Folk music and its various offspring flourished in the period 1973 to 1980 in the province of Quebec, where an entire generation brought folk traditions to the forefront, influencing all genres including classical, jazz and pop-rock.
The generation who'd grown up listening to Bob Dylan or Cat Stevens was not so far removed from the farmhouse kitchen party where accordions, fiddles and spoons might appear out of nowhere. Octobre didn't have any spoons, turluttes, fiddles or accordions. Far from it. But they were perhaps the most Quebecois of bands during an era that Quebecois music thrived. While not strictly a folk group, Octobre comes close enough in spirit to the tradition to merit a review here.
This double CD collection, complete with French lyrics, brings us back to the genius of group leader and keyboardist Pierre Flynn. Octobre sometimes sounded like Genesis or King Crimson, but like folk musicians they ran their politics close to the surface. Ably assisted by Mario Legare on bass, Pierre Hebert on drums and Jean Dorais on guitar, Flynn stands with the greats of this era in Quebec, such as Serge Fiori (Harmonium) and Gerry Boulet (Offenbach). Along with the underrated Steve Burman (Connivence), Flynn is also likely the best popular keyboard player of the '70s Quebec scene.
Despite the CD title, Octobre flourished for the most part in this mid- to late '70s era, the time of the Parti Quebecois election to power in the province. Flynn sang about urban issues such as unemployment, homelessness, ("Dans ma ville" "Generation" and the angry electric tango "La Maudite Machine") but also about hope. His lyrics are superbly ambiguous and paint pictures rather than teach lessons. These are songs that bring you back in time to Montreal in the '70s.
As an anthem to hope, "L'oiseau rouge" stands as one of the great pop songs of all time, building to a series of keyboard-based crescendos. Flynn shows his talent not just as a writer but also as a pianist. Legare's bass, Hebert's energetic drumming and Dorais's fine electric guitar also stand out.
Similar inspiration can be found on instrumental tracks such as "Le Passe du Grand Flambeau" also from the 1975 LP Survivance. This LP bears the signature of sound engineer Quentin Meek, who besides working with Octobre helped craft the sound for such diverse groups as Ville Emard Blues Band and Connivence, putting his indelible stamp on this era.
Because it's a representative compilation rather than a greatest hits, there are some weaker tracks here as well, such as the lyrically dated "Viens Vivre," but overall the quality of musicianship is excellent.
Five of Octobre's six 1973-80 recordings are represented here, as is a live reunion concert from 1989, complete with horn section. There are 34 representative tracks, including in three cases a live '89 version of the same songs as well as the studio version.
What happened to Octobre? After the lost 1981 referendum on political independence, Quebec seemed to suffer a cultural deflation. Octobre and other bands ceased to perform because of the changing landscape in Quebec music. Major record labels were no longer interested. Other forms of music overtook progressive rock and folk-rock. The members of Octobre went into solo projects as did the members of other Quebec groups. Folk-rockers veered away from their folk roots.
Unfortunately, most of the solo work from the 1980s from Flynn and others was eminently forgettable. An audience had been developed for roots-based music that was larger than ever before. Into this void came La Bottine Souriante, perhaps the greatest Quebec band ever. But it was the Quebec folk-rock renaissance in the 1970s and groups like Octobre that made La Bottine possible.