Girl from a small island proud to show off roots
Friday, October 31, 2008
GROWING up on the small Outer Hebridean island of North Uist amid a Gaelic-speaking community, it's tempting to say Julie Fowlis had music in her blood from the start.
But the 29-year-old, who can also count Björk, KT Tunstall, Ricky Gervais, Radiohead's Phil Selway and Mark Radcliffe among her diverse range of famous fans, avoids over-romanticising her Scottish roots.
"I suppose, as any child would be, I was not really aware of what was around me at the time," she says.
"It's only as an adult, looking back, that I see my incredible upbringing differently and realise how instrumental it was in what I ended up doing in my life for a job.
"I was a bilingual child, always hearing the two languages, Gaelic and English, and singing or speaking in them at school and at home. And in our community especially, there is a lot of piping, so I started to play the chanter when I was very, very small before learning to play the full bagpipes.
"I didn't really think anything of it until I was much older and moved away and realised not everybody does that."
Entering national Gaelic singing competitions as a girl and singing at a ceilidh here and an old people's home there, she soon developed her voice, later gaining national recognition with the band Dòchas at the 2004 Scots Trad Music Awards in 2004, where she was also nominated for the Best Gaelic Singer award.
These early successes were only a taster of what was to follow.
In 2005, her first solo album, Mar a Tha Mo Chridhe (As My Heart Is) soon earned her international acclaim.
Meanwhile the 2007 follow-up, Cuilidh, became a worldwide bestseller in both the traditional and world music charts, earning her a nomination at the 2007 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards for Folk Singer of the Year – the title which this year she won.
Among the latest music that can be downloaded from her website today is the newly-released album Dual and her cover of the Beatles's Blackbird, recorded for Mojo Magazine.
With another full-length album in the pipeline and presenting slots on BBC Scotland's Travelling Folk and Global Gathering programmes, Julie has become something of an unwitting ambassador for both the kind of music she sings and the language she sings it in.
"It's very important that the Gaelic tradition is continued," she says.
"I feel quite frustrated that I went through the whole school system knowing very little about the language, where it came from and its history, and I think it's very sad, actually.
"I hope that's something that is going to change, and I think now is a very exciting time for the language.
"We are definitely on an upward curve, albeit still quite far down it.
"So I'm really happy if I can do anything that can further the language.
"It feels like a weight on my shoulders, in a good way, knowing that each time I go to a place and perform there will be people who have never heard it before. With that comes a responsibility to do right by it by presenting it in the right way."
Anyone curious to see who Phil's been praising, check out the singer's 2007 Jools Holland appearance over on youtube.