City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Julie Fowlis, Queen's Hall, Review

By Bill Dunlop - Posted on 01 October 2014

Show Details
Queen's Hall
Julie Fowlis, Tony Byrne (guitar), Éamon Doorley (bouzouki and guitar-bouzouki), Patsy Reid (fiddle), Iain Sandilands (percussion), Ewen Vernal (double bass)
Running time: 

Performing for over ninety minutes to a near-capacity Queen’s Hall audience, Julie Fowlis confirmed her standing as one of our finest interpreters of Gaelic repertoire.

Known more widely, at least in Scotland, as the musical voice of Princess Merida from the Disney Pixar film ‘Brave’, which has probably given both Fowlis and Gaelic song a higher profile than before, Fowlis’ own work has attracted a growing following across generations and cultures, attested by the diverse age and ethnic origin of her audience in the performance seen.

Ably supported by Tony Byrne, Eamon Doorlay, Ian Sandilands, Patsy Reid and Ewan Vernal, Fowlis took her audience through a wide range of material from the deadly (in both senses) serious to the very lively, via port-an-beul (the English language reduces these little miracles of vocal production to ‘mouth music’), lullabies – Fowlis reminding us that what may sound merely charming in Gaelic can also contain the otherwise unspoken fears and anxieties of the singer – and into the demanding heights of songs such as that composed by John Maclean, brother of both the late poet Sorley and Calum, archivist and scholar, the latter the subject of John Maclean’s great keening lament, given its full expression in Fowlis’ interpretation.

Fowlis’ control and technique are never less than superb, her voice having a quality at once both clear and rounded, thus adding value to every phrase.

For those such as this reviewer, whose gaelidgh is beagan at best, there were unavoidably moments when music did not conquer all, but Fowlis’ musical abilities and her occasional bursts of wry and dry wit did much to minimise these.

Indeed, the only cavil for this reviewer, came at the end, when Fowlis’ encore consisted of an MSR (march, strathspey and reel for the uninitiate) on the highland bagpipe. Although Fowlis is clearly more than competent on the instrument, given both the work of the late Martyn Bennett and Gordon Duncan and their heirs and successors in this field, and indeed the whole tone of the preceding programme, this felt very much a stumble back into an inferiorism it was hoped we had escaped.

That said, the memory of Fowlis and her accompanists accompanied this reviewer home and remains. Who could ask for more?