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A dream come true as Phamie makes a date with a legend

HARPIST Phamie Gow could hardly believe her eyes as she scrolled down the lengthy text message from her dad. He had just had a call inviting his young Edinburgh-based daughter to perform at New York's famous Carnegie Hall with Oscar nominated composer Philip Glass.

The 28-year-old had met the composer of soundtracks for The Hours, starring Nicole Kidman, and Martin Scorsese's Kundun, through a mutual friend just weeks before. But working with Glass, who has been cited as an influence by rock stars David Bowie and Brian Eno, was something of which Phamie, a talented composer herself, had only dreamed.

Speaking from Montpellier, France, where she is giving masterclasses in the harp, Phamie exudes excitement: "It was like something out of a dream when my dad texted me. I'd always hoped that I would one day have the opportunity to play at Carnegie Hall. It will be my biggest gig so far."

Appearing in next Wednesday's Tibet benefit concert, directed by Glass and featuring stars including Ray Davies of The Kinks, is the latest high in Phamie's career, which has seen the self-taught harpist rise from playing at a school concert aged 12, to performing on Broadway with hit Celtic tap show Tapeire.

It was her co-star in Tapeire, fiddle player Ashley MacIsaac, a long-time friend of Glass, who introduced them. "Ashley and I were in East Village, where Philip lives, so we called in on him at his house," explains Phamie, "It is really big, with a grand piano in the living room. On his bookshelf the whole of world music is covered and there's a big photo of Philip with the Dalai Lama."

Seeing the holy man's picture reminded her of when she performed in front of Tibet's spiritual leader at the Usher Hall during his visit to Edinburgh in 2004. But modestly, she didn't mention the connection to Glass immediately. "I didn't tell him at that moment because when you meet someone so famous you don't want to talk about yourself. But I thought that was amazing," she confides.

After coming to see Tapeire, Glass invited Ashley and Phamie for lunch, and was able to give Phamie some useful advice. "He was asking me what I wanted to do and I told him it was my big dream to write music for movies and TV. He said I needed to be in the right place, which he told me was Hollywood. He was very easy to talk to and gave me his number and e-mail and said to keep in touch."

Despite Glass' advice to move to Hollywood, for the moment Phamie, who was born in the Scottish Borders, is maintaining her Bruntsfield flat and continuing to work to raise her profile in Europe. She spent nearly two years in Barcelona and has just recorded her fifth solo album which has a Spanish title, La Vida Buena, or The Good Life. "I love languages," she says, "I'm here in Montpellier to learn French but the main reason is to perform workshops. That's what I did in Spain to promote the music there."

She was back in the Capital for the Hogmanay festivities and played the electric harp in George Street for The Night Afore celebrations on December 30. Clearly used to performing for large audiences, nerves don't seem to be a problem for Phamie.

"I never get nervous. It was great seeing the streets filled with people."

The musician admits it was a delight to be back in the town to which she made a deliberate move in 2002. "I love the architecture," she explains, "I call Edinburgh home and I always come back here. Sir Patrick Geddes, who designed Ramsay Garden, has inspired me in life because he came up with the phrase: 'By creating we think, by living we learn'. I love that because that's how I live, by experiences."

Such is Phamie's fascination with the well-known Scot that he has even influenced her current choice of temporary abode. "That's part of the reason I chose to come to Montpellier. Geddes designed the College des Ecossais, or Scottish School, here. I researched it before coming. I love finding connections and that's a very strong one for me."

A graduate of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, Phamie plays the Celtic modern lever harp – acoustic and electric – piano, accordion and whistle, as well as singing. Her first big break came when she was 19 and won an award in the Celtic Connections Festival, which allowed her to make a wish list of musicians to work with. She chose fiddler Alisdair Fraser and seven others, who collaborated on her second CD Lammermuir, which was a New Voices commission for Celtic Connections and was recorded live at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.

At the moment, between giving workshops, the multi-talented musician, who has worked with top names in piping, including Galician "gaitero" Carlos Nunez and Irish Uilleann piper, Davy Spillane, is busy promoting her current album, a piano CD called Moments in Time.

Fast gaining international acclaim, Phamie performed on the electric harp before Christmas with her Tapeire co-stars on major US breakfast television show, Regis and Kelly. On that occasion she got to meet Hollywood actor Vince Vaughan, star of Wedding Crashers, who was standing in for usual presenter Regis. She says: "We all met Vince. He introduced himself during the ad breaks. It was so surreal. I was walking down Broadway afterwards and there were huge billboards everywhere with him."

She can start getting used to the good life, for Phamie will be flown first class next week to New York, where she is looking forward to meeting Glass again. "He's so approachable. I'll be there for five days and I'll definitely ask him about the industry. After meeting him before I was kicking myself for not taking a photo. I had a camera in my pocket but there wasn't the right moment during lunch. I'll make sure I do after the concert," she laughs, adding: "I've always had big dreams and aspirations. If you have vision, anything is possible."

 
 
 

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