Elspeth Cowie's emergence as one of Scotland's best-known traditional singers
brings her full circle in a story that started with the winning of a Burns
singing prize at primary school. By the late 1960s, she had left her native
musical roots behind in favour of rock and blues like thousands of young Scots.
Sandy Denny (Fairport Convention) and singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell were
favourites. But a move to the traditional music heartland of Aberdeenshire got
her back on track in the 1970s and early 80s. There she became a stalwart of
what was then the Aberdeen Folk Song Club and was privileged to become
acquainted with Lizzie Higgins, a fine trad singer and daughter of the
celebrated Jeannie Robertson of traveling folk stock. Lizzie's encouragement and
kindness ignited a passion which led Elspeth to join the band Seannachie in 1986
after moving to Edinburgh.
Well known for its wickedly clever arrangement of Scots songs and tunes, Seannachie provided an ideal vehicle, superb musicians who could support the singer and help her to point up the story without railroading over her. Two great albums, Take Note and Devil's Delight resulted, the latter still reckoned by aficionados to be a modern folk classic.
Seannachie still re-forms sporadically for tours, but Elspeth Cowie has moved mainly towards solo work to find the freedom and confront the challenge of putting the story across without the aid of an instrumental safety-net. On the concert stage, the effect is uplifting, stirring and moving as audiences and reviewers at festivals, clubs and events in Scotland, England, Ireland, Spain, Germany, France, Sweden and the Netherlands have testified. Scotland's two leading national daily newspaper agree. "Magnificent vocal gravitas," said The Herald. "Utterly compelling," said The Scotsman.
Her tireless work on behalf of traditional music does not stop there. In 1996, she became full-time National Organiser of the Traditional Music & Song Association of Scotland. She has helped to develop TMSA into an influential information, education and lobbying voice, listened to in the corridors of power. She also tutors for bodhran and song workshops at festivals, other events and the Edinburgh based Adult Learning Project.
The sounds of pipe music and jazz have also inspired her. Elspeth's father was in the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles). So the sound of pipes playing ?The Black Bear?, reputedly the fastest regimental march in the UK army, was a regular event during her childhood. Albums by jazz greats such as Billie Holiday and Peggy Lee are also constantly on the turntable at Elspeth's home in Midlothian.
Ten album appearances in a decade, many of them in the past few years, point to a singer reveling in her craft. Naked Voice, the solo album of mainly unaccompanied songs is the compelling proof of what everybody knows - Elspeth is at the peak of her powers. Elspeth is also a member of the talented trio Chantan.