Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

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.



1 comment:

  1. Got the link from the Go Gaspé site, thanks for putting up the links to the recordings. Enjoyed listening to it very much.

    Tommy Eden