The Outlander Bard with a song in his heart to pay visit to Fife

Gaelic singer Gillebride MacIllemhaoil
Gaelic singer Gillebride MacIllemhaoil

One of Scotland’s most sought after Gaelic singers will make a rare appearance in Kirkcaldy.

Gillebrìde MacMillan has seen his profile rise due to three critically acclaimed albums, and a role in the hit TV show Outlander.

A native speaker of the Scots language, he was born and raised on the small island of South Uist and says that was where his love of music began.

“South Uist is very small and Gaelic was the language of the community back then so I was taught English at school.”

“Gaelic is very much immersed in the culture and the language. It’s my first language.

“I used to sing at the Mòd, the Gaelic singing competition, every October and I won.”

Gillebrìde says that he briefly fell out of love with music during his teenage years before returning to singing in his early 20s.

“For around eight years from 13 to 21 I stopped singing completely. I wasn’t interested any more. It wasn’t cool and the thing to do!

“Then I was over in Ireland doing my university degree and I went to some music sessions and got invited to sing.

“They would ask to hear a Scottish song that started me off again and since then I haven’t stopped!”

It was then that Gillebrìde decided to take performing music more seriously.

“I won the Mòd gold medal in 2004 and that raised my profile a bit.

“So after that I released a CD in 2006 and then another in 2011.

“But really the big break for me to make this a full time career, was the opportunity to appear in Outlander in 2015.”

The hit TV show on the Sony Starz channel sees Gillebrìde play the part of Gwyllyn the Bard, regaling the inhabitants of Castle Leoch with Gaelic songs and tales.

He says the show has had an enormous effect on his singing career.

“I sang in episode three but I also sang on both the soundtrack albums that have been brought out and it’s just catapulted me up to an incredible level,” he said.

“I’ve had hundreds of Outlander fans coming from all across the world when I’ve been playing solo shows and at things like Celtic Connections.

“And actually, I haven’t played in Kirkcaldy before, but I have been playing quite a bit in Fife, because Outlander is filmed in various locations there like Culross, Falkand and Dysart.

“How it happened was I just saw a Facebook post that said it was looking for a Gaelic singer to go for an audition, so I thought I would just go for it and see what happened.

“So I went over to Edinburgh, did it, and didn’t think anything of it, then a few months later I was asked if I’d be willing to be Gwyllyn the Bard and from that moment it’s just been incredible in terms of exposure.”

Such is the popularity of the show that Gillebrìde has travelled to perform in Canada, America and Germany, places where Outlander has a massive following.

“I’ve been to Toronto a couple of times now and I’m going back in the summer,” he says, “in America I’ve been to New York, North Carolina and all over Scotland as well.

“It’s just carrying on and at the moment seems never ending.

“I’ve had thousands of people contacting me saying the music has had such an effect on them. The castle scenes in particular – they all love the castle scenes!”

As well as Outlander’s songs, Gillebrìde also has those from his new album Hidden Roots to choose from. Unusually for a Gaelic singer, all the tracks are self-composed.

“It is quite unusual,” he says, “for a Gaelic singer it usually tends to be all traditional or older songs that we sing, but I grew up speaking the language so it’s natural for me to compose in the language too.

“So all the songs are brand new. The range of themes on them are all personal to myself as well as some political things. There’s a song about refugees which is about putting yourself in the shoes of other people.”

Gillebrìde says his inspiration to write came partly from a hugely popular Scottish band.

“I love Runrig and they were great because they would always compose new songs in Gaelic and make them relevant. So I suppose I’ve been writing songs on and off since 2009 but never actually sitting down and finishing them!

“But then I decided I would take time and do that and I’m really happy with the songs so I thought I should do something with them.

“I’ve been working with the pianist Mairi Hall who will be with me on the night at the Adam Smith Theatre. She’s a great pianist from Aviemore as well as a great music arranger, and she also produced the album.”

Along with writing and performing Gillebrìde also acts as a song researcher, trying to uncover hidden gems from Scotland’s past.

“It means going around some of the old people in the Highlands and Islands and asking them if the have any songs or if they recognise bits of songs.

“I also go to the archive of the School of Scottish Studies. There are hundred and hundreds of hours of songs from all over Scotland, Fife is in there too.

“I used to work as a song cataloguer at the Kist o Riches project too, which again includes songs from all over Scotland, and which are now included on a website.

“Some of the songs I found hadn’t been sung for around 60 years, some had never been heard outwith the person that wrote them and some go back as far as 500 years.

“It’s an incredible thing and I include some of it in parts of my show, which I’m really looking forward to.

“Playing in Kirkcaldy is going to be great.”

• Gillebrìde MacMillan is appearing at the Adam Smith Theatre on Saturday, June 30 at 7.30pm.

Tickets are £10 available from www.onfife.com or by calling 01592-583302.

The website for the Kist o Riches project is www.tobarandualchais.co.uk.