Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Pembroke Reflections


Brigid Drody and her guitar at the recently installed Gaspé tent.
Following the blog tradition I thought I would do a little post about another fantastic week spent at the Gaspé tent at the Pembroke Fiddle and Step-Dance week in Pembroke, Ontario. I was lucky this year to be able to spend the whole week, from Monday, August 26 until Monday, September 2nd, at the festival.

When I had decided earlier in the summer that I would spend the whole week, I was hoping to gain better perspective on the Gaspesian experience at Pembroke where a core group has been coming yearly since 1981. I wanted to see first-hand how this group prepares the site and welcomes their friends who arrive during the rest of the week. This core group arrives on the Sunday evening before the week starts in order to start setting up their reserved site early the next morning. However, staying the whole week also gave me the chance to spend some quality time with friends there before I headed back to school in Newfoundland for the next eight months.

A visit from Maurice from Valleyfield, QC
After a slight detour trying to find some desperately needed fiddle strings in Vankleek Hill, Ontario, I arrived in in Pembroke in the early afternoon on Monday, August 26. Walking over from the parking lot with my fiddle, tent, and sleeping bag, I found Jimmy, Gary, and Lonzo diligently setting up the tent while Brigid, Mary, Julia, and Dorris were having a few laughts by the Snowman trailer. After a warm welcome, I wasted little time offering my services to Brigid's husband, Jimmy, the "site foreman." Although no one seemed eager to put me to work, I waited around for work for several minutes anyways until Gary suggested a job I could do for the gang: "Go rosin up your bow and play us a few tunes." I requested Brigid's guitar services and in no time we were seated in the middle of the platform, the men hard at work around us, and into a bunch of Cyril Devouge's old tunes. I'm proud to say that the first fiddle tune played at the Gaspesian tent at Pembroke 2013 was Cyril's, "The Golden Rooster." The music was flowing smooth between Brigid and I and Gary even took a few work breaks to give us a taste of his step dancing. What I thought would be a short jam, turned in to a three hour session in the midst of an intimate and appreciative audience. I'd say the week was off to an excellent start.

George Dion and his new camper van
I appreciated the laid-back atmosphere and casual music making that happens in the early part of the week with visits from musicians from neighbouring camps. These included visits from Maurice from Valleyfield, QC and Marc Sauvé from the Chateauguay Valley.

George Dion, a Gaspesian from Belle-Anse who has spent his adult life in Nevada, arrived early in the week in his new camper. He and I had a two great after-hours jam sessions once everyone else had gone to bed. George is a really special fiddler; he manages to incorporate the great syncopated Gaspé bow-work and foot percussion into a wide repertoire of tunes he learned around Belle-Anse and from commercial records and the television. Here's a recording of George and I playing a cute F tune that he learned from a Nova Scotia fiddler back in 2004. He says he always plays this tune when he picks up his fiddle at home.

On Friday, August 30 we were joined by Brian Morris who stayed with us for two and a half days. Within a few minutes of his arrival on Friday afternoon, he and Brigid were tearing it up on the guitars. I had been chatting with the Snowmans when I heard some great picking coming from the inside of Brigid's trailer and I when I realized something special was going on, I came in to enjoy the music. I even managed to record a few tunes which Brian has offered to share with us. Brian has a really intuitive command of the Gaspe feel when he plays picks fiddle tunes on the guitar and I've always enjoyed just hearing him and Brigid play these tunes as a duo. Here are a few tunes they played in the trailer. The first is a great Isidore Soucy tune called "La gigue de sans-travail" that Brian and I both learned off the Virtural Gramophone website. Brian's father was a big Isidore Soucy fan and we have both discovered Soucy's music through his father's repertoire. The second tune is an old song called "I'll Be All Smiles Tonight" which is a favourite among many of the Gaspesians I've played for. Brian worked it out on the guitar inspired by a dobro version he heard on YouTube. He's done a great job working the dobro double stops and picking style into his guitar interpretation.The last tune Brian worked out on the guitar many years ago from Jean Carrignan's "La ronfleuse Gobeil." He gets a great feel on this tune and I love the way he doubles up on notes like his father and Cyril did in their fiddle playing; its a great way to fill out these tunes on the guitar.

Saturday Evening: The Drodys in Concert
By the weekend, we were joined by Brigid's brothers Joseph and Anthony from Scarborough, Ontario and New Jersey. I've always been lucky to learn a new tune from the Drody brothers each year at Pembroke. This year was no exception. Late one night, Anthony recalled an old tune his father and uncle used to play and he kindly taught it to me. Its a catchy short tune in that, like many of the old Gaspe tunes, has only two phrases to each a turn. The next afternoon I had a lovely jam session with Brian and Brigid and we played this tune for Anthony. Here is the recording of what I have decided to call "Anthony Drody's Tune." Thanks Anthony!

Saturday is always a special day at the Gaspe tent with card parties and the big group suppers put on by the Snowmans and the Drodys. My dinner with the Snowmans included Mary's legendary fish cakes, baked beans, and potatoes. No one went hungry that night. I wanted to personally thank the Snowmans for all the hospitality throughout the week. I think it fitting to note that we were sad to be without Ross Tuzo who passed away last Spring.
Mary Snowman's baked beans

Michel Mallette from Valleyfield joined us for a night of music on Saturday night. He's a wonderful player and a nice guy as well. Here is Michel playing a great medley of two G tunes including Lee Cremo's "Constitution Breakdown." And here's Michel playing another medley, this time "Shingle the Roof" and "Diamond Lil."

For the final evening Sunday evening we were treated to a special concert by the Drodys (Joseph, Anthony, and Brigid). Here they are playing one of their Dad's favourite tunes: "Fisher's Hornpipe." Their show was the perfect way to cap off a week at the Gaspé tent and everyone was glad to see this family doing what they've done best together for over 65 years. For me personally, this was a great send off for the long drive back to Newfoundland the next day. Thanks to all there for their hospitality and good times. See you next August!

Another year of Pembroke: The boys packing up the Gaspe tent.