Jane Birkin - Biography

By Nick Castro


           Jane Birkin is an English actress and singer who has spent most of her career in France. She was born in 1946 to a Navy father and a mother who was an actress in Noël Coward musicals. She began acting in musicals herself when she was 17. Soon after she met and married film composer John Barry. She appeared in his musical, Passion Flower Hotel, in 1965. They had a daughter, Kate, in 1967.


            In 1967, she had a role in the film Wonderwall. In 1968, she had a small role in Michelangelo Antonioni's Blowup. The film won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival and she received some attention for her part as a young model. Others making appearances in the movie included model Peggy Moffit and band The Yardbirds, featuring both Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page at the time. This established Birkin as an icon of Swinging London. It also led to her role in the French film Slogan, where she would star next to French music icon, Serge Gainsbourg. She spoke little French at the time and had no idea who Gainsbourg was or what their encounter would ultimately lead to. Gainsbourg had just broken up with Brigitte Bardot and was still heartbroken. Birkin left her husband and married Gainsbourg soon afterward.


            Together they began working on new music compositions. In 1969, they released the lascivious "Je t'aime… moi non plus," complete with Birkin's simulated sexual moans and squeaks. This salacious single was banned in UK, Italy and Spain and caused a scandal everywhere it was played. They soon followed with a proper album, Jane Birkin Serge Gainsbourg (1969 Fontana). The publicity helped lead to the record selling a million copies worldwide. Gainsbourg and Birkin were suddenly darlings of the French underground and were in the eye of the media everywhere they went. In 1971, they gave birth to daughter Charlotte, who is now a singer and actress as well.


            In 1973, Birkin released her first solo album, Di Doo Dah (1973 Fontana), which was comprised of Gainsbourg's compositions, with arrangements by Jean-Claude Vannier. The sound was typical of Gainsbourg during this era, pairing funky grooves and whispered vocals. The same year, Birkin starred as Bardot's lover in the film, Don Juan (or if Don Juan were a Woman). She also acted in Sept Morts Sur Ordonnance. In 1975, Gainsbourg directed his first film, Je t'aime moi non plus and Birkin appeared in it. Once again, this caused a stir as the film's theme frankly and humorously explored sexual ambiguity. That same year she released her second solo LP, Lolita Go Home (1975 Fontana). Three years later, she released Ex Fan des Sixties (1978 Fontana).


            In 1981, Birkin left Gainsbourg (something which he never seemed to recover from) for film director Jacques Doillon whose child she was pregnant with. She began to act in Doillon's films but continued to work with Gainsbourg on her music. He wrote her next album, Baby Alone in Babylone (1983 Philips), about his feelings on their split. Next came her album, Lost Song (1987 Philips). Her albums which followed were Amours des Feintes (1990 Philips), Versions Jane (1996 Philips) and Arabesque (2002 Narada). Her latest albums are Rendez-Vous (2004 EMI) and Fictions (2006 EMI) and Enfants d’hiver (2008 EMI).

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