Married to Al
Colour of Eyes
Colour of Hair
|| Isla Grant is a survivor...
In a business where the failures far outnumber the successes, and artists' rise and fall are equally dependent upon trends and the whim of the public, this Scottish born entertainer struggled long and hard to achieve her star.
Like others whose music has found a welcomed niche in easy listening, gentle country surroundings, Isla found success outside of her native homeland, across the water in the Emerald Isle.
Today she's a major star in Ireland, winning the audience's hearts with the purity and warmth of her music, collecting Platinum and Double Platinum Discs for her record sales and scheduling five or six week tours that would be the envy of many pop or rock performer.
The Allanton, Berwickshire based singer/songwriter never had any doubts about career ambitions, having grown up with music being a constant in her life. Her father was a piper, her mother a singer and both her grandparents fiddlers. Following in the family footsteps came naturally and, by time she had celebrated her eighth birthday she was singing in church, school concerts and at Burns' suppers. Six years later she was performing in the folk clubs of Glasgow and Edinburgh.
'The big acts working the folk clubs, at that time, were Eddie and Finbar Furey, The Dubliners and Billy Connelly, who was a member of the group named The Humblebums' she recalls. Soon afterwards Isla had brought her music South of the Border, to the working men's clubs of North-East England, a tough learning ground for any newcomer in the business, where audiences clearly let it be known if they didn't like a performance. As someone had once remarked, 'if you can work these clubs, you can work anywhere'. Isla passed her apprenticeship with flying colours.
It was around this time that her music tastes transcended territories slightly and moved from folk to country, and she started listening to the music of Merle Haggard, 'possibly the finest country artist of them all. His songs have got me through a lot of hard times over the years' she says, and adds that Ireland's Johnny McEvoy, 'a great writer who's never received the attention he really deserved', also played a major influential role. Isla became a regular performer on the British country music scene, playing clubs and the occasional major festivals, which included a couple of the Wembley International Festival appearances during the latter years of its life, sharing the stage with such as Johnny Cash, Crystal Gayle and Tompall & The Glaser Brothers. 'But you can only go so far working the club scene' she explains, 'It's a scene when cover songs are the general order of the day, current hit titles and standards. Once you reach a certain level, there's nowhere else to'. But she went further than many other artists. She started singing a few of her original songs and audiences, and club organisers, began to ask for more.
The club scene also brought her in contact with Al Grant, who was heading up his own band. They married in 1992, after having first worked together as Dixie and Allon and, later, as Isla and Al Young.
Then, tragically, within a few months of the marriage, she became the victim of a near fatal car accident. On a shopping expedition with Al, they were hit head-on by another car well exceeding 100 mph. Isla suffered internal injuries and a broken wrist, her husband a dislocated foot. They pulled themselves from the car and a local woman called the police, comforting them until their arrival. Later the police told the couple that they were lucky driving a large car: they might not have survived had they been driving anything small.
Although the hospital stopover was relatively short, the accident had far greater longterm repercussions. For almost two years Isla saw two psychiatrists every week to help her come to terms with the situation. She struggled to leave her house, was diagnosed as agoraphobic and struggled to play the guitar without sobbing. Even more distressing, some five months after the accident, she was told that she'd probably never sing again let alone perform in public.
'My whole world had fallen apart' Isla recalls. 'I couldn't listen to music on the radio because it brought back too many painful memories of my past. I'd wake up crying at night and I didn't even have confidence going out and buying groceries'.
Finally, though, it was music that provided the incentive to win back her confidence and continue her career. 'Although I had great support from my family, and much encouragement from the many well-wishers who sent me thousands of cards and letters, I knew that the only person who was going to get me out of the situation was myself. I had had plenty of time to write and so many songs came to me because of the accident. I had to write my feelings down, often because I couldn't talk about them but I was able to put them down on paper' she explains.
Next, armed with her guitar and a tape recorder she started committing her songs to tape and, over a period of months, had built up a considerable repertoire. Facing an audience again was an even harder task but, once having the decision and making her appearance on stage at a village hall in Kelso, the immediate and enthusiastic response soon overcame all fear and trepidation. Feeling more confident, Isla then approached a record label in Glasgow with her songs and, to her utter amazement, a meeting was quickly arranged for the following week. There a contract was produced and signed, which led on to two albums of wholly original material being released over the following couple of years. It was this record deal that provided the catalyst for the Irish breakthrough.
Now presenting a more easy listening style, with her music respecting both her country and folk backgrounds, she began to capture the attention of more diverse audiences, especially so in Ireland where careful attention is always paid to lyrics. Her music came to the attention of Donnie Cassidy, a senator in the government and a longtime music entrepreneur. Very much impressed with what he heard, he played Isla's tapes to Tom Kelly, one of the Ireland's most respected managers, and - on the strength of mounting radio play - booked Isla for seven date concert tour but, by the time it was set to commence, the number has escalated to seventeen.
A new deal was struck with CMR Records for her Irish releases and Rosette Records for the UK and since this deal Isla has released seven albums, some of which have gone onto record double platinum sales, and has toured the furthest reaches of the globe. Her most recent album, 'Faith Love & Hope' was released in the UK in the autumn of 2006 and was unique amongst Isla's albums as it was the first one to consist entirely of inspirational songs.
In offering an explanation for her success, Isla says: 'After the accident, when I started writing again, I took it much more seriously than I had previously. The songs were also far more sincere because they were bred out of genuine emotions and feelings. I believe that's what has made them - and myself - successful. People can relate to the songs because of the emotions conveyed'.