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Les Miserables

Les Miserables - Les Miserables

Les Miserables
Jupiter - 1967

Michael Panontin
In the early sixties as the instrumental combo Les Coronets, these Montreal high school buddies belted out covers of all those trendy Ventures and Shadows tunes at local high school dances, sometimes even scoring a gig or two at places like the Club Ye-Ye down on rue Ste-Catherine Est. The five - Gerry Bribosia (guitar), Michel Cavuoto (guitar), bassist Gregoire Buisson, with drummer Aldo Marandola and saxophonist Jean-Marc Vanesse rounding things out - were not above the occasional gimmick either, once purportedly all dying their hair blue when the Quebecois battle of the bands turned sartorial as well, with others like Les Classels (white) and Les Excentriques (pink) sporting similar matching quiffs.

All that changed in 1965. After inking a deal with Yvan Dufresne's Jupiter label, the lads hit pay dirt on their second single, 'Elle me dit', a rather faithful rendering in French of the early Stones classic 'Tell Me'. But what really set the lads apart from the bulk of francophone bands at the time was their refusal to be stuck churning out translated versions of the latest beat or garage hits. The groovy Buisson/Bribosia-penned 'Vivre avec toi' over on the flipside would have been an eye-popper at a time when Tony Roman's cover of 'Do Wah Diddy' battled it out with Joel Denis' 'Ya Ya' for top spot on the Quebec pop charts. More hits followed for Les Mis, like the scorching garage corker 'Chemises a pois, cravates a fleur', issued just as the summer of love and Expo '67 were getting underway, and the witty 'Miserablement votre', leading Jupiter to fund a full-length LP that year.

The eclectic Les Miserables was more a mix of previous singles and newer material than a proper album. Still, in a market awash in second-rate cover versions, it managed to break solid ground up in la belle province. Apart from the aforementioned 'Elle me dit', the twelve tracks on Les Mis... all flowed from the pen of the talented Bribosia, making it one of the first French-Canadian rock records - along with Les Sinners' Sinerisme and Les Differents that year - to consist of mainly original songs. Of course, those garage nuggets no doubt added a bit of street cred to the record. But other tracks, like Bribosia's organ-driven 'Ecoute-moi', which cops a riff or two from Steve and Muff Winwood, 'Toi qui es jeune''s unflappable Euro-cool and the languid psych-pop of 'Le chameau', definitely upped the hip quotient a notch or two.

Les Miserables just sort of dropped off the radar screen not long after this LP, and by 1969 the band was essentially finished. However, like many a Quebecker, the irrepressible Bribosia would emerge in the seventies firmly entrenched in Montreal's vibrant disco scene, producing a number of singles, including the international dance floor hit 'Dracula Disco'. (The entirety of Les Miserables can be found on the mighty fine 23-track Disques Merite comp L'integrale, released back in 2001, and is definitely well worth digging for.)

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