From Chantal Goya to François de Roubaix, the youthful tunes of Fred Pallem

The discovery, like a treasure, of an electric guitar in his parents’ room put an end to the career of designer which was predestined to him. The creator of the Rite of the Tympanum Orchestra looks back on the music that rocked his childhood.

Where did you spend your childhood and in what environment?
I grew up in Houilles, a small town in Yvelines in the western suburbs of Paris. Before setting up his construction company, my father was an industrial designer and salesman of water treatment equipment. My mother worked as a designer in a sportswear company. Very young, when I understood that I was going to have to spend most of my childhood and my adolescence on the benches of the school, I felt trapped and I spent my schooling working just what it was necessary in order not to repeat. I liked to read and draw. I kept a diary in which I recounted my daily life as a teenager on comic strips. Everything in my life pointed me towards a career as a designer. In addition to my facilities, I had at my disposal the contacts and the pistons thanks to the relations of my mother in the world of fashion and those of my uncle, designer known for having designed the Seb robots or the crystal glasses in Baccarat color. My future was all mapped out and I took a baccalaureate in applied arts at the Boulle school.

Did your parents listen to music?
My mother adored Jacques Brel, whom she saw several times in concert. She also had albums by Alain Souchon, Laurent Voulzy, Françoise Hardy and Johnny Hallyday. I remember an old Atlantic pressing of Ray Charles that she played often. My father loved Léo Ferré, Eddy Mitchell, Serge Gainsbourg but also Pink Floyd and The Shadows. My uncle was a key figure in my musical education. In his large, extremely varied discotheque, I was able to discover records from Weather Report, the drums of Burundi, those from Black Sabbath or Duke Ellington, but above all all the Beatles albums.

What is your favorite childhood song?
My parents always told me that, when I was little, I whispered nazi-rock of Gainsbourg in my stroller. But the song I loved more than anything was The Werewolf’s Bougalou, of Carlos, whom I had discovered on TV. I must have been 5 years old. He often sang it with a guy dressed as a werewolf that I thought was absolutely brilliant. A few years later, around the age of 10, I fell in love with a compilation of music by François de Roubaix. Instrumental music allowed me to use my imagination, especially when we listened to it in the car. Before falling asleep, in my bed, I often hummed to myself the music of The Scoumoune, whose joyful theme, played on the flute, reassured me. It was at a record store in Trouville, after having heard them during walks on the boards, that I bought my first records: let’s dance, by David Bowie, and BabyJane, by Rod Stewart. I must have been about ten years old.

What is the first concert you attended?
I think the first concert I attended was the Swheel that flies by Chantal Goya. I must have been 9 years old. My sister, two years younger than me, was a huge fan. I was deeply bored. I just remember spending the concert looking for the musicians (she was singing on a recorded tape). In 1988, I was 14, my sister’s godfather invited us to the Genesis concert at Bercy. I had been particularly impressed by the light creation, but the memory is a little damaged by the anguish linked to the fear of the crowd. Even today, I always have to be near an exit when I go to a concert.

Did you learn music as a child?
Not at all. On the other hand, I listened to a lot of it. When I was 13, I copied all the Beatles albums onto audio cassettes and listened to them over and over on my Walkman. I did the same thing with records by Pink Floyd, Genesis or Léo Ferré. One day, around the age of 14, while looking for an erotic comic in my parents’ room, I came across, between two suitcases, an old dusty electric guitar case. I was like crazy! My father found me a second-hand amp and I started working with methods to learn chords but, above all, trying to reproduce the music I liked by ear. Very quickly, I bought myself a classical guitar at a flea market and an electric bass at a clearance sale. Once the basics had been acquired, I was able to set up a group with friends to play in high school parties. Thanks to a music teacher, I discovered the album Mingus Ah Um by Charles Mingus. Before that, jazz didn’t interest me. But this album opened the door to a whole world that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

After putting all my savings into buying a double bass, I started my first jazz band at 18, with musicians I met on 3615 Musicontact. To earn a little money, I did small concerts from right to left, with realistic singers, musette or reggae groups. At 21, I entered musicology college to develop my ear. At 23, I registered for the competition to enter the National Conservatory of Paris, with the aim of taking lessons with a teacher who had been recommended to me. I was admitted with, as a bonus, a full scholarship. During my four-year course, I only worked: no more social interaction, no evenings with friends or movies with a girlfriend. In my third year, I created Le Sacre du Tympanum. Two years later, in 2000, the orchestra unanimously won the La Défense jazz competition, my saxophonist friend Rémi Sciuto that of soloist and I that of composer.

Do you remember the first song you wrote?
I composed it with the group of musicians I had met on Musicontact. I had bought a small booklet to learn how to play chords on the bass guitar. I composed a little waltz in do major over which I whistled a melody. There must be a recording of that, but I’m not sure I want it out!

Fred Pallem, 2023.

Photo Sylvain Gripoix

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From Chantal Goya to François de Roubaix, the youthful tunes of Fred Pallem

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