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Telford's Warehouse, Chester 16 April 2007

Such is my enjoyment of live music and the atmosphere of the whole event, that when someone recommended a singer who I'd never heard of, I bought a pair of tickets for the first available local gig.

Not only was this singer unknown to me, she sang totally in Outer Hebridean Gaelic.

As is what has now become common practice on Myspace, I signed this singer up as a friend, but I refused to satisfy all curiosity by deliberately avoiding listening to the songs that were uploaded on to her page. The idea was to attend this gig without any preconceptions and have a totally open mind about what was about to hit me.

I had no intentions of compiling a set-list. I didn't know any songs and more to the point, I couldn't even spell them. One thing, which did strike me as peculiar, was that there were no instruments at rest on the stage and, apart from 4 microphone stands, there were no trailing wires.

Well, that's all the negatives cleared up. A glance up at the nameplate on the speaker revealed the word BOSE, a second glance to the left saw the quartet arriving on stage. From hereon, we're talking quality.

Any fears about Gaelic vs. English were put to rest as each song was explained with clarity and humour. The subject matter ranged from elopement, being seasick and good old fashioned tales of love and romance.

Julie Fowlis, second left, was lead singer, tin whistle player and chief story-teller. To her immediate left (audience's right) was a fellow Scotsman, Duncan Chisolm, on Violin, the pair were flanked by her fiancé, Eamon Doorley on Mandolin and Tony Byrne on Acoustic Guitar. The latter two were from Dublin.

The celtic fusion and humour is best exemplified by the introduction to one of the medleys of jigs and reels. Duncan, in a fine Scottish brogue, said “The second one is a traditional Highland tune entitled ‘Morag, please trim your toenails because they're ripping the blanket' ”. Eamon replied, “Over in Donegal, the very same tune goes by the title ‘Mary. Please cut your toenails, you're scratching my ankles' ”

Julie's vocals were clear, confident and captivating. The opening song, Hug air a Bhonaid Mhoir, (Celebrate the Great Bonnet) was the first from her latest CD, Cuilidh (pronounced Ku-lee). It might be worth noting that not too many people have a collection of CDs created by female folk singers from the Outer Hebrides, so there's one or two gaps that need to be filled. Another thing that I noticed was that there wasn't an Aran sweater or pair of corduroys to been found in the wide age-ranged, attentive, audience of over 100.

Word has already got around, it appears. One explanation for the healthy attendance might be put down to the fact that her music has been endorsed by the likes of BBC R2's Mark Ratcliffe and Radiohead's Philip Selway.

Songs of varying tempos were delivered with clarity. The storylines which preceded each one gave the listener a strong enough understanding to almost translate the lyrics. Not that the lyrics mattered anyway, the sincerity and purity of Julie's singing coupled with the quality of the instrumental backing was good enough to satisfy my aural requirements. These songs were interspersed by a couple of instrumental jigs & reels and excellent solos & duets, both vocal and instrumental.

The two hour trad-arr trip ticked away with tormenting rapidity and encore time came all too soon.

Eamon and Julie returned to the stage and after a brief Gaelic tutorial we were invited to join in the chorus !

If you ever get the chance to witness Julie Fowlis, don't use the fact that it's all in Gaelic as an excuse not to go. Learning about it is a delightful ear-opener…… if will excuse me for a while, I'm off to translate The Theme From Harry's Game !

Review by Graham Ashmore

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