Saturday, February 22, 2014

Julie Fowlis: Every Story

Funny stories, lighthearted ones, sad tales and mystical ones, stories from friends and strangers, from landscape, from history, stories of love and joy, peace and challenge, stories we tell ourselves about ourselves: telling stories is the way we share and connect and understand who we are and the way we live. These stories are told through word and gesture, through images that are direct and those which hold mystery, through tone and voice and melody and harmony -- though music.

Those are ideas which are at the heart of Gach Sgeul - Every Story from Julie Fowlis. Fowlis sings in Scottish Gaelic. If you are thinking wait, that’s not a language I know, have no worries,you will hear stories in the music Fowlis and her musical friends make.

That is one of the gifts Fowlis shares with others you meet here along the music road: she connects stories that come from centuries ago to stories we tell and lives we live today. There are feelings of love and sorrow, laughter, friendship, joy, questions asked of life which may indeed have been framed in different ways and in different languages but remain the threads that connect us each to the other, and to those who lived before.

Fowlis is from North Uist in the Western Isles off the north coast of Scotland. There she grew up hearing songs from tradition bearers of Gaelic song alongside chart hits on the radio. The Western Isles are also a place where English and Scottish Gaelic live along side each other as languages of day to day life, and a place were songs and stories, as Fowlis writes in the liner notes for Gach Sgeul, “are... signposts telling us where, and who, we have come from.”

The stories Fowlis tells through these songs range from the tale of a woman who encounters the water horse, a creature of myth, and begs him to allow her to go home safely an unharmed in the song whose title in English becomes Love Let Me Home to My Mother. There’s a a lively dance of puirt a buel, mouth music, called Danns’ a Luidegan Odhar, whose words do not make a lot of sense in Gaelic or English but whose rhythm and melody will linger in your mind and have you imagining dancers stepping along, and perhaps trying out a few steps of your own.

Do Chalum, a spare, economical lament for a well loved brother, is a piece which Fowlis gives grace by understatement. There is a poem of love, choice, and loss by one of Scotland’s most well known writers, Sorley Maclean, become a song set to a melody composed by Donald Shaw, whose music you have met here along the music road before. The tales wind and intertwine through more songs, lullabyes, dance music, a song in praise of Clan Donald of Skye, some of them pieces Fowlis has knows since those days growing up in North Uist and others research in music archives and the gifts of other musicians have brought to her door. They are songs and stories, Fowlis finds, “ that help us shape our identity and give us a sense of belonging. They make us laugh, move us to tears, and give us moral guidance.”

To conclude the recording, the mystery of the Western Isles -- and other parts of Scotland and the world -- comes into play with two songs Fowlis has chosen based on ancient tales about the lives of seals and how they connect, perhaps, to human kind. Through it all, Fowlis sings with a natural storyteller’s grace and intelligence, varying her choices to suit the stories and melodies, respecting tradition while adding her own part to it.

In this she is well supported and partnered by regular band mates Eamon Doorley on guitar and bouzouki-guitar, Duncan Chisholm on fiddle, and Tony Byrne on guitar, and guests including Donald Shaw, Michael McGoldrick, Karen Matheson, and the women who make up RANT, Bethany Reid, Jenna Reid, Lauren MacColl, and Sara-Jane Summers. aside: In case you are still wondering about Scottish Gaelic, Fowlis offers lyric and brief stories of the songs in both Gaelic and English in the liner notes booklet.

Photographs of Julie Fowlis at Celtic Connections are by Kerry Dexter. They were made with permission of the artist, the festival, and the venues involved. They are copyrighted. Thank you for respecting this.

You may also wish to see
Brave the movie, Julie Fowlis, and music
Julie Fowlis: Live at Perthsire Amber
Dual: Julie Fowlis & Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh
Cathie Ryan: Through Wind and Rain

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Anonymous Sheryl said...

Your descriptions tell such a powerful story, much like the music you tell about.

8:37 PM  

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