From the Manneken Pis, it’s a short stroll to place de la Vieille-Halle aux Blés, where the Éditions Jacques Brel (www.jacquesbrel.be) is a small but inventive museum celebrating the life and times of the Belgian singer Jacques Brel (1933–78), who was born and raised in Schaarbeek, a suburb of Brussels, though he lived most of his life in France. A legend in his own musical lifetime, Brel became famous in the 1960s as a gravelly voiced singer of mournful chansons about death, loss, desire and love, all of which he wrote himself. Inside the museum, a sequence of life-size tableaux give the impression that you have just missed Brel – a cigarette still burns in the replica bar – and you can watch films of the man in concert in the small and cosy theatre-cum-cinema. Brel’s performances were famous for their intensity and if you watch a show you can’t fail to be affected, though actually liking the music is another thing altogether.
Jacques Brel playlist
Jacques Brel playlist
If you like what you hear at the Éditions Jacques Brel, you might want to check out some songs from the playlist below, which covers the very best of Brel’s work.
Brel’s deliberately repetitive, climactic tale of sailors in seedy ports is a fantastically evocative song, and was one of his most intense live numbers.
This is Brel at his wittiest and most unforgiving, poking fun at 1960s hippies.
Le chanson de Jackie
Brel in autobiographical mode, looking back in fantastically rumbustious fashion on his career and forward into his future.
One of Brel’s greatest love songs, brilliantly covered by Scott Walker.
The tormented and yet curiously upbeat lament of a dying man that gave rise to the Terry Jacks hit of 1974.
Ne me quitte pas
Brel’s most anguished love song, and perhaps one of the most affecting ever written, memorably covered by Nina Simone.
Quand on n’a que l’amour
One of Brel’s earliest songs, When we have only Love was his first hit single.
The Impossible Dream has been covered by just about everyone and is quite rightly one of Brel’s best-known songs, but his version stands out.
Je suis un soir d’été
This late and very atmospheric study of summer ennui in small-town Belgium is one of Brel’s most beautiful songs.
Brel is typically satirical in this biting rant against war, militarism and middle-class bourgeois values.