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……