So, you wanna listen to Breton Music?

Over on, someone asked for recommendations on Breton music to listen to. In response, Yannick Laridon, of the band Planchée, posted the following amazing wealth of information. The post was too good to let die in the middle of a thread, so I asked if I could post it here. Truly an embarrassment of riches. Thank you! (I will also mention that I have a Breton playlist over on Spotify, if that’s how you roll.)

Brittany is a very active area regarding traditional music. Here are some personal picks, it’s not by any means a comprehensive list, and the comments are mine and phrased rapidly. I’ll add some bold font where there’s an accordion. Some good references were already mentioned, so here are some more, sorted by a somewhat chronological order.

The “early” recordings date from the Folk revival era, with names as well-known as Alan Stivell or Tri Yann for instance, which are centered on concert music rather than dance music. As often with prolific and long careers, all their production is not really relevant.

Frères Morvan - Wikipedia
The Morvan Bros.

But from the same period, you could not go wrong with the recordings of the Goadec Sisters or the Morvan Brothers, two well-known acappella dance ensembles from the center of Brittany. Two songs among many :

During the 80s, maybe one missing reference is the band Gwerz, although I find it’s a bit aged, its historical importance has to be noted, as it’s synthetizing many influences, such as Irish music. The 80’s are a really important decade for Breton music, despite a relatively moderate number of recordings, as it’s in that period that major figures emerged and defined their styles, that influenced all the musicians afterwards. Perhaps even more so than the artists in the 70s did.
Here is a live recording of Gwerz :

In the late 80s you can also find the same people you find in Gwerz, Barzaz or Kornog in the band Den, that you cannot listen without thinking about some Donal Luny experiments :– (Beware: traces of 80s synthetizer)

In many ways, Den somehow prefigures the later work of Jacky Molard (and the Molard brothers), that you can find later associated with the late guitarist Jacques Pellen, either in Celtic Procession ( ) , Tryptique ( ) or Bal Tribal ( ).

For a dance band regrouping many of the above, there’s Pennou Skoulm (breton for dickheads):

Fred “Gazman” Lambierge

In this album appears Fred “Gazman” Lambierge on the accordion (he recently passed away), a discrete but important player, that did background work to infuse jazz music into Breton accordion music. He notably influenced Janick Martin, but we’ll come to that later.
Beautiful rendition of a tradition song by Fred : *

As an aside, you can also hear Fred in the child music band Les Ours du Scorff, by which many of Breton children were cradled : nice music, funny lyrics, it’s really a bliss for all the family :

In the meantime, the major dance band from the 90’s is perhaps Ar Re Yaouank. They have something like 3 albums, that many Breton musicians are able to hum in full. They’re the first to really embed a truly rock attitude, and their influence still persists today.
My personal favorite is this one :

But you can’t go wrong with the others. One major accomplishment of theirs is to have played in a major festival, that had nothing to do with trad music, Les Francofolies de La Rochelle (which is really an exploit in a country where traditional music is that much segreggated than France) : *

Today, Fred and Jean-Charles Guichen still play together in fest-noz, with a plethoric production. My favorite album is Mémoire Vive, but I fear you can only have excerpts online:
You can find the solo album of Fred Guichen (the accordionist) here : * (it’s bit ‘aged’, but still interesting to listen to).

Other notable 90’s dance bands include Carré Manchot that had many forms, here is one among many:

A duet, Burn’s duo, with Ronan Robert and Christophe Caron :

Ronan is of course a prominent accordion player, but it’s even more so the influence of Christophe Caron on the bombarde (the Breton oboe) that is remarkable : is among the firsts to look for a sound closer to regular oboes, and to push the boundaries of what was deemed possible with the instrument. There’s a distinctive 90s sound to this album, but it’s still good music.
Some people mentioned Yann-Fañch Perroches, I think that perhaps his best album was with violonist and ex co-star of Skolvan Fañch Landreau :

Beginning in the 90s and still playing today, there’s also the band Spontus (one of my favorite Breton dance band)

Moving on to the 00s, there’s many band that went further still than their elders. Startijenn (still active today), which somehow digested the influence of Ar Re Yaouank and made it something different :

Karma, with what I still find today the most stunning Breton album :

Plantec and Hiks, two bands that, in different styles, make room for electronic music

For both these bands, there’s a great work on the bombarde.

And, last but not least, Hamon-Martin (either in duo, quartet or quintet), which is THE major band for the 00’s and 10’s I think. Their masterpiece is, IMO, L’Habit de plume :
But you can’t go wrong with any of their albums ( )
In duet, the album ‘Sous le tilleul’ is inescapable I found only one track here :

And some more recent bands :
Modkozmik :
Fleuves :
Barba Loutig :
Dour-Le Pottier Quartet :
Vincendeau-Pichard :
Le Bour – Bodros
There’s also my band :

And, at last, a few picks of more traditional formulas

Patrick Bardoul (accordion) :
L’Haridon – Nedelec (biniou-bombarde) :
Trimaud – Belliard (biniou-bombarde) :
Foll – Le Dissez (biniou-bombarde) :
Ebrel – Le Buhé (singers) :
Quéré – Le Menn (singers) :
Manglo (singers) :
Le Féon – Léhart (biniou-bombarde) :
Manu Bouthillier (violin) :

If you have any questions, feel free to ask!

Unknown Tune in Four

The Theme of the Month at mel,net is “Something in Four.” It’s for the odds and sods tunes. The march, polka, or whatever that seems somehow different and out of place. This tune is one that I learned from a fiddler about fifteen years ago. I don’t know if I ever knew what it was called, but I certainly don’t now. I can’t honestly even say what type of tune it is or its provenance. It sounds Breton? Maybe and an dro? If YOU know, please say so in the comments.

P.S., I used my phone for this recording and I’m still figuring out the best way to do that. I’ll do better next time.

Le Lundi Accordéonaire III

Every Monday, I will be posting a new or newly discovered (newly by me, anyway) video of French accordionistics. If you would like to draw my attention to something out there that should be posted, or want to submit one of yourself playing some French tune (including Breton) on accordion, email me here. This one features Patrick Lefebvre on CBA. He’s one of my heroes. I wrote a tribute to him in 2011.

Breton Dance Field Recordings (and other places)

The An Dro snakes through! Pic by Chris Ryall

UPDATE: I’ve gotten some push back on this post from folks (great stuff in the comment section), essentially saying that some of these videos are not exemplars of their regional styles, but are just examples of dances done at the Big Bal. I think that’s fair, but still think it’s interesting to see these as documentations of what’s going on at the Big Bal, especially for those of us who would have a hard time ever making it there.

Following up from the post of French Dance Field Recordings, here is the second half of Chris Ryall’s amazing collection of videos, or dance as he found it in the wild. Chris writes, “Breton dance is often done in lines, traditionally snaking around the floor intertwining and ‘meeting people.'” Here is the repository:


Rond St. Vincent – a very simple village dance that has become a standard
An Dro (An Dro = “the turn”)
Another An Dro – Wild at the end!
Tricot (mixed An Dro and Hanter Dro)
Plinn (Simple, very peasant, gets wild improv from musicians)
Another Plinn
Suite Plinn (Same rhythm. Couples dance with fast and slow parts)
“Standard” Gavotte” (Danced as a suite with varying speeds)
Gavotte de l’Aven (small valley in the Cornouaille with it’s own “dreamy sway” style – this is just part of a “suite gavotte”

Le Ridée (aka Laridé)

Other Regional Dances from France

Auvergne (and other mountain areas): Rigaudon
Basque Country: Fandango
Basque Country: La Saute

Gascony: Gascon Rondo – done in pairs in a big circle
Alsace: asymmetric waltzes (5/8, 8/8, 11/8)

And two imports

Swedish Polska

Another Swedish Polska

Untold quantities of gratitude to Chris for this work and for permission to put this together here. Thank you, sir!

Breton Music Week

Two North American Breton cultural organizations, Kerlenn New York and Bretons de Quebec, have joined forces to launch the first annual Breton Music Week. A series of events from October 18 to 27 scheduled in a swath reaching from New York City, through Massachusetts, and into Quebec (with, hopefully, one outlier in Maine … which would be me).

“The goal of Breton Music Week is to extend and increase the awareness of Breton Music and culture in North America!” The week culminates with the Fest-noz Vraz! in NYC. And, hey, they have a tee shirt!

First Tunes with the Baffetti

Videos down below!

The Dino Baffetti Tex-Mex II/34 arrived on Thursday! Very exciting! I had intended to do an internal examination of the box, a la Owen Woods or Daddy Long Les, but I found I couldn’t bear to take a screw driver to it, not even to remove the grill. I’m made of less stern stuff than that, it seems.

Instead, I’ve been playing the heck out of it. Here are some first thoughts:

  • Big one!  Playing a three row is different from playing two or two-and-a-half row or even two-row-plus-accidentals. Possibly this is obvious. The three row quint box can do different things that I don’t yet know how to do. New frontiers!
  • The two row repertoire works just fine on this one. Even if it is obvious that playing up-and-down the rows is not what it was built to do, everything I’ve been learning for the last 15 years is essentially transferable!
  • At there is a recurring discussion about stepped keyboards vs. flat keyboards. Playing a flat keyboard for the first time in years has made no difference to me.
  • Even though this is an F/Bb/Eb box (which is exactly what I was after) I’m choosing to name it as G/C/F and recognize that it’s a transposing instrument. All of the sheet music and tab is for G/C/F, so this seems simplest.
  • It sounds AMAZING. Essentially, as one colleague mentioned, it’s a clone of a Hohner Corona, done to a absurdly high level of quality. The sound is so very sweet. And the touch is effortless. I do have fond feelings for Hohner accordions, but this is a cut above.
  • I love it.
  • It is a little silly that with five rows of box to my name, I still don’t have a D row. What sort of psychological block am I dealing with? Is it PTSD from the Minneapolis Irish sessions?
Here are three videos with the Baffetti. The first is a hanter dro written by Sylvain Piron.

The second is another hanter dro, traditional, that I learned from Steve Gruverman.

The third is a Breton March, traditional, that I learned from the playing of Daniel Thonon.

Yann-Fañch Perroches, a Celebration

An Droug Hirnez, by Yann-Fañch Perroches

With much gratitude, I celebrate Yann-Fañch Perroches.

Owen Woods, who writes the fantastic Music and Melodeons, mentioned in passing that he’s playing a gig in support of the great Breton accordéonist, Yann-Fañch Perroches. After the wave of envy passed, it struck me that, even though I have Perroches’ link over there in the “Relevant Links” column, I’ve never actually written about him. This is a travesty.

This is a travesty, not only because his music is that good, but because he’s been a particular inspiration to me for over a decade. The first thing I heard of Perroches’ was An Droug Hirnez, which features Breton tunes in a chamber jazz setting, with piano, bass, cello, and winds accompanying the box. Very beautiful. That was about twelve years ago. Doing some research I found out that Perroches had been a member of the very prominent Breton group Skolvan since 1984. I sought out their work, as well. His work with Cocktail Diatonique was the first time I heard the sort of multi-accordion arrangements that are now redefining tradFrench (and tradBelgian) music. My favorite recording of his is the duo recording of Perroches with violinist Fañch Landreau, Daou Ha Daou. Something everyone should hear. All of this music, and more, can be found at Perroch’s site.

I should also mention that when I was starting out on the accordéon, Perroches very kindly corresponded with me and helped me work through some problems playing the basses. It’s worth noting that his tutorial is outstanding.

Listen to some of the man’s music, and celebrate.

A marvelous solo piece:

Cocktail Diatonique:

Scottish du Regret, perhaps Perroches’ best known composition:

Appreciation: Daniel Thonon

Daniel Thonon was a first contact for French music for many North American players. Residing in Quebec, the multi-instrumentalist — accordéon, pipes, hurdy gurdy, recorders, harpsichord — was one of several key members of Ad Vielle Que Pourra, which was a featured group on the Green Linnet label, and their sub-label, Xenophile. Being associated with Green Linnet during the Celtic music boom of ’90s brought them into my sights. I was playing Irish flute and whistle at the time, and, honestly, had a narrow view of what music ought to be. Hearing Thonon and crew rip through their “New French Folk Music,” much amazement ensued. Worlds opened up.

Ad Vielle Que Pourra used traditional French instruments to produce a music that blends tradFrench, Breton, and Quebecois music. There are also touches of Parisian bal musette, and even some baroque. (Thonon is an impressive harpsichordist.) But rather than producing a sort of “more eclectic than thou” folk music, Ad Vielle Que Pourra produced music with a focused vision that captivated me. Perhaps this was because almost all of the music was original, thoroughly in the style of trad. 

Throughout his time with Ad Vielle Que Pourra, Thonon played a bit of everything, most prominently the vielle à roue. I was not a box player at the time, and didn’t notice in that context what extraordinary things he was doing with his Castagnari Mory. In 1997, Thonon released Trafic D’influences, a recording that focused on his box playing. It has since been re-released as the less-obscurely titled, Master of the Diatonic Accordion. Again, worlds opened up with this set of mostly original-in-a-traditional-style played on a two and a half row, twelve bass, beautiful sounding instrument. (Aside: when word got around that the Mory had been destroyed in an airline baggage accident, more than one player bowed their head in grief.)

When I moved to Maine in 1997, I met Matt Szostak, a hurdy gurdy player and builder from Camden. I was just beginning my accordéon journey, hearing La Chavanée for the first time, and Matt was a fantastic resource for me.  It also happened that he was friends with Daniel Thonon. Matt put me in touch with Daniel, and when I took a trip to Montreal in 1999, I drove out to Daniel’s for a lesson on the box. I can’t say for sure what I learned there — other than the fact that Daniel Thonon is a fantastic, generous person, and a great teacher. Daniel’s approach to the lesson was to watch my very rudimentary playing and make kind suggestions. “Have you thought about this?” or “Did you know you could do this?” Without being able to say exactly how my playing changed, I improved tremendously in that hour and a half. Certainly, I came away encouraged, enthused and loving the box and French music more than ever.

I haven’t heard much out of Daniel Thonon’s camp in recent years. Listening to his catalogue as I write this piece, I can tell you I very much would love to hear more music from him. There are no videos of Thonon playing box on YouTube, but here’s a vid of an accordéon group in Helsinki playing one of Daniel’s compositions. If you notice in the comments section, Daniel himself “liked” this.