Alastair's Blog

Return to:  Blog | Articles | Videos RSS feed

Happy Valentine’s Day. My present to you is Jacques Brel

Posted on 14 February 2010 | 12:02pm

First of all, thank you to everyone who has sent me Valentine’s Day messages and cards on Facebook. As I tweeted earlier this morning, it must be all the nice press I get that makes me so popular and loved.

So what can I give in return? Answer … the lyrics, first in French and then my amateur English translation, of one of the greatest love songs ever written (IMHO) – namely Quand on n’a que l’amour, by the francophone world’s greatest ever singer (IMHO2), Jacques Brel.

To those poor people who have never heard Brel sing, I strongly urge you to take a little Valentine’s Day venture around Youtube. His best known song, Ne Me Quitte Pas, is a bit too sad for Valentine’s Day, so I’ve gone for this one, which I have also picked as the song I would like to leave to my kids as my ‘inheritance track’ on Radio 4, and which I also want played at my funeral, hopefully not too soon.

When I did a programme for the BBC on Brel a while back, I learned that he wrote this whilst taking part in a conference on the economy! Hence the message, that if all we had was love, the world would be a better place.

Enjoy …

Quand on n’a que l’amour, A s’offrir en partage
Au jour du grand voyage, Qu’est notre grand amour

Quand on n’a que l’amour, Mon amour toi et moi
Pour qu’éclatent de joie, Chaque heure et chaque jour

Quand on n’a que l’amour, Pour vivre nos promesses
Sans nulle autre richesse, Que d’y croire toujours

Quand on n’a que l’amour, Pour meubler de merveilles
Et couvrir de soleil, La laideur des faubourgs

Quand on n’a que l’amour, Pour unique raison
Pour unique chanson, Et unique secours

Quand on n’a que l’amour, Pour habiller matin
Pauvres et malandrins, De manteaux de velours

Quand on n’a que l’amour, A offrir en prière
Pour les maux de la terre, En simple troubadour

Quand on n’a que l’amour, A offrir à ceux-là
Dont l’unique combat, Est de chercher le jour

Quand on n’a que l’amour, Pour tracer un chemin
Et forcer le destin, A chaque carrefour

Quand on n’a que l’amour, Pour parler aux canons
Et rien qu’une chanson, Pour convaincre un tambour

Alors sans avoir rien, Que la force d’aimer
Nous aurons dans nos mains, Amis, le monde entier

And here is my go at a translation of one of the most untranslateable (because so brilliant) writers around

When we have only love, to offer each other for sharing

On the day of the great journey, that is our great love

When we have only love, my love, you and me,

To erupt in joy, every hour, every day

When we have only love, to live out our promises,

Without any other wealth, than to believe in it always 

When we have only love, to furnish with marvels

And cover with sun, the ugliness of the suburbs

When we only have love, as our only reason

As our only song, as our only help

When we have only love, to dress in the morning

The poor and the little bandits, in velvet coats

When we only have love, to offer in prayer

For the bad things on earth, as a simple troubador 
When we only have love, to offer to those

Whose sole fight is to look for the day

When we have only love, to trace a path,

And force the destiny at each crossroad

When we have only love, to speak to the cannons

And nothing more than a song to convince a drummer
Then, without having anything but the strength to love

We will have in our hands, friends of all the world.

…. If something is lost in the translation, all the more reason to go and find him singing the real thing. As Mel Smith said when I interviewed him about Brel, he doesn’t speak any French but when he sees him sing, he knows what he’s on about. Happy Valentine’s Day.

*** Buy books and raise cash for Labour. Go to Half of money raised in online sales of The Blair Years, individually signed by AC, goes to the Labour Party

  • Colin Fryer


  • Pauline Anderson

    Nice one … was hoping for a bit of your usual Torywhacking today because – how appropriate – people are falling out of love with them (if they were ever in love with them) judging by polls and some of papers. Observer good today. More trouble for them on Ashcroft. Open and transparent new politics my bum!!

  • Jackie Harbison

    Will you be watching Piers and Gordon tonight. I see Piers is on the cover of your novel? (didn’t buy, am waiting for paperback) Have you two made up??

  • Dominic

    Hi Alistair,

    Personally having had to live with the torture of anxiety attacks for many years, particularly when engaged in professional work and under the public spotlight to some degree, I have a say that I wanted to empathise with the difficulties you are having to deal with at the moment and to say that I feel you dealt with the difficult moment you fsced during the Andew Marr show incredibly well, it was so encouraging to see how you dealt with this, things like this are important for people to see, and I admire how you dealt with this, I certainly don’t feel so alone when facing my own particular difficulties in life, so thank you

  • JOEB


  • Patrick O´Gara

    Merde alors! A chanson from a Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkey! Old Europe. Tony and George aren’t going to be happy about this. Prepare for a stern waterboarding.

  • Marion

    Thanks Alistair, I’ll look up this one – I love French-pop, check out Gregoire’s new album, Toi et Moi.

  • Alan Quinn

    Alastair, not a Valentine’s card from the Dacremonster today?
    Spent the morning canvassing and I can report that there is no liking for Dave amongst the electorate, some of those that are a bit cheesed off with Labour are not convinced by him at all.

  • Fugitive Ink

    Thanks. Why no link, though – surely it’s not very chivalrous to make your Valentines do all the hard work?

    For what it’s worth, though, there’s a stunning 1956 recording to be found on YouTube, quite raw and tough and considerably less saccharine than the lyrics – either in translation or indeed the original – might suggest. Universalising love beyond individuals, into a geopolitical context, renders the whole Valentine’s day thing admirably un-soppy. Good choice.

    And did the whole saga of Dave at the University of East London, bizarrely devoting a whole speech to condemning you, promising to rebuild trust in politics – while at the same time, busing in half a dozen glossy Tory youths to sit behind him during the speech, apparently an aesthetic improvement on the indigenous population, so much for ‘decontaminating the brand’ etc – constitute a nice early Valentine’s Day treat for you? If so, it was well-deserved!

  • TC

    Dominic’s supportive comment on your anxiety over Andrew Marr’s stupid questioning will have been echoed by many. Maybe we should hold Iraq Inquiries every 4 years, slotted in between World Cups and Olympics, until we can get the only response that will satisfy the hindsight specialists. This is that clearly only wicked Tony Blair is to blame, and that the politicians with similar views only supported the action because he tricked them all. I wonder if in today’s climate we would have declared war on Germany despite that nice Mr Hitler’s piece of paper assuring us we had nothing to fear.

  • Mike Snelgrove

    A potential Tory government that can’t get the decimal point in the right place on a terrifically important social policy statistic? Shows what weight they really attach to social justice.

  • Pingback: Alastair Campbell why I love Jacques Brel |

  • Pingback: Alastair Campbell – why I love Jacques Brel | Hihid News()