Hebridean Celtic Festival sill a big stage for Julie Fowlis

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Julie Fowlis and the HebCelt Festival have grown up together and the acclaimed singer was an obvious 21st birthday event choice.

The North Uist-raised artist has been a serial visitor to the island festival as both became multi award winners and established in the music industry.

But despite Julie having appeared in many different guises, and in almost all HebCelt’s various venues over the years, she will chalk up a first this year by making her debut on the Islands Stage.

Julie, now universally recognised for singing the theme song to ‘Brave’, Disney Pixar’s Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA winning animated film, and for performing live to a TV audience of more than 1 billion people at the opening ceremony of the Glasgow XX Commonwealth Games in 2014, has a connection to HebCelt dating back more than 15 years.

She was given one of her first solo singing opportunities as part of Atlantic Movement, a project specially commissioned for the festival and which brought together seven of the finest Celtic singers from Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Cape Breton.

She has also appeared as part of the sextet, Dòchas - winners of the Best Newcomer award at the Scots Trad Music Awards in 2004, where Julie was nominated for Best Gaelic Singer – and with acclaimed film and musical work ‘Heisgeir’, based on the history, people and landscape of the uninhabited Monach Islands.

Over the years she has performed on the Main Stage and in HebCelt’s smaller venues in rural parts of Lewis and Harris, and this year will be playing two separate shows in different venues.

She will be part of the festival opener ‘Hebridean Women’, a project designed to encourage collaboration and promote the music and song from the area, when she will be joined on stage at An Lanntair arts centre by Cathy Ann MacPhee from Barra, Mary Smith and Isobel Ann Martin, from Lewis, and Kathleen Macinnes, from South Uist.

Two nights later she will be on stage with her band in the main festival arena.

Julie, one of the first inductees to the HebCelt Hall of Fame and an ambassador for the event, said: “Coming from the Outer Hebrides I have always been excited about playing at HebCelt”, she said. “It is a highlight of the year for me and I am particularly looking forward to returning there for the 21st festival.

“It’s one of my favourite events. I have such a soft spot for the festival, it holds special memories for me. HebCelt and I have grown up together and it is where I had some of my earliest opportunities as a solo artist.

“Over the years I’ve played most of the festival venues in a variety of locations, but it will be a first to play the Islands Stage this year which I’m very much looking forward to as it has its own special atmosphere.”

Since those early days, Julie has gathered a huge following around the world and built up a sizeable collection of honours over the years, including the Tartan Clef Award for Music in 2014, and a Best Artist nomination at the Songlines World Music Awards 2015.

She has also turned to handing out prizes, recently co-hosting the Radio 2 Folk Awards at the Royal Albert Hall again with long- time friend Mark Radcliffe.

“It was a great pleasure to be presenting the awards again this year, and it’s always a very special feeling stepping out onto the stage at the Royal Albert Hall. You can almost feel a presence in the building of those artists who has performed there in days gone by. And it’s a joy always to work with Mark Radcliffe.”

Did winning an award change anything for her? “Award ceremonies for music can be strange - they certainly can make a real difference to your profile and career, and in that sense they are important, especially to young and emerging acts.

“But they don’t sit that comfortably with me in some ways - how do you compare musicians or singers of entirely differing styles and traditions? Also voting systems are often flawed, and you’ll never manage to keep everyone happy.

“However, overall, I do think they are a vital way to showcase traditional and folk music on a big stage, attracting the attention of many decision makers and funders who otherwise wouldn’t be aware of this scene at all.”

Her busy schedule shows no signs of slowing up, having recently returned from gigs in Germany and starred at the Oban Live music event, followed by four concerts during the Orkney Folk Festival, before heading to shows in Cardiff ahead of her HebCelt appearances.

She also appears on the debut album by Starless, released on 27 May and featuring Paul McGeechan (Love and Money), Chris Thomson (The Bathers), Paul Buchanan (The Blue Nile) , Karen Matheson (Capercaillie) and recorded with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra.

In between she is a much sought after presenter on radio and television, on BBC ALBA, BBC Radio 2, and 4, BBC Radio Scotland, BBC Scotland TV, SKY ARTS HD and TG4 in Ireland.

It requires a lot of planning with husband and fellow musician husband Éamon Doorley with whom she has two children: “It can be difficult but lots of planning, a good online diary system and teamwork between husband and wife and two great kids make it possible.

“I am happy with the mix at the moment - singing one minute, then side-stepping into presenting the next. It keeps me on my toes, that’s for sure!”

The 21st HebCelt will be held from 13-16 July in Stornoway. Runrig will head a line-up of nearly 50 acts over the four days, including the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, Hayseed Dixie, Astrid, King Creosote and Breabach.