Lovely melodies and gruesome murders – don’t you love folk music?

The other week I wrote about Gabriel Yacoub and his band Malicorne. I forgot to mention one of my favourite Malicorne songs – the story of a gruesome murder carried out by a student – at his mother’s request, no less.

It’s called L’Écolier Assassin and comes from their album Almanach. I loved this song from the first hearing. Something about the melody got under my skin. I’ve never played it live as it’s a bit long for an audience that isn’t following the words, but I have put a different set of words to the tune, which I might record one day.

The story

Mum asks Jack, the student, where he’s been. He said he’s been at school. She says he’s lying, he’s been with his girlfriend. Not one to pussyfoot, Mum says she’d like to see his lover dead and have her heart brought to her.

Jack, rather than recoiling in shock, has a think. ‘What will you give me if I kill her?’ Mum answers ‘A white shirt.’  Perhaps his face indicates he’s underwhelmed, so she adds ‘… and money to your heart’s desire.’

That seems to clinch the deal for Jack. He sets out at first light and reaches his lover’s house as midnight chimes. He leads her by hand out to the garden, where he takes his sword and cuts off her little finger.

Understandably his lover remonstrates – ‘Oh my God, how I’m suffering tonight!’  Jack’s response ‘ You ain’t seen nothing yet. You’ll suffer a lot more before the night is done.’ A real card, Jack.

He lays her down on a thorn bush and rips her heart from her breast, wrapping it in his shirt. (That’s why he’ll need a new one. Forward thinking, is mum.)

‘Here you are, my cruel mother’ he says, ‘Here’s my true love’s heart.’ ‘You’re lying through your teeth’ says mum, ‘That’s a ewe’s heart!’

Finally Jack suffers from remorse (about time). He asks the mountains to crush his body. ‘I’ve killed my mistress – I deserve only death.’

The sweet refrain and melody

All of which would mean so-so if it weren’t for the beautiful melody. I don’t know to what extent that’s the traditional melody or Yacoub’s own, but it’s a lovely lilting but yet dark chord sequence.

Just to make it stranger, each of the nine verses ends, as if to soften the blow, with ‘I hear the peaceful song of the lovely nightingale’ That’s the folk singalong bit.


Malicorne in the 1970s

Here are Malicorne from a fuzzy restored documentary from the 1970s:

Lyrics and chords

Here are the lyrics, and I’ve put the chords around verse 1

L’Écolier Assassin  (arr Gabriel Yacoub)

Em        G           D          B7          Em       D           Bm     C
D’où reviens-tu mon fils Jacques, d’où reviens-tu cette nuit ?

G            Em     Bm        Em  D   C              B7   Em
Je viens des écoles, ma mère, des écoles de Paris

G              Em      Bm       Em   D       Em D  C B7 Em
J’entends la chanson sereine du rossignolet joli

Tu as menti là, mon drôle, tu reviens de voir ta mie
Je voudrais la voir morte et avoir son cœur ici
J’entends la chanson sereine du rossignolet joli

Que donneriez-vous ma mère si je la faisais mourir ?
Je donnerais chemise blanche, de l’argent à ton plaisir
J’entends la chanson sereine du rossignolet joli

Il est allé voir sa belle sitôt le soleil levé
En arrivant à sa porte, l’entendit minuit sonner
J’entends la chanson sereine du rossignolet joli

Il la prend par sa main blanche, au jardin l’a emmenée
Il a pris sa claire épée, le p’tit doigt lui a coupé
J’entends la chanson sereine du rossignolet joli

Ah ! Mon Dieu que de souffrances que j’endure cette nuit
Tu en souffriras bien d’autres avant qu’ la nuit soit finie
J’entends la chanson sereine du rossignolet joli

Il la couche sur l’épine, oh, qui graine sans fleurir
Lui a pris le cœur du ventre, dans sa chemise il l’a mis
J’entends la chanson sereine du rossignolet joli

Tenez, ma cruelle mère, voilà le cœur de ma mie
Tu as menti par ta bouche, c’est le cœur d’une brebis
J’entends la chanson sereine du rossignolet joli

Oh ! Montagnes sur montagnes, écrasez-vous sur mon corps
J’ai fait mourir ma maîtresse, je n’ mérite que la mort
J’entends la chanson sereine du rossignolet joli

Recent version

Here’s more recent audience video from one of Malicorne’s performances in their comeback tour in 2012.

Of course there’s a whole stream of ‘cruel mother’ songs in the folk traditions of Europe and America. But this mother’s a particular piece of work!

Try this!

If you like story songs like this you’ll probably like a lot of my stuff.  There’s a free sampler of story songs called Tell Tale Songs available here, just for you and FREE!

Item added to cart.
0 items - £0.00