Archive for March, 2017

Artwork for Prince's Sign O' The TimesImage copyright
Warner Bros

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The artwork for Sign O’ The Times introduced Prince’s new peach and black colour scheme

Thirty years ago, Prince was at a turning point in his career.

The film Purple Rain and its soundtrack had made him a star in 1984. But the following two years saw, by commercial expectations, three flops: The albums Around The World In A Day and Parade, as well as the ill-conceived, self-directed movie bomb Under The Cherry Moon.

He decided to cut loose. He split from his band, The Revolution, and planned a triple album – Crystal Ball. But his label, Warner Bros, put their foot down and the project became the double disc Sign O’ The Times, released on 31 March, 1987.

It would become one of the most acclaimed albums of the second half of the 20th century, and remains Prince’s masterpiece – encompassing all of his musical personas: bedroom balladeer; penitent Christian; one-track-mind loverman; modern-day Basie-style bandleader; whimsical storyteller; meticulous orchestrator, guitar-wielding axeman and pop craftsman.

Prince, then 29 years old, created it in a period of feverish activity, making copious use of a new Linn drum machine, and a state-of-the-art Prophet-5 synthesiser, borrowed from his keyboard player Matt “Dr” Fink.

“Just to be clear, he really did a lot of stuff on that album on his own,” recalls Fink.

“[Two] years later, he did Batman with no help in the studio, as far as I know.”

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Warner Bros

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The star released a concert film of the album in 1988, which remains the best document of his powerful live shows

Even engineer Susan Rogers, his closest collaborator at the time, was banished to another room when Prince recorded vocals in the basement of his house.

“He may have been feeling a bit constricted and hemmed in by the familial,” reflects Jill Jones, who sang with Prince from 1982 to 1990.

The title track, as well as Housequake, The Ballad of Dorothy Parker, It, Hot Thing, Forever In My Life, U Got The Look, The Cross and Adore “all emanated from him”, Fink adds.

Others were reworked from sessions for a clutch of abandoned albums – Dream Factory, planned as the fourth album by Prince and the Revolution; and Camille, a disc of songs recorded by Prince in the sped-up voice of an androgynous alter-ego.

For good measure, while making Sign O’ The Times, Prince also wrote and recorded for other people, including The Bangles, George Clinton, Taja Sevelle, Sheila E, Sheena Easton and Jill Jones.

This time-frame of his career remains the most exciting to students of The Vault, the collection of hundreds of unreleased songs housed at Paisley Park and the subject of much debate since his untimely death last April.

Brent Fischer, who alongside his late father Dr Clare Fischer wrote orchestral accompaniments for Prince’s albums from 1985 to 2010, estimates “about 70 per cent of the songs we worked on with Prince remain unreleased”.

Eric Leeds, his saxophonist from 1984 to 2003, reckons the figure is “over 90 per cent… And those were just the songs with horns”.

“It is as creative a period,” argues Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor, “as The Beatles from Rubber Soul to The White Album; or Stevie Wonder from Music of My Mind to Songs in the Key of Life”.

Taylor ranks Sign O’ The Times in his “top four favourite” albums, alongside The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, The Beatles’ White Album and Sly The Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Going On.

“But I’m not afraid to group it as the best,” he adds.

“What I like about it is it’s a personal-sounding record, quite a dark record. It doesn’t have his biggest hits on it and that might not reach out to quite so many people.”

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Warner Bros

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Prince spent three days – an uncharacteristically long time – perfecting the Sheena Easton duet U Got The Look

The title and opening track was not for faint-hearted radio pluggers. It addressed Aids (“a big disease with a little name”), social inequality, drugs, gun crime and mothers struggling to feed their children. The “O” of the title was rendered as a peace sign.

Although Fink recalls that “Prince didn’t talk politics very much”, Van Jones, a former special advisor to President Obama and Prince’s friend from 2009, reckons otherwise.

“He was incredibly socially aware. You can put on Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On and feel like you’re living through the late ’60s and ’70s. Put on Sign O’ The Times and you can get a sense of how the ’80s and ’90s were playing out. It still has that timeless quality.”

‘He needed a hit’

Sign O’ The Times and U Got the Look, recorded with Sheena Easton, laid the commercial groundwork for fans to accept what was, in part, an experimental record.

According to notes Prince wrote for his 1993 Hits album, the latter track was deliberately written in the style of Robert Palmer’s Addicted To Love – as a challenge to a friend who would only dance to his songs when they became popular.

Although he laboured for hours over the tempo and structure of the song, “the friend didn’t like the song until it was in the Top 10″.

“This relationship in itself reveals a touch of his business acumen,” says Jill Jones, hinting at Prince’s pragmatism, “because at that time he managed to parlay himself back into the pop sphere. He also needed a hit record.”

Elsewhere, Prince wasn’t afraid to use bandmates or even strangers for inspiration.

It’s Going To Be a Beautiful Night, seen as an affectionate tribute to The Revolution, was “a live / studio jam” according to one of its co-writers, Eric Leeds.

“It was rather spontaneously written at the soundcheck before a gig in Paris. We recorded the song live during the concert that evening. Weeks later we added additional parts in the studio.”

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Warner Bros

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Prince’s dancer and foil Cat Glover appeared on the cover of the single, but many people thought it was the star himself, after shaving his legs

One of the album’s more enigmatic tracks is The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker, a psychedelic funk track about a waitress who mocks Prince when he orders a fruit cocktail (“Sounds like a real man to me”).

Although it borrows the name of the wisecracking journalist, Prince had no idea who she was; telling Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins of TLC (who would later cover the album’s If I Was Your Girlfriend) it was inspired by a real-life encounter.

“He told me it was about this waitress he met,” she says. “He had a crush on her and they were flirting but [Prince] told her he had a girlfriend.

“That’s why he said in the song he wanted to have a bath with her – but keep his pants on.”

That girlfriend (or even fiancee) for much of recording was Susannah Melvoin, who inspired and took a writing credit on the playful playground song Starfish and Coffee.

According to Matt Fink, it originally had a much different title.

“It was basically a story about when she was a schoolgirl and elementary school, she and Wendy (Melvoin, Prince’s ex-guitarist and Susannah’s sister) had a girl in their class who was mentally challenged and she used to talk about Starfish and Pee-pee.

“She told Prince the story. He was fascinated and felt for her disability and they worked on a song which became Starfish and Coffee.”

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Warner Bros

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I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man features one of Prince’s most incendiary guitar solos

The prodigious inventiveness of Sign O’ The Times won Prince five star reviews from Q Magazine and Rolling Stone, which named it one of the top 500 albums of all time. But to this day, the album provokes debate.

Jones and Leeds both question Prince’s former head of security Gilbert Davison, who claimed in GQ that Prince wrote the first of the two discs “in a three-and-a-half-hour plane ride.”

“I recognise some of the songs on this album as having been written other times” maintains Jill Jones. “Like Strange Relationship, The Cross and others. (A studio version of I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man originates from 1982). Not so sure it all happened in one go.”

T-Boz hails it as her favourite record. “When I first heard If I was Your Girlfriend, I almost lost it. I would play it eight to 10 times a day. My mom was ready to kill me. Or Prince.”

Asked about U2 beating Prince in the best album category at 1988′s Grammys, she snarls: “No disrespect to U2, but you don’t wanna get me started on that…”

Jones is more relaxed, calling it “no skin off Prince’s nose”.

Sign O’ The Times remains Prince’s “high water mark” among critics and musical commentators, according to both Fischer and Leeds.

Leeds claims: “It displays perhaps more than any other of his albums the range of his musicality. If someone just getting into his music was to ask me for the best place to start, I would direct them to Sign O’ The Times.”

The Roots’ bandleader Questlove, disagrees: “I never tell Prince newbies to start their listening with it,” he wrote on Instagram last year.

“I tell ‘em… ‘Save it for last’. Most come back to let me know I was correct. Man, that’s cool.”

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Getty Images

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The star’s image became more demure in keeping with the album’s socially-aware themes

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Beyonce at the GrammysImage copyright
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The singer wore a leonine headdress at the Grammys in February

She once pretended to be Sasha Fierce – so could pop goddess Beyonce get fierce again as a live-action lioness?

It all depends on whether she’ll snap up the voice role of Nala in Disney’s upcoming remake of The Lion King.

According to Variety, Queen Bey is The Jungle Book director Jon Favreau’s first choice for the role in his new version of the 1994 classic.

Donald Glover has already been cast as lead lion Simba, while James Earl Jones will once again voice his dad Mufasa.

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James Earl Jones and Donald Glover are already attached to the project

Nala, you may recall, is the lioness who befriends Simba as a young cub and who later becomes a key ally in his battle against evil uncle Scar.

The film’s being conceived along the same lines as The Jungle Book, with big names voicing photorealistic computer-generated animals.

The new version will feature songs from the film original – though if Beyonce is cast, we expect more numbers to be added to take advantage of her pipes.

The news has got us brainstorming songs the singer could perform if she accepts the role. Here’s what we’ve come up with:

  • Can You Feel the Crazy in Love Tonight
  • Halo-kuna Matata
  • Single Ladies (Put a Rrrrrrr-ing on It)
  • I Just Can’t Wait to Bey King
  • Twerk-le of Life

Feel free to chip in with suggestions of your own!

Disney, by the way, have yet to confirm whether Beyonce has been approached. The star’s publicist has also yet to respond to queries.

Mrs Jay Z, who’s currently expecting twins, previously had a voice role in 2013 animation Epic.

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James Van Der Beek then and nowImage copyright
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Spot the difference: James Van Der Beek as he first appeared on TV screens, and how he looks now

It’s been nearly two decades since James Van Der Beek first appeared on Dawson’s Creek, so you can understand why it’s not high on his list of conversation topics.

But during a UK promotional tour for his latest role in British comedy Carters Get Rich, it’s all anyone wants to talk to him about.

Not one, but two live interviews on the same day had viewers cringing about the awkwardness of the line of questioning.

In one particularly painful exchange, he was reminded of the success of his former Creek colleagues – almost as if to highlight his less than award-winning achievements by comparison. Ouch.

So why can’t James Van Der Beek get a break?

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Ken McKay/ITV/Rex/Shutterstock

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James looks like he’s been trying to put Dawson’s Creek behind him

It all started on ITV’s This Morning, where the actor was no doubt expecting hosts Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby’s usual cosy line of questioning.

It was, after all, his first time on the daily show.

Whilst introducing James, viewers were reminded of how well his fellow Dawson’s Creek co-stars had done:.

“Katie Holmes is a leading Hollywood actress, Michelle Williams has received four Oscar nominations, Joshua Jackson plays the jilted husband in the Golden Globe winning drama The Affair,” they were told.

“But what happened to the main man himself, Mr James Van Der Beek?” pondered Schofield, cutting to an image of the actor 20 years ago as Dawson Leery – and an unsurprisingly slightly peeved-looking guest.

“I have been on television the last 20 years, just to let you know,” James shot back.

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James with co-stars including Michelle Williams, Katie Holmes and Joshua Jackson

“You have been very busy,” Schofield replied, explaining the teasing intro “worked better as a link”.

When asked about playing a 15-year-old when he was 20, James (now a father of four and a very grown-up 40 years old) insisted “it was a long time ago”.

But the Schofe was undeterred, continuing with the Dawson’s Creek theme and asking if he imagined the teen drama would still be being discussed so many years later.

“No.. no.. no… no,” he said, at a bit of a loss for words, no doubt wondering when the subject was going to change.

He did admit the show changed his life and was a great opportunity, but added: “I wouldn’t change anything… but they were playing the music backstage, and I was like – what year is it?”

Lots of people watching tweeted that they’d found it all a bit uncomfortable.

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And so, onto another chat show – The Nightly Show, hosted this week by chef Gordon Ramsay.

Lo and behold, Dawson’s Creek came up. Again.

This time, it was the crying meme that was brought up. Or rather, a highly emotive moment on the show where Dawson was dumped by Joey which has now been reduced to a four-second GIF which the internet – and chatshows – can’t wait to use to mock the star.

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ITV/Sony/Columbia Tristar/Outerbanks

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Gordon Ramsay tried to get the Dawson crying face just right

Admittedly, James seemed a bit more of a good sport this time, taking a bow after the clip was shown. And he then played along as Ramsay, hosting the ITV chat show this week, tried to mimic the sobbing face.

The actor’s previously said he thinks it’s funny he’s mocked with it, but what other choice does he have?

Perhaps in an effort to make light of the situation and hope people forget the meme, the star has arguably been trying to change public perception of him in recent years.

He made a Funny or Die sketch making fun of himself, and played an over-the-top fictionalised version of himself in US sitcom Don’t Trust the B- in Apt 23.

Maybe the thinking was if he mocks himself, others won’t have to.

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Getty Images

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James has starred alongside Krysten Ritter in Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23

But despite having more than 30 TV and film credits to his name since Dawson’s Creek (which was 20 years ago, again for those who hadn’t caught that) including, most recently, CSI: Cyber, it seems like people just can’t leave it alone.

Let’s just see if he’s still having to talk about it in another 20 years’ time…

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Martha Ruiz and Brian Cullinan of PriceWaterhouseCoopersImage copyright
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Martha Ruiz and Brian Cullinan before this year’s Oscars ceremony

Oscars organisers are to continue using accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) despite the best film mix-up.

PwC had taken responsibility for the “unacceptable” mistake which saw La La Land wrongly announced as the winner instead of Moonlight, the Academy said.

Its president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, wrote in a letter to members that new rules will also mean electronic devices are banned backstage.

PwC’s Brian Cullinan was caught posting Twitter photos just before the mix-up.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers counts the votes and organises the envelopes being handed out at the ceremony. Mr Cullinan was the accountant who gave the wrong envelope to actor Warren Beatty, resulting in the blunder at last month’s ceremony.

Media captionThe moment La La Land’s producers realised Moonlight had won best picture

Ms Boone Isaacs said: “From the night of the ceremony through today, PwC has taken full responsibility for the mistake.

“After a thorough review, including an extensive presentation of revised protocols and ambitious controls, the board has decided to continue working with PwC.”

The firm’s US chairman and senior partner Tim Ryan will now take a “greater oversight role” at future ceremonies.

A third person will also become part of PwC’s on-site team at the Oscars. This individual will have knowledge of the award winners and will sit in the control room with the show’s director throughout the event, she added.

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Oscars host Jimmy Kimmel helped correct the error on stage

Just before the best picture announcement, Mr Cullinan tweeted a backstage photo of La La Land’s best actress winner Emma Stone, minutes before handing presenters Beatty and Faye Dunaway the envelope for best actress in a leading role, rather than best picture.

Ms Boone Isaacs said Mr Cullinan’s distraction caused the error.

Mr Cullinan and his fellow PwC accountant Martha Ruiz were told they would never work at the Oscars again. It was the awards’ most high-profile error since they began in 1929.

PwC said the accountants made “a series of mistakes” and failed to follow established backstage protocols.

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David TennantImage copyright

Actor David Tennant is suing the owners of the defunct News of the World over alleged phone hacking.

His lawyers issued a claim for compensation at the High Court in London on Thursday.

Law firm Collyer Bristow said it was representing nine people in total, including former Formula One driver Eddie Irvine. They said other law firms have also issued claims this week.

News UK, which owned the paper until it closed in 2011, declined to comment.

Collyer Bristow said its clients had been left with “no alternative” following the closure of a compensation scheme.

It said the News of the World had previously “admitted and apologised for hacking into the voicemails of a number of high-profile individuals” and opened a compensation scheme in 2011 as an alternative to litigation.

But Collyer Bristow said the scheme closed “after less than 18 months of operation”.

The NoW was shut down by owner Rupert Murdoch following the revelation that the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler had been hacked.

The scandal also led to the establishment of the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics, an MPs’ inquiry and the launch of three police investigations into alleged widespread phone hacking and corruption.

Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson – who later became director of communications for then Prime Minister David Cameron – was jailed for 18 months for conspiracy to hack phones.

Hugh Grant and Charlotte Church were among those who settled claims against the paper over phone-hacking.

Steven Heffer, who is acting on behalf of the claimants, said: “My firm continues to act for a number of clients with claims against News Group arising out of phone hacking and other unlawful activities.

“News Group withdrew its compensation scheme in 2013, giving no proper explanation for this move and has failed to compensate victims despite all attempts by lawyers to settle cases out of court.”

The firm says it has now acted for more than 200 “victims of hacking and unlawful surveillance”.

Collyer Bristow said other claimants included Fran Cutler, Jess Morris, Tanya Frayne, Sophia Myles and Rob Gros.

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Sue PerkinsImage copyright
Steve Ullathorne

Sue Perkins is to host 2017′s TV Bafta Awards, taking the reins from Graham Norton, who will have been presenting the Eurovision Song Contest in Ukraine.

Perkins, who will be hosting for the first time, tweeted: “Beyond chuffed to be the one keeping the inestimable @grahnort ‘s seat warm this year.”

Regular host Norton responded with: “I thought I felt something! Good luck!! I’ll be thinking of you as I tidy up my commentary booth in Kiev.”

The Baftas are a day after Eurovision.

They will be broadcast on BBC One on 14 May from London’s Royal Festival Hall, while Eurovision is taking place on 13 May in Kiev’s International Exhibition Centre Arena.

Perkins added they were “a superbly fun night and an opportunity to celebrate the incredible British talent we have behind our very best TV programmes”.

She is best-known for fronting the BBC’s The Great British Bake Off and Let’s Sing and Dance for Comic Relief with Mel Giedroyc, as well as Sky Atlantic’s Game of Thrones fan-show Thronecast.

She has just finished touring the UK with her stand up show Spectacles, based on her Sunday Times bestselling memoir.

Last year’s TV Baftas saw a double win for Wolf Hall, along with This is England ’90 and Peter Kay’s Car Share.

Clare Brown, Baftas’s director of production, said: “Sue is a hugely talented presenter, comedian and writer who is much loved by the British public.

“She is respected in the industry for both her warm and witty on-screen presence and for her skill as a comedy writer.”

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Katy PerryImage copyright

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Pop star Katy Perry is making her Glastonbury debut

Ed Sheeran and Radiohead just found out who they’ll be sharing a campsite with in June – after Glastonbury revealed 88 of the acts playing this year’s event.

Pop star Katy Perry will make her debut at the festival, following a clutch of politically-charged performances at this year’s Grammys and Brit Awards.

Grime will feature prominently, with Stormzy, Kano and Wiley all playing.

And Barry Gibb follows in the footsteps of Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers by taking Sunday evening’s “legend slot”.

The Bee Gees star appeared at the festival last year, duetting with Chris Martin on Stayin’ Alive and To Love Somebody during Coldplay’s headline set.

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Ed Sheeran first played Glastonbury in 2011. Now he returns as a headliner

Tickets for the festival, which takes place from 21 – 25 June in Somerset, have already sold out.

It will be the last Glastonbury until 2019, with the festival taking a fallow year to allow Worthy Farm’s cows (and Glastonbury’s villagers) some time off.

Among the acts announced today are:

  • Lorde
  • The xx
  • Chic
  • Alt-J
  • The National – playing their only UK festival date of 2017
  • The Jacksons – making their Glastonbury debut
  • Major Lazer

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Solange’s A Seat At The Table was one of last year’s most critically-acclaimed albums

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Dizzee Rascal is a perennial Glastonbury favourite

Krautrock pioneers The Can Project – featuring original Can members Irmin Schmidt and Malcolm Mooney, alongside Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and other guests – have also been added to the line-up.

Organiser Emily Eavis said “even more” bands would be announced soon.

Foo Fighters return

The headliners had already been announced, with Radiohead leading the charge on the Pyramid Stage on Friday, 23 June.

Foo Fighters take the Saturday night slot, making up for 2015 – when they were forced to cancel after Dave Grohl broke his leg falling off a stage in Sweden. Ed Sheeran will close the festival on Sunday, just six years after his first appearance, on the BBC Introducing stage, in 2011.

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Dave Grohl’s injury forced Foo Fighters to hand over their headline slot to Florence + The Machine in 2015

Prior to today, country legend Kris Kristofferson was the only other performer confirmed – although Laura Marling, Wiley and The Avalanches all let the cat out of the bag.

Organisers say “twice as many” bands will play the festival this year; alongside the usual complement of film, comedy and performance art.

The BBC will feature 120 acts across six stages exclusively live on the BBC Glastonbury website. And you can see live pictures from the farm 365 days of the year on the Glastonbury webcam.

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Jane Birkin says her habit of overfilling a bag now makes carrying a Birkin unmanageable

Singer and actress Jane Birkin has said she now rarely uses the famous handbag that bears her name.

The French luxury fashion house Hermes designed what became known as the Birkin bag in 1981.

But Birkin, 70, has told the BBC that if, like her, you fill the bag with “junk… and half the furniture from your house, it’s a very, very heavy bag”.

She said: “Now I fill my pockets like a man, because then you don’t actually have to carry anything.”

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Carole Bellaiche

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Jane Birkin has released a new album entitled Le Symphonique

Birkin had met the chief executive of Hermes on a flight from Paris to London and told him she was struggling to find the perfect holdall.

He offered to design one and asked if the company could name it after her.

She said she was “flattered to death and said yes, yes, yes”. Suddenly everyone was “wandering around with your handbag”, she added.

The holdall has become the ultimate status symbol. Hugely expensive – costing up to £100,000 – it has a long waiting list and is carried by the rich and famous.

Birkin said the bags have been “useful” over the years because she has sold them and donated the money to the charities she supports, including Amnesty International.

But the bag has also proved controversial. In 2015 she asked Hermes to rename the crocodile Birkin bag after learning of disturbing practices in its production.

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Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg were together from the late 1960s until the early 1980s

At the time, Hermes said it was looking into the allegations.

Birkin said it amused her that people still associate her with the bag, after a career spanning half a century.

She has appeared in more than 70 films, including Blow-Up and Death on the Nile, and made more than a dozen albums.

On her latest, Le Symphonique, she sings songs written by her former French lover Serge Gainsbourg – who died in 1991 – accompanied by a 90-piece orchestra.

But Birkin said she was in no doubt she would always be best known for her erotic record Je t’aime, moi non plus.

She recorded the breathy single with Gainsbourg in 1969. It was denounced by the Vatican, banned by the BBC and went on to top the charts.

“It’s a rather extraordinary record,” Birkin said. “Perhaps more interesting than the bag.”

Le Symphonique is out in the UK on 7 April.

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Cannes posterImage copyright

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The picture of Claudia Cardinale was taken on a Rome roof in 1959

The Cannes Film Festival has courted controversy more than a month before it has even begun.

Its organisers are accused of slimming down an archive image of the Italian actress Claudia Cardinale featured on the event’s official poster.

“While the poster is magnificent, the photograph has clearly and deplorably been airbrushed to thin the actress’s thighs,” said Telerama magazine.

Similar reaction has come from other papers and users of social media.

The picture of Cardinale swirling her skirt was taken on a Rome roof in 1959.

“Claudia Cardinale dropped a dress size in one swirl,” said Liberation newspaper.

And on Twitter, reaction was similar.

“Why the need to alter Claudia Cardinale’s body so dramatically for Cannes 2017 official poster?,” said Anna Rose Holmer.

Moine Laic said: “They’ve dared to airbrush Claudia Cardinale… Where is this mad world going?”

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Claudia Cardinale says she is “delighted” about the choice of the photo

But the festival has defended the poster.

Director Thierry Fremaux said it had been “very well received”, reported AFP.

And on his Twitter page he posted supportive messages.

“What is this ridiculous outcry over the Cannes poster? All photos used for advertising are retouched in one way or another,” said Jean-Paul Salome.

‘Honoured and proud’

Cardinale herself, now 78, has raised no objection. In a statement issued by the festival, she said she was proud to have been chosen for the poster.

“I am honoured and proud to be flying the flag for the 70th Festival de Cannes and delighted with this choice of photo.

“It’s the image I myself have of the festival, of an event that illuminates everything around.

“That dance on the rooftops of Rome… reminds me of my origins, and of a time when I never dreamed of climbing the steps of the world’s most famous cinema hall.”

The actress featured in classic movies of the 1960s and 70s, including The Leopard with Burt Lancaster and 8 1/2 by Frederico Fellini. She continues working now, her latest project being the Italian drama Piccolino Bella [Beautiful Little Girl).

This year’s festival runs from 17-28 May and the official selection of movies will be announced on 13 April.

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