I was very pleased when I recently asked people to let me know their favourite albums and I was sent a list which was mainly rock music but included “Chemins De Terre” by Alan Stivell. Arthur also sent me a list and he included another Alan Stivell album as a “near miss”. I had heard the name Alan Stivell but knew nothing about him. I subsequently bought a second hand copy of this record from eBay. It’s remarkable.
I was amazed to find out that Alan Stivell released a live album in 1972 called “A l’Oympia” which sold two million copies. The album includes songs from the both halves of a concert which featured acoustic folk in the first half and electric folk in the second. Although Alan Stivell was reluctant to assume a mantle of revolutionary, the fusing together of many Celtic nations via his music was seen as a significant moment in the “back to earth” movement of many French intellectuals, especially at a time when Ireland and Britain joined the EEC.
Alan Stivell is a Breton and has been an enthusiastic facilitator in uniting the Celtic music tradition. Interestingly, Alan Stivell and Paddy Moloney of The Chieftans are often regarded as the leading promoters of Celtic music. Two days ago, I wrote about Van Morrison’s album with The Chieftans and mentioned that one of the songs on “Irish Heartbeat” is called “Celtic Ray” where one of the lines is “England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, I can hear those ancient voices calling.” Van, it appears you forgot the Bretons.
The Celts ruled over much of Europe in the 4th century BC but wars with the Roman empire meant that Celtic independence on the European mainland ended after Caesar’s conquest of Gaul. As the Roman invasion of Britain took hold, the Celts moved to the periphery of the country. Between the 4th and 7th century AD there was a lot of movement from Britain to Brittany.
Alan Stivell has been responsible for developing his own brand of Celtic rock music, fusing together elements of Irish, Scottish and Welsh music whilst using traditional Breton instruments such as the Breton harp and a bombard. A bombard is a member of the woodwind family that makes a sound resembling a trumpet. On “Chemins de Terre”, he also plays a mellotron, bagpipes and an Irish flute. The album displays a great mixture of styles. On of the songs is “She Moved Through The Fair” which Van Morrison sung on “Irish Heartbeat”.
The genre of this music is probably celtic-folk but there are certainly elements of progressive rock music contained within the two sides. Side One consists of songs from Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Alan Stivell sings the Irish song “Susy MacGuire in Gaelic but mixes traditional Irish folk music with electric guitar playing that wouldn’t be out of place on a Yes album. “Ian Morrisson Reel” is a Scottish reel with amazing bagpipe and fiddle playing but set in a rock context. “Can y Melinydd” is a Welsh folk song and, again, the fiddle playing is superb along with some unusual banjo. Alan Stivell sings “Oidhche Mhainte” in Scottish Gaelic and although there are no bagpipes, the piano has the feel of a Welsh choir. Side two of the album is sung in traditional Breton and all the songs are traditional apart from “Brezhoneg ‘Raok” which he wrote himself and is very much a rock piece with great electric guitar. The final song. “Kimiad” showcases a mellotron cello.
More traditional music and I would never have heard it without the recommendation. Thank you.