Sunday, 8 April 2012

À L'Olympia - Alan Stivell (1972)

I found this LP in an op-shop and had no idea who Alan Stivell was or what sort of music he might play, but on the back cover were seemingly random phrases written in French: 'Futurisme', 'Diversité des cultures', 'Progressive-folk', 'Celtic pop-music', 'Monde technologique' and so on - it seemed like it would be interesting enough to gamble $10 on. It certainly was. This album is in fact, a live recording by Alan Stivell at the Olympia theatre in Paris from 1972. Stivell was responsible for something of a renaissance in the Celtic folk music of Brittany and interest in the Celtic harp generally during the seventies. This performance combines this traditional folk music with elements of rock and prog very effectively on this LP using harp, acoustic and electric guitar, dulcimer, banjo, violin, organ, drums, percussion, electric bass and bombarde, a traditional French reed instrument in the oboe family. Most tracks feature Stivells distinctive vocals (in French and English) and are traditional tunes that he has arranged for his band. For a live disc, the sound is excellent, although the crowd noise in between tracks is positively deafening, but I guess they were just really into it! I know I would have been - it sounds like an incredible gig. The first side is a mellow set which showcases the more folky material whereas the second side brings out the more contemporary rock influences. Although the first side is a great listen, I prefer the more folk-rock fusion tracks from the B side such as the instrumental 'Pop Plinn' which combines rocking guitar lines with a Celtic harp breakdown and a bombarde solo (the crowd goes nuts for the latter). The circular melody of 'Tri Martolod' and it's contemporary sounding beat make this another highlight of side two along with the closer 'Suite Sudarmoricaine' which starts with a flute-driven section but then quickly segues into a upbeat seventies rock song with a very catchy wordless chorus allowing even us non-Francophones to sing along.

Label: Polydor
Released: 1972
Players: Alan Stivell - Celtic harp
Gabriel Yacoub - guitare, dulcimer, banjo
Rene Werneer - fiddle
Pascal Stive - orgue
Gerard Levasseur - basse
Henri Delagarde - violoncelle, flute, bombarde
Dan Ar Bras - guitare électrique
Michel Santangeli - batterie
Serj Parayre - percussions
Mikael Klec'h - flute, bombarde


  1. Good to hear people cheering a bombarde solo.

    1. Although I see you already noted that in your review...

  2. Well, it's pretty hard to miss - I think it's the loudest point on the whole record! Let me know what you think of this one after you've had a good listen.

  3. Funny I picked up another album of his (Reflets, 1970) when that old record store near Sydney Town Hall (name evades me) was closing down a couple years back. 50c or something. Cover looked interesting. I wrote it off immediately after playing!! It was going to become a freebie/extra padding in a parcel. Might give it another chance. Still dubious!

    1. No, you're pretty much spot on with your appraisal of Reflets - I bought it on the strength of this LP and found it very dissapointing. This live set is something altogether different though. It takes that fine Frenchy folk sound and adds a seventies rock rhythm section. When it hits the mark, it really works beautifully.

  4. This is a great album, I've known it for about 13 years now.

    One comment though - you mentioned above that he sings in French and English, but there are no songs in French on this album... They're all either English or Breton, with one song (Tha Mi Sgith) in Scottish Gaelic.

    So being a non-Francophone doesn't matter... Most French people can't speak Breton either! Although I would love to learn this language...