Making a French connection with Les Bof!
Although Scotland’s connections with France go back many years and a friendly rivalry is still ignited in regular sporting events, music isn’t really an area where the twa meet too often.
However, one Edinburgh act are aiming to change that, bringing their take on Gallic beats to the public in Auld Reekie and beyond.
Les Bof! are three-quarters Scots born and bred, including the quartet’s founder Angus McPake, a well-kent figure on the Scottish music scene. The guitarist has served time in a variety of more punk and indie rock acts - beginning with the Fizzbombs as part of the C86 scene, and more recently with surf rockers Preston Pfanz & The Seaton Sands.
It’s the latter whose sound is probably more closely related to version of the French Yé-yé, 60s beat music.
“From where we’re standing our music seems almost ‘traditional.’ says McPake. “Edinburgh’s infatuation with beat music and garage psych, post 1960s, can be traced back to the likes of the Rezillos and arguably Fire Engines and Josef K - and, by the mid '80s, a whole raft of bands, namely The Green Telescope/Thanes, The Offhooks, The Pterodactyls, The Vultures, The Stayrcase and The Kaisers.
“So Les BOF! are just keeping up that tradition, albeit with a French twist.”
Although McPake speaks of something of a bygone era - these most recent references still more than thirty years ago - he insists that ‘beat music’ - in its most commercial form, the mod and Merseybeat of the 60s - has never gone away.
“In the past couple of decades there has been a lot of interest in beat music from all over the world. It seems the 'British Invasion' led by the Stones and Fab Four left its mark on nearly every corner of the globe. France, as viewed from this side of the North Sea, has always been perceived as having not much to offer though.”
But, the enthusiastic McPake insists we dig a little deeper...
“For fans of 60s rock’n’roll that is, but a little further investigation revealed that there was plenty there to be heard.” He namechecks a whole string of acts from that era. ”Jacques Dutronc, Ronnie Bird, Nino Ferrer and a whole lot more French and Canadian bands and singers. Discovering this music was the inspiration that led to our forming.”
McPake is joined in the quartet by fellow Scots, bassist Colin Morris and drummer Ross Fairbairn, but the inclusion of some genuine Gallic flair in vocalist Laurent Mombel was more by accident than design.
“Along with a friend Mark I was running an irregular evening known as Suite Soixante-Nuef in Edinburgh,” McPake recalls, “playing French '60s music. When Mark announced he was getting married I thought of putting a band together for the wedding. Laurent was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Mark’s fiancé unfortunately thought the idea was terrible and they booked a ceilidh band instead!"
We can imagine that the newly-formed band may have been annoyed at this snubbing of their efforts - but perhaps given their name, simply shrugged?
“Automatic translation of ‘Les Bof’ brings up “The Meh” which seems to sum us up well,’ McPake smiles. “‘BOF!’ is such an intrinsically French word and seemed quite a punk statement. “It was also short and snappy but without any real meaning - perhaps like Les Who?"
Short and snappy by name perhaps but their album of 14 three minute tunes, each as infections as the last, was eight years in the making - though it seems they weren’t resting on their laurels following their acclaimed debut, 2011’s ‘Nous Sommes Les Bof!’.
“Apart from improving our French we’ve all had other projects on the go. Angus with The Sensation Seekers, Laurent with The No-Things, Ross and Colin with Paper Sparrows and Colin also with an MFA."
The improvement in language skills will have been aided by shows in Francophone countries, with native guide Laurent.
“We’ve toured France a couple of times and played in Belgium, as well as Canada where all but one of our gigs was in Quebec province so it’s definitely helped. We’ve also played extensively in the US, Germany, Holland, Italy and Spain too, so who knows?"
Where they can presumably blend in with the locals as the band make a point of there being no French spoken on stage. But do Scots imagine they’re watching a touring band?
“I’m not sure we ever purposely set out to deceive the audience - perhaps just improve their French,” McPake smiles.
“It certainly has improved the rest of the band’s!“
‘Voila’ is out now - more at lesbof.fr.