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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan
The Union Chapel, Islington, London, October 24th 2008

The Trawlerman is no more. No, Serge, this is not an elegy for the long-running demise of the British fishing industry, but a sad statement of truth. The Trawlerman, or ‘George’s Chippy’, as it was sometimes called, at the top of Upper Street, very close to the famous Hope & Anchor (the birthplace in the seventies of Pub Rock) has closed. George hung up his apron last year and now this once no-nonsense sit-innery has been refashioned, refurbished and thoroughly gentrified, no doubt to compete with the likes of Fishworks and the Fish Shop down the road. But, modernistic décor notwithstanding, it still smells like a chippy (as I’m reminded several hours later when I put my coat back on after the gig), even if a plateful of Haddock and Chips comes in at near a tenner a piece, rather than the 1/6d which I’m sure it should cost.

Julie Fowlis
I can’t help wondering what the less well-off denizens of the area, of whom there are many, must think of this when they come to buy their Friday night fish-supper. But it’s nicely cooked and easy on the palate, there are definitely some maritime notes, perhaps a zesty medicinal kick from the …. oops, sorry Serge, I must have been overdoing it out here in the City of Gold. Where was I? Yes, it is pleasing, even if the chips do have the aura of having been prepared somewhere many miles away from where we’re eating them. Overall verdict – not bad at all.
Julie Fowlis
This is all by way of saying that we’re in Islington heading for the Union Chapel to see Scottish folk-singing sensation Julie Fowlis and her band. Ms Fowlis, who made a brief yet mesmerising appearance earlier in the year at the Rogue’s Gallery gig has made a two-pronged attack on the public consciousness. Firstly, through the traditional folk-roots scene (where she has earned numerous awards and plaudits), and secondly (and less likely) via the good offices of everyone’s favourite middle-aged man’s rock and roll magazine, Mojo. She recorded a version of ‘Blackbird’ for a recent ‘White Album’ tribute that the magazine put together, and such was its reception that it has now been released as a single. And perhaps I should add here, before it’s too late, that Ms Fowlis sings only in Gaelic. She is a native of North Uist, in the middle of the Outer Hebrides, and is proudly taking her culture and language to the world. But don’t be put off by the language bit if, like 99.9999999999999999% of the world, you are not having the Gaelic. For Ms Fowlis falls into that small but captivating category of singer you would listen to singing a Hungarian menu if you could, such is the beauty, clarity, and expressiveness of her voice. Get the picture?
One actually might have hoped that she would have chosen to sing without the use of microphones in the Union Chapel, whose acoustics no doubt yearn for a voice such as hers. At least the sound was perfectly engineered. Note here too that although Ms Fowlis’s voice is something of a show-stealer, she’s no mean hand when it comes to the accordion, whistle or even bagpipes. And such an accomplished performer certainly needs accomplished accompanists, which she certainly has. Her husband, Dubliner Eamon Doorley, plays electric bazouki, sings, and brings a touch of Irish humour to the evening, a counterpoint to the dry wit of Duncan Chisholm, sometime of Wolfstone and Blazin’ Fiddles fame, and undoubtedly one of Scotland’s finest fiddlers. Tony Byrne on guitar combines delicate melodies with driving rhythm, and bodhrán player Martin O’Neill simply puts that often abused instrument onto a different plane of sophistication and subtlety. So to repeat, for all that Ms Fowlis’s voice may be the star, this is a complete ensemble performance of remarkable quality. Julie Fowlis
A shame then that much of it was greeted with the predictably out-of-time clapping and foot-stamping that London audiences (this one has, I observe darkly, something of the Folk Cub about it) presume incorrectly to be a perfect accompaniment for music of this sort.
Setlist? Well that might be a difficult one, but I do fancy we heard ‘Mo Ghruagach Dhonn’, ‘Bodaich Odhar Hoghaigearraidh’, ‘Mo Bheannachd Dhan Bhaillidh Ur’ ….well I’ll stop there, with the one addition that she did of course charm everyone with her version of ‘Blackbird’. This was an outstanding performance, justifying all the plaudits that Ms Fowlis has received, and earning her a few more. She will no doubt be taking to the road again next year and I can only commend you to go and see her if you get the chance. And in the meantime I promise you that her 2007 album, Cuilidh, would be a welcome addition to any Christmas Stocking, or if you prefer, Holiday Sock. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)
Listen: Julie Fowlis' MySpace page (with Blackbird!)

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