Montreal in the early ’60s was churning out some of the most eclectic music in the country, hybrids of pop and jazz with French roots. Among the cream of that crop was les Chanceliers. Formed in 1963 by guitarist friends Gilles Briere and George Brown, Tony Carocchia was added on bass, and Pierre Martin on drums.
They started out as the instrumental quartet Les Chancellords, playing in and around Montreal at house parties and other smaller gigs. But before long Carocchia was out and Yvon Despatie was in. Now called les Chanceliers, this lineup continued for nearly two years, until Andre Parenteau replaced Despatie. They carried on working out their sound and image, and though they were singing in French, the overall vibe was a reflection of what was happening in Britain at the time, a mix of soul and pop. Add to that their new fluffy chiffon lace shirts with velvet suits, and their shows were drawing bigger crowds, as well.
They inked a deal with Miracle Records in ’66, which resulted in their debut single, “Pour Vous” b/w “Personne ne Sait.” But by that summer, Brown had left the band, and was replaced shortly thereafter by an 18 year old Michel Pagliaro, formerly of les Merseys. Originally brought in as the new guitarist, his natural onstage personality and strong voice landed him the job of lead singer, as well. By the end of the year they released a second single, this one with Trans-Canada Records. Although it did better than its predecessor, “Tu Peux Ten Aller” (a cover of The Beatles’ “You Can Drive My Care”) failed to make enough of an impression to warrant a second single with their label.
The band had been working with producer Yves Martin, and he invited Citation Records’ president Denis Pantis to one of their shows. From there, he signed them to a better deal, and they went back to the studios with Martin. “Me P’tit Popy,” a French cover of Mel and Tim’s “I’m Your Puppet” was on the airwaves in the fall of ’66. The b-side was “Seul Trop Long Temps.” (Rascals’ “Lonely Too Long”), which also began getting airplay, resulting in it being released as its own single the next spring. “Ogum Boogum” b/w “La Fille Dont je Reve” (The Beatles’ “Here There & Everywhere”) followed them up the Quebec pop chart, making the band Quebec’s biggest stars.
Their self-titled debut album was on the shelves that fall and was quickly on top of the charts in Quebec, also getting decent airplay throughout the Francophone community across the country. Along with the band’s previous singles, the album consisted of other covers like the Motown hit “Mickey’s Monkey” (the sole English song) and Jacques Brel’s ballad “Un Enfant,” and Pagliaro’s rockers “Attends et tu Verras” and “Non c’est pas Finis). The band capped off ’67 with a French version of “White Christmas.”
A pair of new singles were all the rage in Quebec in the summer of ’67. The guitar riffs in “La generation d’aujourd’hui” brought a psychadelic Townsend feel to the province’s pop scene, while the tender ballad “La fille dont je rêve” showed their versatility. They continued touring the province, making stops in Ontario and even south of the border.
The band continued touring and recording in ’68, but Pagliaro was growing disenchanted in a group setting, and either because they sensed it or tried to appease him, the label pushed out another pair of singles as Michel & les Chanceliers that fall. “A Paris Kla Nuit,” a new straight out pop record they’d done, and the flute solo mixed into a Monkees’ feel to “Boule de Suie” both scored in Quebec, and got airplay in France, as well.
But early the next spring, Pagliaro left and went on to enjoy a successful solo career, scoring on the charts in both languages over more than two dozen albums, including “Comme d’habitude” (the original French song that Paul Anka turned into “My Way”), a remake of “Le p’tit poppy,” and covers of Steam’s “Na Na Na Hey Hey” and Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay,” among others.
The band replaced Pagliaro with new frontman Richard Lasnier, ex of les Merseys. They carried on until mid ’69, but now without a record deal again, they packed it in and went on to other projects.Capitalizing on Pagliaro’s solo success, the debut album was re-released with a different cover, billed as Michel Pagliaro & les Chanceliers.