With Elvis long gone and Cliff Richard busy making sexy calendars, Johnny Hallyday has chosen this as an opportune time to prove to the English that he is one rock ’n’ roll veteran built to last.
France’s biggest singing star arrived at 69 for his first full UK concert, all in leather like a botoxed Terminator. Less than three years ago he was in a medically induced coma after a back operation went wrong.
He didn’t behave like a man in the twilight of his career. He swaggered in beneath apocalyptic onscreen imagery and barked his lines with gruff power. He mimicked James Brown’s “can’t go on” schtick during Deux étrangers, singing the second half from the floor, but was still blazing away two hours later.
Though the crowd was in raptures, this was not the moment the man they call “Shonny” conquered Britain. The barman told me he’d only heard four English voices all night. Hallyday spoke in French throughout, yet the music was surprisingly familiar to us few rosbifs.
He covered Hey Joe by “mon ami Jimi ‘endrix”, lifted the riff from Cream’s Crossroads on Je suis né dans la rue, and gave Eddie Cochran’s Somethin’ Else new lyrics on Elle est terrible. It’s this dilution of authentic rock ’n’ roll that has given him a bad name here but when he gave his all to a fabulously overblown L’envie he offered something entirely French and extremely enjoyable.