How punk went Plastic
QUESTION What was Plastic Bertrand singing about in his 1978 hit Ca Plane Pour Moi? THERE’S a lot of misinformation about the origins of this song.
The original, called Jet Boy, Jet Girl, concerned the relationship between a 15-year-old boy and an older man and how the boy rejects him for a girl.
It was written by Alan Ward (real name Timms), frontman of punk band Elton Motello, consisting of studio musicians led by him. First released in 1977, it became much more famous after it was covered by The damned.
Shortly after the song was released in the UK, Belgian songwriter Roger Marie Francois Jouret hired Ward’s session musicians and transformed himself into New Age act Plastic Bertrand. Emphasising his pretty-boy looks and punkish fashion sense, Jouret teamed up with producer Francis ‘Lou’ deprijck.
Ça Plane Pour Moi — That Works (literally translated as ‘glides’) For Me’ — was musically almost identical to Jet Boy, Jet Girl, though the original lyrics were deemed too controversial and were completely rewritten by Belgian musician yvan ‘Pipou’ Lacomblez.
Ça Plane Pour Moi was a huge international hit, with Jouret singing the French lyrics in a cartoonish voice with a falsetto vocal hook straight out of The Beach Boys.
The lyrics are surreal, appearing to chart a chaotic, drunken/drug-induced sexual encounter with a girl. Verse two has: Allez-oop! One morning A darling came to my home, A cellophane puppet with Chinese hair, A plaster, a hangover, Drank my beer in a large rubber glass Oooo-ooo-ooo-ooo! Like an Indian in his igloo one controversy surrounding the song was the idea that Plastic Bertrand didn’t sing it at all and it was performed by deprijck. In 2006, deprijck took Jouret to court in Belgium, wanting to be recognised as the performing artist, but offering no evidence to support his claim.
Bertrand, on the other hand, had a signed contract from the record label. The judge fined deprijck € 10,000 for bringing a ‘groundless and vexatious’ suit.
Alan Ward has remained sanguine about his song being copied. ‘ We’ve all been ripped off at some point in our lives, but judging by the emails I receive, my lyric has touched many more people and seems to ring a chord in many more hearts than the French one will ever do,’ he said.
‘That’s why I wrote it. If I was meant to be rich it would have happened. But I am rich in the knowledge that my thoughts will never disappear.’
Charles Regan, Nottingham.
QUESTION How long would it have taken a heavily pregnant Mary to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem on the back of a donkey? Was there a recognised road or track between the two towns? THE Gospel accounts give no details of the southward route followed by Mary and Joseph and any travelling companions from their home in Nazareth in Galilee, to Bethlehem, south of Jerusalem. They probably travelled in the safety of a caravan, perhaps with others responding to the census call.
There were two possible routes at the time. A longer one crossed the Jordan River, joined with the King’s Highway, a major arterial Roman road along the flat Jordan valley, and crossed back over to head back west to Bethlehem.
The shorter one went through the Judean hill country and crossed the border with Samaria.
Historians are undecided as to which road the pair might have taken. Jewish relations with the Samaritans were strained, so the longer road would have been the safer and flatter option. There would have been large caravans heading down the King’s Road, which would have afforded safety and speed.
Nazareth to Bethlehem is 70 miles as the crow flies, but this route would have been about 100 miles.
The Bible doesn’t say that Mary rode on a donkey, which would have been uncomfortable for a heavily pregnant woman, so we can assume she probably walked the 100-odd miles, which she could have managed in about eight to ten days.
Some hold that they would have taken the shorter route (80 miles) to get Mary to Bethlehem faster. Contemporary Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote: ‘It is the custom of the Galileans at the time of festival to pass through the Samaritan territory on their way to the Holy City.’
This route would have taken them south across the Jezreel Valley, then up along the ridge of rounded hills and weathered peaks (2,625ft to 3,380ft) forming the backbone of the country.
The Samaritans had sculpted these with terraces where they grew olive trees, fig trees and grapevines. Given the potential dangers and the climbs involved, this would have taken at least as long and seems the less likely route.
Sylvia Acuejo, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion.
QUESTION What is the origin of the saying ‘done up like a kipper’? FURTHER to earlier answers, the first destroyer that I went to sea on was back in october 1937, for ‘a run-down Channel’ i n HMS Sabre, an old coal- burning destroyer with tremendous ‘round-down’ on the fo’c’sle deck.
Although it was only two years before the outbreak of World War II, we were installing an experimental anti-submarine detection device of German design!
After fitting it, we were accompanied to sea by what was then a new ‘A’ Class submarine, which proceeded to play Hide And Seek with us.
It was my first time at sea and everything was new to me. At breakfast in the Mess, I was introduced to, and offered a choice of, a ‘two-faced b*****d without any guts’, a kipper, or I could have a ‘spithead pheasant’, a bloater.
In the Stokers’ Mess, a kipper was known as ‘yarmouth beef, nine ribs to the inch’.
Roy Downing, La Nucia, Spain.
Cover story: Plastic Bertrand