Having been on my “really must get round to visiting” list for a number of years, at long last this was the year that I finally did get round to visiting the Festival Interceltique in Lorient.
It’s probably fair to say that this particular blog post is aimed at those who either haven’t attended the festival, or are planning on visiting next year. For a more factual history of the Festival Interceltique, please refer to the previous post on this blog.
Anticipation had been building in the Breton press for days ahead of the opening of this year’s event. Le Telegramme had published daily maps of the festival site, featuring the must-see events taking place each day. Embarking from the impressive and beautifully redeveloped Lorient station which still has a pervading smell of fresh timber, and the eye catching metallic netting around the stairs, it took only a walk of just a couple of minutes to hear the sounds of the Championnat National des Bagadou taking place at the Stade de Moustoir – the 16,392 seater home of FC Lorient. This competition was one of several for which tickets needed to be purchased to enter (9 Euros in this case) – but, there is more than enough going on for free to keep anyone entertained all day long.
Passing the stadium and heading for Quai des Indes, a fair was taking place on Place Jules Ferry. Whilst there were a large number of food and drink stalls in this area, the majority of which, I think it’s fair to say had a tenuous link to Celtic fayre, so these were ignored and instead, I approached the Village Celte (Ker ar Gelted) where the gatherings of the festival began in earnest. Rows of stalls specialising in the wares of the Celtic nations presented many temptations to pull out the wallet. My advice here would be to look round all of the stalls before buying and then return to purchase what you really want as there is so much there of interest – whether it be rugby related or more traditional cultural artefacts!
A leisurely stroll through this area brings you out at the beautiful harbour area of Lorient and the real heart of the festival – Quai des Pays Celts. Each of the Celtic nations represented at the festival has its own pavilions with merchandise directly related to that nation, traditional food and drink from the country and a live performance stage. This area is one which, up until the early evening is free to access and means that a visitor can spend an entire afternoon watching live music from bands from every Celtic nation at each of their stages for absolutely no charge. There is a plethora of good food which is not overly expensive, although why the Wales pavilion decided to showcase ‘Fish and Chips’ as its dish is still not particularly clear.
It was only fair to give my hard earned cash to the Cornish food and drink outlet, and fully re-energised by a brilliant pasty brought over from the Homeland, followed by splits with Rodda’s clotted cream, all washed down with a pint of Betty Stogs, I moved further along the national pavilions as the early afternoon live music performances began in earnest.
There was a real mix with all sorts of different genres going on, most with a distinctly Celtic edge, but rock music was just as prevalent as the traditional folk bands. Indeed, I don’t think I will ever forget what I saw on the Galician live music stage – a band performing punk in the Galician language, accompanied by the Gaita (traditional Galician bagpipes). It had to be seen to be believed, but it was absolutely fantastic! With Scotland being this year’s headline nation, their tent had a particularly good vibe going on, which was only added to by the live performance by Tide Lines. This band describe themselves as being heavily influenced by the traditional music of the Gàidhealtachd but whose highly eclectic sound is driven by electric guitars, with drums and keyboards. Their first single, “Far Side of the World”, entered the UK download charts, less than 24 hours after the band was launched on social media in June 2016. They fused rock music (some of which was sung in one of the traditional Hebrides languages) with bagpipes. The crowd were absolutely jumping – at 2:15pm in the afternoon – as Bretons, Scots, Irish, Welsh, Cornish, Manx and other nationalities responded to the sound together.
At the conclusion of their outstanding set, I retraced my steps to the Cornish pavilion to hear the lighter folk sound of The Rowan Tree, who got a good sized crowd engaged.
It’s important to point out that if live music isn’t your thing, then there are plenty of other things going on from dancing, sport and art – plus the traditional food and drink stalls will keep you going with cuisine from all over the Celtic world.
This first visit to the Festival Interceltique was memorable for all sorts of reasons. The sense of Celtic pride, the togetherness, the spirit of celebrating everything that these nations share, the friendliness and outstanding atmosphere is one that will stay with me forever. I will be back in 2018.