Rachel Walker

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Rachel Walker is probably unique among Gaelic singers; not only is she not a native Gaelic speaker, she is actually English. Born in 1976 and brought up in Salisbury, England, she moved with her family,…
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Rachel Walker is probably unique among Gaelic singers; not only is she not a native Gaelic speaker, she is actually English. Born in 1976 and brought up in Salisbury, England, she moved with her family, aged eight, to Kinlochewe in Wester Ross, in the highlands of Scotland. During her attendance at the local primary school, she was introduced to Gaelic song, for which she soon showed a natural aptitude. Walker continued to sing throughout her schooldays and soon became something of a local celebrity whose talents were much in demand at ceilidhs and concerts, and she also won awards for her singing in a number of competitions. Upon leaving school, she took a course in classical music at Edinburgh's Napier University, after which she became one of the first students to sign up to the then brand-new course in Scottish music at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama in Glasgow. There she was tutored by the distinguished Gaelic singer Kenna Campbell, who claimed that Walker became the yardstick against which she measured all of her other pupils.

While at the RSAMD, Walker met a fellow student, the piper Andrew Stevenson, whom she would go on to marry. Stevenson was one of the founders of the band Skipinnish, which started a record label in order to put out its own albums. Walker made guest appearances on the band's initial releases, and the Skipinnish label would later issue her first three solo discs.

Walker was a founding member and the original vocalist of Dòchas, now widely recognized as the group which launched Julie Fowlis to fame. Originally convened to perform at the Dingwall Highland Festival, the group's huge popularity led to tours throughout Europe, before Walker left to launch a solo career. At this time she also began working as a singing teacher herself, a vocation she continued to pursue in parallel with recording and performance.

Her 2004 solo debut, Bràighe Loch Iall ("Banks of Loch Eil"), was a straightforwardly traditional affair, as was her 2006 sophomore effort Fon Reul-Sholus ("Under the Starlight"), but she surprised audiences with the latter album's final track -- a faithful cover of cult Scots folk-rock act Runrig's protest song "Fichead Bliadhna" ("Twenty Years"), on which that band's guitarist Malcolm Jones made a guest appearance.

Encouraged by the positive reaction to the song, Walker began to experiment with working in other genres outside the tradition, and recruited Jones again to produce her third album, 2010's Air Chall ("Lost"). For it, she wrote four songs herself -- including one in English -- and incorporated folk-rock, blues, and country & western influences alongside traditional Gaelic music. It was a bold move that paid off, as the album was warmly hailed by fans and critics alike and proved to be her most successful to date.