LE VENT DU NORD – Territoires (Borealis BCD258)

TerriitoiresLe Vent Du Nord are back on tour and with a new album which is always good news. Territoires sees the band expanded to a quintet with André Brunet, poached from La Bottine Souriante, making his presence felt with three compositions.

The band has evolved in subtle ways since their previous studio album, Têtu, some four years ago but at their heart remains the history and old songs of their native Quebec, mixed with their own compositions. Sometimes it’s hard to know where the old ends and new begins particularly when they blend a traditional song with an original tune. The first song, ‘Le Pays De Samuel’, pays tribute to Samuel de Champlain, a figure little known outside Canada who founded New France and the City of Quebec. The song was written by Nicolas Boulerice as was the next, ‘Adieu Du Village’, released as a single last year. The song tells of a man who killed his lover but was spared execution because the hangman’s rope broke. You would have thought that they would just get another. This track is typical of the band’s style – foot percussion, jew’s harp and massed voices on the chorus.

The instrumental set, ‘Cotillon Du Capitaine’ sounds not unlike an American country dance, apart from the percussion and jew’s harp, until Bouderice’s jazzy piano takes over in the second half and you begin to suspect that Le Vent Du Nord are looking towards new horizons. The a capella ‘Louisbourg’ tells of the fall of the first French-Canadian city on Cape Breton. It’s now a museum and there you can learn how the British cheated by hauling their cannons over impassable ground to bombard the city from above. This and the lovely, slow ‘La Mère À L’Échafaud’ which follows suggest a new seriousness about the band.

Several times I gave up trying to write and just let the album play. Territoires is the sort of album that sweeps you along on a wave of pleasure and it may be Le Vent Du Nord’s best work

Dai Jeffries

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‘Adieu Du Village’ – official video:

LE VENT DU NORD live at South Hill Park, Bracknell

Le Vent Du Nord
Photograph by Dai jeffries

Smoke swirled over the darkened stage as four shadowy figures took their places. The sound began with the drone of a hurdy-gurdy, joined by fiddle, jew’s harp and voice and lastly bouzouki. Finally the lights came up to reveal Le Vent Du Nord in all their splendour. It was an uncharacteristically sombre opening to an evening that was full of laughs.

I usually come home from a gig with a fairly accurate set-list and other notes about who did what. No chance here. The band only introduced a few of their pieces and then usually in rapid French. I fell back on plan B and tried to blag a set-list from keyboardist Nicolas Boulerice but they don’t use one. He did offer to write one up for me, though, and that’s not an offer you get every day. They did tell us that most of the material would come from their most recent album, Têtu, as did ‘Confédération’, the first song they announced by name, having a dig at Anglophone Canadians in the process.

In fact, the announcements in the first half took the form of a debate, which apparently the band had, about whether Têtu should have a terminal “s”. Everyone had to have a say in turn and the running joke got funnier and funnier. I did figure out the unaccompanied ‘La March Des Iroquois’ and ‘Petit Rêve IX’, an almost orchestral piece which begins with a lovely guitar solo played by its composer, fiddler Olivier Demers and they closed the first set with an oldie, ‘Lanlaire’.

Several things stuck in the mind after the gig. The first is the interplay of the four voices. They can stack up harmonies, pick up lines from each other and occasionally sing over each other. The second is that they do the same with melodies, passing a tune from fiddle to melodeon, to hurdy-gurdy and even jew’s harp. Finally comes the energy and fun they bring to their music. Quebecois music is, to say the least, lively and they throw everything they have into it. I was surprised that Demers, who is responsible for most of the foot percussion, was still standing at the end.

The second set opened with ‘Le Cœur De Ma Mère’ and the time just flew past. There was a bizarre moment when Demers played us a country song in French – from his iPhone – before the band sang an unaccompanied and rather more stately version. ‘Forillon’ is one of their more serious songs and they did it full justice. This isn’t a history lesson but you should look up the story. Nico introduced a song with a long, involved story about a song he found in his attic in a hand-written manuscript, learned it and performed it in France only to be told that it was a famous Parisian song that may have derived from mediaeval English. It seems that his “manuscript” was probably copied down from the radio! It was a love song but Nico neglected to name it.

Le Vent Du Nord
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

After a wild instrumental finish, they encored with the traditional ‘Vive L’Amour’ and another unaccompanied and unannounced song – perhaps I should have taken Nico up on his offer. Their performance richly deserved the standing ovation and the cheers they received. Do try to hear them while they are on tour here.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: https://leventdunord.com/en/

We’re spoiling you now – four live songs from Le Vent Du Nord:

LE VENT DU NORD – Symphonique (TRCD 3029)

Now, here’s a band that, although ‘folk’ based aren’t too worried to put a slightly commercial twist to their performance. Incorporating a bit of jazz and with the help of a (predominantly) strings based orchestra this is a seriously well produced recording. With the component parts of the band Nicolas Boulerice (hurdy-gurdy), Olivier Demers (fiddle), Simon Beaudry (guitar) and Rejean Brunet (accordion) and the addition of Tom Myron’s orchestral arrangements Le Vent Du Nord stray into territory previously explored by the likes of Shaun Davey and Bill Whelan. Not hoping to sound rude, this is the kind of grand statement I enjoy listening to (preferably armed with a decent set of headphones!). Hailing from Quebec and with the vocals sung in French you might think this would be a distraction to an anglophile like me but when the performance is presented with such passion the language barrier is soon forgotten. OK, so I might not understand a word of it but the driving determination of these musicians/singers has to be admired and when you’re given free reign to indulge (if that’s the right word?) this wildly expansive sound proves very impressive! There’s no getting away from it…if you thought you might not enjoy a recording you can’t understand lyrically…think again and you’ll find yourself invigorated and with a beaming smile on your face!

PETE FYFE

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