Rosie Sullivan recalls regularly standing in the crowd at the Hebridean Celtic Festival and singing along with the headline acts when she was growing up in Lewis.
This July the 16-year-old will be back singing at the award-winning festival, but this time on the stage.
Rosie has already been writing and performing for several years and has gained considerable experience playing gigs and festivals around the country.
In 2015 she won the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition for young artists aged seven to 18 across the UK and Ireland. It gave her the chance to record her winning song ‘Runs from the Storm’, written while on a family holiday near Ullapool, at the famous Sony EMI studios and to perform live at Wembley in front of 6,000 people. Since then she has released her debut EP ‘Wonderland’, recorded at Wee Studio in Stornoway. ‘Runs from the Storm’ still gets played occasionally at her gigs, unlike her earliest known composition, ‘Dolly on the Road’, said to have been written when she was aged four.
“I actually have no recollection of writing ‘Dolly on the Road’ – it was my dad and my aunt who told me about it. I still play some of my earlier songs. A lot of people like ‘Wait’ and I think it’s quite a special one, as it was the first song I ever wrote with my guitar. I remember writing it and being so happy and getting to record it was a dream come true. It’s really great for me to see how far I’ve come. My aunt is a singer/songwriter and she was definitely the person who inspired me to pick up a guitar.
“I started my first lessons for guitar in 2015 and, lucky enough for me, I picked it up really quickly. I soon started writing and just putting lyrics to chords and vice versa.”
Being able to live her ambition is so far an experience beyond what she could have imagined: “Winning the national songwriting competition, getting to record my song and being able to perform at Wembley Arena was a dream come true.
“I get so much support from my family and friends - a lot of my experiences have been at gigs and events on the mainland, and without my parents, it would be impossible to do. They pay for travel and recording and take time off work just to make sure I have all the opportunities I have. I’m so lucky to have that, and I’m so thankful.
“This year has been my first year of doing ‘proper’ exams, and it has been quite difficult to balance schoolwork and revision with my music, although I will usually find time to write and sing and have a break. I just haven’t done as many gigs so far this year, but I’m still loving playing and writing.
“Last year, I was on tour with two other amazing artists from Edinburgh and Glasgow. That was a great experience and, despite the two hours’ sleep and 3am starts, it was a lot of fun getting to experience the sense of a tour.”
In July Rosie will perform on the Acoustic Stage at HebCelt, bringing back memories of her time in the audience: “I’ve been to HebCelt a lot and think it’s such a great family-friendly festival.
“I remember when I was about eight or nine we were there and my whole family just sang along the whole night with The Proclaimers. I think having bands and artists from the mainland and other places perform is great and I know I always enjoy myself, but what really makes it for me is the Islands Stage and Acoustic Stage, showcasing a lot of the vast talent on the island.
“I think this adds to the beauty and sense of community on the island. I’m really looking forward to performing on the Acoustic Stage, a lot of people who haven’t seen me before will be able to come along and hopefully have a good time. I’ll have a lot of new material and maybe some old songs too.”
The summer will also see Rosie release her second EP, featuring six original songs accompanied by her fiddle and guitar playing. She will also be performing at Uncon 2.0, the second national children and young people’s arts conference in Perth, which showcases the artistic and creative work of young people in Scotland.
In the meantime, she will continue writing, taking inspiration from her island home: “A lot of my songs have been about thoughts and feelings. However, my most recent songs have been based on my surroundings. I live a five-minute walk away from Barvas Beach, on the west side of Lewis and I love taking my guitar and just watch the sunset and the surfers. It gives me a great sense of freedom, and I get a lot of inspiration from it.”
HebCelt is part of the Year of Young People 2018 Partner Programme.
This year’s HebCelt runs from 18-21 July with headliners Deacon Blue, The Fratellis, Eddi Reader, Skipinnish and Roddy Woomble.
Day tickets for HebCelt are available exclusively from the festival website. See www.hebceltfest.com