Biography (Courtesy of The Greenman Review USA, 2005)
Scottish Gaelic singer Catherine Ann MacPhee is a glorious anomaly. In a genre that is dominated by women with high, often childlike voices, MacPhee has a huge, sensual, smoky, gorgeous alto. Her voice and talent could make her an international pop star. There's only one catch -- she sings only in Scottish Gaelic.
MacPhee is also something of a pioneer. Beginning in the 1980's, her work with producer/arranger Jim Sutherland bridged the gap between traditional and contemporary Gaelic song. The darling of hardcore traditional folkies, she has, nonetheless, recorded songs by contemporary Gaelic songwriters including the Gaelic folk-rock band Run-rig.
Gaelic language enthusiasts revere MacPhee because her pronunciation of the Gaelic is considered a marvel of clarity and beauty. I first heard of her through a Gaelic study group and assumed that her career had begun in Scotland's Royal National Mód, an annual contest of Gaelic language, music, dance and drama modeled after the Welsh Eisteddfod. It turns out that MacPhee's career began in a far less rarified but much more interesting way. In answer to my email, she writes:
"I grew up in the village of Eoligarry in Barra. A village full of fabulous singers, and as I was six years of age before electricity was introduced to the island, we had lots of ceilidhs and social gatherings to entertain ourselves by candle-light and tilly lamps -- what memories! I started singing in the village halls on the island at the age of five or six. Winter singing for family and friends and then putting on our best dresses to entertain the tourists in the summer.
I was approached while singing at a ceilidh at the age of seventeen by a lady called Mairead Ross. She was travelling throughout the Highlands and Islands looking into the possibility of forming a professional Gaelic theatre company. She asked if I would be interested and then contacted me at a later date about auditions. I did this and was accepted and for three years I traveled and sang with them. The company was called 'Fir Chlis' which means 'the Northern Lights.' We were the first-ever professional Gaelic theatre company. However, after many wonderful shows and much happiness there were major budget cuts in the Highlands and Islands and the company had to go. I thought that my acting career was at an end and took myself off to Tobermory on the island of Mull to work in the Mishnish hotel. This was owned by my sister's father-in-law, Bobby MacLeod. I spent many happy evenings singing along with his accordion playing and yet again to the tourists. Then I received a telephone call from John MacGrath of the 7.84 Theatre Company.
John tried to persuade me to join them on a tour and I was adamant that I could not do this. All their acting was in English and I had only performed in Gaelic. He assured me that I would be playing a Highland character and could slip in the odd Gaelic word if I wanted. This did not convince me. He called a few times after that and in the end I told him I would call the police if he did not stop. Poor John was very determined and arrived at the hotel door in Tobermory. How could I say no after that?! So I joined 7.84, the best move I ever made. I traveled the world with them between Russia and Castlebay. I could write novels about those days.
I met with Ian Green from Greentrax recordings while singing at a festival in Dingwall and after my performance that evening he asked if I would be interested in recording an L.P. He and John got together and from that encounter came Canan Nan Gaidheal."
You can listen to short samples from some of the tracks from this artist using the player below.
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