Richard Desjardins Homage

Richard Desjardins Homage

Every song that I’ve ever heard / Is playing at the same time, it’s absurd” The lyrics from Arcade Fire’s “Everything Now” perfectly describe a festival-goer’s mindset in the aftermath of the countless concerts – both official and unannounced – presented during the 15th annual edition of the Festival de musique émergente en Abitibi-Témiscamingue that rocked Rouyn-Noranda (population: 42,000; location: 630 km. Northwest of Montréal) from Aug. 31 to Sept. 3, 2017. But let’s start from the end, if you please. An end that’s also something of a beginning. You’ll see…

On the last day of the festival, the main closing event was a tribute to the region’s greatest and most renowned poet, Richard Desjardins. One by one, the majority of the artists featured on the album Desjardins took the stage, which was set up over the water at Kiwanis beach, to play his classics for 12,000 of his peers… and Desjardins himself, who transmogrified the already emotionally-charged event into a memorable happening by singing, unannounced, three of his songs at the tail end of the concert.

Talk about going out in a blaze of glory: a whole new generation of artists – Klô Pelgag, Les sœurs Boulay, Fred Fortin, Safia Nolin, Émile Bilodeau, Bernard Adamus, Stéphane Lafleur d’Avec pas d’casque, Yann Perreau, Philippe B, Saratoga et Matiu – celebrating the poet in his hometown, as he watched. The previous presentations of the concert “Desjardins, on l’aime-tu ? ” (“Desjardins, Do We Love Him?”, a nod to the title of one of his best-selling albums, Tu m’aimes-tu ? [Do You Love Me?]) at the FrancoFolies de Montréal and Festival d’été de Québec were merely rehearsals for the “real deal.” A big moment.

Hardly mentioned was the fact that the closing event of the 2017 FME echoed the one of the inaugural edition, back in 2003, when Desjardins – a famously unpredictable man – expressed his desire to play this newfangled “youth” festival. The FME was created by a handful of passionate people from the area, who wanted to present the best emerging talent from home and abroad to their neighbours, to all music lovers and to industry professionals. The beginning-like end.

Antoine Corriveau

Antoine Corriveau

Full circle. Festivalgoers – including the author of this story – with their bellies full of music, and exhausted by the FME’s notoriously short nights, could slowly drift back to reality, all those melodies mingling and looping in their minds, and their ears.

Just how did an event with such humble beginnings establish itself in such a brief period of time? How did it manage to become an epicentre of local, national and international musical discovery? One where not only do the music lovers from major urban areas converge, but where artists absolutely want to be a part of it every time the Labour Day weekend rolls around? Just ask someone like Antoine Corriveau, who played the festival for a third time, and whose show at the Agora des Arts was particularly intense, which he followed, at noon the next day, with a more intimate performance at the Parc Botanique À Fleur d’eau, a perfect bucolic setting for hung-over festival-goers…

 

 

Obviously, there’s also the warm welcome of the Abitibi people, the party atmosphere, the charm of a human-scale city, the late night romps at Bar des Chums, a most quaint and authentic watering hole, where beer is sold in king-size portions and karaoke is king. But above all, there’s a pervasive, positive energy that stems from the generous involvement of the area’s civil and business communities. Obviously, there are also major national sponsors, without whom many of the FME’s wildest ambitions would remain nice blue-sky ideas – SOCAN has contributed for many years now. But the difference lies in the sense of ownership of the whole community for an event that’s often been honoured – it has won the Félix Award for Event of the Year several times – and that promotes their corner of the world.

To wit, a Rouyn-Noranda-born singer-songwriter like Louis-Philippe Gingras not only plays his songs during the festival, but busies himself with power tools days ahead of it, making sure all the infrastructure is ready on time. This year, Gingras played one of the many Happy Hour sets that occur simultaneously all over town – his was at the local Knights of Columbus hall – but that same morning, he also played a set in a retirement home for elders who also wanted to take part in the FME. One can hardly get more community-oriented…

Unannounced shows are another one of the attractions, and they’re the cherry on top of a large programming sundae. Initially improvised on the spot, nowadays these surprise, pop-up gigs are greatly and excitedly anticipated by festival-goers, notified at the last minute through the FME mobile app.

Most of the time, these as-we-go performances in odd venues yield magical moments that sometimes surpass the official presentations in post-festival anecdotes. We’re betting that’ll be the case of the performance by Montréal-based duo Heartstreets, who play a mix of rap, electro-pop, soul and R&B. They were all smiles, as was their audience, as they played in the parking lot of Scène Paramount, where a rap concert featuring Alaclair Ensemble, Lary Kidd, Eman & Vlooper and local artist Mathew James had just ended. Here are the girls’ impressions immediately after their coup d’éclat:

Barry Paquin Roberge

Barry Paquin Roberge

The case of Heartstreets offers a perfect example of the FME’s ability to create a buzz for artists still largely unknown by the audience, the media, and industry professionals who attend in droves, accredited by a festival whose mission as a talent developer is at the core of its philosophy. Others who benefitted from the positive word-of-mouth include Montréal’s South Shore rock band Zen Bamboo, Le Bleu, the highly original Barry Paquin Roberge, and the finalists of the 2016 Francouvertes, Mon Doux Saigneur.

Amid such a sea of young talent, it’s even more surprising to spot an established veteran like Pierre Flynn programmed for a Happy Hour at Club Chimo, which is actually the mess hall of the Canadian Armed Forces 9th Combat Engineer Squadron! Then again, when one takes a closer look, there’s almost always a “veteran,” recognized for their artistic process, programmed during FME. For Flynn, who expressed his desire to play the FME this year, being “emerging” isn’t linked to the age of the artist, but rather the reflection of artists who are willing to go off the beaten path and re-invent themselves as a matter of principle. We interviewed him a few hours before his show:

 

If there’s one thing that can be said about this 15th edition, it’s that the venues and lodging options were saturated. One can hardly imagine how the FME could host more people – both artists and festival-goers – with 92 concerts, in 31 venues, and 37,000 admissions recorded this year! According to festival president and visionary co-founder Sandy Boutin, the next development phase for FME will occur on the creative side. He’s championing the idea of an artist-in-residence program that would give them carte blanche to present an original creation during the festival. We met him on the last day of the fest, and he took a look back at the past, and offered his own explanation for the FME’s success. He also looked forward, imagining the future of what everyone now calls Québec’s biggest small festival.

Watch the FME 2017 summary produced by the festival team:


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Pierre Lapointe“Early on in my career, I wrote what I called ‘ethereal poetry,’” Pierre Lapointe explains during our lengthy discussion, one of the first he’s had while making the promotional rounds for his album, La science du coeur. “I was yearning to understand how to write without succumbing to the dictatorship of ideas. That yielded lyrics that had their qualities… and their faults. Therefore, I believed that when I fully understood the art of touching people, while also confident that they’d understand what I’m actually talking about, I’d add, tongue in cheek: ‘Fasten your seatbelts, because you’re in for quite a ride!’”

And that is indeed the first thing that strikes the listener on La science du coeur, his fifth original studio album (not counting his 2014 covers album, Paris Tristesse): lyrically, he goes straight for the jugular. Message received, loud and clear. One recognizes the distance travelled since the rhymes on his first (eponymous, 2004) album and the exceptionally ambitious and fantasy-driven La Forêt des mal-aimés (2006). Lapointe;ls lyrics are now crystal clear – vulnerable, even – on this album, born out of a “professional love at first sight” with French composer and arranger David François Moreau.

Renowned for his movie and stage play scores, as well as for his collaborations with such songsmiths as Cali and Patrick Bruel (who also happens to be his half-brother), Moreau had written a long letter to Lapointe after attending one of his concerts.

“It was almost a love letter – I was a little uncomfortable, to tell the truth,” Lapointe confesses. “Michel, my manager, then met with him. ‘He’s quite cool, quite serious,’ Michel told me. He doesn’t come across as crazy… I then called my friend Albin de la Simone who told me that David is actually one of his good friends, and that his brother is actually a well-known jazz drummer, with whom he’d played before, etc. Albin told me, ‘I’ll organize a dinner next time you’re in Paris, so you and he can meet.’”

Following a convincing first encounter, Lapointe took a few weeks off in Japan, a stay that inspired the lyrics to “Naoshima.” He then listened to every bit of work Moreau had done, finally realizing that he might just have found the perfect partner to finish this new album, a record which was fully realized in the mind of the singer-songwriter. “I told him, ‘I want to bridge the gap between the classical French songbook – which is to say, play with the work of such monumental artists such as Ferré, Barbara, Brel, et al. – and contemporary music, mainly Philip Glass and the minimalists, as well as orchestral music. Are you up for it?’”

“The writing is extremely contemporary: writing like that 40 years ago would’ve been unthinkable, and even I could not have written like this as little as 10 years ago.”

And up for it he was. The pair first tested the concept over a period of two weeks in Paris (with Lapointe taking advantage of the SOCAN House there) by working on three of the album’s more robust songs: “Alphabet “ (“Everyone kept saying it didn’t belong on the album, but I insisted”), “Qu’il est honteux d’être humain,” and the title track (and first single), which is also the opening song. “We tried to do a mash-up of those ideas as we worked on what I was calling ‘my intellectual album,’ by lifting sounds from the pop world as well as from modern music from the ’50s and up,” says Lapointe. “I only had one condition: no synths. Nothing but acoustic, orchestral instruments.”

And it works. The music is rich, the lyrics raw, but the singer – who’s the backbone of the whole experience – grounds the emotions when the orchestration and structure aim for the stratosphere. “We succeeded, I think, in making an album that makes no concessions, yet still seems unified,” says Lapointe. “It’s the result of a highly intellectual approach that manages to still be approachable. The songs sound like classics that have always been around, but they’re totally new. The writing is extremely contemporary: writing like that 40 years ago would’ve been unthinkable, and even I could not have written like this as little as 10 years ago.”

La science du coeur is the sum of 15 years in the business expressing himself, the result of the experience acquired by an artist who describes himself as a craftsperson who fine-tunes his art “and who works, in the studio, onstage, on visuals and graphic design, with collaborators who teach me a lot.” People who spur him on to explore, widen his horizons and create relentlessly. Indeed, this album, which has been mixed, mastered and ready to release since last March and “is already integrated in my life,” already feels almost old for Lapointe, who confesses to already having three other albums recorded! “I don’t know when or how they’ll come out, but they exist.”

Moreau produced the album and penned the arrangements, played by an orchestra conducted by Simon Leclerc, Lapointe’s ever-present partner in crime, with Philippe Brault credited as artistic co-director. Other collaborators include singer-songwriters Félix Dyotte on “Zopiclone,” and Daniel Bélanger on the touching and sumptuous ballad “Une Lettre,” the album closer.

“Daniel Bélanger and I have been friends, and have tried to write music together for a long time,” says Lapointe. “We’d written one piece of music once, which never came out, and I don’t even know where it is now. But you see, Daniel has a way of writing songs that’s completely different from mine. I find myself with a friend, Philippe B or Philippe Brault, Dyotte, whoever, and then we just go: play me a chord, I’ll find a word, and then we just bounce things off each other until we end up with something.

“When I tried that with Daniel, he froze. I could tell it wasn’t going to work, and I told him I’d send him a lyric so that he can work on it on his own. Daniel told me, laughing: ‘It’s like you just whipped out your cock and started masturbating in front of me – I can’t, I’m too shy!’ I thought it was very funny, because I could tell that my way of working would make him very self-conscious. So we wrote a couple of songs where I would send him my lyrics. I call Daniel my ‘elder’, him and Jean Leloup. “Les Insomniaques s’amusent” and “L’Amour est sans pitié” are two records that I absolutely learned by heart.”

In the early stages of his career, the excitement of other people’s attention to his work, and himself, was very present. “Now, I see myself more as a craftsman,” says Lapointe. “Writing songs has become more natural, which doesn’t mean it’s easier. It simply means I can now rely on more knowledge and more experience. Plus, playing live has become less an event and more something I enjoy, most notably the part where I can cherry-pick the musicians I want to play with, based on the admiration I have for their work, and the ease with which we connect on a human level.

“The same goes for the album,” Lapointe continues. “But you see, the album has become a way to understand myself. There has always been something quasi-therapeutic, something that compels me to introspection, to try to become a better human being. It sounds self-absorbed when you hear those words, but I did always use the arts as a way to reconcile myself with what humans can be. As I grow older, my musical projects tend to reach for something universal, at least my definition of what’s universal. Then, if people are moved, good, I’ll be the happiest man on earth. But my prime interest [with each new album] is to position it in relation to where I came from, and where I want to go. When a project is done, what I’m interested in is: did I attain that goal? With La science du coeur, I think I did.”

La science du cœur will be released Oct. 6, 2017.


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Catherine MacLellan and Tara MacLean grew up together, consider themselves family, have the same job, and by coincidence, both had the same goal for 2017.  They desperately wanted to spend the whole summer in the place they love and call home, Prince Edward Island.   And independently, they both came up with the same solution.  They each spent the summer presenting theatrical shows on the Island, both of which proved to be huge hits with audiences, and career highlights for each singer-songwriter.

Who wouldn’t want to spend the summer on P.E.I.? Especially with its coastline covered in amazing beaches, its many restaurants out-doing each other, serving up all manner of seafood delicacies, and a relaxed, life-is-good attitude everywhere.  Even with tens of thousands of tourists arriving from all over the world, it’s still surprisingly un-crowded.  But you can’t stay at the beach all night, and those tourists are always looking for some evening entertainment.

Catherine MacLellan

Catherine MacLellan (Photo : TC/Dave Stewart)

MacLellan lives in P.E.I. year-round, and is always faced with a dilemma. She loves being home, but has to leave for most of her work, especially touring the summer festival circuit. “Living in P.E.I., you want to be here as much as you can,” she says. “Especially in the summer, because you wait all winter long for the summer… Somebody like me, who’s touring all the time, never really gets to enjoy it.”

MacLean had a different problem.  Although she was born and raised in P.E.I., life had taken her to Salt Spring Island, BC, to raise her family.  She’d actually gone on hiatus from music in 2008, but was feeling the urge to start performing again, her three kids having grown a little older.  Also, she felt the call of home, especially after her grandmother had taken sick, and wanted to be around her family.

It’s not surprising that they both came up with the same plan.  MacLellan’s father, Gene, and MacLean’s dad, Marty Reno, were best friends and musical partners from 1971 on.  Marty backed Gene on his tours, they made a gospel album together, and had a band together, Refuge, in the ‘80s.  The families have always been close, and even lived together for a time in Burlington, ON, when the girls were little.   “I remember sitting at their feet so much, just listening to them sing together,” says MacLean.  “It seemed to be that they always had their guitars out.  Their music was the first real music that I knew, that moved through me.”

Prince Edward Island’s arts scene is as vibrant as its weather, and every small hall on the Island has been turned into a cultural space, with theatre groups, cèilidhs (traditional Irish/Scottish community dance parties), comedy troupes, music acts offering no shortage of entertainment for the tourist trade.  MacLean and MacLellan both came up with bold plans to each combine their music skills with a night at the theatre.  Even though they both made their names as songwriters, MacLean for her adventurous solo albums and pop songs with the band Shaye, and MacLellan for her own JUNO Award-winning folk music, for these shows, they’re performing the classics of other songwriters.

“She sends people to my show, and I send people to hers. It’s a family business we got going here!” – Tara MacLean

MacLean is paying tribute to the great songwriters of the East Coast, who influenced her, like Ron Hynes, Stompin’ Tom Connors, Sarah McLachlan and Lennie Gallant.  In a show called Atlantic Blue, playing at the Guild Theatre in Charlottetown, she and her band perform songs by each artist, along with short films she’s prepared to tell their stories.  Just right for East Coast music fans, and tourists ready to learn about some local heroes.

“It’s been half and half, locals and tourists,” says MacLean. “There’ve been people coming up from the southern States.  Most of my career was spent touring the U.S., so it was really wonderful to see that people were still devoted and would make the trip.”

Tara MacLean

Tara MacLean (Photo : Sarah MacPhee)

Across the city at the P.E.I. Brewing Co., MacLellan has been performing If It’s Alright with You – The Life and Music of My Father, Gene MacLellan.  For years, Catherine avoided her father’s legacy, wanting to make her own name in music.  More recently, she finally felt ready to explore his work and created the show (and an album of the same name), which features his iconic hits – “Snowbird” and “Put Your Hand in The Hand” –  and tells his life story through anecdotes and photos.  Catharine was only 14 when her dad passed away in 1995, so she shares her search for him with the audience.

“They go in with no expectations, and think it’s kind of interesting that my dad wrote these big songs,” says MacLellan. “That might be all they know at that point, but by the end they seem to come out with a clear picture of who he was, and they’re interested in that story. For me, it’s great to talk about his accomplishments and the funny little path he trod all the way along. But at the end, my dad took his own life, and to be able to talk about mental health is really important.  So that has been really resonating with people.”

While both SOCAN members admit to enjoying a bit of beach time, what’s really been satisfying is the complete success of each show.  “It’s been everything and more, it’s been so wonderful, and the audiences have given me such great feedback,” says MacLean.

“We started this not knowing if people were even going to like the show, and then people have been coming back two and three times to see it,” says MacLellan.  “It’s been sold out since July, and it looks like it might be until the end of the run [in early October].   It’s pretty exciting, and I just feel so grateful.”

The Guild has already announced it will be bringing back MacLean’s show for 2018.  MacLellan hopes to do the same, and also plans to tour the show to the rest of the country this fall, and the spring of 2018.

And no, there’s no semi-sibling rivalry going on. “I love that Catherine is doing the show as well, and it just feels so good to know that we’re both home,” says MacLean.  “She sends people to my show, and I send people to hers. It’s a family business we got going here!”


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