FolkWorld article by Christian and Michael Moll

Piping instead of history lessons

Anna Murray - young music steeped in gaelic traditions

Anna Murray is one of the rising stars of Scottish/Gaelic folk music, while she is also well-known in Scotland as actress in a popular Gaelic soap opera. We met the beautiful young lady to talk about her music and culture.

Anna Murray; Photo by The MollisTo start, we would like to have a bit of traditional/cultural background from Anna's home, the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. "I come from a village called Baig, it's on the East side of the island; and we live just besides the sea. There used to be a lot of fishing and weaving and looking after sheep and growing vegetables and things. That used to be the main industries - weaving, fishing and looking after live stock, but now in the town of Stornoway it's very busy with lots of different types of jobs. The unemployment is actually very high in the Western Isles, I think it is highest in Britain actually."
Now let us come to the music: "Within the community the music is a huge part of it, I would say most people sing; they might not get up on stage and sing, but they sing in their homes and at ceilidhs."

Anna was born and brought up speaking Gaelic, all her family are Gaelic speakers. So Gaelic is her mother's tongue; when she went to school, she had to learn English very quickly, as that was the language they were taught. Actually it was at school because of history lessons that she began learning pipes. "I started to play music when I was about eight, nine years of age, in school actually, up in Lewis. It was because if you took up the chanter you got off history - you didn't have to go to history lessons! So I started playing the pipes then, but realized very quickly I loved it. And we have a thing called the mod here in Scotland, and I started learning Gaelic songs for that at the same time. And I have been playing and singing ever since."

As main job Anna is today actress - mainly in Gaelic as well. She acts in the popular Gaelic soap opera called Machair - Machair meaning the sandy grassy land besides the sea. "And I present children's television programmes, teaching to read the time in Gaelic - it's all in Gaelic, to count in Gaelic, to write and all that kind - which is really good fun. It aims at children between three and five."
This programme is seen throughout Scotland; and they recently sold the series also to Ireland, and they try to sell it to various other places as well. Interesting and strange enough it is watched especially in the Glasgow area. "There are more Gaelic speakers down in Glasgow than there are really in the islands, because so many people live in Glasgow. You just notice Gaelic more in the islands because communities there are smaller. But the majority of people who watch these programmes are actually in the Central Belt, down Glasgow area." Anna herself also has moved down to Glasgow, and for her it is quite amazing to see that most of the people who she was in school with live now just round the corner in Glasgow.

Anna Murray; Photo by The MollisBut back to the music. Anna is an extraordinary piper on both small and highland pipes; in concert she is joined by two or three other musicians; we saw her with Ian F MacLeod on guitar and multi-instrumentalist Steve Lawrence on Cittern, Acoustic/Electric Bouzouki, Mandolin and percussion. As Anna very well describes, "with only us three it's already quite a racket; it's quite a noice"; it is a very powerful act; and it is just a joy to watch beautiful Anna playing. She also has a stunning voice, singing wonderfully her Gaelic songs. "As Gaelic is my first language, it's very natural for me to be singing in Gaelic," she explains.
"And a lot of the tunes that I play - I tend to copy the singing style with my piping, so the way I sing is the way I play it, just quite traditional. Although a lot of the backing - people playing guitars and things like that - you really wouldn't call that a very traditional style, but the piping style itself is."

Another musical project of Anna is the all-pretty all-female band Calluna, presenting the harmonic enchanting side of Scottish music. In this band Anna joins flute player Rebecca Knorr, Charlotte Peterson on Clarsach and Anna Wendy on Fiddle. "The really nice thing about playing in Calluna is that a lot of the material is original. Charlotte and Rebecca write a lot of tunes, and have encouraged Anna Wendy and myself to do so. It's really nice working with people like that, because you don't feel silly about saying I wrote this wee tune what do you think of it. Because a lot of musicians get very nervous about charing their own material with other people. That's what I really like about that group."
The 24 year old girl is happy about how life has developed yet, as all her work started off with hobbies. That's brillant for me - I love it." She still has a few other hobbies than her 'jobs': One hobby is drawing and painting; and Anna also loves walking, "just out in wide open spaces, getting away from the city, and going up North-West, up to the West coast. And sailing - I like sailing..."

For her future she has the dream of starting touring with music. "Because I have been doing so much acting, it's limited my time, playingwise, and now I have decided to cut back on some of the Television stuff and hopefully get travelling and playing music as well. I would be very happy if that would happen."
Another move in that direction will be realised this summer, when Anna tours first time ever tours Germany - with her trio. What a chance for German folkies!

Anna Murray Trio:
Anna Murray: Small Pipes, Highland Pipes, (Gaelic) voice
Iain F MacLeod: Guitar
Steve Lawrence: Citters, Acoustic/Electric Bouzouki, Mandolin, Percussion

Rebecca Knorr: Flute
Charlotte Peterson: Clarsach
Anna Murray: Small Pipes, (Gaelic) voice
Anna Wendy: Fiddle

Published CDs of Anna Murray (both on KRL/Lochshore Records):

Anna Murray's homepage

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