Gilles Servat
Last updated:  3/24/2005

Gilles Servat, singer-songwriter, extraordinary poet, one of the leaders of the Breton folk music movement, author, internationalist, gifted with a rich, resonant, expressive voice, and an equally compelling gift for associating himself with the best in celtic music over the last thirty years....

Servat, native of Brittany, France, is also the adopted son of Ireland and Scotland, whose folksongs he has both translated beautifully, and sung in their original.  That is, even those immune from the lure of the French language or the mysteries of the celtic tongues will find room for Servat's interpretations of "The Lake at Ponchartrain" (in French) or "Raglan Road" (in English) from his most recent CD, "Comme je voudrai" ("as I will" or "the way I choose"). 

In fact, the song title itself is a tribute to Servat's internationalism:  "I will sing the way I choose, I will sing just what I choose, and in the language that I choose."  His most famous song, "La Blanche Hermine" (the white ermine), a song of passionate Breton nationalism, was misinterpreted by right-wing groups to the point that he had to issue a counter-CD, "Touche Pas à la Blanche Hermine" (keep your hands off "La Blanche Hermine").  He has sung with Algerian pop star "Idir," Irish folk enchantress Karen Matheson (of Capercaille), Irish traditionalist Ronnie Drew, the incomparable An Triskell harpists, the twin Quéffeléants, and, of course, Breton folk-rock superstars Tri Yann.  His music spans traditional Breton folk songs, to new songs in Breton, to angry songs of political protest (most recently, an anthem against the oil tanker "Erika" that created a "black tide" on Breton beaches), to breathtaking, exquisitely written original poems in French set to equally perfect music.  Lyrics to four wonderful songs can be viewed on this site:  "La blanche hermine," "Kalondour," "Je vous emporte dans mon coeur," and "Le moulin de Guérande."  Reproduced from sources on the web, without permission, and to be removed upon request... but how else to acquaint the unfamiliar public with his work?  Other lyrics are reprinted on (see the drop-down menu).

His work is too lengthy for me to list here.  Early albums from the 70's and 80's are out of print, but can be obtained from online sources such as  CD issues can be obtained from overseas sources, by and large, such as the French sources or, with occasional titles available at cdnow and other English-speaking sources.

I was privileged to attend a rare solo concert by M. Servat, "guitare sèche" (solo acoustic), on March 7, 2005 in the XXième arrondissement in Paris, and will never forget the intensity of his performance or his wry politcal humor as he sang (with audience participation) an updated version of the George Brassens' classic "roi des cons."

Sources of Information:

Brief biography in French, on
Discussion in English from a chapter of Prof. Stephen Winick's marvelous on-line and illustrated article on Breton folk music (start here).
Supposed Breton dictionary

Of course, the best source for information is Servat's own site,  Caution:  it opens with an MP3 download of the song "Erika'" about the wreck of the tanker "Erika" that spilled gallons of crude on the beaches of Brittany.

CDs I own, anyway (* = favorite)

* Comme je voudrai (2001)
Gilles Servat (1972, reissue 1999)
* Touche pas à la blanche hermine (1998) (live)  (with Ronny Drew)
Sur les quais de Dublin (1996)
* A-raok mont kuit (1994) (most songs in Breton)
Les albums de la jeunesse (1994)
Mad in Sérénité (1994)
* L'albatros fou (with An Triskell) 1991

Bretagnes à Bercy (1999) (Live; 3 Servat tracks + 3 with others)
with Idir on Identités (1999) (one track)

Full discography:

special thanks to Jean-Jacques Pik, who introduced me to the music of Gilles Servat