Originating in 1971, with the aim of spreading the awareness and reach of traditional Breton music within the wider Celtic sphere, the Festival Interceltique de Lorient has now evolved into one highlights of the Celtic world’s cultural calendar.
However, the festival’s roots reach back much earlier than the 1970s. 1927 saw the beginning of the Festival de Cornouaille in Quimper, and the Fetes Folkloriques took place in Lorient back in 1955. The same town also held the Fête des ports Bretons in 1969 which served as a rallying point for the composite groups who were beginning to bring traditional Breton culture to a wider audience again. The event at the tail end of the sixties saw music competitions, including the traditional bagadou (Breton bagpipe band). The culmination of the event was a large street parade involving Breton music and dance with the participants in traditional costume – something which is repeated in the contemporary Festival Interceltique today with all the Celtic nations represented.
The importance of the 1969 Fête des ports Bretons cannot be underestimated. It was the culmination of a united relationship between authorities in Lorient and the Bodadeg Ar Sonerion (BAS – The Assembly of Breton Musicians). The BAS’ role, in ensuring that traditional Breton music would survive and flourish now the last surviving traditional participants had been lost, needed the recognition of municipal authorities – and the relationship it began to build in Lorient was of real importance. It was the BAS’ need of a new venue for their competitions that provided further momentum for the establishment of the Festival Interceltique following issues in Brest. Their new relationship with Lorient saw them move their events there.
In its first year, what we now know as the Festival Interceltique, was known as Fete des Cornemuses (The Bagpipe Festival – see poster at the beginning of this article) and saw the involvement of Alan Stivell. Stivell was not just a name in the Breton folk movement, but he had a wider Celtic following with his work in using the traditional Celtic harp in a range of contemporary pieces of music, and became involved in Celtic rock. Linked to the band The Dubliners, who had toured America performing Irish ballads and songs and received air play on Radio Caroline in the late sixties, thanks to their song ‘Seven Drunken Nights’, Stivell’s presence was a sign that the festival organisers were not just trying to provide a performing space to the traditional Breton folk music scene, but a more modern take on Celtic music too.
The 1972 event was the first to be titled Festival Interceltique, and the poster (below left) highlighted the fact that Irish and Scottish performers were now taking part. By 1975, the advertising campaign (below right) alluded to the inclusion of Wales, Cornwall and the Isle of Man, with the festival now extended to seven days. Over time, the participation of more Celtic nations with Galicia, Asturias, New Brunswick and Cape Breton Island included. Diasporic communities in the United States of America and Australia, who last year were the headline nation at the festival are also increasingly involved.
Many internationally renowned musicians and performing artists have given concerts at the Festival over the years, ranging from The Coors, The Cranberries and Sinead O’Connor. With the popularity of the event growing, Les Nuits Celtiques du Stade de France took place in the 81,000 capacity home of French football and rugby between 2002 and 2004. Now running for two weeks and attracting over 800,000 visitors, the Festival Interceltique with its annual celebration of traditional and contemporary Celtic music, dance, art and culture is now arguably the leading gathering and rallying point for the Celtic communities and diaspora in the world.
NEXT WEEK: The 2017 Festival Interceltique
Bertho-Lavenir, K. (2012): ‘Beyond Folklore: The Festival Interceltique de Lorient’ in ‘Ethnologie Francaise’ Vol. 42 No. 4.
Cabon, Alain (2012): ‘The Festival Interceltique’: Editions Ouest-France: Rennes.