No Compromise: The Sound of Shakin’ Street

The following is a liner note essay I wrote for Scarlet, a brand-new archival release from Liberation Hall Records. It’s a document of the band’s August 1979 set at San Francisco’s Old Waldorf. The album is available on LP or CD at this link. — bk

Conventional wisdom has long held that France has a remarkably insular music scene. The Beatles famously received a muted reception when they played an 18-day run of concerts at Paris Olympia in 1964. Especially in the rock era, French audiences have expressed a strong preference for homegrown stars, preferring Johnny Hallyday over Elvis, and favored francophone acts like Serge Gainsbourg, Sylvie Vartan, Françoise Hardy and Jacques Dutronc over recording artists and performers from beyond their borders.

Across the Atlantic, intrepid American music fans in the pre-internet era discovered music by reading about it in influential, semi-underground publications like Trouser Press and New York Rocker. Even though the music scenes in cities like San Francisco and Atlanta were comparatively insular, the news got through. And so did some of the more adventurous music lovers (and musicians) in France learn about and devour the new and outside-the-mainstream sounds being made the world over.

One of those French music fanatics was Fabienne Shine. Born in Tunisia, she grew up in France, becoming a kind of Renaissance woman: fashion model, actor, musician. Her film career began in 1967 when she was in her very early 20s; by the following year she appeared as the female tree in Roger Vadim’s playful sci-fi romp Barbarella.

By the early ‘70s globetrotting Shine had befriended members of Led Zeppelin. She became romantically entangled with guitarist Jimmy Page; he and Robert Plant encouraged Shine’s musical pursuits, urging her to put together a group of her own.

“I had always been singing with bands,” Shine recalls. “But little bands, for a month or two or three; not really seriously. I didn’t know what to do, plus I didn’t meet someone with whom I could record or compose songs.” One night she went to a Paris club to see a band featuring some friends including Jean-Louis Aubert, who would soon form influential francophone rock band Téléphone.

At one point during the sparsely-attended show, Shine joined the band onstage. Afterward, she was approached by a young man. “This guy asked me, ‘Do you want to make a band?’” Shine recalls with an incredulous laugh. “Very presumptuous!” But Shine was intrigued, and so she and guitarist Eric Lévi put together a group, initially called Speedball. “Stupid name,” Shine admits. “Embarrassing.”

The hard-rocking band would feature original songs composed by Shine and Lévi. “You can’t imagine what a beautiful voice I had,” Shine says. But anyone hearing the band in its earliest days might not have picked up on that quality. “We [plugged] the microphone into a guitar amp,” she recalls with a laugh. The band practiced in a small space at a local University, and built up a set of songs.

Working with their first manager Mark Zermati, the new group landed high-profile opening slots across the Channel in England, supporting The Damned and other groups in the nascent punk scene. And from the very start, Shine sang in English, not French. “Always in English,” she emphasizes.

Fabienne Shine cut an imposing figure onstage, her background as a model and actor serving her well. “I knew how to pose,” she says. But her focus was primarily on the music. As an actress, I knew how to interpret the songs,” she says. “When I sing the songs, I really feel [them]. When I sing a song like ‘Solid as a Rock,’ it feels like a revolution.”