Celtic Music

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Celtic music is a broad grouping of musical genres that evolved out of the folk musical traditions of the Celtic peoples of Western Europe. The term Celtic music may refer to both orally-transmitted traditional music and recorded popular music with only a superficial resemblance to folk styles of the Celtic peoples.

In Celtic music: A Complete Guide, June Skinner Sawyers acknowledges six Celtic nationalities divided into two groups. The Q Celtic nationalities are Irish and Scottish, Manx, while the P Celtic groups are the Cornish, Bretons and Welsh (Sawyer also mentions the Galicians in this grouping. In addition to these areas, Celtic traditional music has left behind influences on Portuguese music and other countries, especially Irish-American and Irish- and Scottish-Canadian music.

At issue is the lack of many common threads uniting the "Celtic" peoples listed above. While the ancient Celts undoubtedly had their own musical styles, these have grown and evolved to the point where considering any modern styles reminiscent of ancient Celtic music is misleading. There is also tremendous variation between "Celtic" regions. Ireland and Scotland, for example, have living traditions of language and music, whereas Cornwall and the Isle of Man, in contrast, have only revivalist movements that have yet to take hold. Galicia has had little or no Celtic musical influence for several centuries, but is still grouped with the others. Thus, traditionalists, and most musicological scholars dispute that the "Celtic" lands have any folk connections to each other.

On the other hand, it is indisputable that related musical styles have been recorded and performed by and for persons living in all the "Celtic" lands, and thus there is such a thing a musical tradition uniting these areas -- it is simply a form of popular music instead of folk music; whether or not this distinction is important is a matter of taste. Many critics of the idea of modern Celtic music claim that the idea is the creation of modern marketing designed to stimulate regional identity in the creation of a consumer niche; June Skinner Sawyers, for example, notes in her work Celtic Music: A Complete Guide, that "Celtic music is a marketing term that I am using, for the purposes of this book, as a matter of convenience, knowing full well the cultural baggage that comes with it".

Common characteristic Celtic musical forms include jigs, reels, hornpipes, polkas, strathspeys (Scotland) and slow airs. Much of the music is typified by strong, repeating melodies in a set rhythm, which reflects a background as dance music. Ballads are also common. Largely through the immigration of the Scotch-Irish, Celtic music was the foundation for Appalachian folk music in the United States.

The Celtic music scene involves a large number of music festivals. Some of the most prominent include Celtic Colours (Cape Breton, Nova Scotia), Celtic Connections (Glasgow) and Festival Interceltique (Lorient, Brittany).

The Breton musician Alan Stivell claimed (translation by Steve Winick): As on the linguistic plane, there are two branches, the Gaelic branch and the Brythonic branch, which differentiate themselves mostly by the extended range (sometimes more than two octaves) of Irish and Scottish melodies and the closed range of Breton and Welsh melodies (often reduced to a half-octave), and by the frequent use of the pure pentatonic scale in Gaelic music.



Ireland is an island in the North Atlantic that is currently politically divided into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The area is internationally known for its folk music, which has remained a vibrant tradition throughout the 20th century, when many traditional forms worldwide lost popularity to pop music. In spite of emigration and a well-developed connection to music imported from the United Kingdom and United States, Irish music has kept many of its traditional aspects; indeed, it has itself influenced many forms of music, such as country and roots music in the USA, which in turn have greatly influenced rock music in the 20th century. It has occasionally also been modernised, however, and fused with rock and roll, punk rock and other genres. Some of these fusion artists have attained much mainstream success, at home and abroad.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the distinction between traditional and rock musicians became blurred, with many individuals regularly crossing over between these styles of playing as a matter of course. This trend can be seen more recently in the work of bands and individuals like U2, Clannad, The Cranberries, The Corrs, Van Morrison, Thin Lizzy, Sinéad O'Connor, My Bloody Valentine, Rory Gallagher, and The Pogues.

Nevertheless, Irish music has shown an immense inflation of popularity with many attempting to return to their roots. There are also contemporary music groups that stick closer to a "traditional" sound, including Altan, Capercaillie, Gaelic Storm, Déanta, Lúnasa, and Solas. Others incorporate multiple cultures in a fusion of style, such as Afro Celt Sound System and Loreena McKennitt.

Recordings by commercially successful musicians and bands certainly are a valid way to learn about current trends in music. However, the traditional music of Ireland and other closely associated musical forms is played 'live' worldwide in homes and pubs by ordinary people from all walks of life, and is passed on from generation to generation in the oral tradition. To hear the music of Ireland all one must do is find an Irish pub anywhere in the world and ask about for where a session can be heard. Then go and listen in real time to the "Music of Ireland".

Social role

It is important to know that most "traditions" of modern Irish traditional music and dance are, to some extent, guesswork and extrapolation. Through politics and military upheavals, the cultural arts of Ireland were systematically eradicated to a large extent (to weaken national identity) and then the job was finished during the Great Famine. Travellers (the gypsies of Ireland, most of whom began their dynasties when forcibly ejected from their lands; they call themselves the Pavee), people (covertly, during periods of active occupation) trying to save knowledge from eradication, and refugees saved what we know of languages and artforms.

Regional style, once a major distinction of Irish traditional music, is gradually being eroded by the ease of travel and access to recordings. It was once not unheard of for a villager to never leave the immediate area of their village; in those days, you could often tell the region an Irish player came from by simply his playing or the setting of a tune used.

Singing often is seen as something very different from the music. This can be seen in many sessions in pubs in Ireland. While the musicians are playing, the rest of the gathering may treat them as largely background music. When a singer is invited to sing, however, there is generally not a sound to be heard other than murmurs encouraging the singer. Oftentimes, listeners may sing along with choruses. There is a type of traditional song called loobeen, in which each singer improvises a verse, followed by a chorus sung by the entire group. It is generally felt among traditionalists that the music is largely for amusement, while songs distill within them the true spirit of Ireland.

An example of a traditional song that has received much exposure as the result of being recorded by many modern artists is "She Moved Through the Fair".

Traditional music

Irish traditional music, like all traditional musics, is characterized by slow-moving change, which usually occurs along accepted principles. Songs and tunes believed to be ancient in origin are respected. It is, however, difficult or impossible to know the age of most tunes due to their tremendous variation across Ireland and through the years; some generalization is possible, however, for example, only modern songs are written in English, with few exceptions, the rest being in Irish. Most of the oldest songs, tunes, and methods are rural in origin, though more modern songs and tunes often come from cities and towns.

Music and lyrics are passed aurally/orally, and were rarely written down until recently (depending upon your definition of "recently", there are many examples of written music previous to 1800). Though solo performance is preferred in the folk tradition, bands or at least small ensembles have probably always been a part of Irish music since at least the mid-19th century, although this is a point of much contention among ethnomusicologists.

For instance, guitars and bouzoukis only entered the traditional Irish music world in the 1960s. The bodhrán, once known in Ireland as a tambourine, is generally first mentioned in the nineteenth century. Ceilidh bands of the 1940s often included a drum set and stand-up bass as well as saxophones. As of current writing, the first three are now generally accepted in traditional Irish music circles (although not in the most purist of venues), while the latter three are generally not.

More recently, traditional Irish music has been "expanded" to include new styles and variations performed by bands, although arguments run rife as to whether you may then call this music "traditional". Unaccompanied vocals in the sean nós (which means, simply, "old style") tradition are considered the traditional norm, usually either solo or as a duo. Harmony is simple, and instruments are played in unison. Counterpoint is mostly unknown to traditional music. Structural units are symmetrical and include decorations of the rhythm, text, melody and phrasing, though not usually of dynamics, due to instrumentation issues while Irish music was developing.

Music for Dancing

Irish traditional music was largely meant (to the best of our current knowledge) for dancing at celebrations for weddings, saint's days or other observances. Tunes (songs have words, tunes do not) are most usually divided into two eight-bar strains which are each played twice to make a 32-bar whole; Irish dance music is isometric. (16 measures are known as a "step", with one 8 bar strain for a "right foot" and the second for the "left foot" of the step. Tunes that are not so evenly divided are called "crooked".) This makes for an eminently danceable music, and Irish dance has been widely exported abroad.

Traditional dances and tunes include reels, hornpipes, jigs and slip jigs, as well as imported mazurkas. Polkas are a type of tune mostly found in the Sliabh Luachra area, at the border of Cork and Kerry, in the south of Ireland. The main differences in these types of tunes are the time signature, rhythm, and speed.

Set dancing

Set dancing, generally danced by groups of varying sizes (a "set" is a group of a certain number of dancers), is one of the most popular forms of the Irish traditional dances, revived along with other Irish cultural forms, during the Celtic Revival period of the nineteenth century, and again re-popularized after the success of the Broadway-style musical Riverdance in 1994. It is not uncommon for young people in Ireland's cities (and other large cities around the world) these days to go set-dancing, as others of their contemporaries go "clubbing".


Stepdancing, in the Munster or southern style form, is the most widespread of the Irish dance forms, although there are many others (including the Connemara style and other forms of Southern style dancing not under the auspices of An Coimisiun). Modern stepdancing is connected to the Irish cultural revivals of the nineteenth century in one long line. Modern stepdancers are athletes as well as dancers; champions train in a manner similar to ice skaters and gymnasts. It is largely a solo dance form, although group dances or figures exist in a set curriculum of ceilidh, or party, dances.

The litmus test of the solo stepdancer is the non-traditional set dance (not related to set dancing, where groups of dancers form figures) which is generally choreographed by a dancer's teacher for that dancer or for the teacher's dancing school.

Sean Nós Dancing

Modern step dancing evolved from Sean Nós dancing. Sean Nós dancing contains a huge element of improvisation, and also uses more upper body movement (and humour!) than Step Dancing. Props are also used sometimes - for example, in "The Brush Dance" the dancer uses a sweeping brush as a prop. Sean Nós Dancing remains very popular.


No modern description of the arts of Ireland would be complete without some mention of the Broadway musical Riverdance. A musical and dancing interval act starring Michael Flatley and Jean Butler was performed during the Eurovision Song Contest 1994. Popular reaction to the act was so immense that an entire musical was built around the act. Riverdance's appeal was such that the arts of Ireland were once again globally popular in a very short time. Dancing school enrollments skyrocketed, Irish sessions found their numbers swelling with new musicians wishing to take part, and interest in Irish arts are at an all time high. Despite this the majority of those who play Irish Music look on Riverdance disparagingly, claiming that it has little to do with the tradition.

Instruments Used in Traditional Irish Music


One of the most important instruments in the traditional repertoire, the fiddle is played differently in widely-varying regional styles. Modern performers include Martin Hayes, Paul Shaughnessy, Matt Cranitch, Frankie Gavin, the Glackin brothers, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, James Kelly, Tommy Peoples, Maire Breatnach and Gerry O'Connor. Sligo fiddlers like Michael Coleman did much to popularise Irish music in the States in the 1920s.

The best-known regional fiddling traditions are from Donegal, Sligo, Sliabh Luachra and Clare.

The fiddling tradition of Sligo is perhaps most recognizable to outsiders, due to the popularity of American-based performers like James O'Beirne, Michael Coleman, James Morrison and Paddy Killoran; Irish Sligo fiddlers include Andrew Davey, Martin Wynne, Fred Finn and Kathleen Harrington. However, most fiddlers will generally tell you that Clare is probably the most emulated regional style of Irish fiddling (though there's lots to dispute that, as well).

Other established fiddlers include(d) Clare's Frank Custy, Paddy Canny, Bobby Casey, Jack Mulcaire, John Kelly, Patrick Kelly, Peadar O'Loughlin, Pat O'Connor (fiddler), Junior Crehan and P. Joe Hays, while Donegal has produced Seán Reid, Néllidh Boyle, James Byrne, Vincent Campbell, Francie Bynre, John Doherty, Proinsias Ó Maonaigh, and Bridget Regan. Sliabh Luachra, a small area between Kerry and Cork, is known for Julia Clifford, Séamus Creagh, and Pádraig O'Keefe.

Flute and Whistle

Flutes have long been an integral part of Irish traditional music, and its cousin the tin whistle or low whistle are also popular. Modern flautists (or "fluters" as they're often called) include Matt Molloy, Kevin Crawford, Michael McGoldrick, Desi Wilkinson and Emer Mayock, while whistlers include Paddy Moloney, Sean Ryan, Mary Bergin, Denis Ryan and Packie Byrne.

Uilleann pipes

A kind of bagpipes, uilleann pipes (pronounced ill-yun) are complex and said to take years to learn to play. Its modern form had arrived by the 1890s, and was played by gentlemen pipers like Seamus Ennis, Leo Rowsome and Willy Clancy, in refined and ornate pieces, as well as showy, ornamented forms played by travelling pipers like John Cash and Johnny Doran. The uilleann piping tradition had near died down before being re-popularized by the likes of Paddy Moloney (of the Chieftains), and the formation of Na Píobairí, an organization open to pipers that included such legends as Rowsome and Ennis, as well as researcher and collector Breandán Breathnach. Liam O'Flynn is one of the most popular of modern performers along with Paddy Keenan, John McSherry, Davy Spillane, Mick O'Brien and many more.

Uillean pipes are the most complex form of bagpipe; they possess a chanter with a double reed, three single reed drones for continuous accompaniment, a two-octave range and an optional set of three pipes (regulator) with double reeds and keys.


Played as long ago as the 8th century, the harp is a symbol of Ireland and its players are widely-respected. Many tunes were written by Turlough Ó Carolan, a blind 18th century harpist who is considered by many to be the unofficial national composer of Ireland. Thomas Connellan, a slightly earlier Sligo harper, composed the tunes behind such well-known songs as "The Dawning of the Day"/"Raglan Road" and "Carolan's Dream". Modern traditional players include Laoise Kelly, Grainne Hambly, Máire Ní Chathasaigh and Bonnie Shaljean. Irish harp music is built around particular chords of the scale.

The most renowned Irish harpist of recent decades is likely Máire Ní Chathasaigh. Other notable recent Irish harpists include Laoise Kelly (of The Bumblebees), Mary O'Hara, Antoinette McKenna, Derek Bell (of The Chieftains) and Aine Minoque.

Accordion and Concertina

The accordion plays a major part in modern music. Popular players include John Williams, Sharon Shannon and Dave Hennessy. Concertina players include Niall Vallely and Noel Hill.

The accordion spread to Ireland late in the 19th century. In its ten-key form (melodeon), it was popular across the island, and was recorded early by John Kimmel and Irish-American Peter Conlon.

There are numerous ways to play the accordion, including the "push-and-draw" method pioneered by Joe Cooley, and the "outside in" system from the United States, championed by Joe Derrane, Joe Burke Paddy O'Brien (of Tipperary), Kieran O'Loughlin of Clare and James Keane [Dublin and New York]

Concertinas are of several types, the two most common in Irish traditional music being the English and the Anglo systems. Each differs from the other in construction and playing technique. The Anglo is the more common in Irish music and its use in that genre precedes the English. The most distinctive characteristic of the Anglo system is that each button sounds a different note, depending on whether the bellows are compressed or expanded. Anglo concertinas typically have either two or three rows of buttons that sound notes, plus an "air button" located near the right thumb that allows the player to fill or empty the bellows without sounding a note.

Two-row Anglo concertinas usually have 20 buttons that sound notes. Each row of 10 buttons comprises notes within a common key. The two primary rows thus contain the notes of two musical keys, such as C and G. Each row is divided in two with five buttons playing lower-pitched notes of the given key on the left-hand end of the instrument and five buttons playing the higher pitched notes on the right-hand end. The row of buttons in the higher key is closer to the wrist of each hand.

Three-row concertinas add a third row of accidentals (i.e., sharps and flats not included in the keys represented by the two main rows) and redundant notes (i.e., notes that duplicate those in the main keys but are located in the third, outermost row) that enable the instrument to be played in virtually any key. A series of sequential notes can be played in the home-key rows by depressing a button, compressing the bellows, depressing the same button and extending the bellows, moving to the next button and repeating the process, and so on. A consequence of this arrangement is that the player often encounters occasions requiring a change in bellows direction, which produces a clear separation between the sounds of the two adjacent notes. This tends to give the music a more punctuated, bouncy sound that can be especially well suited to hornpipes or jigs.

English concertinas, by contrast, sound the same note for any given button, irrespective of the direction of bellows travel. Thus, any note can be played while the bellows is either expanded or compressed. As a consequence, sequential notes can be played without altering the bellows direction. This allows sequences of notes to be played in a smooth, continuous stream without the interruption of changing bellows direction.

Despite the inherent bounciness of the Anglo and the inherent smoothness of the English concertina systems, skilled players of Irish traditional music can achieve either effect on each type of instrument by adapting the playing style. On the Anglo, for example, the notes on various rows partially overlap and the third row contains additional redundant notes, so that the same note can be sounded with more than one button. Often, whereas one button will sound a given note on bellows compression, an alternative button in a different row will sound the same note on bellows expansion. Thus, by playing across the rows, the player can avoid changes in bellows direction from note to note where the musical objective is a smoother sound. Likewise, the English system accommodates playing styles that counteract its inherent smoothness and continuity between notes. Specifically, when the music calls for it, the player can choose to reverse bellows direction, causing sequential notes to be more distinctly articulated.


The four-string tenor banjo is favoured by most Irish traditional players, and is commonly tuned GDAE, an octave below the fiddle. It is normally not strummed, instead being played as a melody instrument using either a plectrum or a "thimble". While the instrument's percussive sound can add greatly to the "lift" of a session, a poorly played or overly loud banjo can be disruptive. Skilled and sensitive players will generally find themselves welcomed in "open" sessions, provided no more than one plays at a time. Barney McKenna of The Dubliners is often credited with paving the way for the banjo's current popularity, and is still actively playing. Great players include Kieran Hanrahan, John Carty, Angelina Carberry, Fergus O'Byrne and Kevin Griffin.


Guitars have become commonplace in modern sessions. They are generally strummed to provide backing for the melody players. Melody playing on the guitar is certainly possible, but tends to be drowned out in a session environment by the louder instruments such as fiddle and flute. Masters of the guitar in Irish traditional music include Arty McGlynn, Loughy(Kieran O'Loughlin) and Steve Cooney.


A fairly recent import from Greece, the bouzouki was introduced in the late 1960s by Johnny Moynihan and then popularized by Donal Lunny, Andy Irvine, and Alec Finn.


The mandolin is becoming a more common instrument among Irish traditional musicians. The instrument is usually tuned like a fiddle and is plucked with a plectrum, or pick. Unlike a fiddle, it has frets, like a guitar. Tunes originally created by fiddle players in standard tuning are relatively accessible for quick apprehension by a mandolin player because of the identical fingering by the left hand (for right-handed players - vice versa for left-handed players). In recent decades, plucked instruments like the mandolin have become common session instruments by melody and rhythm players.

Although each of the different types of non-electrified mandolin can fit into Irish traditional music, many players prefer flat-backed instruments with oval sound holes rather than bowl-back mandolins or those with f-holes similar to the type seen on violins. Instruments built by British luthier Stefan Sobell are among the most favored mandolins for Irish traditional music, although many other makers also build instruments well suited to that genre.

Many American bluegrass mandolin players and mandolinists from many backgrounds have discovered that Irish traditional music is an ideal stepping stone to another channel of discovery and creativity on the mandolin. However, the Irish style and rhythm of playing jigs and reels is quite distinct from bluegrass and old-time mandolin, and requires some amount of effort and listening to learn properly. Chord-strumming on the mandolin (particularly bluegrass-style "chop" strumming) does not blend well in an Irish traditional music setting.

Great players include Andy Irvine, Mick Moloney, Paul Kelly, and Claudine Langille.


A frame drum, the bodhrán is considered a relatively modern addition to traditional dance music. It was introduced/popularized in the 1960s by Sean Ó Riada (although there are mentions of "tambourines" without zils being played as early as the mid nineteenth century), and quickly became popular. Great players include Johnny 'Ringo' McDonagh, Colm Murphy and Fergus O'Byrne (of Ryan's Fancy).

Because it appears to be an easy instrument to play, the bodhrán has become immensely popular with newcomers to the playing of Irish traditional music. Unfortunately this can often lead to disruption of a music session by players who do not have the understanding or skill to provide a sympathetic rhythmic accompaniment, or even by multiple conflicting bodhráns being beaten simultaneously.


A well-known instrument found in many kinds of traditional music, the Irish harmonica tradition is best-represented by Eddie Clarke and Brendan Power (the latter being of New Zealand).

Modern revival

A movement of revival took place (based in London and Dublin) in the early twentieth century. A commission was formed, and the arts encouraged. The public was invited to actively take part, and a great passion was discovered for the arts of Ireland.

The uillean pipes play a prominent part in a form of instrumental music called Fonn Mall, descendents of ancient songs, as well as in the unaccompanied vocal music called sean nós. Willie Clancy, Leo Rowsome, and Garret Barry are among the many pipers famous in their day. Paddy Keenan, Davy Spillane and Robbie Hannon play these traditional airs today, among many others. Many Pavee families, such as the Fureys and Dorans and Keenans, are famous for the pipers among them.

Pub sessions

Pub sessions are now the home for much of Irish traditional music, which takes place at informal gatherings in urban pubs. The first known of these modern pub sessions took place in 1947 in London's Camden Town at a bar called The Devonshire Arms (although some ethnomusicologists believe that Irish immigrants in the United States may have held sessions before this); the practice was only later introduced to Ireland. By the 1960s pubs like O'Donoghues in Dublin were holding their own pub sessions, and the Fleadh Ceoil music festival was sparking increased popular interest in traditional music.

1960s and 70s: Revival...again

Seán Ó Riada's The Chieftains, The Clancy Brothers, The Dubliners, Sweeney's Men and Planxty were in large part responsible for a second wave of revitalization of Irish folk music in the 1960s, followed up by The Bothy Band and Clannad in the 70s.

The 1960s saw a number of innovative performers. Christy Moore and Donal Lunny, for example, first performing as a duo, and later creating two of the most well-known bands of the era, Planxty and Moving Hearts (in the 1980s). The Clancys broke open the field in the US in the early part of the decade, which inspired vocal groups like The Dubliners, while Ceoltóirí Chualann's instrumental music spawned perhaps the best-known Irish traditional band, The Chieftains, which formed in 1963.

By the 70s, bands like Planxty and Clannad had set the stage for a major popular blossoming of Irish music. Formed in 1974, The Bothy Band became the spearcarriers of that movement; their debut album, [1975] (1975), inspired a legion of fans. (One can often find The Bothy Band under "Rock" in some stores.) New groups that appeared in their wake included Davy Spillane's Moving Hearts.

The 70s saw the beginning of fusions of Irish traditional music with American and British rock and roll, beginning perhaps with the band Horslips. Singer-songwriter Van Morrison is also renowned from the trad-rock scene, and is known for incorporating soul and R&B to great effect. Blues guitarist Rory Gallagher was renowned for his masterful guitar playing. The heavy metal band Thin Lizzy occasionally used Irish musical traditions in their songs. For example, the song Emerald used a jig (6/8) time signature, and a melody that was influenced by traditional Irish music. Also, the song "The Black Rose" contained a traditional Irish reel being played by guitar, bass, and drums. Most famously, their reworking of the traditional folk staple, "Whiskey in the Jar" was a huge hit. Singer and songwriter Phil Lynott is often said to be a modern incarnation of the Irish poetry tradition.

Late 20th century: Rock and More...

Traditional music, especially sean nós, played a major part in Irish popular music later in the century, with Van Morrison, Hothouse Flowers and Sinéad O'Connor using traditional elements in popular songs. Enya achieved success with New Age/Celtic fusions. The Pogues, led by Shane MacGowan, helped fuse Irish folk with punk rock to some success beginning in the 1980s, while the Afro-Celt Sound System achieved considerable fame adding West African influences and drum n bass in the 1990s.

In the 1980s, major bands included De Dannan, Altan, Arcady and Patrick Street. Punk rock entered Ireland in full in the late 1970s, and flowered in the following decade with performers like Gavin Friday and Bob Geldof, while the Belfast scene inspired a legion of punk bands from Northern Ireland, of whom the Stiff Little Fingers are the most well-known. Later in the 80s and into the 90s, Irish punk, like the scene in the UK, US and elsewhere, fractured into new styles of alternative rock, which included the critically acclaimed That Petrol Emotion, the renowned underground band My Bloody Valentine and the popular punk sound of Ash.

The 80s also saw the rise of Irish international stars. The biggest Irish musical performer of any kind is undoubtedly U2, who entered the mainstream beginning in 1980 with Boy, and continuing to incorporate a number of styles on later albums into the next century. Other rock bands of the era included The Undertones, Energy Orchard and The Boomtown Rats. A growing interest in Irish music at this time helped many artistes gain more recognition abroad, including Mary Black, Andy White, Sharon Shannon, Hothouse Flowers and others. The BBC screened a documentary series about the influence of Irish music called Bringing it all Back Home (a reference to both the Bob Dylan folk song and the way in which Irish traditional music has travelled, especially in the New World following the Irish diaspora, which in turn has come back to influence modern Irish rock music). This series also helped to raise the profile of many artistes relatively little known outside Ireland. The fashionability of Irish folk music at this time may be judged from the huge success that non-Irish band The Waterboys enjoyed with their albums Fisherman's Blues and Room to Roam, both of which are full of Irish folk influences. Meanwhile, Sinéad O'Connor's confrontational style won her a legion of fans as well as controversy.

In the 1990s, pop bands like the Corrs, B*witched, Boyzone and The Cranberries also became internationally renowned. Ireland had developed the Celtic metal scene, part of the black metal style which was common throughout much of Europe, and soon evolved into Celtic battle metal, Celtic doom metal and Celtic pagan metal. Artists included Waylander, Bran Barr, Cruachan and Geasa.

In 1998, a crew called Exile Eye released the Optic Nerve EP, which generated a great deal of interest in hip hop and inspired a number of newer hip hop crews, though Exile Eye was not the first Irish hip hop performers, as Scary Éire and others came first. These included Homebrew, Third Eye Surfers and Creative Controle.

In the 2000's Danú is the youngest major instrumental band.

The London Fleadh music festival has become an annual event and showcase for Irish music. It is held in Finsbury Park during the summer.


Scotland is a Celtic-Germanic country, located to the north of England on the island of Great Britain. Celtic music has survived more strongly in Scotland than anywhere else except Ireland. As of 2003, there are several Scottish record labels, music festival and a roots magazine, Living Tradition.

Many outsiders associate Scottish folk music almost entirely with bagpipes, which has indeed long played an important part of Scottish music. It is, however, not unique or indigenous to Scotland, having been imported around the 15th century and still being in use across Europe and farther abroad. The pìob mór, or Highland bagpipe, is the most distinctively Scottish form of the instrument; it was created for clan pipers to be used for various, often military or marching, purposes. Piping clans included the MacArthurs, MacDonalds, McKays and, especially, the MacCrimmons, who were hereditary pipers to the Clan MacLeod.

Folk and Ceilidh Music

This takes many forms in a broad musical tradition, although the dividing lines are not rigid, and many artists work across the boundaries. Culturally there is a split between the Gaelic tradition and the Scots tradition.

There are ballads and laments, generally sung by a lone singer with backing, or played on traditional instruments such as harp, fiddle, accordion or bagpipes.

Dance music is played across Scotland at dances or ceilidhs. Group dances such as jigs, strathspeys, waltzes and reels, are performed to music provided typically by an ensemble, or dance band, which can include fiddle (violin), bagpipe, accordion and percussion. The major names to know in this part of the musical tradition are Niel Gow, James Scott Skinner, and Jimmy Shand.

There are traditional folk songs, which are generally melodic, haunting or rousing. These are often very region specific, and are performed today by a burgeoning variety of folk groups. Most famous of which is Capercaillie.

Popular songs were originally produced by Music Hall performers such as Harry Lauder and Will Fyffe for the stage. More modern exponents of the style have included Andy Stewart, Glen Daly, Moira Anderson, Kenneth McKellar and the Alexander Brothers.

Military music, typically massed pipes and drums. Major Scottish regiments maintain bapipe and drum bands which preserve scottish marches, quicksteps, reels and laments. Many towns also have voluntary pipe bands which cover the same repertoire.

Folk song collecting

While ballads had been printed for centuries, the 18th century brought a number of collections of Scots songs and tunes. Examples include Playford's Original Scotch Tunes 1700, Sinkler's MS. 1710, James Watson's Choice Collection of Comic and Serious Scots Poems both Ancient and Modern 1711, William Thomson's Orpheus caledonius: or, A collection of Scots songs 1733, James Oswald's The Caledonian Pocket Companion 1751, and David Herd's Ancient and modern Scottish songs, heroic ballads, etc.: collected from memory, tradition and ancient authors 1776. These were drawn on for the most influential collection, The Scots Musical Museum published in six volumes from 1787 to 1803 by James Johnson and Robert Burns, which also included new words by Burns.



Though often derided as Scottish kitsch, the accordion has long been a part of Scottish music. Country dance bands, such as that led by the renowned Jimmy Shand, have helped to dispel this image. In the early 20th century, the melodeon (a variety of accordion) was popular among rural folk, and was part of the bothy band tradition. More recently, performers like Phil Cunningham (of Silly Wizard) have helped popularize the accordion in Scottish music.


Though bagpipes are closely associated with Scotland and only Scotland by many outsiders, the instrument (or, more precisely, family of instruments) is found throughout large swathes of Europe, North Africa and South Asia. Out of the many varieties of Scottish bagpipes, the most common in modern days is the Highlands variety, which was spread through its use by the Highland regiments of the British Army.

The most traditional form of Highland bagpipe music is called pibroch, which consists of a theme (urlar) which is repeated, growing increasingly complex each time. The last, and most complex variation (cruunluath), gives way to a sudden and unadorned rendition of the theme.

Bagpipe competitions are now common in Scotland, with popular bands including colonial groups like the Victoria Police (Australia) and Canada's 78th Fraser Highlanders and the Simon Fraser University Band, as well as Scottish bands like Shotts and Dykehead.


Scottish traditional fiddling encompasses a number of regional styles, including the bagpipe-inflected west Highlands, the bombastic style of Norse-influenced Shetland Islands and the strathspeys and slow airs of the North-East. The instrument arrived late in the 17th century, and is first mentioned in 1680 in a document from Newbattle Abbey in Midlothian, Lessones For Ye Violin.

In the 18th century, Scottish fiddling is said to have peaked. Fiddlers like William Marshall and Niel Gow were legends across Scotland, and composers like Charles McLean, James Oswald and William McGibbon used Scottish fiddling traditions in their Baroque compositions.

More recently, Scottish fiddling has included a number of styles. Of particular interest is the very traditional style of the Canadian island of Cape Breton. Musicians from Cape Breton, like Natalie MacMaster and Ashley MacIsaac, are renowned in Scotland, continuing a tradition of Cape Breton-Scotland musical exchange that began earlier in the century with touring groups like Buddy MacMaster, Jerry Holland and Scotty Fitzgerald.


The harp has a long history in Scotland, rivalling even the bagpipes for the position as national instrument. Triangular harps were known as far back as the 10th century, when they appear on Pictish carvings, and harp compositions may have even formed the basis for pibroch, the folk bagpipe tradition. By the 18th century, however, the harp was no longer popular, and it was not revived until the 1890s. The 1931 formation of the Clarsach Society kickstarted the harp renaissance. Recent harp players include Savourna Stevenson and the band Sileas.

Modern Scottish music

In the 20th century, collections like Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs, collected by Reverend James Duncan and Gavin Greig, helped inspire the ensuing folk revival. These were followed by collectors like Hamish Henderson and Calum McLean, both of whom worked with American musicologist Alan Lomax. Earlier, the first Celtic music international star, James Scott Skinner, a fiddler known as the "Strathspey King", had gained fame with some very early recordings.

Among the folk performers discovered by Henderson, McLean and Lomax was Jeannie Robertson, who was brought to sing at the People's Festival in Edinburgh in 1953. Across the Atlantic, in the United States, pop-folk groups like The Weavers, Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie were leading a folk revival; the singers at the 1951 People's Festival, John Strachan, Flora Macneill, Jimmy MacBeath and others, began the Scottish revival.


Like many countries, Scotland underwent a roots revival in the 1960s. Folk music had declined somewhat in popularity during the preceding generation, although performers like Jimmy Shand, Kenneth McKellar, and Moira Anderson still maintained an international following and mass market record sales, but numerous young Scots thought themselves separated from their country's culture. This new wave of Scottish folk performers were inspired by American traditionalists like Pete Seeger, but soon found their own heroes, including young singers Ray and Archie Fisher and Hamish Imlach, and from the tradition Jeannie Robertson and Jimmy MacBeath.


Scottish folk singing was revived by artists including Ewan MacColl, who founded the first folk club in Britain, singers Alex Campbell, Jean Redpath and Dick Gaughan and groups like The Gaugers, The Corries and The McCalmans. Folk clubs boomed, with a strong Irish influence from The Dubliners. With Irish folk bands like The Chieftains finding widespread popularity, 60s Scottish musicians played in pipe bands and Strathspey and Reel Societies. Musicologist Frances Collinson published The Traditional and National Music of Scotland in 1966 to surprising popular acclaim, as part of the burgeoning Scottish folk revival. Still though, until the end of the 60s, Scottish music was rarely heard in pubs or on the radio, though Irish traditional music was widespread. The Corries had established a fanbase, while the English band Fairport Convention has created a British folk-rock scene that spread north in the form of The JSD Band and Contraband.


Music had long been primarily a solo affair, until The Clutha, a Glasgow-based group, began solidifying the idea of a Celtic band, which eventually consisted of fiddle or pipes leading the melody, and bouzouki and guitar along with the vocals. Though The Clutha were the first modern band, earlier groups like The Exiles (with Bobby Campbell) had forged in that direction, adding instruments like the fiddle to vocal groups. Alongside The Clutha were other pioneering Glasgow bands, including The Whistlebinkies and Aly Bain's The Boys of the Lough, both largely instrumental. The Whistlebinkies were notable, along with Alba and The Clutha, for experimenting with different varieties of bagpipies; Alba used Highland pipes, The Whistlebinkies used reconstructed Border pipes and The Clutha used small pipes alongside Highlands pipes.

Bert Jansch and Davy Graham took blues guitar and eastern influences into their music, and in the mid-1960s, the most popular group of the Scottish folk scene, the Incredible String Band, began their career in Clive's Incredible Folk Club in Glasgow taking these influences a stage further.

The next wave of bands, including The Tannahill Weavers, Battlefield Band, Ossian and Alba, featured prominent bagpipers, a trend which climaxed in the 1980s, when Robin Morton's A Controversy of Pipers was released to great acclaim. By the end of the 1970s, lyrics in the Scots Gaelic language were appearing in songs by Nah-Oganaich and Ossian, with Runrig's Play Gaelic in 1978 being the first major success for Gaelic-language Scottish folk.

1980s, 90s and 21st century =

In the 1980s, Edinburgh saw the emergence of Jock Tamson's Bairns emerge with a style called Scots swing.

Most recently, Scottish pipes have included a renaissance for cauldwind pipes, which use cold-dry air as opposed to the moist air of mouth-blown pipes, while small pipes and Borders pipes have gained currency. The accordion also gained in popularity during the 1970s, due to the renown of Phil Cunningham, whose distinctive piano accordion style was an integral part of the band Silly Wizard.

Numerous musicians continued to follow more traditional styles including Andy Stewart, Glen Daly, and the Alexander Brothers.

More modern musicians include Shooglenifty, innovators of the house fusion acid croft, The Easy Club, a jazz fusion band, Talitha MacKenzie and Martin Swan, mouth musicians, pioneering singers Savourna Stevenson, Heather Heywood and Christine Primrose. Other modern musicians include the late techno-piper Martyn Bennett (who used hip hop beats and sampling), Hamish Moore and Gordon Mooney.


Wales is a part of the United Kingdom, but has had a long history as a culturally distinct Celtic country. Its music is thus related to the Celtic music of Ireland and Scotland. Welsh folk music has distinctive instrumentation and song types, and is often played at twmpathau (singular: twmpath), or communal dances, and gwyl werin, a form of music festival. Unlike its Celtic neighbors, Welsh folk musicians of the latter half of the 20th century have had to largely reconstruct the country's traditions, which had been moribund for some time, as well as compete with imported and indigenous rock and pop trends. The label Fflach Tradd has become especially influential, releasing albums by some of Wales' biggest-selling acts.

Traditional music

Welsh folk is known for a variety of instrumental and vocal music, including the well-known men's choirs, and more recent singer-songwriters that draw from folk traditions. The Welsh triple harp (telyn) is another distinctive tradition; it is complexly chromatic and has three rows of stringers, the middle of which sounds sympathetic to the two duplicate notes in the other two rows. The instrument dates to Wales only back to the 17th century, but has taken root there. Its use has entered the Welsh folk revival through the efforts of Nansi Richards and Robin Huw Bowen.

The fiddle is also an integral part of Welsh folk. Its best-known modern proponents are The Killbrides from Cardiff, who play mostly in the South Welsh tradition but also perform tunes from throughout the British Isles.


For many years, Welsh folk music had been suppressed, due to the effects of the Act of Union, which promoted the English language, and the rise of the Methodist church in the 18th and 19th century. The church frowned on traditional music and dance, though folk tunes were sometimes used in hymns.

Since 1176, Welsh bards and musicians have participated in musical contests called eisteddfodau; this is the equivalent of the Scottish mod and the Irish Fleadh Cheoil. Key types of music include the male vocal choirs, and a type of close harmony singing by groups. The words might be called bluesy, stereotypically referring to downtrodden miners whose lives had been ruined by the collapse of the mining industry in Wales.

Some Welsh performers have mixed traditional influences, especially the language, into imported genres, especially John ac Alun, a Welsh language-country duo who are perhaps the best-known contemporary performers in Welsh. Since the 16th century, however, Welsh culture degenerated and its traditions were denigrated, especially after the rise of Nonconformist religion in the 18th century which emphasised choral singing over traditional instruments.

In the 1860s, however, a revival of sorts began, with the formation of the National Eisteddfod Society, followed by the foundation of London-area Welsh Societies and the publication of Nicholas Bennett's Alawon Fy Nghwlad, a compilation of traditional tunes, in the 1890s.

By the late 1970s, Wales, like many of its neighbors, had seen the beginning of a roots revival, the beginnings of which can be traced back to the 1960s singer Dafydd Iwan. Iwan was instrumental in the creation of a modern Welsh folk scene, and is remembered for fiercely patriotic and nationalistic songs, as well as the foundation of the Sain record label. The Festival Interceltique in Lorient saw the formation of Ar Log, who spearheaded a revival of Welsh fiddling, and continued recording into the 21st century. Welsh folk-rock includes a number of bands, such as Moniars, Blue Horses and Bob Delyn a'r Ebillion.

Sain was founded by Iwan, Brian Morgan Edwards and Huw Jones. Originally, the label signed a bevy of Welsh singers, mostly with overtly political lyrics, eventually branching out into a myriad of different styles. These included country music (John Ac Alun), stadium rock (The Alarm) and classical singers (Aled Jones, Bryn Terfel).

The folk revival picked up energy in the 1980s with Robin Huw Bowen and other musicians achieving great commercial and critical success. Later into the 1990s, a new wave of bands including Fernhill, Bob Delyn A'r Ebyllion, Moniars, Carreg Lafar, Jac y Do and Gwerinos found popularity. Jac y Do, as well as several other bands (including Llawer Mwy), now perform twmpathau all over the country for social gatherings and public events.

Following on from an underground post-punk movement in the 1980s, led by bands like Datblygu, the 1990s saw a considerable flowering of Welsh rock groups (in both Welsh and English languages) such as Catatonia, Manic Street Preachers, Stereophonics, Super Furry Animals, and Gorky's Zygotic Mynci. The 90s also saw the creation of Fflach Tradd, a label which soon came to dominate the Welsh folk record industry with a series of compilations, as well as thematic projects like Ffidil, which featured thirteen fiddlers.

A new century has seen the emergence of a number of new bands, including the Lostprophets, Goldie Lookin' Chain (GLC), The Poppies and Funeral for a Friend.


Cornwall is a region in the southwest United Kingdom which has been historically Celtic, though Celtic-derived traditions had been moribund for some time before being revived during a late 20th century roots revival.

Modern scene

The most famous modern Cornish folk performer is likely the Cornish-Breton family band Anao Atao; other well-known musicians include the singer Brenda Wootton. The 1980s band Bucca is recognized as a major pioneer in the popularization of Cornish music.

The town of Cadgwith (on the Lizard Peninsula) is known for an informal, weekly gathering of singers; their material includes a number of common folk songs, as well as their anthem "The Robbers Retreat". The Camborne Town Band is a long-renowned band, formed in 1841 in a tin mining town. The Cornwall Folk Festival has been held annually for more than three decades.

Folk music

Cornish musicians have used a variety of traditional Celtic instruments, as well as imported mandolins, banjos and accordions. The bodhrán (crowdy crawn in Cornish) has remained especially popular for years. Old inscriptions and carvings in Cornwall (such as at Altarnun church at Bodmin moor) indicate that a line-up at that time might include an early fiddle (crowd), bombarde, bagpipes and harp .

Folk songs include "Sweet Nightingale".

Cornish dance music is especially known for the cushion dance from the 19th century, which was based on an old tune adapted for French court dances. The cushion dance was originally an aristocratic past-time, that eventually crossed over to the poor. The dance's popularity peaked in the early 1820s .

Cornish music festivals called troyl were common, and are analogous to the closely-related fest-noz of the Bretons.

In the later part of the 20th century, the temperance movement became a major part of Cornish culture. Along with it came choral traditions; many folk songs were adapted for carolling, hymnal singing. Eventually, processional bands appeared, leaving behind a legacy of marches and polkas .

Sport has also been an outlet for many Cornish folktunes, and Trelawney in particular has been taken up as a kind of unofficial national anthem by Cornish rugby fans.


The Isle of Man is a small island in between Great Britain and Ireland. Its culture is Celtic in origin, influenced historically by its neighbors, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. The island is not part of the United Kingdom, but Manx music has been strongly affected by English folk song as well as British popular music.

A roots revival of Manx folk music began late in the 20th century, alongside a general revival of the Manx language and culture. The 1970s revival was kickstarted, after the 1974 death of the last native speaker of Manx, by a music festival called Yn Chruinnaght in Ramsey .

Prominent musicians of the Manx musical revival include Emma Christian (Ta'N Dooid Cheet - Beneath the Twilight), whose music includes the harp and tin whistle, and harpist and producer Charles Guard (Avenging and Bright), an administrator at the Manx Heritage Foundation, MacTullagh Vannin (MacTullagh Vannin) and the duo Kiaull Manninagh (Kiaull Manninagh). Modern bands include The Mollag Band and Paitchyn Vannin .


Prior to the 15th century, little can be determined about the character of music on the Isle of Man. There are many carved crosses from this era, but they depict a total of two musicians, one lur player and a harpist. Songs from this era may have had Scandinavian origins; some also bear similarities to Irish and Scottish music. The song "Reeaghyn dy Vannin" (the Manx sword dance), is very similar to a lullaby from the Hebrides and is also said to have been a ritual dance during the Scandinavian era.

The earliest written evidence describes fiddle music and a variety of folk dances. There was no harp tradition as was otherwise prevalent in Celtic music. English folk songs were very popular, later including broadside ballads, jigs and reels. Also extant were traditional Gaelic psalm-singing and other church music.

19th century

Church music is the most documented Manx music of the 19th century. Lining out was a common technique, as it was throughout Britain and Ireland. West Gallery musicians performed for special occasions, using locally-composed or well-known compositions. Organs were a later importation that became standard in most of the island's churches. The first collection of Manx church songs was printed in 1799, and was followed by many other collections.

20th century

Though West Gallery music continued into the 1950s, by the 20th century instrumental music accompanied most worship on the Isle of Man. Later in the 20th century, Manx church musical traditions slowly declined. The legacy of immigration, from England and elsewhere, has brought in many new styles of music to the island.


Brittany is on the northwest coast of France and is a region unique in that country in its Celtic cultural derivation. Though long under the control of France and influenced by French traditions, Brittany has retained and, more recently, revived its own folk music, modernizing and adapting it into folk-rock and other fusion genres.

Brittany has been inhabited by the Celts since about the 6th century, and were independent for a time, though not united politically or, in all likelihood, culturally. Charlemagne, a Frankish king, conquered the Bretons and under his son, Louis the Pious, the Bretons were organized as a single nation under a single ruler, Nominoë. For a time following, Brittany was an independent kingdom then duchy, but then fell back into French control in the 16th century.

Traditional Breton music

Traditional Breton folk music includes a variety of vocal and instrumental styles. Purely traditional musicians became the heroes of the roots revival in the XXth century, most importantly the Goadec sisters. At the end of the XIXth century, the vicomte Theodore Hersart de la Villemarqué's collection of largely nationalistic Breton songs, Barzaz Breiz, was also influential, and was partially responsible for continuing Breton traditions.

Vocal music

Kan ha diskan (roughly translated as call and response singing) is probably the most common type of Breton vocal music, and is the most typical style to accompany dance music. It has become perhaps the most integral part of the Breton roots revival, and was the first genre of Breton music to gain some mainstream success, both in Brittany and abroad.

The lead singer is the kaner, and the second singer is the diskaner. The kaner sings a phrase, and the diskaner sings the last few lines with the kaner, then repeats it alone until the same last few lines, when the kaner again joins in. The phrase's repetition is changed slightly in each execution. Kan ha diskan can be songs about any subject, but must meet one of a number of a meters used in folk dances, mostly line or round. Vocables, or nonsense syllables (typically tra la la la leh no), are sometimes used to drag out lines. Usualy a kan ha diskan lasts from 5 to 20 minutes.

In addition to the Goadecs, the singer Loeiz Ropars largely responsible for maintaining kan ha diskan's vitality in the middle of the 20th century, and the 1960s and 1970s revivalists drew largely on his work. They also venerated performers like Les frères Morvan and Les soeurs Goadec. During the folk revival, aspiring musicians sought out elder teachers to learn kan ha diskan from, generally being viewed as successful when the student can act as diskaner to his mentor. Teachers of this era included Marcel Guilloux and Yann-Fanch Kemener.

It was, however, Ropars adapted the fest-noz, a "night party" in rural communities, for a modern music festival scene, and set the stage for the folk revival.


Kantik ("canticle") is a type of religious hymn that is vocal but includes accompaniment from a variety of instruments, commonly including the harp, pipes and organ. Modern performers include Anne Auffret and the choir Ensemble Choral du Bout du Monde.

Gwerzioù and sonioù =

Gwerzioù and sonioù are the two primary classifications of Breton unacommpanied folk song. Vocals for both types are usually by a soloist. A gwerz is characterized by a very gloomy, morbid tone, and the lyrics typically describe tragic murders and deaths, or lost love.

Performers in this field include Jean Le Meut from Vannes, whose songs are mostly of the sonnioù variety, and are typically pastoral songs concerning love and marriage. More modern singers include Ifig Troadeg, who focuses on lyrically shocking gwerzioù, Patrick Marie, Marthe Vassalo, Klervi Riveère, Mathieu Hamon, Annie Ebrel, Erik Marchand and Denez Prigent.

Chants de marins

The chants de marins are shanties (sailor songs), ballads about shipwrecks, sailing and loss, accompanied by instruments like the fiddle and accordion.

Although it is not a specific music from Brittany, the large number of sailors in this country gave this musical expression a special feature.

The best known modern performers are Djiboudjep and Cabestan, along with numerous but less known bands as Tonnerre de Brest, L'Echo, Les Boucaniers or Taillevent. There are new composers, too : Michel Tonnerre is a well-known modern composer of Chants de marins ; some of his compositions are as famous as ancient songs (Quinze marins, Satanicles, Vire au cabestan, Mon petit garçon).

There is an annual Chants de marins' Contest in the small town of Paimpol (North Brittany) where meet the most famous shantymen of the world, as Stan Hugill. At any harbour's fest in Brittany, it is usual to have a band playing Chants de marins.

Chanteurs engagés

A chanteur engagé (literally ideologically engaged singer) is a singer that is roughly analogous to a singer of protest songs. These songs are usually nationalistic, and are celebrations of Breton culture. This is mostly a modern tradition, though some older songs of this type are known and the tradition stretches into the ancient past of Brittany. Chanteurs engagés are often also singers of more traditional material.

The best known chanteur engagé is Gilles Servat, whose "La Blanche Hermine" is a popular Breton anthem since the 1970s. Other singers include the maverick Glenmor.

Instrumental music Since the Breton folk music revival, Scottish bagpipes and Irish harps have been added to the Breton repertoire, though Brittany has its own piping traditions which have been historically unbroken, as well as other instrumental traditions.


The violon (which can mean either fiddle or violin) is an instrument played across France. Perhaps due to this wide-ranging appeal and lack of regional uniqueness, the instrument was somewhat ignored during the Breton folk revival in the mid-20th century. However, the instrument remains a common part of folk bands today.

The violon has been played in Brittany since at least the 17th century, and was possibly the most widespead instrument in the land by the early 20th century. It was only a few decades later, however, that the accordion nearly wiped the violon out, and most fiddlers joined Irish bands, moved into jazz or otherwise left the instrument. The violon survived, however, and a new generation of performers include Christian Le Maître, Jacky Molard and the six-violin band Archétype.


The clarinet was invented in Germany in the 18th century, and was quickly added to orchestras, from where it moved into marching bands and the amateur musicians in them. By the 19th century, the clarinet had entered a number of folk traditions and spread to many parts of the world. In Brittany the instrument is called a treujenn-gaol (Breton) or a trognon d'chou (French), both of which translate as cabbage stalk.

The Breton clarinet usually has only 13 keys (though sometimes as few as six), in contrast to the more common 24 key instrument used in jazz, classical music and other fields. This is because classical musicians discarded the clarinets with fewer keys as more complex and state-of-the-art pieces.

After a decline in use in traditional music, the instrument comes back, notably in bagads' music.

In Breton music, two clarinetists typically play together, though it also played alongside ensembles with accordions and violins. The clarinet is a common part of Breton jazz bands, along with saxophones and drums, playing both jazz and traditional songs.

The best-known Breton clarinetist is likely Erik Marchand, a former member of both Quintet Clarinettes and Gwerz. The bands L'Echo, Cabestan and Strobinell also use clarinets.


Like many of the 1960s and 70s folk revivals, Brittany spawned a folk-rock scene that used traditional elements in a pop-rock and roll format. Guitars were common by the 1970s, having been a lead instrument since revivalist legend Alan Stivell and guitarist Dan Ar Braz introduced them. Ar Braz was briefly a member (in 1976 and 1977) of English folk-rock pioneers Fairport Convention. He has continued recording, alongside modern guitarists like Jacques Pellen and Soïg Siberil.

Flutes and whistles

The wooden transverse flute entered Brittany via Ireland relatively recently. Revivalist legend Alan Stivell was the first noted Breton whistle player, and was followed by the bombarde prodigy who switched instruments, Jean Michel Veillon. Veillon has been a member of a number of prominent bands, including Pennoù Skoulm, Barzaz, Den and Kornog, as well as producing some influential solo albums. Other modern performers include Youenn Le Berre of Gwendal, who plays traditional airs with a jazzy feeling, Carolyn Langelier of Tud, Yannig Alory of Carré Manchot, Yann Herri Ar Gwicher of Strobinell and Hervé Guillo of Storvan.

In addition to the flute, Alan Stivell brought the tin whistle into several of his groups. They have since been used in bands like Tri Yann, Strobinell, Barzaz and by performer Jean-Pol Huellou, sometimes played in competition with South American and Asian flutes.


Now the most popular Breton folk instrument, the accordion only arrived in large numbers in the country in about 1875, but its popularity grew quickly. Among the reasons for this were the instrument's cheapness and durability, and could be played solo, and was easier to learn. Perhaps the most important reason, though, was the instrument's association with couples dancing like waltzes and mazurkas, which stood in stark contrast to the line and round dances familiar in Breton folk; the perceived sexuality of the instrument's common dances may have made it more attractive. By the 1920s, the instrument was by far more popular than any other.

In the 1930s, chromatic accordions arrived in Brittany and jazz-influenced bands with saxophones, drum kits and banjos were formed. These included Yves Menez's Jazz-Menez and modern groups like Tammles, Maubuissons and Ti-Jaz. Other accordionists include Bruno Le Tron, Patrick Lefebvre, Yann Dour, Yann-Fañch Perroches and Alain Pennec.


Though harps had been common in Brittany since at least the time of Richard the Lionheart, the instrument had disappeared by the 18th century. Early in the 20th century, harps were imported from the British Isles by people like Gildas Jaffrenou, who built a "Breton harp" from the 14th century plans for the Brian Boru model. The plans came into the hands of Jord Cochevelou, who had one built by 1953. The first person to play it in public was Cochevelou's son, who would come to fame as Alan Stivell.

Modern Breton performers include Myrdhin, An Triskell and Kristen Nogues.


There are two types of bagpipes indigenous to Brittany. The veuze is very similar to other western European bagpipes, while the biniou kozh (old biniou in Breton) is much smaller and was used to accompany the bombarde. The biniou, which plays exactly one octave above the bombarde, and bombarde duo (sonner par couple) are an integral and common part of Breton folk music, and was used historically for dancing. The two performers play alternate lines that intersect at the end; the bombarde is not usually played every line, however, and is usually instead played every other line, or in three out of four lines. The Highland bagpipe, which was imported in the late 19th century, is sometimes called biniou braz or pib veur (the large biniou, the large pipe).


The veuze has a chanter of conical bore fitted with a double reed and a drone fitted with one reed, both attached to a mouth-inflated bag. Its sound and design is similar to Flemish pipes and Galician gaita. In the 20th century, the term veuze came to be applied to the diatonic accordion, which had been recently imported, and the use of the bagpipes declined. Though still not common, it has rebounded since the Breton folk revival.

Biniou braz

The biniou braz (literaly the big biniou), or Highlands bagpipe, was imported in the late 19th century, and became popular in the 1930s. It is now used in solo performances, along with a bombarde in a duo, and as part of the bagad, a kind of pipe band.

During World War 2, Breton soldiers saw pipe bands in Scotland, and brought the idea and instrument back with them to Brittany. There, they added bombardes and drums in an ensemble called bagad (company in Breton). Those ensembles gained in popularity in the 1950s, just before the folk revival began.


The biniou is more common, and was originally designed from the veuze in order to play in a higher register. Its pitch is higher and its chanter smaller than any other European bagpipe. Originally, it was common in the Breton-speaking area. It is often played as part of a duo with the bombarde, for dance accompaniment.


The bombarde is a oboe, with six open holes and a seventh that can be closed with a single key. It has been in use since the 15th century, and has been played as part of a duo with bagpipes since the French Revolution. Later, in the 19th century, the biniou was invented, and plays exactly one octave above the bombarde.

Biniou and bombarde duos include Jean Baron and Christian Anneix, Youenn Le Bihan and Patrick Molard and Pierre Crépillon and Laurent Bigot.

Also, the bombarde is now used to play solo music along with an another instrument, often loudy and calm like organ. The sacred music is well served by the clear and strong sound of the bombard, in combination with the traditional organ. The former players Jegat and Yhuel are renowned for this use of the bombard.

Modern Breton music

Undoubtedly the most famous name in modern Breton music is Alan Stivell, who popularized the Celtic harp with a series of albums in the early 1970s, including most famously Renaissance de la Harpe Celtique (1971) and Chemins de Terre (1973). His harp was built by his father, who based it off the plans for the medieval Irish Brian Boru harp; this type was unknown in Brittany before Stivell. He later began playing the bombarde, a double-reeded shawm (or oboe), and began recording Breton folk, Celtic harp and other Celtic music, mixing influences from American rock and roll. Stivell's most important contribution to the Breton music scene, however, has probably been his importation of rock and other American styles, as well as the formation of the idea of a Breton traditional band.

Inspired by Stivell, bands like Kornog and Gwerz arose, adapting elements of the Irish and Scottish Celtic music scene.

The most famous band of Breton music is Tri Yann, from Nantes (their original name is Tri Yann an Naoned, litteraly "the three John from Nantes"). It was born in 1972 and still famous, claiming it produces a progressive rock-folk-celto-medieval music ! It gave some musical gems, now standards, like "Les filles des Forges", "Les prisons de Nantes", "La Jument de Michao", "Pelot d'Hennebont", and new interpretation of Irish music, like "Cad é sin don té sin", "Si mort a mors" (originally An Cailín Rua), "La ville que j'ai tant aimée" (from "The town I loved so well"), "Mrs McDermott" (from the XVIIth-century Irish harpist Ó Carolan), "Kalonkadour" (from "Planxty Irwin").

Another famous band is Soldat Louis, from Lorient. More rock-oriented, it plays modern compositions talking about Brittany and the life on the sea ("Du rhum, des femmes", "Martiniquaise", "Pavillon noir").

Besides folk-rock, recent groups have included world music influences into their repertoires - especially younger groups such as Wig-a-Wag. Hip hop with a Celtic flavour has been espoused by groups such as Manau.

Brittany hosts annual rock and pop festivals, the biggest in Brittany, also in France, being the Festival des Vieilles Charrues (held in late July in Carhaix, Finistère), the Route du Rock (mid-August, Saint-Malo) and the Transmusicales of Rennes, held in early December.


Though the Breton folk revival focused on song in Breton and song in French is widespread, the Pays Gallo area of Brittany has seen a more limited revival in repertoire in Gallo and produces singers and groups including Ôbrée Alie, Yann Dour, while various bands, such as Tri Yann, have a selection of Gallo songs they perform.

Artists Affiliated with Breton music

  • Bagad Bleimor
  • Dan Ar Braz
  • Andrea Ar Gouilh
  • Anne Auffret
  • Anne-Marie Jan
  • Bagad Kemper
  • Yann-Fanch Kemener
  • Bagad Kevrenn Alre
  • Myrdhin
  • Kristen Nikolas
  • Denez Prigent
  • Soldat Louis
  • Alan Stivell
  • An Triskell
  • Tri Yann


The Spanish regions of Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria are clustered together in the northern part of the country. The traditional musics of these areas are most closely related to those of Castille and northern Portugal, though characterized by features including extensive use of bagpipes. Much of what can be said about Galician and Asturian folk music also applies to the closely related Trás-os-Montes region of Portugal.


In recent times, however, many Galician folk musicians have considered Galician music to be at least partially “Celtic” in origin, and whether or not this is the case much modern Galician folk and folk-rock is strongly influenced by Irish and Scottish traditions. Certainly, Galicia is nowadays a strong player on the international Celtic folk scene; and as a result, elements of the pre-industrial Galician tradition have become integrated into the modern Celtic folk repertoire and style. Many, however, claim that the "Celtic" appellation is merely a marketing tag, such as Susana Seivane, a Galician gaiteira, who said "I think (the 'Celtic' moniker is) a label, to sell more. What we do is Galician music".

The ancestors of the Celts lived in Spain after about 600 BC, arriving from the area around the upper Danube and Rhine rivers. Little is known about the population that existed there before then. During the 1st century, the Roman Empire conquered all of modern Spain and Portugal. The Latin language came to dominate the region, and is the ancestor of all the Spanish and Portuguese dialects. With the exception of Basque, all the other regional languages died out. The departure of the Romans in the 5th century led to the invasion by the Germanic Suevi people in the northwest, who left little cultural impact. By the 8th century, the Moors controlled southern Iberia, but never conquered the north, which was the Kingdom of Asturias.

In 810, it was claimed that the remains of Saint James, one of the apostles, had been found in Galicia. The site, which soon became known as Santiago de Compostela, was the premier pilgrimage destination in the European Middle Ages and served as a rallying point for Christians to defend the area against the Moors. This had a monumental effect on the folk culture of the area, as the pilgrims brought with them elements, including musical instruments and styles, from as far afield as Scandinavia.

However, little is known about musical traditions from this era. A few manuscripts are known, such as those by the 13th century poet and musician Martín Codax, which indicate that some distinctive elements of modern music, such as the bagpipes, were common by then.


The Galician folk revival drew on early 20th century performers like Perfecto Feijoo, a gateiro and hurdy-gurdy player. The first commercial recording of Galician music had come in 1904, by a corale called Aires d'a Terra from Pontevedra. The middle of the century saw the rise of Ricardo Portela, who inspired many of the revivalist's performers, and played in influential bands like Milladoiro.

During the regime of Francisco Franco, Galician folk music was suppressed, or forced to adopt lyrics with little for most listeners to connect to. Honest displays of folk life were replaced with rehearsed spectacles of patriotism, leading to a decline in popularity for traditional styles. The appropriation and sanitization of folk culture for the authorities led to a perception that folk music was folklorico. In the late 1970s, recordings of Galician gaita began in earnest following the death of Franco in 1975, as well as the Festival Internacional Do Mundo Celta (1977), which helped establish some Galician bands. Aspiring performers began working with bands like Os Areeiras, Os Rosales, Os Campaneiros and Os Irmáns Graceiras, learning the folk styles; others went to the renowned workshop of Antón Corral at the Universidade Popular de Vigo. Some of these musicians then formed their own bands, like Milladoiro.

In the 1980s, some famous performers began to emerge from the Galician (and Asturian) music scene. The included Uxía, a singer originally with the band Na Lúa, whose 1995 album Estou Vivindo No Ceo and a subsequent collaboration with Sudanese singer Rasha, gained her an international following.

It was Carlos Nuñez, however, who has done the most to popularize Galician traditions. His 1996 A Irmandade Das Estrelas sold more than 100,000 copies and saw major media buzz, partially due to the collaboration with well-known foreign musicians like La Vieja Trova Santiaguera, The Chieftains and Ry Cooder. His follow-up, Os Amores Libres, included more fusions with flamenco, Celtic music (especially Breton) and Berber music.

Other modern Galician gaiteru include Xosé Manuel Bundiño and Susana Seivane. Seivane is especially notable as the first major female gaiteiras, paving the way for many more women in the previously male-dominated field. Galicia's most popular singers are also mostly female, including Uxía, Mari Luz Cristóbal Caunedo, Sonia Lebedynski and Mercedes Peón.

Traditional instruments

Traditional instruments in Galicia include the well-known gaita, a kind of bagpipe, as well as an array of percussion and wind instruments.

Wind instruments

Folk wind instrument of the area include the pito, a kind of conival-bored whistle with seven holes in the front and one in the back, which is played in a similar manner to the gaita punteiro. While it was traditionally made in E-flat, the instrument has been revitalized by Antón Corral, who makes them in D. A transverse flute with six holes is called a requinta; it is similar to fife. It is usually in G, or sometimes a high C. Other wind instruments include chifre, ocarina and the imported clarinet and accordion.

String instruments

Though string instruments are common in most of Spain and Portugal, they were not found in Galician or Asturian folk music until recent years, when guitars, bouzoukis and mandolins were brought to the area. Though Spanish Gypsies are known throughout Spain for guitar-dominated flamenco music, there is little such tradition in Galicia or Asturias; however, modern guitarists like Xesús Pimentel often use strong flamenco influences in their sound. The fiddle has a longer tradition in the area than any other instrument, common since the early 20th century, when blind fiddlers travelled to fairs to play traditional and self-composed songs, as well as pieces by composers like Sarasate. The hurdy gurdy (zanfona) was played in the area for many years, but had mostly died out by the middle of the 20th century before being revived by the likes Faustino Santalices and Xosé Lois Rivas. Though the instrument is now more closely associated with French music, the first recordings of the hurdy gurdy were by Galician Perfecto Feijoo in 1904. A harp had been used in the Middle Ages, but was not revived until the 1970s, when Emilio Cao used the instrument to accompany his compositions. Modern harpists have been encouraged by the use of the Celtic harp in Scotland, Ireland and Brittany, and include Quico Comesaña and Rodrigo Romaní.


Percussion instruments in Galicia include the tamboril, a snare drum that hangs from the players belt and is played with two sticks. It is small, natural-skinned and features snares made usually of gut. Along with the bombo, a bass drum played with one stick, the tambori is typically found as accompaniment to the gaita. The pandeiro (Asturian: panderu) drum is double-headed and square, smiliar to the Portuguese adufe, and usually has some beans that rattle inside it. It is often played alongside the pandeireta, a large tambourine, in small groups or by a single female singer. A pair of vieira shells rubbed together are called cunchas, and are used to accompany dancing, while strips wof wood held between the fingers are called tarrañolas (Asturian: tejoletas). There is also an instrument made from a pole with a frame on the top adorned with tambourine rattles, the charrasco, which is played by rubbing a string along the pole with a stick. Other percussion instruments include the canaveira and carraca.


The bagpipe is associated most closely with the Celtic traditions of Scotland and other countries, but is actually found throughout Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, and India, including Catalonia, Majorca, Leon, Aragon, Huesca, Zamora and Trás-os-Montes. The gaita is, however, a far more integral part of folk traditions in Northern Spain than in these other regions. The term gaita can refer to a variety of different pipes in different areas of Spain and Portugal.

The gaita is a bagpipe, and it is the primary instrument used in both Galician and Asturian folk music. The instrument was common and popular by the 15th century, followed by a decline until the 19th century renaissance of the instrument. The early 20th century saw another decline. Then, beginning in about the 1970s, a roots revival that heralded another renaissance for the gaita, partially sparked by the death of Francisco Franco, who had suppressed regional identities. The folk revival may have peaked in the late 1990s, with the release of acclaimed albums by Galician Carlos Núñez (A Irmandade Das Estrelas) and Asturian Hevia (Tierra De Nadie). Both releases broke records, and Tierra De Nadie sold more than a million copies, outselling any other Spanish record of any genre in the country's history.

In the 18th century, an important school for teaching the gaita was opened in Asturias, created by José Remis Vega. Musicians of that era included the legendary Ramón García Tuero, while the 20th century produced performers like Vega's son, José Remis Ovalle and José Antonio García Suárez. The most well-known modern Asturian gaiteru is Hevia, whose 1998 Tierra De Nadie was a landmark recording that smashes record sales and became the darling of the Spanish music media. Other modern performers and bands include Tejedor and Xuacu Amieva.

The gaita's traditional use include both solo performances or with a kind of drum called the tamboril, (a wooden natural-skinned drum with gut snares), and the bombo, a bass drum.

Galician gaitas come in three main varieties, though there are exceptions and unique instruments. These include the tumbal (B-flat), grileira (D) and redonda (C). The Asturian gaita is usually played in a pareya, along with a tambor. The instrument usually has only one drone in Asturias.


The player inflates the gaita using his mouth and a tube fitted with a non-return valve. The air is driven into the chanter (Galician: punteiro; Asturian: punteru) with his left arm. The chanter has a double reed similar to a shawm or oboe, and a conical bore with seven finger-holes on the front. The bass drone (ronco or roncón) is situated on the player's left shoulder and is pitched two octaves below the key note of the chanter; it has a single reed. Some gaita have up to two more drones, including the ronquillo or ronquilla, which sticks out from the bag and plays an octave above the ronco, or the smaller chillón.

The finger-holes include three for the left hand and four for the right, as well as one at the back for the left thumb. The chanter's tonic is played with the top six holes and the thumb hole covered by fingers. Starting at the bottom and progressively opening holes creates the diatonic octave. Using techniques like cross-fingering and half-holding, the chromatic scale can be created. With extra pressure on the bag, the reed can be played in a second octave, thus giving range of an octave and a half from tonic to top note. It is also possible to close the thumb hole with the little finger of the right hand, thus creating a semitone below the tonic.


Tunes using the gaita are usually songs, with the voice either accompanying the instrumentation or taking turns with it.

The most common type is the muiñeiro, found in both Asturias and Galicia, a sprightly 6/8 rhythm similar to jigs. Other 6/8 Galician tunes use different steps; they include the carballesa, ribeirana, redonda, chouteira and contrapaso.

The alborada is a usually instrumental tune, most often in 2/4, though sometimes 3/4, and is characterized by a series of descending turning phrases. It is used to begin a day's celebrations, and is played at sunrise.

The foliado is a joyful 3/4 song, often played at romerías, community gatherings at a local shrine.

= Songs

The oldest and most well-known form of Galician music is the alalás, a form of chanting that has been associated with Galician nationalism. They share characteristics with Celtic nations as well as Castilian, German, Arab and other Mediterranean-area peoples. Their origin is shrouded in mystery, with some scholars asserting Gregorian chants as a major souce, while others point to Greek or Phoenician rowing songs called alelohuías.

Alalás are arhythmic and based on a single, short theme that repeats the melody, separated by instrumental bagpipes or a cappella vocals. Melodies are based on a continuous drone and are almost always diatonic. Over time, alalas have adapted to include choral polyphony which has added harmony and rhythms (most typically in 2/4 or 3/4 time) to the tradition. The melody is formed by repeating all of its notes. A unique characteristic of alalas is that the first cadence is also the last, and they end in an enlarged coda that fades into a sustained and undefined sound. In contrast to the typically slow alalá there are also swift songs called pandeirada.

Like in Galicia, the most common type of gaita tune in Asturias is the muiñeira, a 6/8 dance song similar to a jig. The 2/4 (or more rarely 3/4) alborado is also found in Asturias; the term signifies a song at or to the sunrise, and is played at the beginning of a day's festivities. Marching tunes called pasucáis are also known, as well as the Aragonese jota, here greatly modified from its original format.

Other Asturian dances include saltón, diana, respingu, pericote, fandangu, pasudoble, marcha procesional, rebudixu, corri-corri, baile de los pollos, giraldilla and xiringüelu.


Baile is the term for social dances, though there are also formation dances like danzas de palillos (stick dances), danzas de espadas (sword dances) and danzas de arcillos (dances with decorated arches). Other popular dance songs in the area include the jota, modified from its Aragonese origins, pasacorredoiras (pasacalles, Asturian: pasucáis), and the imported fandango, mazurka, polka, rumba and pasodoble.


Irish and Scottish music have long been a major part of American music, at least as far back as the 19th century. Beginning in the 1960s, performers like the Clancy Brothers become stars in the Irish music scene, which dates back to at least the colonial era, when numerous Irish immigrants arrived. These weremostly Ulster Protestants, descendants of Presbyterian Scots, whose music was most "closely related to a Lowland Scottish style" .

Irish emigrés created a large number of emigrant ballads once in the United States. These were usually "sad laments, steeped in nostalgia, and self-pity, and singing the praises... of their native soil while bitterly condemning the land of the stranger" . These songs include famous songs like "Thousands Are Sailing to America" and "By the Hush", though "Shamrock Shore" may be the most well-known in the field.

Francis O'Neill was a Chicago police chief who collected the single largest collection of Irish traditional music ever published. He was a flautist, fiddler and piper who was part of a vibrant Irish community in Chicago at the time, one that included some forty thousand people, including musicians from "all thirty-two countries of Ireland", according to Nicholas Carolan, who referred to O'Neill as "the greatest individual influence on the evolution of Irish traditional dance music in the twentieth century" .

In the 1890s, Irish music entered a "golden age", centered on the vibrant scene in New York City. This produced legendary fiddlers like James Morrison and Michael Coleman, and a number of popular dance bands that played pop standards and dances like the foxtrot and quicksteps; these bands slowly grew larger, adding brass and reed instruments in a big band style . Though this golden age ended by the Great Depression, the 1950s saw a flowering of Irish music, aided by the foundation of the City Center Ballroom in New York. It was later joined by a roots revival in Ireland and the foundation of Mick Moloney's Green Fields of America, an organization that promotes Irish music .

The most significant impact of Irish folk music on American styles, however, is undoubtedly that on the evolution of country music, a style which blends Anglo-Celtic traditions with "sacred hymns and African American spirituals". Country music's roots come from "Americanized interpretations of English, Scottish, Scots and Scots-Irish traditional music, shaped by African American rhythms, and containing vestiges of (19th century) popular song, especially (minstrel songs)" . This fusion of Anglo-Celtic and African elements "usually consisted of unaccompanied solo vocals sung in a high-pitched nasal voice, the lyrics set to simple melodies (and using) ornamentation to embellish the melody"; this style bears some similarities to the traditional song form of sean-nós, which is similarly highly-ornamented and unaccompanied .


Celtic music is primarily associated with the folk traditions of Ireland, Scotland and Wales, as well as the popular styles derived from folk culture. In addition, a number of other areas of the world are known for the use of Celtic styles and techniques, including much of the folk music of Canada's Maritimes, especially on Cape Breton Island and in Newfoundland and Labrador.


There are very strong connections between Newfoundland folk music and Irish music, however elements of English folk music and French-Canadian music can be heard within the style.

It should be noted that a very traditional strain of Irish music exists in Newfoundland, especially in the primarily Irish-Catholic communities along the southern shore.

The instrumentation in Newfoundland music includes the button accordion, guitar, violin, tin whistle and more recently the irish bodhrán. Many Newfoundland traditional bands also include bass guitar and drum kit. Other folk instruments such as the mandolin and bouzouki are common especially among Newfoundland bands with an Irish leaning.

Because Newfoundland is an island in the North Atlantic, many of the songs focus on the fishery and seafaring. Many songs chronicle the history of this unique people. Instrumental tune styles include jigs, reels, two steps, and polkas.

Newfoundland musicians and musical groups

Fiddle players: Rufus Guinchard, Kelly Russell, Emile Benoit and Patrick Moran Button accordion players: Minnie White and Harry Hibbs Bodhran players: Fergus O'Byrne and Paddy Mackey Popular Newfoundland traditional music group: Great Big Sea, The Punters, Shanneyganock, Connemara, The Masterless Men, and Celtae Irish music band in Newfoundland: Ryan's Fancy

Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island

Cape Breton is internationally known for unusual styles of Cape Breton fiddling, which is derived from Scottish techniques. The island has produced traditional music-based popular performers like John Allen Cameron.

Prince Edward Island

Prince Edward Island has long been associated with traditional Celtic music

From: http://en.wikipedia.org/

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