Happy St. Patrick’s Day dear readers,
As much as this is a day for celebration for many in Gaspé and beyond, today I would like to pay a little homage to one of the longest supporters of Irish culture around Gaspé, Leo Fitzpatrick, who passed away last month. I’ll try not to make this too sentimental because I know Leo probably wouldn’t have approved.
Many readers will know that Leo and I worked extensively during 2015 and 2016, donating much of his collection of home recordings of local musicians to the archives at the Musée de la Gaspésie. He and his wife became great friends of mine and I spent many hours in their kitchen chatting, playing music, and enjoying good home cooking. They taught me about the art of unannounced Gaspesian visiting and hospitality and Leo was sincere when he told you you could stop by anytime and didn’t need to call ahead. If he was home, there was always a nice chat, a beer, and tune waiting for you.
Leo was at most of the St. Patrick’s concerts in Douglastown where he shared his large repertoire of Irish songs of love, nostalgia, homesickness, and war. These were usually preceded by what he called “a story,” which were really just long, somewhat off-colour jokes that he often found funnier than did his audience. To me, this is the essence of Leo: stubborn, joyous, and always true to himself and glad to bring others along for the adventure. Here’s one such Irish “story” that Leo recorded for CASA’s 2007 CD Gaspesian Storytelling Festival: Back to the Kitchen. It’s about the recurring characters, Pat and Mike and Mike’s new spitoon. In addition to collecting tapes, Leo was an avid collector of topical joke books and I presume this is where he sourced many of the “stories” for which he was notorious. Thanks to CASA for their permission to share this track.
To be honest, I was somewhat hesitant to do a post specifically about Leo as a performer today. Working with him to archive his tapes the past two years, he made it clear that his goal was foremost to preserve the memory of his friends whose music he recorded. In our last trip to donate his tapes to the museum, he was reluctant to include the many tapes he’d made of himself playing alone at home over the years. However, one of my goals has always been to acknowledge the importance of the people who make, collect, and share recordings and document their craft, however large or small. Part of Leo’s craft was to make a tape of music to celebrate each of the important holidays. So for nearly forty years, Leo would put together a new tape for Christmas, St. Patrick’s, and Armistice Day. He told me that he used these tapes as a form of practice, basically to record himself and listen back so he could improve his performances.
Here’s Leo singing the classic Irish song, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” at home two days before St. Patrick’s Day in 1981. It’s preceded by a spoken introduction from a little earlier on the tape.
I think perhaps Leo was also a little hesitant to share these tapes with the archives because they were mostly for his practice purposes. Anyone who knew Leo can attest to how fussy he was, whether with music or any other aspect of life. And so, even though he was generous with his music in the community—whether performing at the Legion, the St. Patrick’s concerts in Douglastown, or singing for a shut-in at the Manoir or Foyer—he was very critical of his own musicianship. Leo knew his own singing and playing were far from perfect. He told me this many times. But what came across in his music—in all its imperfection—was the joy it gave him. This is what I hear when I listen to him singing “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” above and this, I think, is a valuable quality in itself, a quality we often lose sight of in this age of perfection.
My research is about music making and home recording in Gaspé and both the “perfect” and “imperfect” are part of the equation. Both make their own contributions to the rich musical culture you can still find around Gaspé. Both are important and we would be poorer without either. Leo Fitzpatrick, the stubborn and good-natured Irishman from Gaspé Harbour who was always willing to share his imperfect music, will be dearly missed to me and many others.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day. Let us foremost remember the joy in this music.