Glorious musical journey captured in Kaleidoscope

French-born, classically trained harpist Floriane Blancke moved to Ireland in 2006 to pursue a career in Irish music. She has lived in Kinvara for the past eight years.
French-born, classically trained harpist Floriane Blancke moved to Ireland in 2006 to pursue a career in Irish music. She has lived in Kinvara for the past eight years.

Arts Week with Judy Murphy

“I didn’t want it to be all traditional, because that isn’t me,” says harpist, singer, piano-player and fiddler, Floriane Blancke of her debut solo album, Kaleidoscope, a gorgeous mix of Irish tunes, classical music, folk songs, and Floriane’s own compositions.

The Frenchwoman has lived in Ireland for more than a decade, mostly in Kinvara, having been drawn here by a love of traditional music. In that time, she has gained a reputation as a singer and performer and shared stages with the likes of Patti Smith, Sharon Shannon and Shane MacGowan.

But there’s no sense of self-congratulation as she explains how Kaleidoscope came about.

“Over the years, I’ve met so many people who ended up as friends,” says Floriane (Flo). “And in Kinvara, we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to music. There’s a small community and we all get on.”

That small community includes fiddle player Tony Trundle who first encouraged Flo to embark on a project that would give “an insight into my musical journey through the years”. Producer and multi-instrumentalist Brendan O’Regan, also locally based, became her co-producer on Kaleidoscope as well as contributing musically.

Other guests include flautist Joanie Madden, accordion player Dermot Byrne, guitarist Garry O Brain, the Waterboys’ Trevor Hutchinson on double bass and Jimmy Higgins of the Stunning on percussion.

Having Joanie Madden on Kaleidoscope was apt, as she had been an early influence on Flo, whose first exposure to traditional Irish music came about by accident. While visiting a friend, she heard a compilation tape which included trad music. Flo, a student of classical harp and piano, was intrigued. The classical harp is a relatively common in France, says Flo, and these days, more people are playing Celtic harp, especially in Brittany, which has strong cultural links with Ireland.

A while later, as a student at the Conservatoire of Bordeaux, Flo popped into a health-food shop and heard more Irish music.

“They had a CD with Joanie Madden [founder of Cherish the Ladies]. I loved it. I went to the library and they had CDs there. I kept searching and learning more.”

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.