demonstrated; Hélène even managing to persuade Chubby Checker to drop in one night to show us how to do The Twist!
Record company executives were sharp to notice that clubs like The Saddle Room and its counterpart Annabel’s which opened soon afterwards in Berkeley Square, were often playing records that were not your usual pop material. The female DJ’s played all the latest hits from America, France and Italy weeks before their official releases in the UK. There was even an “underground” chart published monthly in a special section of Harpers & Queen magazine.
The A&R men from EMI and Decca would often bring in “A” labels or acetates of new artists they were trying to promote where regular restrictive BBC Light Programme protocols often precluded such daring exposure! One such executive, was Marcel Stellman, a real all-rounder who, as well as composing songs, providing English and French lyrics for, respectively, hit French and English songs, also a key producer at Decca. Hélène kept a gimlet eye on all who came into her club, and in a discussion with Marcel, she asked if she could pay him a visit at Decca’s West Hampstead studios where she would play him the “beach songs” album.
After listening to the album, Marcel proposed the idea that Louise and her brother Max be signed as a duo. Max however, declined so that he could further pursue his studies. So “Loulou” went solo as a ‘rival’ to EMI’s teen star, Helen Shapiro.
When asked if she had ever met Helen, Louise states that she did. Just the once. On BBC Television’s Juke Box Jury. This was a weekly early Saturday evening panel show where celebrities judged new record releases. Louise was, she says, somewhat over-awed by Helen who was brimming with self-confidence and East London brashness.
Tony Meehan, who had broken away from Cliff Richard’s backing group The Shadows was a new producer at Decca and a friend of songwriter Jerry Lordan. Jerry had originally composed I’m Just A Baby for the young Brenda Lee who was currently touring in the UK, but it was agreed that Louise should have it instead. Tony Meehan later joined with another ex-Shadows musician, guitarist Jet Harris and the two went on to have several instrumental hits with compositions by Lordan including Diamonds and Scarlett O’Hara.
Following the enormous success of I’m Just a Baby, it was decided, through her mother’s connections to do a tour in France with Johnny Halliday. For that tour, Louise recorded some songs in French, and an EP was issued to coincide with that tour. This was at a time when the “Yé-Yé” movement was at its peak, where Louise effectively became an honorary member! After all, she did have French, so it was a shoo-in for her. Two of the songs (heard on this CD) were written for her by well known French singer-songwriters Gil & Jan.
In 1963, Louise appeared in two movies, Just For You and Just For Fun – the latter, a follow-up to 1962’s It’s Trad, Dad, was particularly notable, presenting Cordet performing Which Way The Wind Blows, which many observers regarded as the best music clip in the movie and the highlight of the entire film.
Meanwhile, back in the UK, the Liverpool Sound had taken off like a rocket. Through her mother’s club, Louise met Gerry Marsden and his brother Fred (of Gerry and the Pacemakers), with whom she became very friendly. Louise, accompanied by the Marsden brothers, went to a friend’s house for Sunday lunch. The friend had a piano, and Gerry was tinkering with a song he was working on – Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying. He offered it to Louise to record, but without any appreciable success.
Gerry would later record it himself with the completely opposite result! It’s since gone on to be something of an evergreen, having also been recorded by the likes of Ray Charles, Gloria Estéfàn, Bob Marley and Ricki Lee Jones.
History was made one night in October, 1963 at The Saddle Room. Four boys in smart suits and mop-tops arrived at the door. Madame Cordet was summoned, and, although not her “regular sort of clientele”, they “looked” all right, so were admitted with a “Let them in, I suppose” wave of the hand. Ringo offered the girl DJ on duty that night an acetate of From Me To You. That was the first public playing of the record and it was well received and The Beatles thereafter became regulars at the club. Some time after this, Louise’s mother introduced her to Paul Anka and his (then) wife Anne. They started talking about The Beatles, but Anka claimed never to have heard of them. Just then, John and Paul came in and were in turn presented to Paul. Louise says they (John and Paul) were enormously impressed to be meeting, WOW! PAUL ANKA! The world-famous singer-songwriter! Who knew how the tables were about to turn!.
At just 17, and with the surprise hit of I’m Just A Baby under her belt, Louise was, in her words, very young, very innocent and didn’t even have a proper manager and treated the whole thing as “a bit of a lark.” Roy Mosely, who was already managing Jet Harris & Tony Meehan, became her agent, and along with Jet & Tony and Louise was put on the road, firstly with Paul & Paula (Hey, Paula!) and British singers, Jimmy Justice and Patti Brook. A tour the following year had Louise sharing the bill with The Beatles, Gerry & The Pacemakers and Roy Orbison. It was while they were in the Berkshire town of Reading Louise remembers, that John and Paul came into her dressing room. It was the only one with a piano. They were working on It Won’t Be Long. John, at this time was, unbeknownst to anyone apart from the other Beatles and a few close confidants, marrried, and Louise fondly remembers the friendly flirting between them, although the boys were very protective of Louise like older brothers. A nod to their friendship was acknowledged when she recorded From Me To You for a French EP.
When it looked as though no more hits were going to happen, despite several changes of A&R men, arrangers and producers, even ‘covering’ hits by Dionne Warwick and Mary Wells, Louise’s mama decided it was time to pull her little girl away, and get a “proper job”. She took up with a PR company, one of whose clients was Marianne Faithfull, a stable mate at Decca. During a period of about a month or so, Louise had to accompany Marianne for her interviews, clothes fittings for TV and concert appearances, as well as coaching her in French for songs that Marianne was about to record in French. Louise recollects that Marianne was of an entirely different style to that of her own “world”. Marianne was an extremely intelligent, mature Bohemian type with an intense interest in all forms of music including jazz, quoting names of which Louise had never heard.
Louise Cordet was born on 8th February, 1946 in Wraysbury, near Windsor. Her father was a Free French pilot and she has Greek, French, American and Italian blood in her. She was educated at the French Lycée in Kensington in London. She is the god-daughter of Prince Philip. She is married with three children and lives with her husband in a suburb of Athens, Greece.
Her son, Alexi Murdoch is an accomplished composer who has written the score for director Sam Mendes’ film Away We Go (2009).
THE YÉ-YÉ MOVEMENT
Yé-Yé – the French corruption and pronunciation of Yeah-Yeah, itself a generic term relating to the frequent use of the phrase in late 1950’s and early 1960’s pop songs, was essentially founded in a French radio show called “Salut Les Copains”. The show was hosted by Lucien Morisse and Daniel Filipacchi. Its first airing on RTF was at Christmas, 1959. An emphasis on Le chouchou de la semaine (this week’s sweetheart) focussed on young girl singers. The show went on to spawn a magazine in 1962 of the same name.
Yé-Yé certainly knew its market and noticed that there was huge gap that could be promoted, that of young females. First among this group was France Gall who went on to represent Luxembourg at the Eurovision Song Contest with the winning song Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son (which was composed by Serge Gainsbourg). Others included Sheila (Anny Chancel) and both the gap-toothed Françoise Hardy (Tous Les Garçons et Les Filles) and Bulgarian-born Sylvie Vartan (Panne d’essence). Sylvie “kept it in the family”, so to speak, when she married fellow rock star Johnny Halliday.
Who cared that they couldn’t actually sing? They had an innocent charm that wrested away the old guard of Charles Trenet, Yves Montand and Édith Piaf and their kind. The kids had arrived!
Yé-Yé was predominantly a European phenomenon which spread its “branches” also into Italy where a young Mina was just finding recognition. She went on to become the undisputed Queen of Italian Song, having also taken to the trouble to be coached in singing and developing her own style which was widely mimicked.
Curiously, this youthful female liberation chimed with the Japanese girls too in the growing Shibuya-kei – literally Shibuya style – movement. Named after the downtown district of Shibu Ya in Tokyo where all the teen clubs and record shops were clustered.