In strictly chronological terms, my story is about to undergo a transformation. In October 1980, I went off to university in Edinburgh, and it took me a long time to adjust to my new life. One of the oddest things about that new life was that, despite being exposed to a whole world of possibilities in the music available to me, my tastes narrowed dramatically. For a couple of years there, I responded to the increasing complexity and density of what I was studying by retreating into music which was uncomplicated, straightforward and, above all, loud.
I’m sure there’s a lot of psychology going on there – I was alone in a city I didn’t know, probably too young to have made the leap (but determined to be somewhere else), and I struggled, especially in that first year, to make friends. My release from the pressures of academic life came in a couple of ways in which I could retreat into the safe world of a crowd which liked the same things I liked, and which – importantly – wasn’t going to make me think too much.
1980 was still firmly in the era of free tuition and student grants, so I had a certain amount of financial freedom. Unlike many of my peers, I didn’t spend all my disposable cash on beer; instead, I went for football matches (and train tickets to get me there), records and concert tickets.
There’s a whole paragraph about how everything was so much more affordable then – I lived, as I recall, on £15 a week – but let’s not get into that whole area right now, shall we?
I went to as many concerts in those first couple of years as I could. Researching it now, there was an astounding array of bands and artists on offer to me – I could easily have seen two or three a week, including some big names at the time, and many who would shortly become famous, but I restricted myself entirely to concerts where the audience would be made up of long-haired spotty adolescents in denim. I know I missed out on a lot of things, but I also had a lot of fun.
And my hearing isn’t what it might be these days, which I suspect is related.
Just being part of the denim-clad crowd wasn’t enough for me, however. I wanted to know as much as I could about the bands I’d be seeing, and one of my particular quirks was that I was determined not only to enjoy the headliners (whose records I probably already owned), but also the support acts, however obscure. While most of the crowd was in the bar, I was down the front, earnestly nodding along to a band neither I nor anyone else would ever hear from again.
One of the reasons I wasn’t in the bar back then was that, as I said, I was very young, and looked younger. Getting served was always a gamble, and one I preferred to skip when I could, particularly in those days when there was no such thing as ID to prove age. Again, there’s probably a whole discussion to be had here on the weird way the UK driving license encoded your date of birth so it was hard to prove your age….
Anyway, before going to a gig in 1981 or 1982, I’d do my research. If I was, for example, going to see Iron Maiden on March 9th 1981 at the Odeon (the remarkably handy venue I walked past every morning on my way to classes), I would, of course, listen to all the albums I already owned of theirs, I’d have read up in Sounds about the tour, and what to expect, and I’d have done as much digging as I could on their support act, in this case an obscure French band called Trust.
I’m sure French heavy metal is a diverse and rewarding area of study. I wouldn’t know, however, as Trust is the only French metal band I’ve heard, to my knowledge. I wanted to know something about them before I went, and so I went down to Phoenix Records on the High Street and bought myself a copy of the English language version of Répression, an album I discovered to be exactly the kind of thing I loved at the time. Trust, it turned out, sounded a bit like AC/DC, but were significantly more political, and had an attitude which seemed to owe a lot more to the punk outlook on life than a lot of the bands I’d been listening to. It probably helped that, according to the sleeve notes, the lyrics on Répression had been translated by (or with the help of) Jimmy Pursey of Sham 69.
The translations were, for the most part, more literal than poetic (something they addressed on the next album, as I recall), which meant that some of the songs sounded a little disjointed. It gave them a strangely complicated sound, with the music sticking to the patterns which had been worked out with the French lyrics, and then Bernie Bonvoisin sweating bullets trying to make the translated words fit the rhythm. The net effect was a startling sound, quite unlike anything I had heard before.
Incidentally, I have no specific memory of going out and buying the record and so on; it’s just what I did back then. What I do know is that, after seeing them live, I went and looked for any other Trust albums I could find. I won’t suggest for a minute that they blew Iron Maiden (with whom they would shortly swap drummers) away or anything, but they made an impression on me, and I wanted to know more.
Sadly, finding any more Trust albums was difficult, as there was only one, and it had only been released in French. It wasn’t until the release of the next album, and their own headlining tour the following year that it was possible to lay your hands on the first album, whose name I apparently had forgotten – I went searching for an album called L’Élite, only to discover that some sources call it Trust I, and others Préfabriqués. It was a compelling album to me at the time, but apparently not to the point where I remembered the name.
It was a strange phase, my bout of noisy rock music, and we’ll be meeting another couple of examples of it in the coming weeks (but not a representative selection of everything I bought in those couple of years; even I would be hard pressed to slog through more than one Tygers of Pan Tang album). There was a lot of music which I obsessed over for a few weeks or months, then pretty much forgot about, a few albums I think still stand the test of time, but hardly any I’ve felt the urge to go and collect all over again.
But I think if I saw a copy of this album in a record store, I wouldn’t be able to stop myself. I liked, even loved for a while, the other two Trust albums I bought, and I maintain they were a formidable live presence, but it’s this album, entirely sung in French (aside from the AC/DC cover) which brings back the strongest memories.
Partly, I think, because it is in French; for all my desire not to be an outsider, the idea of loving an album because I could sing along to it in another language was appealing. I wanted there to be something interesting about my collection of albums driven by distorted power chords and featuring dodgy-looking covers, and this album completely fits the bill for that. There is one song in particular which I can still, if provoked, sing snatches of in the original language, and I remember painstakingly looking up the words I didn’t know to see if I was, in fact, getting the gist of it. It’s because of this album that I know the French for ‘tank’, and while I probably didn’t (and still don’t) get all the allusions, I still look upon this album with great fondness.
I haven’t, however, listened to it all the way through for quite some time, so I’m looking forward to this, and to seeing if I can find whatever it was about this band which resonated so much with me at the time.
It kicks off exactly the way so many metal albums of the time did – rapid drumming, and the crisp guitar riff providing as much of the rhythm as the bass, although it settles down into a more recognizable structure just as the vocals kick in. Of course I’m expecting the words to be in French, but hearing it now, I’m struck by two things – the fact that I can’t follow them at all now (despite living in Canada, my French does not get much use these days, and it painfully rusty); and the fact that Bernie doesn’t sound much like any other heavy metal singer you’ve ever heard. It’s honestly more of a rap; a recitation of poetry over the music than it is traditional metal singing, which so often ventured into areas only dogs could hear. The middle eight is terrific, breaking down in a way I’d completely forgotten, and the inevitable guitar solo is economical, getting us back to the heart of the matter with relatively little fuss before a splendid drum breakdown pulls us over to the side of the road, a little breathless, but in one piece.
I just looked up the words. My goodness, they were angry. I’ll come back to that, because the way it sounds is really important to how it works, but to translate everything as I go along will definitely end up making this an academic exercise, and I’m trying to react to how the music makes me feel rather than translating the words to see what he’s on about.
Palace has a delightful, lyrical introduction, which quickly translates into – wait a minute, it moves into a first verse which is positively funky. Only once it’s suckered us in does it flip into full metal mode. This one I do remember, now it’s under way – mainly because the line “bouche a sexe, sexe a bouche” stands out as somewhat risqué, especially for the time, and because it flips back into what Bernie calls ‘disco’ in a somewhat dismissive manner before exploding back into “rock and roll”. Pretty clear which side of the ‘disco wars’ Trust were on…
Next up, the introduction to Le Matteur swings, complete with finger clicks, and a swagger which just has me grinning. Honestly, about thirty seconds into this, I am completely sold – even if everything else on this album is dreadful (and I doubt that), the first three tracks have been worth the price of entry alone. Wait; saxophone? Oh, I love this. I get that they were up against it when it came to breaking out into the Anglosphere, but, honestly, they should have been huge, just on the strength of this album.
Bosser Huit Heures is much more straightforward; a simple diatribe against working eight hours a day for minimum wage, and how the unions don’t do anything about that. It’s much more what I was expecting from this album, but it’s bursting with life and energy, and uses the talkbox much more effectively than Peter Frampton (q.v.) ever did. The last line dissolves into laughter, perhaps because it’s moved from vitriol to the ridiculous, even for Trust.
Comme un Damné is the first track to initially make me wonder if they’re running out of stream a little; the energy is still high, but it quickly snaps me out of my doubts with a chorus which seems to call out to Jacques Brel – among the riffs and solos, the whole thing just sounds like Alex Harvey doing Next, and had me laughing out loud.
Dialogue du Sourds rattles along like it knows it only has about two minutes of vinyl to squeeze into, which it did. In those two minutes, Trust are going to try to break down the entire global political situation, and explain why young people may be turning to revolution. They do this without pausing for breath – well, that’s not true, either. They do exactly that – stop for a beat while everyone inhales before thundering back into the connection between Ho Chi Minh and the Red Brigades in Europe. It’s like being on a political demonstration in the middle of a thunderstorm.
That’s a good thing, in case you were wondering.
Flip it over, and here comes the track I remember most. Incidentally, the album cover picture on the site I’m using to look up the lyrics shows the same cover as everywhere else, but with a large sticker on it, saying L’Elite – no acute accent, so maybe this was the one I had; intended for the English-speaking market? I can’t be sure any more, and my French definitely isn’t good enough to do the digging I’d need to do to find out.
Anyway, here’s what I had always thought of as the title track, and it’s unrelenting. Loud, in-your-face rock music with a real lyrical edge; it’s what I remembered the entire album being like. I am, to my delight, able to sing along with the bits about tanks in the street and dissidents. I even remembered that there was a breakdown where the music becomes much more sparse, allowing for some stereo effects on the guitar solos, and then a final section with the voice breaking down entirely in frustration.
Police Milice is, as even the less Francophone among you might have guessed, a tirade about the militarisation of the police. I love the various sound effects which are sprinkled around this track, but it’s perhaps a little ‘Trust-by-numbers’ otherwise
H&D is much more like it, though. I do remember looking this up to see what exactly it was that the title stood for, but I don’t think translating it literally gave me any more clue than it does today. I think I’m missing something, literally, in the translation, but it’s a terrific rock song nonetheless, alternately swampy and straightforward; still as angry and bursting with ideas and energy as at the beginning, leaving Bernie out of breath at the end as he tries to articulate his frustrations.
Covering AC/DC’s Ride On seemed to be one of the things which European rock bands felt obliged to do, and while it’s a fun twist on a familiar blues to hear it sung in a French accent, and with piano and backing singers, I’m not sure it either brings anything to the album beyond another opportunity for guitarist Nono Krief to show off his chops, which are substantial. I’m trying not to sound jaded about it, because there’s a lot going on, but I think I’d rather have heard another original in French than this, which seems to illustrate several things which this album isn’t really about. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I’m glad there’s still one more track to go, because nearly seven minutes of this is a little more than enough.
Toujours pas une Tune, fortunately, allows us to remember this album with significantly more fondness than if it had ended with the harmonising of the backing singers on Ride On. The piano is still there, and the driving energy of the rest of the album is back. Bernie is spitting out the words and the swagger and politics are back in full effect. It’s much less metal than many of the others, and it’s more effective because of that; the piano and slide guitar give this a feel much more New Orleans than Orléans. It’s a great way to end an album which has turned out to be full of surprises.
Honestly, I love it. I can clearly see why I loved it then, and also why the later albums, which were much more about trying to sound like what the audiences (people like me, to be fair) probably wanted, didn’t stick in my mind nearly as well. Had they continued in this vein, with all their influences showing, and without the need to conform to the prevailing soundscape, who knows if it would have made a difference, but I think it might have taken them to a few more interesting places. I know this kind of thing isn’t for everyone, especially if it’s all sung, or recited, in high-speed French, but it’s a lot of fun and well worth the effort. We’ll be meeting another album shortly which is in a similar idiom, but doesn’t have nearly as much fun with it, and I know which one I’d rather listen to today.
All together now: “Devant ces chars d’assaut vous n’aviez que des idées”
You don’t hear that often enough these days…
Any other albums by this artist to consider?
The other two I owned (in translation) were Répression and Marche ou Crève or Savages in its translated version, of which I remember precisely one song, and that was the one sung in French (Le Mitard), so I’m not sure what that says. Probably that you should stick with this one if you want a dose of French heavy metal.
Compilations to consider?
There are a whole heap of them, all in French and therefore not widely available. I’ve listened to a few tracks here and there, and while I might yet go back and revisit Trust, I didn’t hear anything which turned my head.
They were a tremendous live band, so I’d like to recommend one, but I haven’t heard any of them, so proceed at your own risk.
Anything else? The song Antisocial had quite an effect on the band Anthrax, who covered it to great success (although in my mind, it’s not a particularly great version), and they were influential to a whole generation of bands I’ve never heard of, leading to a tribute album which I’ve not been able to find anywhere, not that I’ve looked all that hard. Overall, Trust are a band I remember fondly for this one album, and perhaps that’s the way it should stay. If anyone knows where I could track down a copy of this, though, I’m definitely in the market for one.