Alan Stivell – 1972

When we last left off Alan Stivell he was breathing new life into a genre threatened to be left in the dustbin of musical history. Breton folk music, and modern Celtic music as a whole experienced a revival of sorts due to his groundbreaking Renaissance de la Harpe Celtique. One year later he had something new and dynamic to rile up all Gaelic nations. That album granted him the clout to tour worldwide and rekindle his own exploration of where to turn next. Progression in sound and musicality is what he aimed for.

Alan Stivell and Band.

In 1972, he decided to augment his sound with a full rock band. Joined by amazing players like Dan Ar Braz (electric guitarist) and Gabriel Yacoub (violinist/multi-instrumentalist and future Malicorne founder), plus a small orchestra, they practiced conceiving together what kind of sound his harp led sound can fashion. In that same year the French radio station Europe 1 pitched to them the idea of performing and broadcasting live a concert at the famous Olympia Theatre that would be broadcast throughout the country. What they expected was Alan to show up and play folk renditions of famous songs from his then current release. Alan had other ideas.

A L’Olympia album cover.

Alan showed up with almost a complete set of unreleased tunes that drew mostly from his Breton background and did so in a far more electrified way. No longer the proto-New Age musician, this was the sound of Alan’s harp in full flight, surrounded with much heavier instruments. Over 7 million radio listeners tuned in to hear Alan start out the first half with fuller Breton-folk songs only to use the second half of the concert to get progressively more experimental and electrifying.

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The highlights from the first half, a rousing, stomping “An alarc’h” (led instrumentally by the bombard!) and the sophisticated balladry of “An Durzhunel” start to prepare you slyly for the jaw-dropping electric side started of by “Pop Plinn“. Songs like “Tri Martolod“(Three Sailors) with its mix of rock organ, drums, and electric guitar with Alan’s much more lively harp and vocals signal a new age for Breton music…Breton-Rock. In a way, that song itself presented the journey Alan was taking with Dan and Gabriel. All of them, were trying to find a way to not just present folk music in a modern idiom, but to take it further into uncharted territories, where they could be the trailblazers.

Now seeing the bigger picture, he realized that his harp could flow with any form or instrument. This form, as heard in this wildly popular album, brought him widespread acclaim in France and made hit singles out of songs like “Suite Sudarmoricaine.” At that point when most of his fan-base consisted of French folkies, he found a way to expand the reach further into the ears of younger Bretons and listeners at large. Simply listen to the album and hear the crowd’s manic roar when he goes electric. There’s just something about this sound that was unheard of for its day. Although this album shortly released after the telecast became a huge hit in France, he was prepared to go further something you can clearly hear and see in their performance of “Suite Sudarmoricaine” in 1973 below. They’ve started to hit some distant shore, now wasn’t the time to head back, tomorrow I’ll show suss out what they discovered when they went further inland…

Listen to A L’Olympia at Grooveshark.

Bonus track, another performance in 1972 at Melody Varities, this one of “The King of the Fairies” from the same album: