Since 1972, the year in which Gwendal was formed, its musical style has evolved, taking an increasingly sophisticated and original path. Gwendal has developed a large number of followers, both in their native country, France, and abroad. The group was formed by multi-instrumentalists Youen Le Berre (flute, bagpipe and vocals) and Robert Le Gall ( fiddle, electric guitar and vocals).
Very early, Gwendal took a new direction that made it stand out in the Celtic music field. The band used new arrangements and incorporated rock, jazz, folk and classical music.
Gwendal, later called Irish Jig (Pathé, 1974) Gwendal, second album later called Joe Can’t Reel (Pathé, 1975) Rainy Day – À vos désirs (Pathé, 1976)
4 – Les Mouettes se battent (Pathé, 1979)
En concert (Pathé, 1981)
Gwendal, also known as Locomo (Pathé, 1983)
Danse la musique (Pathé, 1985) Glen River (Tempo Maker Productions, 1989) Pan Ha Diskan (Tempo Maker Productions, 1995)
War-Raog (Sterne, 2005) Live in Getxo (Actos Management, 2016)
Alan Stivell is an innovator of the Breton-Celtic harp. For more than three decades, he has been at the forefront of a cultural and musical revival that honors the centuries-old Celtic traditions of the French province of Brittany, called Breizh by its native inhabitants, while mesmerizing audiences around the globe with his charismatic virtuosity and wide ranging repertoire .
Alan Stivell was born Alan Cochevelou. His family, the Cochevelous, came from Gourin in central west Brittany. Like many of other Breton families, the Cochevelous left Brittany. Thus Alan Cochevelou was born in Riom on January 6, 1944. Shortly after, the family settled in Paris. Alan’s father, George Cochevelou, was an artist and translator. He made paintings, furniture and musical instruments. His dream was to reintroduce the Celtic harp from Brittany. It had disappeared at the end of the Middle Ages. The first Celtic harp prototype featured nylon cords and was decorated with Celtic motifs. Young Alan Cochevelou fell in love with the instrument. He took lessons from Denise Mégevand, a traditional harp player.
There was no Breton repertory for the harp so Alan made new arrangements of traditional Breton, Irish, Welsh and Scottish folk tunes. He played his first concert at the age of 9. Alan joined a traditional Breton group called Scouts Bleimor. A few years later, in 1959, Alan Cochevelou recorded his first single, titled Musique Gaëlique. Alan was so passionate about Celtic music that he learned how to play bombards and bagpipes. In 1961 he became the lead Penn-Soner of Bagad Bleimor with which he won many awards.
In 1966, Alan Cochevelou became Alan Stivell. He recovered an ancient form of his family name before it was adapted to French.
Alan Stivell’s first major recordings, Renaissance of the Celtic Harp and Live At The Olympia, both released in 1972, gained him worldwide notice, and subsequent years found him gaining a large following for albums that fused Celtic music with folk, rock, pop, electronic and world music.
Stivell released several ground-breaking albums including Again (1994), which features collaborations with Kate Bush; the captivating Brian Boru (1995); 1 Earth – 1 Douar (1998) with John Cale, Youssou N’Dour, Khaled, Simple Minds vocalist Jim Kerr and Paddy Maloney; and Back to Breizh (2000), a work that reaffirmed his Breton roots and passion for tilting tradition toward the future.
To celebrate his 50th year as a performer on the Celtic harp, Alan Stivell recorded Beyond Words, an all-instrumental album.
Stivell states that the music on Beyond Words “is simply a journey through my life and dreams. I want to highlight, first and foremost, my passion for Celtic and neo-Celtic harps, these legendary instruments which came into my life as by magic..”
Cecile Corbel was born in Brittany, the Celtic region in the northwest of France. As a child, she traveled all over Brittany with her parents, who were puppeteers. She plays the guitar but it was in her teens that she discovered the Celtic harp.
At 18, she went to Paris to study archeology, still dreaming of music. Concert after concert in Parisian pubs and cafes, she self-produced her album Songbook 1, soon noticed by the label Keltia Musique (Sinead O’Connor, Loreena Mc Kennit).
Her unique harp technique and her appealing voice sometimes compared to Kate Bush’s, revealed a world encompassing ancient poems, original compositions, Celtic tunes and Mediterranean melodies. She takes the listener for a trip out of time. Following the path of prestigious musicians such as Alan Stivell, the Breton composer and singer now performs her Celtic and world music with her musicians in France and throughout the world.
In 2005 she was awarded the Prix Paris jeunes talents musique.. (Talented young musician award of Paris)
Bleizi Ruz (Red Wolves in the Breton language) performed at dances throughout Brittany for many years. The Red Wolves’ musical roots lied in the traditional folk music of Brittany and other Celtic regions in Europe. These Celtic roots were the musical foundations of the band, whose members understood how to mix tradition with new styles and ideas in order to develop the unmistakable Bleizi Ruz sound.
The group was formed in western France, making successful appearances at festivals and other venues throughout France. The band’s international breakthrough was achieved during a Celtic tour through Germany, which, again, led to other performances all over Europe and the United States.
In 1993, Bleizi Ruz were the central figure in a tribute album, “Hent Sant Jakez,” that celebrated the medieval (and still used) Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route to Saint James’ tomb in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, in northwestern Spain. The Breton band was accompanied by musicians from Castille (Spain), Galicia (Spain), Ireland and Cornwall (Great Britain). The album was recorded in Cornwall, a remote Celtic region of England.
Musicians: Eric Liorzou (guitar, mandola, vocals), Loic Leborgne (accordion, vocals), Bernard Quillien (bombard, whistles, vocals), Thierry Decloux (bass, vocals), David Hopkins (percussion).
The group disbanded in 2003 although they got back together in 2007 for a series of events.
Alain Pennec was born February 18, 1955. He is one of the most reputable Breton accordionists. He plays the diatonic accordion, an instrument that features two or three rows of buttons, each row tuned to a key a fourth higher than the previous one. Pennec also plays traditional Breton instruments like the bombard and bagpipes and teaches diatonic accordion workshops. He performs solo and as part of the Trio Pennec.
He teaches accordion and has performed with various well known artists in the Breton scene: Soïg Siberil, Roland Brou, Youenn Landreau, and Sébastien Bertrand.
Airs à Danser, with Les Frères Pennec (1972)
Accordéon Diatonique (Arfolk, 1983) Alcôves (Keltia Musique, 1995) Turbulences (1999) Bachannales (2004)
Fabulations Sonores (2012)
Silly Brothers, with Roland Brou and Jean Michenaud (2014)
Alain Genty is an extraordinary and innovative bass player who has played with some of the best Breton bands including Gwerz, Den and Barzaz. He is a skilled musician, arranger and composer.
Even though he is identified with the Breton music scene, Genty was not born in Brittany. He was born on September 22, 1958 in Nogent-sur-Seine, in Champagne and moved to Brittany in the 1980s. Genty lived there for several years, studying Breton music and playing with local musicians. During his early years he player progressive rock and later he drifted towards Celtic influenced music Genty lives in Paris nowadays, but he travels to Brittany frequently to play with his old friends.
His current music style combines Breton and Scottish music with jazz and rock elements. Genty’s bands have have included prominent Breton musicians such as Jackie Molard (violin), Patrick Molard (bagpipes) and Jean-Michel Veillon (flutes) as well as guitarist Tony McManus, from Scotland. His masterpiece is the 5 piece bagad (bagpipe band) that he includes in his major festival shows.
Barzaz, Ec’honder, with Barzaz (Escalibur, 1989)
Barzaz, An den Kozh Dall, with Barzaz (Keltia Musique, 1992)
Gwerz, Live (Gwerz Pladenn, 1993)
La Couleur du Milieu (Gwerz Pladenn, 1994) Le Grand Encrier (Keltia Musique, 1998)
Barzaz (Keltia Musique, 2003) Une Petite lanterne (Keltia Musique, 2004)
Toud’Sames, Toud’Sames (2004) To the Bobs, with Patrick Molard (Keltia Musique, 2004) Singing Sands, with Tony McManus (Greentrax Recordings, 2005) Eternal Tides, with Joanne McIver (Buda Musique, 2017)
The McDades At the heart of The McDades are three siblings: the fiddle playing Shannon, Solon on bass, and youngest brother, Jeremiah, a multi instrumental virtuoso on whistles, saxophone, fiddle and flute. The McDades are joined by vocalist and guitarist, Andy Hillhouse and multi-genre percussionist, Francois Taillefer.
The McDade’s sound is immersed in the spirit of improvisation featuring both energetic instrumentals and sensitive vocals performed in English and French. The McDades Celtic rooted music fuses the spontaneity of jazz improvisation and infectious global rhythms.
The McDades have been recipients of the 2007 Juno Award Winners for Best Roots/Traditional Album Group, winners of the 2007 Independent Music Award for Best World Album Traditional and winners of the 2006 Canadian Folk Music Awards for Best World Group and Best Instrumental Group.
Midwinter (2001) For Reel (Free Radio, 2002)
Noel (2004) Bloom (Free Radio, 2006)
Winter Rose (2011)
Mary Jane Lamond was born in 1960 in Kingston, Canada. Cape Breton’s modern sharer of ancient Gaelic songs, stories ‘and spirit using a variety of instruments from the bagpipes and fiddle to Indian tabla.
Lamond’s formative years were spent moving between Quebec and Ontario, but she soaked up the Gaelic heritage over many summers spent visiting her grandparents in Cape Breton, where she now resides. It was there that she first remembers hearing Gaelic songs, her initiation took place at a milling frolic, where a heavy woolen cloth is repeatedly beat against a table and people gather to sing and rhythmically keep time. The power of that experience and the music that emanated captured Lamond?s imagination. “I was so taken by it, I became determined to learn and sing Gaelic myself,” Lamond recalls.
Lamond returned to the east coast to attend Antigonish’s Saint Francis Xavier University. Before graduating in Celtic Studies, Lamond had released her first album, the beautiful Bho Thir Nan Craobh (From the Land of the Trees). It consists entirely of traditional material and also features a young and at the time, little known, Ashley McIsaac. Unbeknownst to both, this was to be the beginning of a highly creative professional collaboration.
McIsaac recorded a reworked version of an arrangement penned by Lamond and Gordie Sampson (a native Cape Bretoner), called Sleepy Maggie. The song appeared on MacIsaac’s debut A&M album, Hi How Are You Today? with Lamond (or, as McIsaac always proudly introduced her in concert, Cape Breton’s disco diva) featured on vocals. The song went on to become a staple at contemporary hit radio, garnering numerous awards. Lamond hit the road with McIsaac and The Kitchen Devils as they toured with Melissa Etheridge, The Chieftains and the Crash Test Dummies.
Lamond’s affection, understanding and deep regard for the people and culture of Cape Breton are evident in every aspect of Suas E! The material was lovingly researched and rendered, and several tracks were laid down outside of the recording studio. Air failirinn is a milling song recorded in Lamond’s own home. Horo Ghoid Thu Nighean (Stepping Song) combines electric instrumentation, traditional fiddle and the sound of eight step dancers beating the floor at the West Mabou Sporting Hall.
With adept stewardship from producers Philip Strong and Laurel MacDonald, Lamond succeeded in weaving an unabashedly ancestral Gaelic motif into the fabric of a decidedly modern aural tapestry. “I do think you have to be solidly based in the traditional culture,” Lamond says, “but I believe in experimentation. I don’t have a problem integrating such disparate elements as long as the music stays true to its roots.”
The varied musical styles are played out with contributions from Toronto urban progressive jazzoids Bass is Base and Glenn Milchem and James Gray from the much-revered Blue Rodeo. MacIsaac and his Kitchen Devils once again make an appearance to inject funk into Bog a’Lochain, one of Cape Breton’s most popular strathespeys.
The success of Suas E! contributed to an explosion of interest in Celtic culture and Lamond took the songs on the road with a live band. Her experiences on the stage directly influenced the sound of Làn Dùil (Full of Hope). “I had the same philosophy, which is to pick a variety of songs in the tradition and work on different ways to arrange them,” Lamond explains.
On Làn Dùil, Lamond’s spell-binding renditions of treasured Gaelic songs are fused with original arrangements using a variety of instruments, from the familiar fiddle and bagpipes to Indian tabla. Ultimately, it’s a new style of world music that is unique to Mary Jane Lamond.
Yet as the singer herself will tell you, it’s the stories that matter. While Làn Dùil soothes and stirs, it also chronicles Cape Breton’s living Scottish Gaelic culture. The sounds of friends, family and local legends are heard throughout the album.
Despite the important role her music plays in preserving Scottish Gaelic songs that would otherwise rarely be heard outside Cape Breton, Mary Jane Lamond says Làn Dùil’s primary purpose is to entertain. “This is a huge oral literary tradition that is being lost at an alarming rate,” she says, “and I am involved with community things that help conserve it for younger people. But I’m also an interpreter, a singer and musician and in my music the challenge is to create something new and exciting that doesn’t destroy the heart of it.”
Orain Ghàidhlig (Gaelic Songs of Cape Breton), focuses on the songs and poetry which are the cornerstone of this tradition. This recording remains true to the simple sharing of music that is the foundation of Gaelic culture: from the engaging milling songs performed by a group of Cape Breton?s finest traditional Gaelic singers to the lively old style fiddling of Joe Peter MacLean, a musician never before captured on recording. Recorded at the beautiful North River Church in Cape Breton, this enhanced cd also features visuals taken during the recording sessions.
Mary Jane’s recording Storas (Gaelic meaning “a treasure”) is an interpretation of Scottish Gaelic songs that have become part of Nova Scotia’s Gaelic tradition.
Jerry Holland was a giant among fiddlers, one of the best North America has ever produced. He was one of the best-known Cape Breton musicians of his generation, and many of his own tunes have entered the traditional repertoire.
Jerry Holland was born February 23, 1955 in Brockton, Massachusetts. Starting the fiddle around the age of five, Jerry was performing publicly by age six. At ten, he was playing for Bill Lamey’s dances in Brookline, Massachusetts. It was during this time that Jerry began his association with fine piano accompanists such as Doug MacPhee, Eddie Irwin and Mary Jessie Mac Donald, and by the age of twelve, he was playing guitar for Angus Chisholm and Bert Foley on a regular basis.
Jerry’s family made annual summer visits to Cape Breton when he was a boy, and his musician father exposed him to some of the last generation’s greatest Cape Breton fiddlers. A Cape Breton resident since 1975, for four years, Jerry was a regular on The John Allan Cameron Show, a television program originating from Montreal where Jerry shared the stage with his hero, Winston Fitzgerald, and fiddlers Angus Chisholm, Joe Cormier, Wilfred Gillis and John Donald Cameron. During the years that the show ran, Jerry had to learn more than a thousand tunes, and acquired a vast repertoire of traditional Cape Breton fiddle music.
Because Cape Breton is remote, its fiddle music and dancing retains the old Scottish style, a tradition that Jerry devoted his energies to preserving and promoting through his books, recordings, and memorable concert tours throughout Canada, the US, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Ireland, Scotland, Finland, Germany, Mexico, England and France.
Jerry Holland died July 16, 2009 in North Sydney, Nova Scotia.
Master uilleann piper Liam O’Flyn, also known as Liam Óg Ó Floinn, was born September 15, 1945 in Kill, County Kildare, Ireland. to musical parents.
Liam O’Flynn was born into what he described as “a very definite thing.” His father was a schoolmaster and fiddle player and his mother, who played and taught piano, came from a family of famous musicians from Clare.
After a time on the tin whistle and a short period ‘scraping’ at a small violin, Liam finally got started on the uilleann pipes. He had an obvious gift for this most complicated instrument, and was encouraged by all around him, notably by the Kildare piper Tom Armstrong. At the age of eleven, he received master-classes with Leo Rowsome.
In his teens, Liam and his pipes began to attend music sessions in the Kildare village of Prosperous. There, for the first time, he met many of the people with whom he would later make his name and tour the concert-halls of the world. These were musicians like Christy Moore, Donal Lunny and Andy Irvine with whom, in the early seventies, Liam formed the legendary folk band Planxty. One of Ireland’s most important and influential groups, Planxty brought a style, innovation and ‘cool’ to Irish music which was to lead directly to the many Irish musical success stories during the decades that followed.
Behind the innovation and experimentation, Liam O’Flynn always managed to remain true to the great piping tradition. He took his instrument into previously unexplored territory – be it as a member of Planxty, as a soloist with an orchestra or working with artists as diverse as John Cage, The Everly Brothers, Van Morrison and Kate Bush.
Liam O’Flynn was one of Ireland’s greatest musicians . He died March 14, 2018.