It is astonishing to consider the fact that Marianne is celebrating over 50 years in music. Five decades on from that fateful 1964 party in London where she was spotted, at the age of 16, by The Rolling Stones’ manager Andrew Loog Oldham Marianne has proved utterly fearless in her music and everything else besides and remains a unique and compelling musical figure: adventurous in her life, and adventurous in her art producing a wide and varied catalogue of albums over a fifty-year career.
Faithfull: A Career Overview
Marianne Faithfull’s long and distinguished career has seen her emerge as one of the most original female singer-songwriters this country has produced; Utterly unsentimental yet somehow affectionate, Marianne possesses that rare ability to transform any lyric into something compelling and utterly personal; and not just on her own songs, for she has become a master of the art of finding herself in the words and music of others.
Marianne Faithfull’s story, has of course, been well documented, not least in her entertaining and insightful autobiography Faithfull (1994). Born in Hampstead in December 1946 Faithfull’s career as the crown princess of swinging London was launched with As Tears Go By; the first song ever written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, two folk albums two pop, and a singles collection followed whilst Marianne also embarked on a parallel career as an actress, both on film in Girl On A Motorcycle (1968) and on stage in Chekhov’s Three Sisters (1967) and Hamlet (1969) By the end of the Sixties personal problems halted Marianne’s career and her drug addiction took over.
Faithfull emerged tentatively in the mid-Seventies with a country album called Dreamin’ My Dreams (1976)Though the album attracted little attention in the UK, it was a huge hit in Ireland, where the title track spent 7 weeks at number one and led to Marianne going back on the road for the first time in a decade, but it was her furious re-surfacing on Broken English in 1979 that definitively brought her back. The virginal pop persona created around her in the Sixties was defiantly smashed: Instead with songs like The Ballad of Lucy Jordan, Guilt and Why D’ya Do It?, Marianne became a kind of oracle, and the artist people turned to, to lead them through dark times. Further new wave explorations followed with Dangerous Acquaintances (1981) and A Child’s Adventure (1983). But despite her new creative vigour, Marianne was not entirely free of the chemicals that had ravaged her in the sixties.
Displaying a sadness tempered by optimism, and a despair rescued by humour Marianne returned, finally clean with a collection of classic pop, blues and art songs on the critically lauded Strange Weather (1987). A live retrospective followed on Blazing Away (CD&VHS 1990), which ably displayed why Faithfull has become one of the most sought after concert artists of the last 35 years. New directions were taken on A Secret Life (1995) co-written with the Italian composer Angelo Badalementi, and in her exploration of the music of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht: Beginning in 1991 with her performance in the Threepenny Opera, at the Gate Theatre in Dublin and continuing with 20th Century Blues (1996) this journey concluded with her important recording of the opera The Seven Deadly Sins (1998). Marianne returned to her mainstream musical career with the release of one of her most admired albums, Vagabond Ways in 1999: her lyrics and vocals had arguably never been better, and the title track, about the sterilization of women in the Seventies ended up being a positive declaration for a life lived outside convention.
The millennium ushered in a period of renewed creative vigour that saw Marianne return to her acting career in Intimacy (2001), Marie Antoinette (2006), and her acclaimed starring role in Irina Palm (2006) for which she was nominated at the EFA for best actress. Two acclaimed albums followed based around collaborations with other artists that put her firmly back in the rock idiom Kissin’ Time (2002) with Billy Corgan, Beck, Pulp and Blur and more successfully with PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, Damon Albarn and Jon Brion on Before The Poison (2004). Marianne also returned to the stage in The Black Rider (2004), a Faustian musical written by old friends Tom Waits and the late William Burroughs.
Health scares put Marianne out of action for much of 2005 and 2006 but in 2007 Marianne toured the world and released a second volume of memoirs detailing a more personal side of her life called Memories Dreams and Reflections (2007).
Marianne’s next album Easy Come, Easy Go was an eclectic collection of cover versions. Released at the end of September 2008 the album was recorded at the historic Sear Sound studios in New York. The album includes interpretations of songs from such varied artists as Merle Haggard’s Sing Me Back Home and Morrissey’s Dear God Please Help Me, and also reunited Marianne with Marc Ribot, and Barry Reynolds. Critical reception was overwhelmingly positive, and the album was hailed as one of her best to date, and went on to be one of her most commercially successful. Marianne did a series of special performances throughout 2008 and 2009 of Shakespeare’s love sonnets, reading a selection with a cello accompaniment by Vincent Segal. Marianne returned to the studio to record Horses and High Heels which was again produced by Hal Willner, and for which she wrote five of the six original songs on the album.
In 2012 Marianne fulfilled a career long ambition to appear in a new fully staged production of The Seven Deadly Sins at the Landestheatre in Linz, choreographed and staged by Jochen Ulrich. The production was well received, with MOJO magazine declaring it “a career highlight” for Marianne. Whilst performing in Linz, Marianne also filmed an episode of the BBC genealogy programme Who Do You Think You Are? where she investigated her mother Eva’s early life as a dancer in 1920s Berlin researching her precarious existence in Vienna during World War Two and her families involvement with the Austrian Resistance. In 2014 Marianne celebrated the 50th anniversary of her musical career, and fittingly released one of her most acclaimed albums to date. Entitled Give My Love To London, the album was a characteristically far-reaching and eclectic offering that once again saw Marianne working with a set of collaborators that ably support her special gifts as a singer and lyricist. The music has been written by Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, Nick Cave, Anna Calvi, Steve Earle, Pat Leonard, and Tom McRae.
Marianne was also the subject of a luxury photo book Marianne Faithfull: A Life On Record edited by herself and Francois Ravard, published by Rizzoli, featuring iconic images of Marianne by major photographers including Helmut Newton, David Bailey, Ellen Von Unwerth, Bruce Weber, Cecil Beaton and Robert Mapplethorpe. In 2016 Marianne released a live album called No Exit (CD/DVD) recorded on her acclaimed 50th anniversary tour with her band: Rob Ellis, Jonny Bridgewood, Ed Harcourt and Rob Mcvey.
In 2018 Marianne released Negative Capability one of the most emotionally powerful of her career. charged with a brutal honesty and autobiographical reflection, she addressed losing old friends, her loneliness living in her adopted city of Paris, and love. The album was driven by her florid lyricism, and realised with her stellar group of musicians, Warren Ellis, Nick Cave, Rob Ellis, Ed Harcourt and Mark Lanegan, the result was Marianne’s unflinchingly honest and relentlessly beautiful late-life masterpiece. The stark emotional heft, exquisitely framed by ornately sensitive musical backdrops drew critical comparisons to the late-life works of Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen.
In 2021 Marianne releases one of the most distinctive and singular albums of her long, extraordinary life and career. It was recorded just before and during the first Covid-19 lockdown – during which the singer herself became infected and almost died of the disease – with musical friends and family including not only composer Warren Ellis but Nick Cave, Brian Eno, cellist Vincent Ségal and producer-engineer Head. Called She Walks in Beauty the album fulfils Faithfull’s long-held ambition to record an album of poetry with music.
While the defining statements of many artists are made during their early years, Marianne Faithfull continues to develop her own voice: She sets herself aside from her contemporaries in her continuing quest to explore new creative areas in a career that has always been a positive process of self-assertion.