Gaelic, language and music, runs through Mairi MacInnes’s veins. Born in South Uist at a time when Gaelic was the language at home, she spoke it exclusively until she started school. Her love of singing was evident from this young age. When asked what she wanted to do when she grew up, her response was always to say that she was going to sing and travel the world.
Her first steps in this direction were taken in 1982, when on her first attempt she won the National Mod’s prestigious gold medal, following that up with a win at the Pan Celtic festival in Killarney the following year.
And so began a glowing career. She performed and recorded with celtic rock legends Runrig, just as they were entering the height of their huge success, before releasing her debut album – Causeway – in 1989, with Lismore records.
In the early 1990s, she joined the traditional/world fusion supergroup Mouth Music, which saw her touring Canada and America for the first time. In 1992, an EP collaboration between MacInnes and the band was released – Blue Door Green Sea – featuring contributions from James MacKintosh on drums and Martyn Bennett on pipes and whistles. The EP spent five weeks at number one on the Billboard World Music Charts.
Returning to her solo career the following year, new doors opened for Macinnes, with her busy schedule growing to include appearances as a Gaelic TV personality, for BBC Scotland, STV and Grampian, presenting programs including: Brag, Dotaman, Siudan, Trang-Trang, Na Daoine Beaga, and Orain ‘s Rannan .
Her work as a musician was in no way diminished, with a string of successful albums, and performances. The title track of her second album – This Feeling Inside – was translated in to Welsh, and MacInnes was invited to perform the song with the Llangwm Male Welsh Voice Choir and the BBC Philharmonic orchestra for a special BBC broadcast. At the turn of the millennium, she was chosen as the singer for the William Jackson’s song Land of Light – the winning song in the Glasgow Herald’s New Song for the New Millennium competition.
Further career highlights for MacInnes, include appearances as a soloist on Songs of Praise, at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, and singing the theme song for Gillies MacKinnon’s 2016 Whisky Galore! remake, with music by Patrick Doyle.
2015 saw the release of her most recent album – Gras. In making the album, the name of which translates to english as Grace, MacInnes was joined by some of Scotland’s finest musicians to make what many consider to be her best recording yet. Her mastery of her craft is evident, as are her roots – one track has her singing alongside a recording of her great uncle Angus John MacMillan, the last one made before his death years previously.
For the past several years she’s tutored Gaelic Song for the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, a source of inspiration and guidance for its students and graduates, many of whom have gone on to forge successful singing careers of their own. In a 2015 interview with The Herald, she said about teaching:
“I’ve always loved sharing the songs I sing,” she says. “I love singing for an audience but for me it’s just as important to pass the tradition on and teaching one-to-one is really a two-way learning process. I learn from my students because I put myself in their shoes and remember what it was like for me when I was their age. It’s also important to get to know them as people so they feel they’re accomplishing something more than just learning a song. You can have a lovely voice and know all the information that lies behind a song but you need to put it across in a genuine way. It’s really down to humility and understanding that it’s the song that matters”.
“Your voice is the instrument and as the singer you’re the medium that allows the song to connect with people”.