Bringing Anne de Bretagne back

Finest names in folk-rock music from the UK and France are gathering to perform the rock opera

Finest names in folk-rock music from the UK and France are gathering to perform the rock opera Anne de Bretagne

A LINE-UP of some of the finest names in folk-rock music from the UK and France are gathering to perform the rock opera Anne de Bretagne, telling of the woman who was twice queen of France.

Written by Breton film-maker and composer Alan Simon, it features musicians from Fairport Convention, Jethro Tull, Supertramp, Barclay James Harvest and Breton band Tri Yann.

They performed the sumptuous stage show in Anne’s birthplace, Nantes chateau, last year, but demand has been so great they are now taking it on the road, with performances in Brittany and Paris.

Alan Simon says he knew little of the region’s history and Celtic links as he was growing up; he just knew he was privileged to be in a “land where the sea, the earth and the sky merge”.

It was not until he had gone round the world and learnt about many other different cultures that he realised he knew little of his own culture.

His first bid to right the balance was Excalibur, which he calls the Celtic “foundation myth” at the heart of society’s dreams “for unity, a balance between man and nature, between man and God”.

The CD Excalibur, La légende des Celtes, was released in 1999 by Sony and is still one of the 10 top-selling albums in France. It led to a concert in Rennes and the DVD of that has sold 200,000 copies in France alone.

Anne de Bretagne owes its origins to three musicals he wrote later to world-wide acclaim: Umoja, on the story of Africa and apartheid; O Gengis, telling of the Mongol nomads and Gaia, which was a ground-breaking project for environmental awareness.

For Gaia he gathered 300 musicians of the calibre of the “fifth Rolling Stone” Billy Preston, Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, Mick Fleetwood and Jeremy Spencer of Fleet-wood Mac for the album and then played five nights in Zurich in front of 60,000.

Exhausted, Simon returned to Paris and then Brittany, where he chanced on the reliquary of Anne de Bretagne in Nantes and realised that “in spite of the hundreds of streets, hotels and schools that carried her name, no one knew her story”; so he decided to tell it.

With 13 singers and 200 musicians, it was another colossal project and he says he used his passion to pull them together; plus they liked the music and the aim.

“They enjoy playing together and everyone puts in their best efforts. The key is sharing. Far too many artists are isolated in their little bubble, people telling them what they want to hear, and the creativity slumps.”

Dave Pegg, bassist with Fairport Convention and formerly with Jethro Tull, says the musical energy at the shows is electric: “We all enjoy ourselves and it is an incredible production. It is a lot more rocky this time round with the addition of Martin Barre of Jethro Tull and John Helliwell, the saxophonist from Supertramp. It is a much more mature production.”

Pegg has been at his home in Merlevenez relearning his parts, but says the production rehearsal for this version of Anne should be better than at the chateau last year, where they were outside in 86F heat with no cover.

“I felt sorry for Fairports’ guitarist Alan Nicol who was out in the full sun playing guitar in full medieval costume.”

The Paris concert is on May 18, 2011 in the Casino de Paris.

Details, music and pictures at www.annavreizh.com

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