Lizzy Mercier Descloux

New wave singer with the cult label ZE Records
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The Independent Online

At the turn of the Eighties, ZE Records was the coolest label with artists like James Chance and the Contortions, Lydia Lunch, Was (Not Was) and Kid Creole and the Coconuts. Equally important to the appeal and mystique of the label were the French acts Marie & les Garçons, Caroline Loeb and Lizzy Mercier Descloux.



Martine-Elisabeth Mercier Descloux, singer, guitarist and writer: born Paris 16 December 1956; died Saint-Florent, Corsica 20 April 2004.



At the turn of the Eighties, ZE Records was the coolest label with artists like James Chance and the Contortions, Lydia Lunch, Was (Not Was) and Kid Creole and the Coconuts. Equally important to the appeal and mystique of the label were the French acts Marie & les Garçons, Caroline Loeb and Lizzy Mercier Descloux.

Sometimes compared to the punk poetess Patti Smith, Mercier Descloux recorded two critically acclaimed albums for ZE, which had been set up by the Englishman Michael Zilkha and the Frenchman Michel Esteban. Press Color (1979) and Mambo Nassau (1980) became favourites of the New Romantics, although Mercier Descloux found greater success in France, where in 1984 she had a hit single with "Mais où sont passées les gazelles?", recorded in South Africa and inspired by the local group Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens.

Born in Paris in 1956, Martine-Elisabeth Mercier Descloux grew up in Lyons but returned to Paris in her teens to attend art school. She spent more time running Harry Cover, the punk shop set up by her partner Esteban as Paris's answer to Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren's Seditionaries.

From early 1974, Mercier Descloux travelled regularly for Esteban's fledgling French magazine Rock News to New York, where she struck up a friendship with Patti Smith. When Mercier Descloux and Esteban moved to New York in 1977, they shared a huge loft with Smith.

With the guitarist D.J. Barnes, Mercier Descloux formed the performance art duo Rosa Yemen and recorded an eponymous mini-album in 1978. She really hit her stride the following year with the fractured funk of Press Color and toured the States and Europe.

The Island Records supremo Chris Blackwell bankrolled the sessions for Mambo Nassau which took place at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas in 1980 with the keyboardist Wally Badarou co-writing and producing. Two years later, Mercier Descloux released the singles "Les Baisers d'amants" and "Mister Soweto" before travelling to South Africa in 1983. She drew on the music of Soweto for the infectious "Mais où sont passées les gazelles?" and the award-winning album Gazelles.

Always on the move, Mercier Descloux recorded One for the Soul (1986) in Rio with the jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, and Suspense (1988) in London with the British jazzman Mark Cunningham. She also acted, composed film scores, and wrote poetry and a novel. In 1998, she moved to Guadeloupe.

Last year, both Press Color and Mambo Nassau were remastered and rereleased, with extra tracks including, on the former, Patti Smith and Lizzy Mercier Descloux giving a bilingual reading of Arthur Rimbaud's poem " Matinée d'ivresse/Morning High" in 1995.

Pierre Perrone

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