Written by: Kev Rowland
In the early Nineties Canadian band Existence starting making their name performing a rock opera of original songs, and over the next few years released a couple of albums, including ‘Small People, Short Story, Little Crime’. I was incredibly impressed with the album as not only did I enjoy the music, but it came with a 56-page booklet, not bad for an independent release. I must confess that for one reason or another I lost touch with the band until 2017, when they released a double CD featuring the two acts of the original show, originally performed some 25 years earlier. The band was basically on hiatus between 2002 and 2010, but that didn’t stop the guys working, and in 2007 bandleader, songwriter and pianist Alan Charles released another album, ‘Eletria’. Again this is an opera, and four members of Existence were involved in the album and the stage play, which Alan also released as a book.
The story is about a young 16-year old girl who follows the wrong guy to Toronto (from Montreal) and ends up captive, forced to prostitution. After almost 3 years of this life she manages to escape to Vancouver with a “client” but finds out she is pregnant – from who knows who. She decides to keep the child so her “saviour” gives her money to go back to Montreal where she cleans-up (she had become a junkie) and gives birth to a healthy boy she names Gabriel. But at 8, the child is diagnosed with leukaemia and finally dies in her arms. Before he died, he made her promise to survive him and tell her real story. Alan told me that it is based on a real life story he was told in a club after an Existence gig in 2002. He changed many things but it’s essentially it: the girl had told him then that Existence’s music kept her alive.
Musically it is very much based around the piano, sometimes with a full band and at others with just one or two choice instruments such as a violin. The vocals by Catherine Boulanger, and they are incredibly passionate and evocative – it’s just a shame that she sings the album in French and I have no idea what is going on! The arrangements allow the passion to come through the instruments, and the fretless bass is incredibly warm and delicate, providing a strong counterpoint to the more staccato approach of Alan’s piano. I am somewhat surprised not to have come across this album before now, as this is music of real quality and delicacy, but I am sure that his can be explained by the fact that it is really a musical captured on CD, and also that the lyrics are obviously incredibly important, and by being in French is going to bypass most of the prospective audience.
Given that the new recording by Existence has put them more into the public progressive eye, I can only hope that people will try and discover more about this band, who I firmly believe have never received the attention they deserve. Along the musical journey people may well then come across this album, which even to a non-French speaker such as myself is incredibly enjoyable. To discover this lost gem, plus other releases by Existence then visit the website (which thankfully is in both English and French)
Berce-moi // Je Dois Te Quitter // Aujourd’hui Commence Ma Vie // Je Suis À Toi // Prenez Mon Corps // Je Veux Te Tuer! // Ma Belle Héroïne // Où Suis-Je? // Laisse-Moi Jouir De Ma Vie // Encore Un Nouveau Départ // Dernière Chance Pour La Vie // Sauras-Tu Me Pardonner? // Le Plus Beau Des Présents // Gabriel // Mais Que Se Passe-t-il? // La Dernière Berceuse