DINGWALL-based Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis found herself the subject of unusual media interest after scooping the prestigious New Horizon Award for 2006 at the BBC folk awards. It brought her the kind of national attention not normally dished out to Gaelic singers, and made her the most high-profile representative of her medium since Capercaillie briefly stormed the UK singles chart in the early 1990s. The award brought increased expectations along with that attention, which cannot have made the notorious difficult second album any easier to negotiate. The fulsome reception accorded to Cuilidh on its recent release suggests that she not only surmounted the problem, but did so in a triumphant fashion. I dont know about triumphant, but we were very chuffed with the response to the album, she said, laughing. It felt like an even more personal project than the first one, and the problem was that I could have kept working on it for ever I didnt want to let it go at all. I think Id be lying if I said I didnt feel a bit of extra pressure going into the studio on the back of the award and what people were saying, but I tried just to push it all to the back of my mind and concentrate on doing what we wanted to do with the album. Apart from anything else, I reckoned that was the way we were going to produce the best results anyway. As with her first solo album, the Uist-born singer drew heavily on her native island for material, and assembled a fine band in the studio, led by her new husband Eamon Doorley (the couple married in May). Her aim was to create a sound that would translate readily to the bands stage performances, rather than a hi-tech extravaganza that could not be reproduced live. We wanted a sound that people who heard the CD and then came to a live show would recognise, and vice versa. There are always a couple of things that you can do on a recording that you cant necessarily replicate live, and that is actually quite nice things like having the luxury of harmony singers or guest musicians. Basically, it is all do-able on stage, and it is a great feeling now to get out of the studio and be performing that music live. I think any musician will tell you that it is always great to get out there with new material, and we are really enjoying it. The singer toured extensively in March and April around the release of the recording, and then took a break in May, around the time of the wedding. The couple are considering their options for buying a house at the moment, and are also giving some thought to achieving a more balanced relationship between work and time away than has been possible in the whirlwind of activity of late. We are looking to try to achieve a slightly more sensible balance. The last 18 months have been pretty frantic. There were a lot of opportunities that came in the wake of the award that we felt we had to grab, and we were in a position of having no ties, so we were able just to go and do them. It wont be like that forever. It has been great. That stint on the road in the spring was the longest sustained period of touring she has undertaken, and she saw it as a valuable experience. Its good in terms of testing your stamina, both in singing and in just being able to cope with the travelling and all the rest of it. And then it was lovely to get a break from it, and come back to it fresh again. The singer has freely admitted in the past that she was initially a very reluctant performer who found being on stage a nerve-wracking experience. She saw her likely involvement in music in a behind-the-scenes capacity, and took up a post looking after traditional music development in schools around Ross-shire with Feis Rois, which brought her to Dingwall. Nonetheless, she fou-nd herself increasingly in demand as a performer, and eventually had to make the choice between her full-time job and launching off into the scarier prospect of a stage career. I reached a point whe-re I was gigging as much as my pals who were full-time musicians, and holding down a job as well. It was getting silly, not to say very bad for my health and sanity! I think I do find it easier, and maybe its a different kind of nerves now. In times past I would be nervous about whether or not I could actually get up and perform at all, whereas now its maybe more about level of performance. I think I actually do enjoy performing now, and Id probably be miserable if I couldnt do it. It can be a hard job, but I know that doing a 9-to-5 can also be very hard, and Im determined to enjoy it. Fowlis will be appearing at the festival club as part of InvernessFest. In addition to Doorley (also a member of the respected Irish band Dan), she will be joined for the occasion by another local boy, fiddler Duncan Chisholm, as well as guitarist Ross Martin and the ubiquitous bodhran player Martin ONeill. Martin is now an official member of Fowliss other group, the otherwise all-female Dchas, who will be appearing at the Blas festival in September. I think Dchas have suffered a bit from everyones commitments to our personal projects, but we all love doing it, she said. We can only really do it in little pockets of the year. We had some gigs in June, and it was brilliant to get together again. We are doing Blas, including Nairn, and we are touring in February and March next year. We are gathering material for the next album as well we had been talking about making that late last year, but that was a bit optimistic! I wondered if there were certain songs that struck her as right for her own projects and others for Dchas. There are some songs that seem right for one rather than the other, depending on the way I hear the song in my mind, she said. I may feel a particular song needs the harmony vocals we have in Dchas, for example, where all the girls are great singers. Others I may hear more as solo songs, and I might earmark them for my own band. When I made my first solo album we were making a Dchas album at the same time, and that was very difficult Ive learned now that we need to keep them apart! Fowlis is also in demand as a guest contributor on other peoples projects, and was scheduled to go to Brittany to perform some Breton songs with her own Gaelic lyrics prior to the Inverness gig. She is also repeating her involvement in John McCuskers Under One Sky project, premiered at Celtic Connections and due for a repeat at the Cambridge Folk Festival. Its a lovely thing to do, and I think getting involved in other peoples projects is really interesting, and also helps take your mind off getting too fixated on your own stuff, she commented. John had a great bunch of people on the project, and Im really looking forward to doing it again and maybe knowing it a bit better this time! It was a bit of a rush. * See Julie Fowlis at InvernessFest Club in Falcon Square on Monday.
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