Beau Dommage was a Quebec folk-rock group that was formed around 1972 and became known for its distinctive urban poetry and songs about adolescence and daily life in Montreal. The group’s second album, Où est passée la noce?, came out in 1975 and was one of the first in the history of music in Canada to go platinum according to the Canadian Recording Industry Association (100,000 copies sold). Beau Dommage was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2017.
The saga of Beau Dommage began in the basement of a home in Boucherville, Quebec, on the South Shore of Montreal. Some of its future members were then part of an amateur music group called La famille Casgrain, founded in 1969, and a theatre group called La Quenouille Bleue, based at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). The adventure began when singer and guitarist Michel Rivard and lyricist Pierre Huet decided to combine their musical compositions and lyrics. They then invited three other young musicians to join them: Robert Léger (keyboard and flute, recipient of the Radio-Canada Jeune auteur award in the storytelling category in 1966), Réal Desrosiers (drums, recruited through an advertisement on a bulletin board at UQAM), and Pierre Bertrand (guitar and bass), a long-time friend.
The group thus formed offered its first songs to Donald Lautrec, a popular Quebec singer and television variety show star, but then realized that their style did not suit his and decided to perform their material themselves. In search of a female vocalist, they held auditions in Léger’s apartment at 6760 Rue de Saint-Vallier in Montreal (an address later made famous in the group’s song “Tous les palmiers”). One of the hopefuls trying out was Marie-Michèle Desrosiers, a student at the National Theatre School of Canada. Her impressive talent earned her an invitation to join the band. The earliest Beau Dommage songs on which she can be heard, singing harmony, include “23 décembre” and “Montréal”. She also went on to play keyboards for the group.
When choosing a name for their group, the musicians first picked L’été des indiens (Indian summer), but then opted instead for Beau Dommage, an old Quebec expression meaning “of course” or “for sure”.
First album: Beau Dommage
Beau Dommage began giving its first performances in clubs and cafes while searching for a producer to record its first album. The producer who ultimately gave the group its first chance was Pierre Dubord, artistic director of the Canadian branch of Capitol Records, in Toronto. The album, simply entitled Beau Dommage, sold over 50,000 copies in the first two weeks after its release in 1974. The group then made its first tour of Quebec, the first time the young musicians had ever been outside of Montreal. In cities such as Roberval and Val d’Or, their young audiences identified closely with the subjects of their songs. In each of the next three years, Beau Dommage released a new album followed immediately by a one-year tour. Robert Léger did not especially like touring and so was replaced on stage by Michel Hilton in 1976, but continued to compose for the group.
On 24 June 1976, Beau Dommage performed along with three other Quebec supergroups (Octobre, Harmonium and Contraction) at “Ok nous v’là”, a historic concert celebrating Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day and attended by over 400,000 Quebecers in Montreal’s Mount Royal Park. The group also gained a following in French-speaking Europe and accompanied French singer/songwriter Julien Clerc on a tour of France in 1977.
Major hits and disbanding
To the group’s own surprise, the Beau Dommage song “La complainte du phoque en Alaska” became a major hit. Much loved Quebec poet and songwriter Félix Leclerc, who normally recorded only his own material, even covered the song on his 1975 album Le tour de l’île.
In 1976, the group’s long vocal and instrumental piece “Un incident à Bois-des-Fillion”, from its 1975 album Où est passée la noce?, received the Jeune Chanson award from France’s Secretary of State for Culture at the Marché international du disque et de l’édition musicale (MIDEM), a leading international music industry event, in Cannes.
The members of Beau Dommage all owned equal shares in the copyrights to their songs and made all their decisions (whether on lyrics or musical arrangements) together. But over time, they began to have trouble in maintaining this close collaboration.
Michel Rivard was the first to decide to pursue a solo career. He released his first solo album, Méfiez-vous du grand amour, in 1977. Marie-Michèle Desrosiers and Pierre Bertrand went on to experience solo success in other projects, for example in theatre and in music.
Reunion concerts and new recordings
Beau Dommage performed two reunion concerts at the Montreal Forum in October 1984 and appeared again in 1995 at the celebrations of the city’s 350th anniversary. They ended their fertile recording career with two new albums: the 1994 studio recording Beau Dommage, including new songs such as “Rive sud”, “Échappé belle”, “Tout simplement jaloux” and “Le retour du flâneur”, and Rideau, recorded live at the Forum in 1995. The group’s fans remained as loyal as ever: Rideau quickly sold over 200,000 and earned the band four Félix awards in 1995, including Group of the Year at the ADISQ gala.
Awards and honours
On 28 April 2009, each of the members of Beau Dommage received the Medal of Honour of the National Assembly of Quebec for the group’s remarkable contribution to Quebec’s cultural and artistic heritage.
In 2013, Canada Post issued a postage stamp honouring Beau Dommage, as part of its Canadian Recording Artists series. A mural of the group was also painted on a wall in a laneway named after it (Ruelle Beau-Dommage), not far from the famous 6760 Saint-Vallier in Montreal.