Robbi McMillen

Aindreas Cullinane talks to the Belfast boy with a love of all things 'trad'

 LISTEN to Robbi McMillen: 'Western Highway'

At sixteen-years of age, Robbi McMillen is one of the finest solo artists to emerge from Belfast’s ‘Gaelicscape’. McMillen has been the centre of many cultural and religious events in Belfast, and is a former member of the Belfast quartet Cabéal. Here, McMillen talks about the trials of transatlantic recording and his latest album of traditional English, Irish and Scottish folk songs, Façade

How did you first get into music?
I started recording my first album, Aisling Bhán at home back in early 2004, reworking a lot of old, traditional songs such as 'An Mhaighdeán Mhara' and 'Tiocfaidh an Samhradh', and I really enjoyed it. Obviously you have to know the stories or you can't perform them properly, so I did a lot of research. It's quite rewarding. I think it was when I met Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh [from traditional Irish band Altan] that I got into writing and learning new songs.

Was it only ás Gaeilge songs you were into?
You and I will both agree that things sound better ás Gaeilge, especially Donegal Gaelic and the Donegal songs that I've listened to all my life. Those songs were very important, and I suppose they were the only songs I was into. But when I was recording Aisling Bhán I wanted to use two of my English songs, about two very important people at the time. After that it was all Gaelic, apart from the title track which was bilingual and for a friend. But I suppose at the time I only really enjoyed doing the Gaelic songs.

How did Façade come about?
All the work I was doing was Irish traditional and I needed to explore a bit more, so I recorded two singles in Gaelic and English, one in 2005 and the other in 2006. They were my debut singles, so I needed to put everything I had into them. I seemed to have gone way off 'trad', but kept a bit of it in my head. I love trad music, but I needed a change - I needed a new style if you like, of singing and songwriting.

How many musicians played on the album?
To be honest there were a lot, but I only met few of them. Many of them are from America or Germany. I had to send them a draft of the song so that they could record their pieces, then everything sort of slides together. They'd send me the masters and I'd get to work on that. I'd say in all there were 44 performers, including the members of the three groups that recorded on it, and the majority were in North America. So it was pretty stressful.

And what exactly is the album about?
Façade is an album about people with faith and so many other things. I can't really pin-point what it's about because that depends on the individual person.

What lies ahead for Façade?
Well it was released in Germany on April 9th by Mark Reinhardt, which was brilliant. Then I released it in two places here in Ireland and now it's in the shops. So I've got to promote it and hopefully it will do well. The group have put so much into it and they deserve it.

Finally, what's on your iPod at the minute?
A few hundred artists! Mostly Clannad, Altan, Julie Fowlis, Cliar and Moya Brennan. And it wouldn't be complete without a bit of Karine Polwart and some Hazel O'Connor. I'm the biggest fan of every act I've just mentioned!