Nacho Caravia Nogueras
Phamie Gow and her celtic harp
Celtic harpist and composer Phamie Gow came to Barcelona in March 2005 to fulfill two artistic dreams. She achieved both in her first year (of which more below), but she is still here, tucked away in a third-floor walk-up in the Gothic quarter.
She has found listeners receptive to her music in venues as distinct as concert halls and in the street. That’s what she likes. “My life is so full of contrasting environments, from street playing to performing in concert halls, or festival stages. You have to learn to be a chameleon and adapt yourself to all the changes.
“The reason I play on the streets is because I love the energy of the people. Music is a language, and I feel like I am speaking to the world with my music, and the people that want to listen, do listen, and those that don’t, don’t. So it’s like the music is choosing my audience. Of course, it also produces some extra cash after selling CDs, which I put towards paying my rent and making more CDs.”
Life is not always easy, and she noted that she suffers chronic sinus problems from the pollution. Yet she stays. “There is something about Barcelona that’s like a drug. You get addicted. The balmy weather makes it more relaxing, not to mention the cheap wine and abundant olives!”
At 27 years old, this talented Scotswoman has three CDs out, with a fourth to be released later this year—all on her own label, with the music published by her own publishing company, WildFire Records and Publishing, which she set up in 1998. “I set up my own record label because my father was always telling me what I was doing was so original that I needed to be careful not to allow myself to be taken over by a massive record company.”
In addition to her father’s sound advice, the Scottish festival in Glasgow, Celtic Connections, has helped her career, and musicians she met there inspired her move to Spain. At 19, she won the Celtic Connections’s ‘Danny Award’, which commissioned a one-hour composition. The resulting Lammermuir (her second CD, licensed to Greentrax Records) features artists such as Eric Rigler (whose Uilleann pipes tugged on moviegoers’ heartstrings when they watched Titanic and Braveheart). The prize also teamed her for concerts with Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney and Uilleann piper Liam O’Flynne (collaborator with the Everly Brothers, Kate Bush, Enya and Mark Knopfler to name a few).
It was also at that Celtic Connections festival where Phamie met Galician piper Carlos Núñez, an encounter which inspired her dream of performing with him—one of the two dreams that pulled her to Spain. That one was achieved when she played with Nuñez, in Terrassa, in 2005. But once is not enough, and she guests with him again this August in the Bidasoafolk Festival in the Basque country, where she’ll also play solo.
Celtic Connections also introduced her to Spanish musician Kepa Junkera, who inspired a composition that created her second Spanish dream: to record it with him playing. In 2005, they recorded ‘Kepa Junkera in a Basque Carnival’ together in his studio in Bilbao. Phamie is saving it for release on a future compilation CD.
Being in Barcelona is also opening opportunities for her, she said, and although the illegality of her street playing can be nerve-wracking, it does have some compensations. “It provides a market for my CDs and gives me great exposure. Spanish filmmaker Victor Manuel Fornies Castelar heard me playing one night and contracted my composition ‘Dancing Hands’ for his short film, Making Of."
Since coming here she has also played three concerts in the Basque country, one in Valencia, four in the Ainsa festival, numerous times in Zaragoza and has just returned from an introductory tour of South America.
Will she stay another year? “I'm not sure,” she said. “Maybe I’ll go to Galicia. The air’s cleaner there and they have a thriving tradition of Celtic music. And I can still sip wine, eat olives and have a siesta in the middle of the day.”
But then, there’s that possible collaboration with a Catalan band…