The bilingual duet Bette & Wallet have brought their kitchen parties into the living room, and the two will take their traditional down-home party to Ginger’s Tavern on July 6 with Ruth Minnikin.
“We’ve been performing our living room tour—the venues have ranged from student dwellings to my parents’ house,” says Mary Beth Carty, calling from Antigonish. “I highly recommend living room tours. It’s totally acoustic, we invite 20 or 30 people and perform. We pass around the hat at the end, and a comment book.”
Carty and Gabriel Ouellette are Bette & Wallet, an artful, eclectic folk duo who explore traditional music with piano, accordion, banjo, fiddle, mandolin and foot- stomping. Bette refers to the pronunciation of Mary Beth’s name—French speakers tend to drop the H. Ouellette is often mispronounced by English-speakers as “wallet.”
“We’re a mix of Quebecois and Nova Scotian sounds,” says Carty. “People say our voices blend well. We work very well together, we don’t argue. Sometimes communica- tion can be hard because of the language differences.”
By combing their cultural heritage and mutual infatuation with traditional music, Bette & Wallet draw inspiration from their rural backgrounds. Ouellette spent his youth in St. Marc, QC, and Carty calls Antigonish home. They currently live in Quebec City.
“We met at this bar where we would play, but we didn’t really talk to each other in the beginning,” she says. “We watched each other from afar with our respective instruments. Eventually this strange old man asked me to play accordion and Gabriel was playing fiddle with him and we just started practicing from there.”
According to Bette & Wallet, the traditional music scene in Quebec differs from Nova Scotia, as Halifax tends to be geared toward the tourist crowd and Quebec City is more open and enjoyed by everyone. The duo draws influences from songwriters like Dan Burn, Old Man Leudecke, Al Tuck and fiddler Winston Scotty Fitzgerald-—covers of a song or two by these artists usually tend to slip into their set.
“Traditional music is not important to a lot of people,” says Carty. “But it’s important to me. I don’t do it to keep the spirit alive—it’s rousing to play, people like to drink, clap their hands and be happy. There is a lot of interaction and involvement from your
Carty is best known for her time spent with the Halifax trio The Johnson Sisters, while Ouellette was part of Les Queteux (The Beggars). Both musicians are self-taught, but credit these projects as their confidence builders.
“The Johnson Sisters was very important all those years I was in town,” she says. “I needed to be making music all the time. It really helped to learn how to be on stage, to go to shows, to encourage your fellow musicians. It really helped me how to learn to sing together and harmonize.”
Ouellette firmly believes Carty is the flipside to his coin—he once had to explain to a police officer the reason he was wildly chasing this girl with a guitar strapped to her back was that he was in love with her.
“We give each other inspiration, we agree, we add together,” says Ouellette. “We don’t want to follow the singer/songwriter genre. We have a common vision, as traditional music is about being a part of a universal thing.”
Bette & Wallet have returned to eastern Canada for the summer, yet the future holds plans to record a full-length album in the next year. While they are home the couple intend to perform in various living rooms throughout the Maritime region. Over the next few weeks, be sure to keep the coffee table tidy, throw out the empties and dust the bookshelves—your next phone call might just be Bette & Wallet adding your living room to their tour.
“I have a great vision of a living room tour in Halifax brewing in my mind,” says Carty. “My friends don’t know it yet, but I’ll give them a call and let them know we’re coming over. It’s going to be the summer of living room tours.”
Bette and Wallet w/Ruth Minnikin, Thursday, July 6, at Ginger’s, 1662 Barrington, 10pm, $5, 422-4954.