Tuesday, October 9, 2012

One in a hundred ... Claire Lepage & Compagnie

Singer Claire Lapage is all but unknown in the States (not that she's that well known in Canada outside of her native Quebec), which is unfortunate since she's got an interesting voice and recorded on of the most surprising 1970s albums to come out of Quebec.  In some ways Lepage reminds me a bit of Caroline Hester, though unlike Hester who started out as a folkie before taking an unexpected early 1970s turn into psychedelia, Lepage's roots were in French pop (think along the lines of Frances Gall, Francois Hardy, Sylvie Vartan, or other mid-1960s mini-skirted Ye-Ye girls).  Rather than psychedelia, Lepage dipped her toes into conventional rock.  Let me underscore that point - some folks have labeled  "Clare Lepage & Compagnie" as a psych classic.  It isn't psych at all ...  rather conventional, but thoroughly enjoyable pop and rock would be a fairer description.

Discovered by Yoland GuĂ©rard,  Lepage won first place in Radio Canada's 1965 Emission DĂ©couvertes talent show, signing a contract with the small Canadian Teledisc label.  She made her recording debut the following year with the single:

- 1966's 'L'amour n'attend pas' b/w 'Il est a moi' (Teledisc catalog number TD-13)

That was followed by her Canadian breakout hit - a French language cover of Cher's 'Bang, Bang':

- 1966's 'Bang, Bang' b/w 'Je Suis Triste' (Teledisc catalog number TD-21)

The single sold well, leading Teledisc to release a support album:  1966's cleverly titled "Clare Lepage".

Over the next four years she released a string of singles - mostly English and US hits redone with French lyrics (Danny Hutton's 'Roses And Rainbows' ('L’amour n’attend pas'), Len Barry's 'Like A Baby' ('Je suis triste). Ruby and the Romantics 'Our Day Will Come' ('Le jour viendra') and Martha and the Vandllas' ''Dancing In the Streets' ('Dans tous les pays').   I've never come across a full Lepage discography, but here's my stab at it:

- 1966's 'J'entends cetta musique' b/w 'Comment se fait' (Teledisc catalog number TD 28)
- 1966's 'Le Premier Chagrin d'amour' b/w 'Le jour viendra' (Teledisc catalog number TD 40)
- 1967's 'Dans tous les pays' b/w 'Dis-moi mon ami' (Teledisc catalog number TD 48)
- 1967's 'Bam Bam Bam' b/w 'La souris te la guitare' (DSP catalog number DSP 8604)
- 1968's 'Senor et Senorita' b/w 'Le Vieux Piano' (DSP catalog number DSP 8615)
- 1968's 'La La La' b/w 'La La La' (DSP catalog number DSP 8629)
- 1968's 'Le Noel des Petits' b/w 'L'ange et la petite cloche' (DSP catalog number DSP 8638)
- 1969's 'Puff' b/w 'Tu revienes' (DSP catalog number DSP 8646)
   with Robert Demontigny
- 1969's 'J'aimes que tu m'aimes' b/w 'La fille que j'aimais' (DSP catalog number DSP 8649)

- 1969's 'Goodbye' b/w 'Dis-moi mon ami' (DSP catalog number DSP 8651)
- 1970's 'Le jour vindra' b/w 'Tu reviens' () 

And here's where Lapage's career gets simultaenously weird and interesting.  A solo act up until 1970, she abruptly threw her lot in with the band Comagnie (singer/guitarist Germain Gauthier, bassist Bill Lagariuk, and drummer Richard Patri).  Billed as Clare Lepage & Comagnie, the quartet recording a totally surprising rock album - "Clare Lepage & Comagnie".  While her earlier releases occasionally hinted at what a great voice Lepage had (check out the 1967 garage-tinged single 'Bam Bam Bam'), most of her output was pretty lame ('Le Noel des Petits').  None of those earlier singles prepared you for these ten rock-oriented  numbers.  Tracks like 'Les Chemins de L'amour', 'Rendez-Vous Express', and 'Depuis que c'est arrive' made it clear she was more than a pretty face (well, yeah she was that too).  Not only did Lepage show she could hang with a full-tilt rock band, but she was also credited with co-writing much of the material.  For a singer who had always cozied up to French Canadian audiences, the album held an even bigger surprise in the form of four songs performed in English - 'Take It Easy', 'Tomorrow', 'Quand la Nuit Sera Tombee' (ignore the French title), and a cover of The Beatles' 'We Can Work It Out'.  About all I can say is that all three songs were great.  Nothing but speculation on my part, but given Gauthier handled lead vocals on the 'Take It Easy' and 'Tomorrow' I'm guessing they were pre-Lepage collaboration Compagnie compositions.  Regardless, I've got to tell you the overall results were thoroughly impressive and enjoyable, frequently hitting that magic sweet spot that blends pop and rock into a true musical pleasure.

- With Gauthier opening the song with some chunky guitar chords, 'Les Chemins de L'amour' was a killer slice of pop-rock.  Great melody, great harmonies, pounding rhythm section ...   if this had been sung in English it would have been a massive hit.   Who cares if the lyrics were foreign ...  YouTube has a  clip of the band lip-synching the song for a Canadian television performance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5qNQd_aIrs    rating: ***** stars 
- I think it translates as 'Tomorrow' - regardless 'Demain' was a fantastic ballad with a dreamy melody and some of Lepage's most beguiling vocals.   It must have been my ears, but it almost sounded like Lepage was singing the French lyrics phoentically ...   rating: **** stars 
- Tapped as the leadoff single, 'Rendez-Vous Express' opened up with some tasty burst of fuzz guitar and a nifty acoustic riff.  Power-pop at its best ...the song's always reminded me of another tune, but I've never been able to lay my fingers on the reference.    rating: **** stars 
- 'L'amour est La' was a rote cover of Edison Lighthouse's 'Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes'.  If you liked the original, this one might have a bit of appeal, if only to hear a pretty Canadian woman sing it in French.  YouTube has a black and white clip of the band lip-synching the song for a Canadian television performance. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y58FCDq-k8M   rating: *** stars 
- Built on an incideously catchy Gauthier riff, 'Depuis que c'est arrive' sounded like a chugging Marc Bolan slice of glam rock.  Another one that's hard to get out of your head ...    rating: **** stars 
- Opening up with some blazing guitar and organ (courtesy of Denis Lepage), 'Take It Easy' found the band at their most rock-oriented.  As mentioned earlier, this was one of three tracks with English lyrics and one of two tracks showcasing Gauthier on lead vocals.  Very nice performance that sounded a bit like Joe Walsh and The James Gang.   rating: **** stars
- The other Gauthier vocal, 'Tomorrow' was another hard rocker, showcasing another killer guitar performance and one of the album's catchier hooks.    rating: **** stars
- With Lepage back on lead vocals and singing in English (curious given the song title), 'Quand la Nuit Sera Tombee' (translated as 'Comes the Nighttime'), found the band returning to a softer pop sound.  In this case the result was a breezy and highly commercial mid-tempo ballad that had distinctive commercial potential.   rating: **** stars
- The liner notes got the title right, but the inner label managed to mis-title their Beatles cover as 'We Can't Work It Out'.   Their arrangement stuck pretty close to the original, but sped the song up a tad.  Nice to hear the English lyric, but otherwise it didn't have a great deal going for it.      rating: ** stars
- Returning to French, 'Un Poete, Un Roi, Une Bergere' was a slow, bluesy ballad with some nice organ accompaniment and standout bass from Lagariuk.   Nice way to end the album.   rating: **** stars

The album spun off a pair of Canadian singles:
- 1970's 'Rendez-vous Express' b/w 'L'amour est La' (Trans Canada TC-)
- 1971's 'Les Chemins de L'amour' b/w '' (Trans Canada TC-3350)

Fascinating one-off collaboration.  Shame they didn't do anything else together.  Lepage apparently dropped out of music entirely.  Anyone know what became of her ?  Realtor?  Doctor?  Politician ?

"Clare Lepage & Comagnie" track listing:
(side 1)
1.) Les Chemins de L'amour   (Germain Gauthier) - 3:01
2.) Demain   (Clare Lepage - Germain Gauthier) - 3:09
3.) Rendez-Vous Express   (Clare Lepage - Germain Gauthier) - 2:51   
4.) L'amour est La   (B. Mason - Tony Macauley) - 2:36
5.) Depuis que c'est arrive   (Clare Lepage - Germain Gauthier - Bill Lazariuk - Richard Patry) - 2:32

(side 2)
1.) Take It Easy   (Germain Gauthier - Bill Lazariuk) - 2:54
2.) Tomorrow  (Germain Gauthier) - 2:43
3.) Quand la Nuit Sera Tombee   (Clare Lepage - Germain Gauthier -  Richard Patry) - 5:20
4.) We Can't Work It Out  (John Lennon - Paul McCartney) - 2:05
5.) Un Poete, Un Roi, Une Bergere   (Germain Gauthier) - 3:26

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