Alan Stivell was born in Riom, Auvergne (France) on January 6, 1944. In 1953, Alan began playing the instrument at the age of nine under the tutelage of his father and Denise Megevand, a concert harpist. Alan also learned Celtic mythology, art, and history, as well as the Breton language, traditional Breton dance, and the Scottish bagpipe and the bombarde, a traditional Breton instrument, from the oboe family. Alan began playing concerts at eleven years and studying traditional Breton, English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh folk music, also learning the drum, Irish flute, and tin whistle. He won several Breton traditional music competitions in the Bleimor Pipe band. Alan spent his childhood in Paris, with its cosmopolitan influences.
His first recording came in 1960 with ‘Musique gaelique’, a single that was followed by the LP ‘Telenn Geltiek’ in 1964. In 1970, Stivell released his first hits, the single ‘Broceliande’ and the album ‘Reflets’, both on the Philips record label. He became closely associated with the burgeoning Breton roots revival, especially after the release of the purely instrumental 1971 album ‘Renaissance of the Celtic Harp’, which won one of the most famous awards in France, the prize of the Académie Charles Cros.
On 28 February 1972, Stivell performed a concert in the Olympia theater, the most famous music hall in Paris, where Alan and his band played music combining traditional Celtic music with modern sounds (electric guitar, drums, etc.). This concert made Stivell and his music well known throughout France. His new found fame propelled him to tour across France, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. He continued recording, and published a collection of Breton poetry in 1976. With his ‘Symphonie Celtique’ (1980), he mixed for the first time elements of rock, a symphonic orchestra, Celtic instruments and such non-European ethnic elements as Berber vocalist Djourha and sitarist Narendra Bataju.
The folk music revival faded somewhat in the 1980s. Though Alan Stivell still maintained a popular following, he did not reach the heights of popularity that he had in the 1970s. He continued touring in many parts of the world and recording for a loyal fanbase. In 1989, Alan appeared as a guest musician on Kate Bush’s The sensual world album, on the tracks Between A Man And A Woman and The Fog.
In the 1990’s, Alan recorded with the French singer Laurent Voulzy, Irish traditional performer Shane MacGowan and Senegalese singer Doudou N’Diaye Rose. His 1993 album included a collaboration with Kate Bush entitled Kimiad. His records in the late 1990’s contained more pronounced rock elements, and he performed at a rock festival called ‘Transmusicales’ in Rennes. He continued working with a variety of musicians, inviting Paddy Moloney (of The Chieftains), Jim Kerr (of Simple Minds), Khaled and Youssou N’Dour to be in his very international ‘1 Douar / 1 Earth’ album.
In 2002, Alan Stivell released ‘Au-delà des mots’, his twenty-first LP. The album featured him playing six different harps, specially dedicated to the Celtic Harp Revival’s 50th anniversary. In 2004, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Celtic harp revival in Brittany, he wrote a book in collaboration with Jean-Noël Verdier: ‘Telenn, la harpe bretonne’. He continues to record and release new albums, his most recent release being ‘AMzer: Seasons’ (2015).