An Interview with The Friel Sisters

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Hello ladies, so where ya from & where ya at, geographically speaking?
ANNA : Hello! We’re born and brought up in Glasgow, with all of our family hailing from northwest Donegal in Ireland. It’s a dangerous combination!

What for you makes a good song?
SHEILA : Something with good feeling and a melody that doesn’t leave your head
From a singers point of view a gem of a song would have lyrics with real purpose, passion and poetry. Songs that make you think, love or challenge you are equally as important as songs that capture a by-gone time or important event in history. From a musicians point of view the air has to be as captivating as the lyrics. We all have a soft spot for an air that is in a minor key, there is something other worldly at times in those airs!

Do you herald from a musical family?
ANNA : Our family on our mother’s side is very musical, our grandmother and her brothers and sisters would play the fiddle and could all sing. We’re very lucky to have had such a background that this type of music is just what we are naturally drawn to. Our uncle is a great musician, but not so much in the traditional music scene. He plays everything and used to play in a number of excellent bands, including playing bass with Scottish band Simple Minds.

What do the Friel sisters like to do together when they’re not being all musical?
CLARE : We love to travel, which is perfect because we’re always away playing! We spend as much time as possible in Donegal with family and friends. Anna and Sheila are dentists as well, and Clare has just finished a degree in Pharmacology and Biochemistry so we’re always up to something!

How do you select the songs for your repertoire?
CLARE : We got a lot of songs from our family they would be older songs from northwest Donegal. We pick our tunes from old recordings, or from tunes we play in sessions with friends or even just tunes that are in our head. It’s nice to reflect on friends and family in our music and a mix of what’s old and new. We’ve started writing a few tunes ourselves recently and we’re excited to have some of that material included on the album and in our live shows.

Which instruments do you each play?
SHEILA : Anna plays the flute and whistle. Sheila plays the uilleann pipes, flute, whistle and Tibetan singing bowl (bit of a curveball yes!) Lastly, Clare plays the fiddle and mouth organ. We have other instruments that we mess around on but only dare to take them on stage once in a blue moon! Singing is a big part of our music too – we sing mainly together in unison. Our lineup also includes a guitar player – the amazing Hajime Takahashi. He’s from Japan originally, but lives in Ireland. He’s amazing and has brought so much to our music. On occasion we have other musicians guesting with us too – we love incorporating bouzouki and bodhran whenever we can.

What is it about traditional music that makes you tick?
CLARE : The feeling. It could be a fast reel or a slow song, but it can make you feel every emotion. The music is so vibrant, whether it’s fast or slow there is so much bite in it. It’s also an incredible living link to the past and the generations of musicians that have come before us. It’s a really special art form in that sense. Much of it has been passed down without being written down and learned from ink, which gives it a real sense of life and resilience.

You have toured Europe, America and Asia, which has been your stand-out performance on each of these continents?
SHEILA : Wow, this is a tough one. Gigs normally stand out when you have an audience that appreciate the music and enjoy themselves – we love to see people up dancing or being totally drawn into a song. We couldn’t possibly begin to narrow down one stand out for each continent because it might start an almighty argument between the 3 of us! One recent gig stands out for all of us though – winning the prestigious Loïc Raison Trophée at Festival Interceltique de Lorient last year. The crowd was incredible and it was a bit of a shock for us. A very memorable night for us!

Can you tell us about your Edinburgh performances: where & when & what?
CLARE : We’re playing two gigs, Saturday 12th August and Friday 25th August, both at the Acoustic Music Centre @ UCC (Venue 138). We played as part of the Acoustic Music Centre series last year and really enjoyed it. We even had a bus come from Glasgow come over filled with prosecco. It sounded like a party bus! That’s happening again this year so I’m sure it’ll be a great couple of nights.

This year you will be recording your second album, how is going & which pieces are to we look out for?
ANNA : The album is going well! We are in the mixing stage at the moment. We put a lot into it and have a lot of material. It’s just cutting back now that is the really hard part and trying to put across the energy we have when we play live!

What will the Friel Sisters be doing for the rest of 2017?
SHEILA : Playing! Plenty of tunes and gigs, as well as getting the album out.
2017 has been a very productive year for us behind the scenes this year so we are really looking forward to getting all of our new material out and showing people what we have been up to. We don’t have a launch date fully secured yet for album 2 but that will be a highlight, as will the tours we are planning to launch it. We also have some new videos in the pipeline, which is a new thing for us, and very exciting as we worked with some really talented friends on the project.

You can catch the Friel Sisters in Edinburgh this August 

@ the Acoustic Centre, Saturday 12th & Friday the 25th





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