Sharon Armstrong talks to TALITHA MACKENZIE, a globally renowned singer of Gaelic songs, Composer and Ethnomusicologist
1. What is your earliest memory of Edinburgh and why did you move there?
Rolling into Waverley Station early in the morning on a Sleeper Train from London during the Winter of Discontent—the sky was a bleak and beautiful grey, reminiscent of the sky in Leningrad.
In America, I had become known as an expert in Gaelic Song but felt that I didn’t deserve the title; I went to study Scottish Ethnology at the University of Edinburgh, in order to earn my reputation retrospectively. There, I met my husband Ian and never looked back.
2. What are your memories of school?
I attended Syosset High School, on Long Island, New York. It was very progressive—one of the best in the country. I had a lot of excellent teachers and courses like Civil Liberties and Russian (a great thing to study during the Cold War). Class attendance was not mandatory and students could go to workshops, or wherever they wanted, if a teacher were absent. I even heard that there was marijuana growing in the library (but never saw it). The theatre there was beautiful and very well-equipped; it’s no surprise to me that Natalie Portman is also a graduate.
3. Where is your favourite place in Edinburgh and why?
My own kitchen, which doubles as my office/recording studio—it’s warm and bright and full of inspiration. The computer sitting next to the original cast iron range may be anachronistic but it works for me.
4. What is the best thing about Edinburgh?
The fact that you can walk to somewhere green in minutes from almost any part of it.
5. What would you change about the city?
I would add some purpose-built concert venues that are clean, comfortable and have seating enough for people (like me) who don’t like to stand in a throng at gigs.
6. Describe a perfect Edinburgh day/night out:
Dinner at Thai Orchid followed by an excellent film.
7. Which sports interest you?
Dancing is my sport: Bulgarian and Highland Folk Dance, Appalachian Clogging, Renaissance and Baroque dancing are top of my list.
8. What was your most embarrassing moment?
I was at a party in Hollywood, while recording vocals for the blockbuster Troy, and one of the musicians introduced me as the singer on the No.1 album Mouth Music. When it was clear that the other fellow had never heard of it, I exclaimed (as a joke) “Don’t you know who I am?!” but no one laughed. They must have thought that I was serious.
9. What is your greatest achievement?
Raising two beautiful, talented and fascinating sons, whose company I enjoy.
10. Sum up Edinburgh in three words:
Proud, historic, academic