HEBRIDEAN singer Julie Fowlis will make history this week when she becomes the first Gaelic artist to be honoured alongside pop and rock stars at the Scottish Music Awards.
Fowlis, who was chosen to sing on the soundtrack of the Disney-Pixar film Brave, will join previous award winners including Annie Lennox, Edwyn Collins, Emeli Sandé, Paolo Nutini, Simple Minds and Wet Wet Wet when she is recognised for her services to the traditional music scene in Scotland at the ceremony in Glasgow later this week.
The 35-year-old singer – who is seen as a modern-day torchbearer for the ancient language – will also be performing with her band at the 16th annual awards, known as the “Tartan Clefs”, which raise funds for the music therapy charity Nordoff-Robbins Scotland.
Born in North Uist, Fowlis has been at the forefront of the traditional music scene in Scotland for the best part of a decade, after playing with “funk-folk” band Tartan Amoebas and traditional outfit Dòchas.
A five-times winner at the Scots Trad Music Awards, she came to wider prominence after being named best newcomer at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2006, going on to win the overall title of best singer two years later.
She is one of the handful of folk artists to be honoured at the event, along with the likes of veteran singers Dougie MacLean, Ronnie Browne and Barbara Dickson, and accordionist Jimmy Shand.
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Other previous winners have included Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson, Sharleen Spiteri of Texas and singer-songwriter Amy MacDonald.
Fowlis, who had a starring role in the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, told Scotland on Sunday: “It really does feel like a bit of a breakthrough to be asked to these awards.
“It maybe shows a narrowing of those gaps that used to exist between various genres in Scottish music.
“I think that’s happening across the board and there is a bit more of an equal footing and equal opportunities for musicians playing in different genres, and that has to be a good thing.
“When I was just starting out, the awards I got were really pivotal in getting noticed by certain folk, especially radio DJs. They really gave you a platform that you normally wouldn’t have.
“One of the most special awards I’ve been given was for being an ambassador for Gaelic at the Royal National Mod, which was a huge privilege for something that I do in my everyday work.
“I’m not trying to be any kind of trailblazer for Gaelic, not at all; I play music for mostly selfish reasons, because I love it and I’m really lucky to get the chance to do it.
“Being singled out like that and having a sense that, actually, what you do has an effect on other people, particularly the younger generation that come after you, it really made me stop and think.
“But I don’t feel like any kind of ambassador, I really don’t.”
Fowlis’s appearance at the awards ceremony will come at a time when Gaelic has arguably never been more prominent in Scottish culture, thanks to the advent of BBC Alba, which recently launched a major new drama new series, Bannan, the raised profile of the Royal National Mod in recent years, and its status at major events like Celtic Connections, Glasgow’s biggest music festival.
Fowlis, who studied music at Strathclyde University and Skye’s Gaelic college, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, is in no doubt that there has been a renaissance in the language over the past decade.
She added: “I think there’s been a cumulative effect from many years of hard work, with things like Gaelic education, the Feis movement, places like the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and Strathclyde University offering music and language courses hand in hand.
“All these things together contribute to a greater sense of confidence in the language and a bit more connectedness, especially with younger ones who are coming to the language for the first time, or who have the language but in a geographical sense are scattered. It is easier than it ever was to connect with fellow Gaels. You really need the whole spectrum and have support for the language across all of these things to make it a living, thriving language of everyday use.”
Music promoter Donald MacLeod, fundraising chairman of Nordoff Robbins Scotland, said: “We’re all massive fans of Julie’s work, alongside musical greats like Björk and Radiohead.
“Julie is an outstanding example of traditional Scottish music, having honed her skills as a folk singer and multi- instrumentalist since she was a child, and has gone on to achieve international success with her contribution to Disney Pixar’s Brave soundtrack. For these reasons, it is a privilege to have Julie perform at this year’s awards, and an honour to recognise her as part of the Scottish music industry.”
Ian Smith, portfolio manager for music at Creative Scotland, said: “An artist of international standing, Julie engages beautifully with her audiences exemplifying the oral tradition which is at the core of our nation’s culture. We are proud to be associated with Julie and with the Tartan Clef Awards.”
The Scottish Music Awards are held on 29 November.
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