Eric Cantona, the singer: Manchester United legend launches debut single

Eric Cantona, the chanteur - this is his new Theatre of Dreams

He arrives looking, well, like Eric Cantona (thank you God).

Trademark flat cap, collar turned up, head held high, back straight, like a ballet dancer.

Tall, imposing, as charismatic as everyone says he is. 

Before we start, he asks me to spell my surname. Do you know what Nannar means in French, he asks? Something nice, I nervously offer?

It’s like when you go and see a film, he says, and afterwards say that was nanar. It means it was very, very bad. 

(Errrrr thank you Eric!)

Eric Cantona's reaction to hearing Nina Nannar's name

We are in a studio at Universal Music, to unveil his new career. Eric Cantona, the singer. Pianist alongside him, he sings for us, a song he penned himself, called Friends We Lost.

It is lovely, somewhat mournful, about not enjoying life and those we love while we still have them (my interpretation, Eric doesn’t like to go into too much detail about what his lyrics are about).

His voice is, well, like Eric Cantona, heavily accented English, deep, his song, sort of what you’d imagine from a French ballad. He sips red wine in between takes. He is loving this. I’m really proud of the songs I’ve written so far, he tells me. They are really good. 

He’s famous for not doing humility, though he often delivers these lines with a twinkle in his eyes. 

Lockdown gave him the opportunity to learn the guitar, much to the embarrassment of his children. He is constantly seeking ways to express himself creatively he says. He has certainly proved this since retiring from professional football aged just 30, in 1997.

He had enjoyed glory with Manchester United, still a legend there, still referred to as King Eric in the city. Then it was acting, a role in the Shekhar Kapur film, Elizabeth, with Cate Blanchett, later a comic turn in Ken Loach’s Looking For Eric. TV, photography, writing followed. Now music. And this he says is what he’s long wanted. 

'I’ve been completely free'

That Eric Cantona likes an audience is no surprise, but it’s the adrenaline rush of performing live that he craves. Football gave him that in droves, and live music he says could perhaps even exceed that, whether the crowd is 50,000 or smaller. 

It will be smaller to start with, he is doing a mini tour, beginning in October in Manchester, just him and a piano, in modest-sized venues, but next year he has hopes of delivering more, with a band. 

That he still loves Manchester is obvious, in fact in the 90s with so much era-defining music coming out of the city, he says it helped inspire his own creative yearnings, culminating in his new music career.

Perhaps evidence of his universal appeal in the city came when he was asked by Liam Gallagher to appear in the video for his song Once. This is despite Gallagher being a committed Manchester City fan.

Would he return the favour and ask Liam to be in one of his videos? Why not, he responds. (Please ask, Liam!)

Eric is releasing a second single called Tu Me Diras, in which he imagines himself flying free, like an eagle (not a seagull, as per his famous, enigmatic quote about seagulls and trawlers after his infamous kung fu kick against a fan goading him in the stands).

Then later this year comes his album. He’s written 30 songs, most of them in English, a language he finds easier to compose in.

Have you worked out your stage moves, I ask? He hasn’t, though he believes just a slight movement of an arm can be powerful enough. 

Interestingly, just before we sit down to talk he does a photoshoot with a newspaper in which he is asked to smash up a guitar for the photographer. 

His bad boy image clearly endures, but his music style clearly does not lend itself to over-the-top, Jimi Hendrix-like antics on stage. 

I point out that even though he is still known as King Eric in Manchester, music already has a King in the form of Elvis. Might there be a clash? Even Eric agrees that Elvis got there first. 

No doubt many fans of the Reds will be overcome to have Eric back playing in Manchester again, though not in the Theatre of Dreams, but in a theatre.

He’s hopeful that his fellow superstars from Man United will come to see him at the city’s Stoller Hall, I’m taking the risk of singing on stage, I hope they like it, he says.

What about any more permanent returns to Manchester United, I ask? Manager? Or what about buying the club, which is still up for sale? 

I’d need to sell a lot of albums for that, he jokes. 

For now, he’s content with his music career, and singing for the fans who’ve long sung to him.

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