Photo by Baptiste Grison

Hello, everyone!

Recently I visited Quebec and enjoyed the Quebecois Traditional Music - QueTrad - live! One of the artists I had the opportunity to see on stage more than once is Bernard Simard. I can't resist a talented artist playing acoustic guitar with a silky voice behind it, and that's how I discovered Simard's works. For more than 20 years now, Bernard Simard has been cultivating a loyal following from Quebec till Europe. His talents in QueTrad could appeal to just about any music fan. Simard has been recording since 1983 when he was a member of La Bottine Souriante. He lived for 9 years in France, mixing styles and expanding his influences, and now he is back home with his new album Spectacle Solo. Find out more about Bernard Simard in the interview below...

Bengal: Salut, Bernard! First of all, thanks for taking the time for this interview, we all appreciate. How are you?

Bernard: Salut, Bengal! I also appreciate and I'm fine, thanks. I'm interested in Folk music so I understand the same interest in others.

Bengal: Bernard, can you tell us a bit about how your involvement with music started? Is it an influence that came from your family?

Bernard: I have two brothers and one sister. One of my brothers plays the guitar and sings. He released three albums featuring his own compositions. My sister also sings and plays the guitar while my other brother works at Radio-Canada. My father used to play when he was alive… There were guitars everywhere in the house when I was young so... I started playing when I was twelve years old. Between twelve and seventeen I was working on the guitar and learning songs by Beau Dommage, Harmonium, Claude Dubois, Robert Charlebois, Diane Dufresne, Charles Aznavour, Gilbert Bécaud, Genesis, Yes, Pink Floyd. In fact I was listening to a lot of progressive rock between fifteen and eighteen. My family has no background on Quebecois traditional music but enjoyed the most popular tunes, like everybody else did. My father’s style was more like Tino Rossi and Luis Mariano.

Bengal: That sounds a nice mix of influences. Did you always play QueTrad or did you play any other style before?

Bernard: In the beginning, I started playing chansonnier - french and english. I played for the first time in a bar when I was seventeen. I just began playing the Quebecois traditional music about the age of twenty-two.

Bengal: Do you play other instruments? Apparently it's very common to see musicians playing more than one instrument in QueTrad what is not that common in other styles.

Bernard:: I play a bit of piano and I really need to practice one of these days… I'm not a tap dancer but I do the podorythmie [seated foot percussion], although not in this new solo show. I have enough to do with the words and the guitar…

Bengal: For sure. I understand that, in QueTrad, usually the musician has the traditional lyrics, poems, stories from the past and then composes on top of this material. Sometimes, one has the tunes from the past and then composes additions or just new arrangements for the instruments playing it. How is this process in your case, do you have a method? Does the inspiration come from the lyrics in front of you, or are there external factors that contribute?

Bernard: I always work with the words and the music. Usually the tune comes from a friend or from a tape from the archives of the Universitè Laval. I usually imagine how I can make a personal interpretation of the song. If it sounds good in my mind, I can imagine how I’m gonna work it and usually that works well. Sometimes I don't really find the way to arrange the tune but it stays in my head, and six months later I find a new path. The music needs to be nice and rare, and the words need to be interesting historically, or maybe it's a nice love story or something that makes one laugh. There are stupid songs in trad music and it's not an obligation to sing a song just because it's traditional. I just go by what's calling me. I had a grant in 2005 from the Conseil des Arts et Lettres du Québec to do a research on new songs at the Université Laval. The project was for six months. That was part of the work for the album [Spectacle Solo].

Bengal: I understand you lived in France for quite sometime. Why did you leave Canada to move to… where in France?

Bernard: I was in Brittany. The reason of the move: love!

Bengal: Of course… Love is the biggest inspiration! Well, tell me about your bands there - how Gwazigan and Cabestan started?

Bernard: An Irish Pub opened its doors one day and decided to have jams every Tuesday. The owners of the place, Chris and Rosie Short and Anthony McCartan, are three musicians and had a band called The Churchfitters [the band still continues but with different members]. I used to go there and, one day, Chris proposed to me (or I proposed to him, I don't really remember) to create a duo. I chose the name [Gwazigan], we tooked pictures, practiced a lot and found gigs. Later Raphael Chevalier joined us with his fiddle and we were three. Rosie joined us to replace Raphael who was working hard with another band. Finally, Rosie and Chris had to quit because The Churchfitters was working a lot too. So I've decided to recreate the band, bigger and with others musicians that I meet in others jam sessions in Britanny. We were five and we taped the second CD of the band in Quebec at the Studio du Chemin 4. We were also starting to work a lot but it was time for me to come back to Quebec. Reason of my return: love! With Cabestan we had the same way of work. It was a friend of mine, Christian Desnos, who proposed to the band to take me in with them. I called one day to invite him to a party at home and he said: Hey! It’s so funny that you are calling me today. We were just discussing that we need a new singer and guitarist in the band. I will call the guys and I’ll call you later. He called me in the evening and I was in the band. I had a lot of fun with these guys!

Bengal: I really enjoy your work with Constantinople. How this idea started?

Bernard: At the beginning, it was supposed to be just a show with three members of Les Charbonniers de l'Enfer. In the end, they were not free for the day programmed for the show and they proposed me to Constantinople. We prepared the show together, it's Contantinople who was preparing most of the arrangements, and we did one performance. The year before, Constantinople won a price and they were using Radio-Canada's studios to record a CD. [Winners of the Discovery of the Year Award from Opus Gala in 2003, Constantinople have been the Ensemble in residence at Radio-Canada for the 2004-2005 season.] They decided then to make an album of the show we performed. So the idea came from them.

Bengal: You are a very experienced musician, with works in more than 40 albums. What made you decide for the solo album at this point?

Bernard: After I left Le Vent du Nord and after Trio à Quatre died, I had the choice between starting a new band, again, or doing something by myself. It was imperative to make a quick decision anyway. My feeling was to have a break of bands, especially of creating one. Anyway, the budget for an album was less in [Spectacle] Solo than with a band.

Bengal: Do you miss working with the bands? If so, what do you miss the most?

Bernard: I miss playing music with soloists but occasionally I'm playing with friends, in shows or for dance-related events.

Bengal: Do you think the QueTrad music is crossing the boards of PQ into the rest of Canada and international lands more than it used to do in the past or not?

Bernard: I think that in the United States people are interested in our music since a long time. I'm playing Quebecois traditional music for 25 years and I used to play this style in the States with most of theses bands during these 25 years. I also know that older bands - before I arrived in the world - used to record and play in the States. There are always waves on the sea but the water is always on the same move.

Bengal: Any plans for a new album coming soon?

Bernard: Nothing decided yet. But [there will be] another one for sure, in studio - solo or with my band I don't know.

Bengal: Thanks, Bernard, for taking the time for the interview. It was really a pleasure! Any last words for our readers?

Bernard: Yes! If you like my music tell to your friends please. If you don't like tell to your enemies!

For more, check the following links:
Bernard Simard Official Homepage
Bernard Simard's MySpace
The Churchfitters
Tino Rossi
Luis Mariano
Les Charbonniers de L'Enfer
Le Vent du Nord

If you are interested in some videos of Bernard's shows, check You Tube.


  1. Sue said...
    Thanks Bengal, Great interview!! It's always nice to learn more about our favorite musicians and this one gave us more insight into the fascinating and mysterious Monsieur Bernard Simard!
    Merci a toi!
    Anonymous said...
    Acho que aprendi a deixar o comment, vamos ver. Legal que voce esta voltando para as entrevistas, tem alguem mais em vista, como voce escolhe quem voce vai entrevistar? Acho que vou fazer uma entrevista com voce aqui. Hihihihi. Adorei a entrevista com o Bernard Simard, que estilo de musica diferente. Gostei da primeira musica no myspace dele. Valeu!
    Fred said...
    trop bien! merci!

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