Skip to main content

Festival 2012 - Interviews

From Heisgeir to Hollywood with Julie Fowlis

By-line Eilidh Whiteford


ROUNDING off the An Lanntair performances at this year's HebCelt is Festival Ambassador and North Uist talent Julie Fowlis – with something extra special in store for the arts centre audience on Festival Saturday, July 14th.

One of the first inductees into the HebCelt Hall of Fame, Julie is certainly no stranger to the islands' annual musical celebration and can't wait to return for the 2012 party.

"For me I love it as it's a 'home' festival," said Julie. "Ever since my first attendance I've always said it's one of the few festivals that has such great enthusiasm and respect for local traditions and tradition bearers, but also provides excellent opportunities for more modern styles and performers.

"It's this dedication to a good mix of high quality music which has stood the HebCelt team well and I'm very proud of the team who achieve this year after year.

"I really genuinely love performing there – I just have to keep coming up with new projects to try and wangle my way back!" she laughed.

This year Julie is bringing something a little different to her home festival with acclaimed film and musical work 'Heisgeir', based on the history, people and landscape of the uninhabited Monach Islands.

The hour long feature film with live musical soundtrack was inspired by Julie's connection with the Atlantic islands, her great grandmother being a resident before the islands became abandoned in 1949.

Yet started out as a music commission for last year's Blas festival blossomed into a film project as former Heisgeir residents, including Lachie Morrison, a member of the last family to live there, help tell the islands' evocative story.

Julie expanded: "I'd had the idea of a project relating to the Monach Islands in my head for a long time, but when I got the Blas commission, which offered a lot of artistic control, it was the rocket up my backside I needed to get things going – there's nothing like a gig date to get you moving!" she chuckled.

"I was being told people's memories and their stories, but rather than me just tell the stories second hand, I really wanted the audience to hear them the way I heard them. As the film was so powerful it became apparent very early on that it would become a film-based project first and foremost."

Created over three months, the project also saw Julie visit the islands for the first time, as she continued: "The family connection was one of the reasons I was interested in it. Also, when you look out from the west coast of North Uist you can see Heisgeir and it just seemed ridiculous that it was so close yet I knew so little about the place, its history, its songs.

"I wanted to learn more about it and it was a very inspiring place to visit. I went there twice in the summer and it was wonderful to try to convey the magic of the place through this project.

"There are some incredible stories from a number of characters, but in trying to describe Heisgeir less is more; the best thing is to come and see and experience it for yourself."

The work, which also features acclaimed musicians Eamon Doorley, Ross Martin and Duncan Chisholm, was backed by Bord na Gaidhlig, while Creative Scotland is helping take the show to HebCelt as well as to festivals in Gigha, Skye and Uist. Expecting the birth of her second child very soon, 2012 looks set to be a busy year for Julie – and one which is also taking her to Hollywood!

The HebCelt Heisgeir show will be staged just a month after the US release of 'Brave', the new animated 3D blockbuster by Pixar, which is set to turn the North Uist star into a global sensation as Julie's song 'Tha Mo Ghaol Air Aird A' Chuain' (My Love is on the High Seas) features in a new TV advert for the film and was premièred during the Oscars earlier this month.

Courtesy of Stornoway Gazette