Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

More Videos: Pembroke 2011

My good buddy Bill Erwin from the Pontiac region of Quebec recently posted two more videos of us playing at the Gaspé tent at Pembroke earlier this month.  I'm playing with Brigid Miller (Drody)  and Kent Sutton who do a wonderful job providing a peppy guitar accompaniment. Also, a big thanks to Kent for loaning me his fiddle for the afternoon. Its a beaut!

Both these tunes bring back strong memories of Cyril Devouge for me.  The first tune we play here the old-timers called, "Arty Savidant's Tune" which I learned from Cyril.  Cy learned this tune as a young man hearing Arty play this for square dances at Haldimand Hall.  Most people from the coast remember the great dances they used to have at Haldimand.

The second tune is the Winter Reel.  This was one of the tunes Cy would request most when we would visit him.  I didn't know this tune until Neil MacKay, the great Chateauguay Valley fiddler, played it for us when we were hanging out with Cy last fall.  Its a great Ontario tune with a rolling bow, perhaps in an attempt to imitate a rolling snowball?  A fun tune in any season nonetheless.

I recommended in an earlier post to check out Bill's Youtube channel. As far as I know, there is no better place on the internet to see on-line videos of authentic Canadian old-time fiddling and his channel is a great service to our fiddle culture.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Another Tune Title - Reel de Bellechasse

My Youtube friend, Robert, recently posted a short clip of himself on the accordion playing one of the untitled tunes of Erskine's we posted in 2010.  It turns out the title of this tune is  the "Reel de Bellechasse"

He has posted lots of great videos of himself and friends playing the old-style music from the Acadian peninsula in New Brunswick where he is from.

Here is one of my favourite videos he has posted.  Its a "grondeuse" or grumbling tune with the bass string raised to an A note and has a feel similar to Tommy Rooney's Jig.  I'll have to learn Robert's tune someday soon, it is incredible.

Here is Robert's Youtube Channel.  Check it out!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Cockawee

After a busy summer, I realized recently that I hadn't posted any tunes from Erskine since the end of July.

Here is Erskine playing a classic Gaspesian tune that all the old-timers used to know, The Cockawee.

This recording was made when Brian and his dad sat down one day at Erskine's house in Cambridge, Ontario in 1983.  Erskine moved to Cambridge the late 1970's after leaving the Montreal area where he raised his family.  The Cockawee seems to have been one of the most popular tunes on the Gaspe coast between Gaspe and Barachois at one time though now I think Anthony and Joseph Drody, and Cecil Leggo are the only Gaspesians left who can play this tune.
The Cockawee is a local name for the Long-Tailed Duck that would winter on the Bay of Gaspe.  Cyril Devouge told us the story of how this tune came to be composed.  A group of men from Bois-Brulé used to hunt these birds in the winter out on the ice that formed between Bois-Brulé and Grande-Grève on the other side of the bay.  These birds were considered a delicacy on the coast.  In order to be able to sneak up close enough to shoot these birds, the old-timers would camouflage themselves by putting on white sheets over their guns and bodies and crawl out on the ice.  This tune was written when one of these men from Bois-Brulé captured the sound of the bird call in his head and went home and figured out the call on his fiddle.

Here is a nice site with all sorts of information on this bird (and others) including photos, video, and audio.

This is a quirky little tune with two short phrases in each section.  It is the syncopated rhythm that really makes the tune, it really does sound like a bird-call.  I asked Ernest Drody this past summer if the tune and the bird call resembled one another.  He confirmed that if you ever forgot the tune all you would need to do is hear the sound of the Cockawee and the tune would come right back to you.  Laura Risk and I had a lot of fun playing the tune out in Douglastown this summer at house parties with the Drody's and Brian.  It is a really addictive tune and hard to stop once you get going!

Here is a link to a folder where I break this tune down for fiddle players interested in learning this tune.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Welcome Laura Risk!

Dear Readers,

It is a great pleasure to announce a new guest writer here at the Gaspe Fiddle blog, Laura Risk.  Laura and I met at the 2010 edition of the Douglastown Irish Week.  Just prior to her first trip out to Douglastown, she had stumbled upon our blog and become interested in the music and culture around the Gaspe coast.  We kept in touch throughout the year (her and her husband helped me identify several tune titles on this blog) and during this summer's Irish Week, we got to hang out a lot at the community centre and at Norma's, Joseph's, Ernest Drody's, and Phyllis' houses.

She has begun collecting stories and music by visiting with Gaspesians and when I saw how well she interacted with the community and her generous spirit, I knew that she would have great stuff to offer this blog.  So, after one of the epic house parties at Phyllis' I asked her if she would guest write from time to time which she agreed to.  We had many great conversations and a lot of late nights in Douglastown where she passed on so much of wonderful insight to me.  She has so many great ideas on promoting the Gaspesian music and culture and she has really helped me figured out where I would like to see this project go and so her help here will be a great addition.

Laura is a renowned Scottish-style fiddler, has several albums to her credit, and performs and teaches fiddle workshops all over the world.  It is so wonderful to hear a world-class fiddler learning the old Gaspesian tunes and knowing that she will pass them along to others, gives great hope that this music will live on.

Check out her website here:

Welcome Laura!

Laura with Norma McDonald - August 2011

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Edmund McAuley's Tune

One of the most memorable experiences during my time in Pembroke two weeks ago was sitting around the breakfast table at a rented trailer home and having Joseph Drody teach me this lovely little tune. Joseph and Anthony had been discussing a tune the previous night that their next door neighbour Edmund MacAuley used to play that they called simply, "Edmund McAuley's Tune" but couldn't recall the tune that night. The next day, Anthony, Joseph, and I were eating breakfast when Joseph said that the tune had finally come to him earlier that morning.

Here is myself playing Edmund McAuley's Tune

It took me a little while at the table to catch Joseph's little pause on the low strain of this tune, but I eventually got it ironed out I think. It really adds to the tune.

From what people have told me, the McAuley's were well-loved in Douglastown and noted musicians especially on the guitar (Edmund's brother, Ray went on to become a country music star in B.C., had a record on RCA and played on the Tommy Hunter Show). Also, many Gaspesians will tell you that the funniest person they ever met was their father, Hanson McAuley. As Cyril once said, if Hanson couldn't make you laugh he wouldn't talk to you". In fact, the Drody's are related to the McAuley's. One of their ancestors was a Ms. Rosanna McAuley born in 1851 in Douglastown. Edmund apparently played a little fiddle as well as the guitar. Brigid, Joseph, and Anthony remembered him playing this tune often when they were growing up next door to the McAuley's The Drody's have very fond memories growing up with their neighbours and I hope to share some of these with the readers in future posts.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Pembroke 2011

This past long weekend I had the great pleasure to spend two and half days with the Gaspé gang at their little stage under the blue tent during the Pembroke Fiddle and Step Dance festival.  I wrote about my impressions on the scene they have there last year at this time, but would like to add a few more thoughts and some special memories for the 2011 edition.

What really stood out to me this year is the sense of dedication that the Gaspesians bring to the festival.  They are there the Sunday before the week-long festival starts ready to setup their stage and tent for the musicians and dancers.  Then every afternoon throughout the week, different people take turns providing the entertainment for the spectators.  This is something many of the same Gaspesians have been doing since the late 1970s.  I consider the scene the Gaspesians create around their stage to be representative of so many of the great things about their culture: music, dancing, family, socializing, card games, jokes, stories, and shared meals.  Its rare in this day and age that you will find a group as dedicated to these values as the Gaspesian crew at Pembroke and its a real treat to be able to share in these values with such wonderful people.

The Drody boys were in especially fine form and played a lot of great tunes they learned growing up with Brigid backing them in her unbeatable style.  Here are two clips of the Drody bunch in action.  The first is a nice French-Canadian tune calle the Reel de Saint-Omer.  The second tune is one they learned from their neighbour growing up, Ms. Napoleon Rooney.  As is common in the Gaspé tradition, they always called the tune "Ms. Napoleon's Tune" after the person they learned the tune from.  However, it is a nice Down-East tune that Don Messer played called the "Belledune Quickstep".  Belledune is just across the Baie de Chaleurs on the Gaspe coast on the New Brunswick side.   These videos are from our new Youtube channel we started for sharing videos related to Gaspesian fiddling.

Some stand out memories:
  • Mary Snowman's cod cakes, chicken-pot-pie, and beans for Saturday dinner
  • Hearing Brigid and Kent Sutton playing the guitar for the great Chateauguay Valley fiddler, Gérard Giroux when I first arrived at the tent.  You couldn't have a better welcoming soundtrack.
  • Having Gary Snowman step-dance up a storm to a fiddle tune I composed for Brigid
  • Playing along with Brigid and the Drody boys (Joseph and Anthony) on Saturday night
  • Drinking water Joseph had bottled from his spring in L'Anse à Brillant.  That stuff has healing-powers!
  • Playing with Anthony and Brigid for an impromptu square-set led by George Dion of Barachois.
  • Having a late night beer and swapping stories and tunes with the Drody boys back at their rented trailer outside the park.
  • Meeting in-person my on-line friend Bill Erwin from the Pontiac region of Quebec on Saturday afternoon.  Bill has a great Youtube channel and has sent me loads of great material from the fiddlers of his part of the province.
  • Playing a whole slew of Gaspe tunes with Brigid on Sunday afternoon.

Here's a video that Bill Erwin made at this year's festival of myself, Brigid, and Kent Sutton playing a Down-East tune I learned from Cyril Devouge and Neil MacKay called "The Island Ferry".

I want to extend a special heart-felt thanks to the Snowman's who were always looking out for me, keeping me well fed, and made my trip back to Montreal so enjoyable especially with one last serving of Mary's home-made cod cakes, chicken pot pie, and beans at the rest-stop in Cassleman, Ontario.  As well, a special kudos to Jimmy Miller and Gary Snowman for all their hard work in making sure the musicians have a wonderful place to congregate under and a lots of wooden boards to stamp their feet on.  Also, a special kudos to Anthony Drody (who drives 12 hours from New Jersey to be at the festival) and Joseph Drody who continue to represent their musical traditions to the fiddle fans during the festival and for being such great guys.  And of course we can't forget Brigid who is the rock that the music at the Gaspé tent is built upon.  She is always there at the ready with her guitar to help out us fiddlers.  As Joseph often says, "we need all the help we can get".

Friday, September 2, 2011

Douglastown Memories

Crossing the bay to Douglastown from
Dear Readers,

I've been back in Montreal for the past two weeks after having spent a wonderful 19 days out on the Gaspe coast again. I had such a great time in Douglastown before and during the Irish Week and then out in Shigiwake during their Agricultural Fair and Music Festival.

While I was crossing the rail bridge to Douglastown after having just arrived by train with my bike in Gaspe it seemed as if I had been there a few weeks ago. It was hard to believe that a year had already passed. I arrived the Thursday before the Irish Week started just to relax at Lorne and Adel Packwood's lovely house whose porch overlooking Gaspe bay, I spent many hours on reading and playing fiddle. They must have one of the best views from their porch and spending time with them the first few days was a great way to relax between work in Montreal and all the activities during the Irish Week.

The first highlight from the week was when Brian and I had a 6 hour fiddle and guitar session at Norma McDonald's place the night before our presentation on the life and music of Erskine. Hanging out in Norma's kitchen is such a wonderful experience. Her and her husband Brian are so loving and generous and they never tire of hearing the fiddle. As well, there is delicious food constantly coming out of their oven and we thank Vera, Jason, Norma, and Brian McDonald for giving us a place to hang out and pick tunes and be well-fed.

Visits with Norma McDonald
The big night was definitely Wednesday during the presentation Brian, Brigid, and myself did on the life and music of Erskine Morris. During the day I was really worried that attendance would be very low as Erskine left Douglastown so long ago that a lot of people still left in town don't remember or never met him. I expected an audience of about 12 people maximum and was prepared for a quiet presentation. However, 15 minutes before the presentation was to start people began flooding in and very soon the room was filled to capacity. By the time the presentation had begun it was standing room only and there were even a few people peering in from the doorway. It reminds me of something Brian told me back when I first got into this music: that in Douglastown, the fiddle could pull the entire town together any night of the week in the old days. Well the people of Douglastown showed that the fiddle can still pull the town together and we were honored that they all came out and gave us such a great evening. It was great to have the Drody boys, Joseph and Anthony (Brigid's brothers) coming up and playing a few tunes for us during the presentation. As well, the great Quebecois caller and step-dancer Jean-Francois Berthiaume's wild step-dancing was jaw-dropping as we played one of Cy Devouge's great tunes. The energy he brought was just through the roof and the atmosphere was just electric. It was clear that the Douglastowners were just getting warmed up and wanted to hear more fiddle music.

Kitchen Jam and square dance after presentation on the life and
music of Erskine Morris with Stephanie Lepine and Laura Risk
At this point, I suggested that because the classroom was so packed and humid, we all take a five minute pause to get some fresh air then meetup in the kitchen for some more music. What ensued was a night to remember for all present. Brian, Brigid, and I were soon joined by the amazing Quebecoise fiddler, Stephanie Lepine and Scottish fiddle player, Laura Risk and we embarked on ripping jam session of Gaspesian and French-Canadian tunes. At some point, people started clearing away the tables and began a square dance. They danced 3 sets back-to-back which meant about 40 minutes of non-stop music. A big highlight here was seeing Joseph Drody up there with a big smile on his face and not breaking a sweat during 40 minutes of dancing. As well, seeing the older generation sticking it out till the very end of the evening especially Brian's aunts Phyllis, Nina, and Caroline who stayed up until 1 a.m. to hear the fiddle music. Their presence there till the very end really showed me how powerful fiddle music still is in the hearts of the people from Douglastown.

Afternoon at Joseph Drody's
Thursday afternoon Laura Risk, Linda Drody, and I spent a few hours with the Drody's (Brigid, Joseph, Anthony, and Jimmy Miller) at Joseph's place in L'Anse a Brillant. You can never go wrong hanging out with the Drody's, their company is my personal secret recipe for unwinding and appreciating the essential things in life. Highlights from this get-together include taking a drink from Joseph's spring, overlooking the bay from the L'Anse a Brillant cliffs in his back lot, and being introduced by Brigid and Jimmy to the wonders of salt cod bits with salt pork.

After our afternoon with the Drody's, we all drove over to Phyllis Morris' place expecting to entertain a quiet household. When we pulled into the driveway there must have been about 8 cars already parked there. It was so nice to play music again in Phyllis' kitchen and mingle with all the great people there. We played there till about 3 am. Two days later on Sunday night, the same thing happened all over again at Phyllis' kitchen though this time there were about 10 cars already parked in the driveway when we showed up. These party's were just electric and its so wonderful to be able to play for people who really appreciate the fiddle and its role in the culture.

Here are some clips of the music from our house parties at Phyllis' which I think capture the spirit of the evening:

In my opinion, something very special has started gaining momentum at this year's festival. We all could feel the great desire in Douglastown for people to reclaim and reconnect with their own music, as something to
Looking back towards L'Anse a Brillant
be proud of and participate in. It seemed the people would find any excuse to have a square dance, but especially when the Drody's were playing. After our week in Douglastown I'm convinced that the Gaspesian people want this music and culture to stay alive and there is still a role for it in the lives of Douglastowners and the descendants Douglastowners, most of whom live a long way from the village their ancestors called home. Douglastown was in fine form during the Irish Week and I feel the community really showed its true colours as a generous, vibrant, and music-loving people.

There were really just too many amazing things to list in this article but I would like send a special thank the following people who really impressed me with their generosity of spirit and made this year's Irish Week extra special.: Brigid Drody, for always staying up late with us and playing the guitar, a real treasure. Brian Morris who's surprise visit was the best addition to the festival. Jimmy Miller, Joseph and Anthony Drody,
Manny Morris' Barn
you couldn't find finer gentleman. Phyllis Morris, who throws the best house parties in Douglastown. Norma and Brian McDonald, for their constant kindness and explaining to me the difference between a house and home. Laura Risk for being around with her fiddle and great personality at all the parties, giving me great advice and ideas and her own hard work documenting this culture and their music. Linda Drody for all her hard work collecting and transporting my stuff to Douglastown from Gaspe when I was on my bike. Ernest Drody for another fantastic afternoon with him and his family playing tunes in the living room. Marguerite Rooney for her always having a welcome kitchen to play in and generous with food and drink. Jean-Francois Berthiaume and Stephanie Lepine, it was so great to meet these wonderful musicians. Lorne and Adel Packwood for sharing their beautiful home with me before the Irish Week. Sybil and Guy Fournier, always there with a meal for me when my food disappeared at the hostel. Albin, for being so generous and finding my fiddle a safe passage down to Shigiwake. Jared and Kerri Kennedy for driving me down to Shigiwake during a rainy second week with their beautiful daughters. Luc Shaput for making the whole Irish Week come together. None of this would have been possible without his hard work throughout the year.
Shigiwake Music Festival
Also, a special thanks to my friends in Shigawake: Carl and Lois Hayes, whose home was always open for spontaneous drop-ins and whose hospitality is unforgettable. Arsene Larocque for a wonderful night of fiddle at the fairgrounds during our first meeting. Romeo "Tunny" Hottot for sharing his family's music with me. George and Nikki Hayes and their daughter Meghan who does a top-notch job putting the music festival together.

We have a lot of great new material and stories for the blog and I think the next year is going to see some really special developments here at the Gaspe Fiddle project. I hope to be getting in a post every week or so.