Speaking the Language of Song: Julie fowlis

Somehow I was lucky enough to catch the attention of Julie Fowlis, the perpetually busy musician! Constantly busy with touring and kids, she’s not easy to track down – but it was definitely worth it. Keep reading for her thoughts on family, traditions, and more.


When did you start performing?

I have been performing at some level or other since I was very small I suppose.  I would sing or play at ‘cèilidhs’ (small, informal gatherings) when I was very young, and was performing on a professional, albeit a part-time basis, by the time I was in my late teens.

What made you choose the Scottish Gaelic tradition?

It’s what is in me!  It wasn’t a conscious decision, it’s just what I felt most drawn to.

Are there different variations of Gaelic, like there are different dialects in spanish?

Yes. Within Scotland we have regional dialects, but we also have very close connections to Irish and Manx, which all stem from the same language.  They are different enough now to be considered different languages, but they are really one and the same.

It’s been said that you might be the first Scottish Gaelic crossover ever; how does that feel? Is this what you imagined when you started performing?

Not at all. In many ways I was always a reluctant performer; I always loved music, but I didn’t always love the stage and being the centre of attention.  I had to really learn those stage skills just as you learn any craft – and I am still learning!  The love of the music kept me coming back to the stage though, and eventually now – 20 odd years later – here I am touring as a professional musician and singer.  Who’d have thought it…

You did a cover of Blackbird by the Beatles but in Gaelic, which I thought was really cool. I think the best part about that is that so many people know the words, so even doing it in another language, people understood exactly what you were doing. What inspired you to do that, and would you do something like it again?

We were invited to re-record that song for an album produced by London music magazine MOJO which was a celebration of 40 years of the Beatles White album.  It was interesting, challenging and fun to work on, and we loved it so much we still sing it now.  It has become part of our repertoire – alongside songs from 18th century Scotland and pipe tunes.

Have you seen the movie Brave? Who’s your favorite character?

I have indeed.  Merida, of course…

How does travelling around the world to perform affect your family dynamic? In other words, how do you make it work?

It’s a constant juggling act!  But my husband and I have it pretty much down to a fine art now.  Packing, unpacking, entertaining children on tour, finding good places to play, explore and eat on the road.  I am lucky that the children enjoy travelling, find the touring an adventure and simply want to be with us, so as long as they are happy – I am happy.

Julie Promo 2014 Michelle Fowlis -Ashton-Lights7MB

What got you into doing radio shows?

I was invited to host some of my own shows here on the BBC in Scotland.  This has led to many things over the years, and I have presented for many companies and channels, including across BBC Radio and TV stations in Scotland, England, TG4 in Ireland and SKY.  It’s good to work on other things other than performing music, and I enjoy the challenge.

You seem to be incredibly invested in your native traditions. Why do you think it’s important to preserve those traditions?

They make us who we are.  I really believe that.  They contribute so much to our sense of self and sense of place.  In terms of the language there is an oft used phrase ‘tìr gun teanga, tìr gun anam’ which means ‘a land without a language is a land without a soul’.  The same applies to the music.  Traditional language and music connect people and communities, and more importantly connects them with their landscape in a very meaningful and positive way.

On October 10th you’ll be performing at the Doctorow Center for the Arts in Hunter, NY. Did you know that’s only about half an hour away from East Durham, the Emerald Isle of the Catskills?

I had heard about it!  We are very excited to visit.

Julie Fowlis will be performing in the Doctorow Center for the Arts on Saturday, October 10th at 8PM. Reserve your seats by calling 518-263-2063 or visit our ticketing website…this is a show you won’t want to miss.