Loïc Bléjean is from Brittany, that ancient land in the north-west of modern France, first settled by humans thousands of years ago, steeped in history and tradition and whilst his music is informed by his native culture, his love, if not that over-used word ‘passion’, is for the Irish tradition – he is a uilleann piper and low whistle player of high renown. One Breton website describes him as piper étoilé, a just and entirely fair description!
Loïc is technically brilliant and supremely musical on both instruments. His playing is characterised by a crisp clean style, with wonderful clarity in the separation of the notes; on the other hand he can pull from them the evocative, almost mournful and eerie sounds so loved by aficionados. And he is a perfectionist – the uilleann pipes are notoriously moody in their tuning, but his intonation is always flawless, a delight to hear.
He started playing the pipes in 1989, under the tuition of Alain Le Hegarat and then travelled extensively in Ireland, where he met many wonderful musicians, but he cites the Cork master piper Brendan Ring as a particular and deep influence. Since those early days he has developed an extraordinary versatility and adaptability which has enabled him collaborate and work with a wide variety of musicians and in many different styles; residencies at the world famous McGurk’s in St Louis, Missouri, with fiddler Paul Flynn and singer/guitarist David Muldrew, membership of influential bands, pop-rock Glaz, the French-Canadian Gwazigan and, since 2007, he has been a part of Carré Manchot, one of the leading ‘fez-noz’ (meaning ‘night festival’ in Breton) bands, bringing the Irish pipes to the fine art of Breton dance music. Notable work in Ireland includes the “Session with the Pipers” concert series at the Cobblestone in Dublin and the William Kennedy Piping Festival in Armagh, invited to do both in 2009 and again in 2013, the first time with his younger brother Ronan on the button accordion, the second with Louisa Bennion, the noted New York concertina player.
His ability to grasp and understand other genres has led to performances with Ars’ys, the modern Breton composer Hervé Lesvenan’s trio comprising church pipe organ, soprano saxophone and uilleann pipes, the progressive rock band Children in Paradise and with the exiting jazz band the Boclé Brothers, with whom he recorded the album ‘Rock The Boat’, released in 2015.
He currently tours as a solo artist, giving concerts, workshops and masterclasses, and in duos with close musical partners, brother Ronan, Louisa Bennion and Tad Sargent, the London based bouzouki and bodhrán virtuoso. He has recently recorded an album with Tad, due for release in the autumn of 2016.
During the summer of 2016 he was one of the four musicians integral to the massively acclaimed production of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, directed by Caroline Byrne and part of Emma Rice’s triumphant first season as Artistic Director. He and Tad Sargent opened both halves of the play, delighting the ‘groundling’ audience with foot-tapping jigs and reels.
He is a good organiser too, something rare enough among great musicians! In 2009 he and Ronan founded the ‘Irish Rendez Vous’ Festival, held on the north coast of Brittany, to promote Irish traditional music of the very best. Oh, and he has one other, um, ‘passion’ – slightly worn and well used Mercedes motor cars……
Although born in London, Tad’s family roots are firmly in Ireland – his family hails from Castlebar in County Mayo. His musical life started, as it does for many, by learning the piano as a child. He then rediscovered his early love of Irish music in his mid-teens and started on the bodhrán, the Irish drum. It took many years of attending sessions, those informal gatherings of traditional musicians so strong throughout the diaspora, under the watchful eye and tutelage of such luminaries as Mick O’Connor, to learn about the music and develop his technique. Then, in 2008, he took up the bouzouki, an instrument he loves and which he was almost destined to play; the right-hand techniques learned painstakingly on the bodhrán transfer directly to it and he is noted for his driving percussive style and the ability to create complex and changing rhythm patterns when backing melodic lines. He can also be seen playing guitar at many gigs.
Now a full time professional, Tad has worked with many well-known and respected musicians, both in the studio and in live performance: bands include Barrule, Celtic Crossroads, The Bible Code Sundays and The Long Notes and he has worked with individuals including Cara Dillon, Luke Daniels, Sylvain Barou, Kristina Train and Jody Talbot. He was a member of Ranagri for five years and together they collaborated with Tony Christie, he of ‘Amarillo’ fame, on the latter’s album “The Great Irish Song Book” released in 2015. He is a founder member of the acclaimed CrossHarbour, whose eponymous first album was released in 2014. Currently he is working on a recording project with Loïc Bléjean, the noted Breton uilleann piper, which is due for release in the autumn of 2016.
In the summer of 2016 he was part of the team at The Globe Theatre in London for the highly praised production of “The Taming of the Shrew”, directed by Caroline Byrne. He was one of the four musicians integral to the action, opening both halves of the play, to the delight of the audience!
Through his work he has played now played all over Europe and the USA and at some of the most prestigious venues in the UK – The Royal Albert Hall, Shakespeare’s Globe and the National Theatre among others. His festival appearances include Glastonbury, The Hop Farm, Cambridge Folk Festival and the Annual Irish Festival in London’s Trafalgar Square. There have also been numerous appearances on TV and radio, for the BBC and many other broadcasters in both the UK and across Europe.
Other notable recordings include “Manannan’s Cloak” for Barrule and the 2010 John Landis film “Burke and Hare”, starring Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis.
Tad is also highly committed to passing on the tradition to the next generation, young though he is! He teaches bodhrán, bouzouki, guitar, tin whistle (beginners) and piano and is the resident bodhrán and accompaniment tutor at the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith.