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If there is a single savior of Celtic music, Alan Stivell is probably it. Since the end of the 1960s, he has done more to revive interest in the Celtic (specifically Breton) harp than anyone in the world and, in the process, almost singlehandedly made the world aware of native Breton Celtic music. Since 1971, he has been recording albums of extraordinary beauty and diversity, ranging from ancient Breton and Irish material to modern folk-rock and progressive rock.
He was born Alan Cochevelou, the son of a harp-maker. His father was the rediscoverer of the Breton harp, but he started his musical life on a somewhat more conventional instrument, taking up the piano at age five. He was given a harp by his father at age nine, and studied for the next several years under the direction of his father and Ms. D. Megevand, a concert harpist, freely mixing classical repertoire and arrangements of Breton, English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh folk material.
Stivell was playing concerts at age 11, and he began taking up the more general study of traditional popular Celtic music, including the Scottish bagpipes, drum, Irish flute, and tin whistle, while in his teens. He ultimately became well-versed in all of these and won honors in national piping competitions in Scotland, and chose the professional name of Stivell, the Breton word meaning fountain, spring, or source. By the age of 21, while studying for his degree in English, he became an established folk musician, recording songs to his own harp accompaniment. While his singing is less effective than his harp or bagpipe playing, his voice is expressive, and most of his albums feature a mix of vocal and instrumental music. In 1967, he formed a group consisting of himself on harp, bagpipes, and Irish flute and Dan Ar Bras on electric guitar, backed by bass and drums. He released several albums during this period, including Reflections (1971), A l'Olympia (1972), Chemins de Terre (1972), Celtic Rock (1972), and E. Lagonned (1976). He left the group in the mid-'70s to concentrate exclusively on a solo career -- by this time, he had become a major influence on a multitude of folk-rock musicians with his interweaving of electric and traditional instruments.
During the early '70s, he acquired a popular following in France and England. By the mid-'70s Americans -- and not only those of Irish or, more rarely, Scottish, Welsh, and Breton descent, but those interested in things Celtic -- were discovering Stivell in growing numbers, prompting labels such as Rounder to begin releasing his work (until then, available only as expensive imports) in the United States. Stivell's first major solo album, Renaissance of the Celtic Harp (1972), remains a favorite among fans of the stringed instrument, while his later albums also display his abilities with bagpipes and as a singer. For a time during the mid-'70s, his success placed traditional Breton and Celtic music on the English charts on a regular basis.
Stivell's biggest accomplishment, however, involved the rebirth and rediscovery of an instrument and an entire cultural history. His career brought to fruition the revival of the Breton harp that his father had begun in the 1930s and '40s. The harp had a long and honored place in the history of the Celtic peoples, first embraced (and possibly invented) by the primordial Irish people, who carried it to Scotland and Wales, and later to Brittany and the rest of the European mainland. Although preserved as an image in numerous works of art, the Breton harp had receded from memory and use well before the 20th century. Alan Stivell played his father's first modern Breton harp for the first time in 1953, and within 20 years there were over 100 players where there had been none. Stivell has also used harps from Ireland, Scotland, and Wales in his recordings and performances.
More recently, he has moved in two different directions simultaneously, into the realm of folk-rock with a band of Breton musicians, and serious music with his Celtic Symphony, a work for mixed ensemble of orchestra, Breton and Irish instruments, and voices. A somewhat enigmatic figure, given his focus on Breton culture, Stivell is one of the most compelling of folk musicians, and has achieved stature outside the folk music world, such that musicians like Kate Bush have appeared on his recent albums.
Stivell's music has found an audience among people who have never been anywhere near Brittany, Ireland, Scotland, or Wales. The Celtic peoples were among the westernmost settlers of Europe, and occupied some of the bleakest yet most starkly beautiful land in Europe -- the Romans, in particular, couldn't understand why any sane race would want to live in those places. But, of course, the Romans are gone, buried, and seldom discussed save for their language and a handful of literary works and historical figures; by contrast, hardly anybody born outside of Scotland or Wales can speak those native languages (or would want to -- and the last native speaker of Manx died some years ago), yet their music is still played, and their culture exerts a pull on people the world over. Celtic music has always had an element of loneliness, of the single harpist, piper, or drummer looking out across the vastness to the west (all that lay west was, of course, the Atlantic Ocean and America some 3,000 miles away), and Stivell, more than any other single musician, captures the inherent joy, wistfulness, and loneliness in this music.
Additionally, some of the more recent developments in music and audiences have expanded his audience even further. His harp recordings, with their enveloping lyricism and tightly interwoven patterns of variations, can appeal to more serious listeners of new age music. Alan Stivell's main audience, however, lies with fans of Celtic music and culture, and English folk music. Embracing ancient and modern elements, but (apart from his folk-rock work) making no compromises to modern melodic sensibilities, his music captures the mystery and strangeness of Breton, Irish, Welsh, and Scottish landscapes that are both ageless and timeless. It is haunting, mysterious, and beautiful, with no equivalent in modern popular music and few peers in the realm of commercial folk music.
Alan Stivell (born Alan Cochevelou January 6, 1944) is a Breton musician and singer, recording artist and master of the Celtic harp who from the early 1970s revived global interest in the Celtic (specifically Breton) harp and Celtic music as part of world music.
Background: learning Breton music and culture 
Alan was born in the Auvergnat town of Riom. His father Georges (Jord in Breton) Cochevelou was a civil servant in the French Ministry of Finance who achieved his dream of recreating a Celtic or Breton harp in the small town of Gourin, Brittany. In 1953, Alan began playing the instrument at the age of nine under the tutelage of his father and Denise Megevand, a concert harpist. Alan also learned Celtic mythology, art and history as well as the Breton language, traditional Breton dance and the Scottish bagpipe and the bombarde, a traditional Breton instrument, from the oboe family. Alan began playing concerts at eleven years and studying traditional Breton, English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh folk music, also learning the drum, Irish flute, and tin whistle. He competed in and won several Breton traditional music competitions in the Bleimor Pipe band. Alan spent his childhood in Paris, with its cosmopolitan influences from France, Algeria, Morocco and elsewhere. But he fell in love with Breton music and Celtic culture in general, and often went back in his teens to Brittany.
Alan's first recording came in 1960 ("Musique gaelique"), a single that was followed by the LP Telenn Geltiek in 1964. He already recorded solo harp and harp backing singers in 1959 with Breiz ma bro ("Brittany my country") and a Mouez Breiz EP ("Voice of Brittany") with the female singer Andrea Ar Gouilh. His stage name, "Stivell", means "fountain" or "spring" in Breton. This name refers both to the Breton renewal and to his surname "Cochevelou" (an evolution of kozh stivelloù, "the old fountains").
Stivell and the Celtic harp revival 
With a new bardic harp with bronze strings, Stivell began experimenting with modernized styles of music known as Celtic rock. In 1966, Alan Stivell began to perform and record as a singer. The following year, he was signed by Philips (Universal). This was during the birth of the New Breton and Celtic music movement. In 1968, after two years of touring and regular appearances at the American Students and Artists Center in Paris, Alan joined the Moody Blues onstage to perform in London's Queen Elizabeth Hall.
In 1970, Stivell released his first hits, the single "Broceliande" and the album "Reflets", both on the Philips record label. He became closely associated with the burgeoning Breton roots revival, especially after the release of the purely instrumental 1971 album Renaissance of the Celtic Harp, which won one of the most famous awards in France, the prize of the Académie Charles Cros.
The music critic Bruce Elder wrote of the album Renaissance of the Celtic Harp:People who hear this record are never the same again. Renaissance of the Celtic Harp, one of the most beautiful and haunting records ever made by anybody, introduced the Celtic harp to many thousands of listeners around the world. To call this music gorgeous and ravishing would be the height of understatement—indeed, there aren't words in the English language to describe this record adequately. The opening work, 'Ys', is a piece inspired by the legend of the fifth century capital of the kingdom of Cornwall, (most versions of the legend place the city in the Douarnenez Bay on the coast of Brittany), [said to have been] engulfed by a flood as punishment for its sins. (Debussy wrote one of his finest works, "The Engulfed Cathedral," later adapted by the group Renaissance into "The Harbor" on Ashes Are Burning, based on the same legend). The reflective "Marv Pontkellec" is every bit as sublimely beautiful, but the highlight of this record is "Gaeltacht," a 19-minute musical journey by Stivell's harp across the Gaelic lands of Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man.
On 28 February 1972 Stivell performed a concert in the Olympia theater, the most famous music hall in Paris, where Alan and his band played music combining traditional Celtic music with modern sounds (electric guitar, drums, etc.). This concert made Stivell and his music well known throughout France. At this time, Stivell's eclectic approach to music was very new and was considered risky, but it soon became popular. Over 1,500,000 records of that concert ("A l'Olympia") were sold. Alan Stivell's newfound fame propelled him to tour across France, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. He continued recording, and published a collection of Breton poetry in 1976. With his 1980 Symphonie Celtique, he mixed for the first time elements of rock, a symphonic orchestra, Celtic instruments and such non-European ethnic elements as Berber vocalist Djourha and sitarist Narendra Bataju.
The folk music revival faded somewhat in the 1980s. Though Alan Stivell still maintained a popular following, he did not reach the heights of popularity that he had in the 1970s. He continued touring in many parts of the world and recording for a loyal fanbase. He also worked with the English singer Kate Bush.
Celtic music and world music 
In the 1990s, Alan recorded with the French singer Laurent Voulzy, Irish traditional performer Shane MacGowan and Senegalese singer Doudou N'Diaye Rose. The album was Again, and it became very popular in France, the beginning of a Celtic new wave. Stivell's records in the late 1990s contained more pronounced rock elements, and he performed at a rock festival called Transmusicales in Rennes. He continued working with a variety of musicians, inviting Paddy Moloney (of The Chieftains), Jim Kerr (of Simple Minds), Khaled and Youssou N'Dour to be in his very international 1 Douar / 1 Earth album.
The 1998 French-language hit "La Tribu de Dana" by rap trio Manau, one of the best-selling French singles of all time, featured a very similar melody to Stivell's "Tri Martolod". Although Stivell sued Manau for the unauthorised sampling, the group claimed that they had modified the original sufficiently, through the addition of lyrics and other changes, to avoid any charges of plagiarism.
Alan's album Again in 1993 was the base for a new wave of his popularity, especially in France and Brittany. Other albums received good critical reviews, such as Brian Boru or 1 Douar ("1 Earth"). In 2002, Alan Stivell released Au-delà des mots ("Beyond Words"), his twenty-first LP. The album featured him playing six different harps, specially dedicated to the Celtic Harp Revival's 50th anniversary.
In 2004, a DVD, Parcours was published by Fox-Pathé. The same year, he wrote a book on the Celtic harp in collaboration with Jean-Noël Verdier: Telenn, la harpe bretonne ("Telenn, the Breton harp").
In 2006, a new CD called Explore came out in France and other countries, distributed through Harmonia Mundi. This album demonstrates that Stivell is still a leading artist, exploring fusions of Celtic music with electro-rock, raga, hip-hop, etc. with a unique and personal vocal style and a very interesting and original mix of lyrics in Breton, English and French.
Music critic Bruce Elder has stated: "[Alan Stivell's] harp recordings, with their enveloping lyricism and tightly interwoven patterns of variations, can appeal to more serious listeners of new age music. Stivell's main audience, however, lies with fans of Celtic music and culture, and English folk music. Embracing ancient and modern elements, but (apart from his folk-rock work) making no compromises to modern melodic sensibilities, his music captures the mystery and strangeness of Breton, Irish, Welsh, and Scottish landscapes that are both ageless and timeless. It is haunting, mysterious, and beautiful, with no equivalent in modern popular music and few peers in the realm of commercial folk music."
In a series of interviews in a book called Racines interdites ("Forbidden Roots"), Stivell discusses questions about the Breton language, history and geography, as well as his utopian vision of a world living in meditative harmony with nature. It contains lyrics for 17 of Stivell's songs in the back: "Gwriziad difennet," "Reflets," "Broceliande," "The Wind of Keltia," "Je suis né au milieu de la mer," "An Alarc'h," "The Foggy Dew," "Pardon Spezed," "Brezhoneg' raok," "Delivrance," "Digor eo an hent," "Hommes liges des talus en transes," "Ar Gelted kozh," "Rouantelezh Vreizh," "Dugelezh Vreizh," "Emsawadegou," "Fin an naontegwed katwed," "Eil lodenn an ugentwed kantwed," "Da Ewan," and "Naw Breton 'ba' prizon."
Traditional and modern music 
vocals and tin whistle
electronic bagpipes (MIDI)
Great Highland Bagpipe (or « Biniou braz »)