Belgian chanteuse Micheline Van Hautem has travelled the world performing the French chanson standards of her countryman, Jacques Brel — but the affable singer admitted to the Star Observer that she’s a rock chick at heart.

“My basis is different from French chanson; I grew up with ABBA and the Eurythmics, and I sang in loud bars doing Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin,” she said from her home in Amsterdam.

“I was asked to do a couple of Brel songs to commemorate the 20th anniversary of his death [in 1998], and I instantly fell in love. But that rock roar still comes out sometimes!”

Van Hautem will bring her La Musique du Jacques Brel concert to Australia in April, leaving her partner and two young children at home.

“This is my first time away from my boys for longer than 10 days — I’ll be in Australia for a month. Mummy’s night out! It’s going to be tough, but I’m looking forward to sleeping in,” she laughed.

The show she’s bringing to our shores is a stripped-back affair, with Van Hautem and Australian guitarist Ben Hauptmann acting as a “complete orchestra” for the evening.

“I find that the dynamic you can build up with just two people is much more intense than with a whole band. If I feel like dancing a little longer, I can give the signal. If he wants to play a longer solo, he can. And I’m really looking forward to kicking his butt, too.

“And the intensity of the songs — they’re much more flexible this way. For the music I bring, that is really a gift.”

Van Hautem will perform a selection of Brel’s best-loved songs, breathing new life into classics like Ne Me Quitte Pas, The Port of Amsterdam and Mathilde. She’s said French is a language you don’t have to speak to understand — and watching her perform, nothing is lost in translation.

“As a writer, as a poet, Brel is so intense and his songs are so well written, that the audience will feel what I’m singing about. But I also help my audience — I translate some of the songs, sing some bilingually, and explain what they’re about. I take everyone on that trip.”

Since that fateful first request to sing Brel more than a decade ago, Van Hautem’s become something of an international ambassador for his music, even getting the Brel seal of approval. She’s toured extensively with his nephew Bruno, and had met with his daughter France in Brussels the day before we spoke.

“I suppose I’m an ambassador for his music. I like to think his legacy is treated with respect. I always say Jacques Brel shows me the world, because his music is known worldwide and it gives me the opportunity to visit so many different countries and share his gift. So thank you, Jacques Brel!”

info: Sydney – Micheline Van Hautem performs at the Riverside Theatre, Parramatta on April 15. Visit www.riversideparramatta.com.au.

Melbourne – Micheline plays the Melbourne Recital Centre, March 29 – April 2 and the Castlemaine Festival, April 6 and 7. Visit www.melbournerecital.com.au and www.castlemainefestival.com.au

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