In February 1976, nine months before the election of the separatist Parti Québecois in Quebec, a unique concert took place in Montreal. Despite the linguistic and political turmoil, French and English musicians of Montreal collaborated to celebrate in music and song, the epic poem The Rime of the
Ancient Mariner. It was an event seven years in the making.
In February 1969, my friend and fellow songwriter, Paul Lauzon and I came upon the same idea at roughly the same time: to put Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner to
music. We immediately dropped everything we were doing in Montreal and left for New Orleans, lured by the musical heritage, creative aura and one contact: Paul's sister . I remember arriving in the French Quarter, meeting some people who knew of a crash pad, busking a little, and then being asked to do a few nights a week at "Andy's on Bourbon”, a music club on the legendary Bourbon Street.. One night, a visitor arrived with a Huxleyan cargo, then-legal, and Paul and I got busy. I held the guitar for the most part and we worked together to find the right chords and colouration, the proper tempo, the best melody and smoothest transitions for the epic. We stayed up two days straight to finish the work, notating as best we could for some very unusual chord voicings.
We performed the first half (about 25 minutes) of the Rime for the first time at Andy's a week later. After Paul left to go back to Canada, I did a solo first half rendition for Rose Drill's elementary school class. (They really wanted to know how it ended!). When I returned to Montreal, I finally memorized
the other half, and began playing the full ballad, first informally and eventually giving a public concert at the University of McGill's Redpath Hall (spring 1970). This first public performance of the entire piece, about 55 minutes, was a folk-opera for one man (Juan Rodriguez, Montreal Gazette). The best was yet to come.
One of the people in attendance was a progressive rocker named Jérôme Langlois part of two well known bands: Lasting Weep and Maneige. Jérôme had also been inspired to compose instrumental music to all the stages of the poem (the marriage, the setting sail, killing the albatross, etc.) and suggested we could pull our compositions together for a full band presentation.
At first I was sceptical. I'd heard a similar idea before. As the Montreal production of the musical Hair was winding down, and I had been asked by Sam Gesser, a major Montreal music impresario, to consider adapting the Ancient Mariner for music theatre. His idea, however, was to edit the piece considerably, and I didn't want any part of that. I thought Jérôme would have the same outlook, but as he explained his idea it became clear that as I sang the entire narrative poem, Jérôme's compositions would be woven in and around the story and musicians from his bands and others would also accompany me. Vocalist and poet Raôul Duguay would add his voice and lyrics as well. Gilles Losier, my musical partner at the time, would play throughout on piano and violin.
By showtime, the production had expanded to include 17 musicians and a mime troupe, les Enfants du Paradis. Le Spectacle de l'Albatros was booked Feb. 28, 29 and Mar. 1, 1976 at Le Bibliotheque Nationale du Quebec on Rue St. Denis. Musicians gathered for huge rehearsals. Decorations and lighting featured a gigantic bird-like kite created by the artist Jean Guillemette, a sound and recording crew were arranged, publicity went out and the “Spectacle” was sold out for two shows a night for three nights. The full production lasted about two and a half hours, including a spell-binding sound scape of five percussionists. The killing of, as well as Raôul's beautiful resurrection song for the Albatross, involving the whole cast, La chanson de l'oiseau des îles, found an enthusiastic reception in those symbolically charged political times. His song, and all the compositions by Jérôme Langlois, the progressive rock musical interpretations of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, can be found on Lasting Weep's Le Spectacle de l'Albatros, 2007, ProgQuebec (MusiqueProgresSonMusicMPM 18).
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