Gilles Servat

The unassuming saviour

Picture 1 Gilles Servat

A humble servant to the Breton cause, Gilles Servat is one of Brittany’s most prominent singers. Although you wouldn’t think it to look at this unassuming man, his song La Blanche Hermine has become a staple, chorused by Breton children for over 40 years. It’s the official anthem for the entire region, and the man who wrote it deserves an official accolade.

 

Like his mentor Alan Stivell, Gilles Servat wasn’t born under the Breton flag. It was in Tarbes that the story began for this future bard, whose ancestral home was Nantes. The journey from Bigorre back to Bigouden only began when Gilles Servat made a trip to a Breton island that stirred memories of his roots. This pilgrimage to the Isle of Groix took place in 1969, not in sackcloth and ashes but instead on streets paved with gold.

A gilded pilgrimage

Singer and songwriter, Gilles Servat is first and foremost a militant poet and a defender of Breton culture and universal causes. What are his greatest artistic achievements? La Blanche Hermine, of course. This song, written in 1972, has become the official anthem for an entire region. But there was also the Parisian bar Ti Jos, a favourite night-time haunt for Bretons in Paris, where he held the musical reins for two years. Next, an impressive discography, where at his peak he was producing an album a year, moving with subtle sleight of hand from poetic rhyming to political sparring. A perfect portrayal of his feelings, Breton through and through, his album Comme Je Voudrai... lets us glimpse the oily black bitterness left on Brittany’s beaches by the rabid foam that gushed from the Erika.

Riding the Breton wave at the beginning of the 90s to become part of the L’Héritage des Celtes group alongside Dan Ar Braz, Gilles Servat is much more than just a humble servant of Brittany. Like Glenmor, like Alan Stivell, you have to see him for what he truly is – a saviour of an entire heritage, who richly deserves his place on the podium.