Kathleen MacInnes was raised on the Isle of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides. The youngest of six children, she was immersed from her earliest years in the Gaelic language, piping and Latin hymns and, indeed, she didn’t speak any English until she went to Garrynamonie Primary School during the 70s/80s, a period when Gaelic was going through a steep decline.
Aged fifteen, Kathleen left South Uist to study at the Nicolson Institute on the Isle of Lewis and then to the School of Textiles and Design in the Borders where she graduated with first Class honours in Print Design and won Design Student of the Year in 1991, She has been involved in the arts in Scotland for over twenty years in design and Gaelic television and theatre but is best known for her utterly distinctive voice. A Guardian reviewer got close to its essence:
“This South Uist singer has a voice like peat smoke and good whisky, as robust, sassy and soulful as it is supple and expressive. She delivered all of it through that smokey, unhurried low register, often giving the corners of phrases a bluesy tug, occasionally flitting upwards for soft inflections. There’s an earthy realness to her voice that somehow makes you want to sing along (much of the audience did). MacInnes is a brilliantly unfussy singer; even her raspy inhalations add heaps of colour.”
Kathleen was a latecomer to professional singing via performances in acting roles such as the film, An Ceasnachadh: Interrogation of a Highland Lass (2000) in which she played the part of Kay Matheson (one of the four students who repatriated the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey back to Scotland in 1950) and sang Oran na Cloiche (Song of the Stone) for the end credits. This led on to her singing in the Gaelic feature film Seachd – The Inaccessible Pinnacle and later, in 2010, to do vocals on the soundtrack of the Hollywood blockbuster Robin Hood for director Ridley Scott who described her voice as “strong, powerful, beautiful”.
Og-Mhadainn Shamhraidh, Kathleen’s first album, produced by Iain MacDonald and released in 2006 to critical acclaim, was Herald On Sunday’s Folk Album Of The Year and nominated Best Album at that years’ Traditional Music Awards when she also picked up the Gaelic Singer of the Year award. Further afield, she received the Live Ireland Award for Best Newcomer.
2012 saw the release of Kathleen’s long-awaited second album, Cille Bhride, also produced by Iain MacDonald. Reviewing it, Herald critic Rob Adams wrote: ”This return to the studios reaffirms her place as one of the most distinctive Gaelic singers whose voice, with its peat smoke tone, conveys much in few words”
Cille Bhride was awarded Album of the Year at the Scots Trad Music Awards in 2012 and a track from it, Sneachd Air Druim Uachdar was nominated at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards the following year.
Kathleen has featured in Transatlantic Sessions, Pelicula Films’ long-running music series for BBC and RTE in the company of world class musicians like Aly Bain, Jerry Douglas and Alison Krauss, she toured as part of The Transatlantic Sessions Tour 2015 and has been sought after for collaborations with Bela Fleck, Liam O’ Maonlai (Hothouse Flowers) Oumou Sangare and Tiamane Diabate from Mali, Rab Noakes and Jim Sutherland.
Kathleen lives in Glasgow with her partner Tommy and their three sons.