Julie Fowlis – Biodh an Deoch Seo ‘n Laimh Mo Ruin (Single, 2007)

Writing is hard, I think people don’t give it the credit it deserves. It takes a conscious, physical effort for me to produce these reviews, to make sure I don’t cripple the grammar and keep them informative as well as concise, but not dry and turgid. Peculiarly enough, I find it the hardest to write about the music I like the most; trying to assign words to emotions is the most challenging aspect of any review and I frequently default to waffling in order to compensate as I aimlessly focus on every minute detail in panic. It’s for that reason that I try to avoid talking about works like Biodh an Deoch because I’m terrified that I’ll completely fail to vocalise my thoughts and not inspire anyone to listen to, what is almost unquestionably, one of my favourite tracks of all time. A year ago almost to the day was the first time I heard this track and fell in love; since then, last.fm tells me I’ve scrobbled it some 25o times, so the reality is I’ve probably listened to this one track maybe around 350 times in the last 12 months, which is a pretty scary thought in all honesty. It seems strange to me that of all things this would be the track that I would love above all others, but in many ways I suppose it makes perfect sense.

Whilst not strictly a single, it appeared on Julie’s 2007 debut LP Mar A Tha Mo Chridhe, or “As My Heart Is”, a record sung entirely in Scottish Gaelic and comprised of classic Scottish folk songs and melodies but with a certain, more modern, twist to them. All of her albums are the same, and she has recently released a new album just this year called Gach Sgeul that I would heartily recommend, but I digress. Biodh an Deoch, or The Drink Would Be In My Love’s Hand, is a really beautiful, earnest little number. Comprised of only eight, two line verses it’s a remarkably simple and straightforward song filled with wist and longing, talking of the distance and separation between her and her love, of his safe passage and ultimate return, of wishing to be by his side again.

The studio version is remarkably pared back instrumentally; employing only the acoustic guitar and bouzaki alongside Julie’s voice, they keep the track straightforward and intimate, being propulsive when necessary but knowing exactly when to dial things down in the more emotionally crucial moments. It’s this subtle and intelligent instrumentation coupled with Julie’s expressive voice that I think make this piece so powerful, even to the non-Gaelic speakers, of which there are many. It’s perfectly clear in the final two verses that there is a shift in the seriousness of the lyrics, and a cursory glance at a translated version proves the point;

Though I am here in Coll I long to go to Rhum

And from there to Uist, were I to get my wish

It switches effortlessly from quiet, sad and heartfelt to desirous and empowered in the space of a few seconds and it gives me shivers every time I hear it. The fact that I don’t understand the language being spoken is oftentimes irrelevant with Julie’s music as the flow and suggestiveness of her voice is sufficient to emotionally guide us through its various peaks and troughs. I think it is that fundamental lingual divide that makes this piece so fascinating to me, the fact that music and the manner of speech has the power to overcome the limitations of not understanding what someone is saying. In many ways it doesn’t really matter what’s being said in the end, it’s enough to know that it’s earnest and significant in some capacity, and I think it’s executed perfectly here. It’s hard for me to specifically define why I think this track is so astonishing but perhaps some of you might find something here you find interesting.

 

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