Bercy Arena, Paris; 17,000 heavy breathing fans are spellbound by an artist without parallel in France and – dare we say – in places beyond. An artist with the voice of an angel and a way with a riff that might have had Hendrix double taking; an artist whose live shows are the stuff of legend and whose multi-talent has bagged him a remarkable eight – eight! – French Grammys.

An artist called M.

But first, before we continue, here’s ‘Mojo’, the explosive first single from M’s new, sixth studio album, Il. Here’s but a glimpse of M’s world-class greatness, of the creative swagger and fierce showmanship that’s had his homeland swooning for years.

If you’re reading this the old school way think dirty, stomping retro-rock. Think deadly hooks, nagging choruses, rollicking momentum; think feathers and leather, pogo-ing and hip swivelling, trembling Elvis knees and fanging air guitar.

Think the Black Keys with a mirror ball and the effects pedal to the metal; or Jimi in a shiny Superhero cape, firing lightning bolts into the sky.

Then remember that M is his own man; that he always has been.

“I love playing rock, and I love giving love,” he says, sitting at home in the Latin Quarter, Paris’s historic heart, wearing black Levis, a faded red T-shirt and a rehearsing musician’s three-day growth. “I love good energy, good times.”

What with every other press release these days banging on about the latest category-defying, boundary-leaping act, working out the real deal can be tough.

Until now.

You name it, M does it: rock and funk; soul and pop; blues, French chanson and the genre formerly known as world.

And plays it: bass guitar, guitar, keyboard, drums. String instruments from elsewhere, wielded like guitars. M has a thing for deftly placed samples, and a mean way with a kazoo.

“Life is like a funfair,” he says with a shrug that’s not quite Gallic. “The more attractions you visit, the richer the experience.”

His voice, too, is something else. Note perfect and wide-ranging, and as unafraid of beauty as it is of distortion. It’s an instrument with which M delivers his clever, lush French-language songs with sincerity and savoir faire.

“I’ve always believed that for an artist, music and life are linked,” says M. “So to sing in English would feel like cheating, even though Il is probably the most English and American-sounding album I’ve ever done.”

Il, by the way, means ‘he’ in French, just like Ile means ‘island’. Though of course no man is an island, as M’s numerous collaborations with everyone from Toumani Diabate and Sean Lennon, Vanessa Paradis to Amadou & Mariam attest.

“I’m attracted by differences, by what I don’t know,” says M, who peeled off riffs alongside Johnny Marr as part of Africa Express. “I constantly need to learn.”

M does leftfield style and dark humour better than anyone else out there, too. Course he does. He’s French.

So. Got the picture? Then get ready for the tour. M’s forthcoming UK blitz sees the 39-year-old in a trio format, a back-to-basics set-up in the unfettered spirit of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, in the spirit of rock’n’roll.

Expect enormous beats and ingenious samples from drummer Lawrence Clais; giant chords from American maverick Brad Ackley on his self-styled basstar (that’s two bass strings, four guitar strings, two launch pads for samples and effects); M on vocals and Gibson LG and 1964 Fender Strat, serial number L.

“This Fender is my queen,” says M. “I’ve had this guitar since the beginning.”

The beginning? Anyone French could tell you that M was born Matthieu Chedid, the son of household-name singer Louis Chedid and the grandson of lauded Franco-Egyptian-Lebanese poet Andrée Chedid, a woman once described as ‘the voice of her generation’.

That his elder sister is music video director Emilie Chedid, whose visual imaginings framed songs from M’s early albums.

The notion of family is important to M. Always has been. At the age of six Matthieu and Emilie contributed backing vocals to Chedid Snr’s hit song T’as beau pas etre beau; aged 14 he debuted in the rock band Les Bébés Fous (that’s The Crazy Babies to you and me) alongside the children of such French music icons as Michel Jonaz and Alain Souchon.

His grandmother’s influence is there in his word play (‘M’ is pronounced like ‘Aime’, or love) and his spare, powerful prose.

As a child he toyed with becoming an illustrator: “I was fascinated by funny tales. I drawing comic strips; I wanted to create my own world.”

He loved – still loves – cinema. Theatre. Circus. Painting. Cooking. Magic.


Tim Burton. Michel Gondry. David Lynch.

Prince: “His guitar skills. His sense of melody and rhythm.”

Jimi Hendrix: “He is the blues, the rock, the groove, the elegance. He is everything a musician would wish to be.”

The Egyptian icon Oum Kalthoum: “I love the voices of the great divas.”

Matthieu Chedid had already devoted his life to music when, one day about 15 years ago, he stood in front of the mirror one sleepy morning and realized he could style his dark hair into the shape of an M.

Voila! There it was: a way to distance himself from the inevitable Chedid associations and forge his own creative path. A way to mask his shyness and indulge his love of T-Rex glam, pointy collars and skinny trousers, and glasses shaped like stars and snowflakes.

M gave him an identity to play with: “Dressing as M lets me reflect my personal evolution, and the way life never stands still.”

Hit singles such as 1998’s ferocious Machistador underscored M’s clever irreverence (“You can only make fun of others if you are able to make fun of yourself”), and helped broaden M’s fan-base to the point where his 2009 single Le Roi des Ombres – the video for which showed a tiny effigy of M going up in flames – had the whole of France talking.

Rumours abounded that M was binning the sequins and feathers. That he was going back to the name he’d been born with.

M doesn’t listen to rumours.

“M is my starting point in the universe,” he says. “M is my artistic identity, my place, my Il, no matter what he looks like.”

This M – the one about to cast a spell on Great Britain – is more about the creative eyewear than the alphabet hair. This M is more about America and England than he is about Europe. This M is bringing a live show with clothing and sets designed by nu-circus hero (and Charlie Chaplin’s grandson) James Thieree, whose next show will feature music, mai oui, by M.

This M will be playing stuff from the back catalogue as well as tracks from Il. Tracks such as Oualé, a Haitian lullaby with cosmic customising. La vie tue, a celestial piano-led number about a life – a half-life – lived in fear.

Mojo… well, you know Mojo.

Is it good, is it bad,” sings M in French. “Just let yourself go; release yourself.”

And you will. He’ll make sure of that.

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