but don't give up
An interview by Tom Knapp,
The girls of GiveWay have school to consider when they're considering their options for touring the world.
Fiona Johnson is the eldest, just 18 when she and her sisters made their first trip across the ocean from Edinburgh, Scotland, to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, for the Celtic Colours festival in October, 2004. She had just started university, where she's studying music, she said. Her younger sisters and bandmates -- Kirsty and twins Mairi and Amy, two to three years her junior -- still have high school to complete.
But that didn't stop the young band from making a big splash at Colours, where the international audience is always eager to welcome new talent from Scotland. Fiona said making a band out of the Johnson family's musical interests was a natural thing.
"It was a natural progression," she said, during an interview at the daily Festival Club. "We all live in the same house and have the same interests."
They all love music, true. But, fortunately, their specific instrumental interests varied enough to give the band a broad sound. Fiona plays fiddle and whistle, Kirsty handles the accordion, Mairi is on keyboards and Amy adds percussion. Largely an instrumental band, they are dabbling with vocal arrangements on which everyone sings, with Kirsty in the lead, Fiona said.
The band came together in 1998. "Before, we just mucked about the house," Fiona said. "We just jammed." Arrangements, she said, are an organic process for the sisters. "We learn the melody first. It just kind of happens. We muck about with it to see what we can come up with. ... We want to play traditional music, but we want to do it a bit different, too."
GiveWay released its first CD, Full Steam Ahead, in 2003 and is working on a second for release in summer 2005. Kirsty and Fiona, who dominate the band's instrumental sound, started playing when they were 4 or 5 years old, Fiona recalled.
The band blends traditional Celtic sounds with touches of rock and jazz, including some original material written by Fiona. "It's hard to pin it down to one label," she said. "You need to hear us and decide for yourself."
Fiona said music of all kinds has always been popular at their house. "We like all kinds of music, from rock to gospel," she said. "What we play depends somewhat on what we're listening to at the time."
For instance, Fiona admits to a keen fondness for Led Zeppelin
There are no more siblings in the family, she noted, and the sisters aren't eager to add outsiders to the lineup. "We want to keep the band in the family," she explained. "It's a lot easier that way. ... Besides, four is enough."
Fiona has no doubt that she's found her calling and is confident she'll stay with the music business in some capacity. She has no plans for a fallback career, she said. "This is what I'm going to do."
"Certainly for me, I want to do this long-term," she said. "But the girls, they don't know what they want to do yet. We're just having fun and enjoying it. We'll see what happens. But we're happy to be doing it now."