Brigitte and Caroline Desjardins-Allatt were well into elementary school before learning about their father’s musical past — and the instruments stashed in the family garage.
“Before he met my mother, he used to play a lot of music with his ex,” Brigitte Desjardins explains. “Then she had an accident and died, and I think my father needed a break from music. He put his instruments away for awhile.”
Desjardins (who uses half the family surname, while her sister performs professionally in Vancouver under the name Caroline Allatt) says her parents just decided one day to take the instruments out of the garage. “We had wonderful instruments at home. I started playing drums, and I was really into it.”
The girls’ father, Reynald, had been a drummer, but later took up bass guitar. Their mother played piano and sang in a choir. “We started a little family band, playing covers. We’d do weddings and business parties and stuff,” Desjardins recalls. “I had a lot of wonderful moments with my family playing music together, but since I’ve been away from Montreal, it’s something that I miss a lot.”
In 2007, Desjardins was 17, travelling on her own and determined to see Alaska. “But I stopped in Whitehorse and fell in love with the place. I stayed for a year,” she says. ” I came back in 2010, but I had to go back to Montreal for a music project.”
Last August, she returned for a position as arts and culture monitor at École Émilie Tremblay. Her older sister, meanwhile, settled in Vancouver, where she played guitar and sang with various jazz, blues, and folks groups. When Allatt decided to make her first trip North, Desjardins got the idea for a musical reunion.
And so was born The Horse Van, a not-so-subtle wordplay on sisters’ adopted cities.
Allatt will arrive in the Yukon capital on March 11, leaving the pair just three days to rehearse for their first performance together in years. “It’s nice to play with somebody you have that big connection with, and at the same time you can be really, really frank,” Desjardins says. “When I was off-beat, she wasn’t shy to tell me. We’re very comfortable with each other, and I think it’s a good way to build a project with somebody, just to be real.”
The two will perform at the Guild Hall on Saturday, March 14 on a double bill with Clare Ness. Along with some Allatt originals in both French and English, their musical fare will include Beatles covers, as well as folk-blues-jazz tunes from the likes of Janis Joplin, Tom Waits, Tracy Chapman, and Elizabeth Cotten. “She does have a pretty big voice, actually,” Desjardins says of her sister. “She has really nice control with her voice, and with guitar, too.”
Following the Guild gig (which opens with Ness at 8:30 p.m.), the pair will present a brunch-hour acoustic set at the Alchemy Café In Dawson City on March 22, as well as a music workshop at Robert Service School.
What Allatt may not realize is that her sister secretly hopes to recruit a new Northerner. “I would really like to, because the one thing I miss here is my family,” Desjardins says. “If my sister can fall in love with the Yukon, I’m going to be perfectly complete here. That would be wonderful.”