Slightly windswept, a leather bomber jacket shielding her from the elements, Phamie Gow rushes through the hotel’s revolving doors, removes her Ray-Bans and explains how she had to make a mad dash from a meeting with her publicist where they were finalising the art work for her forthcoming album.
Her lips painted a rock-chick red, she orders a cup of Earl Grey tea and mentions how she’s off to New York next week to play with Patti Smith’s session musicians.
It all sounds so very rock and roll. But Gow isn’t the next Pixie Lott or Amy Winehouse. She is in fact a harpist. From Bruntsfield.
Playing the Big Apple is nothing new for the talented 31-year-old, who also happens to be a pianist, singer and composer. A few years back she was in Carnegie Hall playing with one of the most influential composers of the day, Philip Glass, and she’s already appeared on Broadway with the hit Celtic tap show Tapeire.
While such a jet-setting lifestyle might turn the heads of most, Gow couldn’t be more grounded, and she laughs nervously as she modestly reels off a list of achievements that has made this year one of her most chaotic yet.
She has just released her sixth album – Road of the Loving Heart – and is now the most-played artist in the Italian coffee shop chain Caffè Nero. She’s also regularly featured on Classic FM and her talents have been recognised across the world, most notably by Glass, the man behind many award-winning film scores including The Truman Show and The Hours.
Three years ago he invited her to perform in his Tibet benefit concert in the world-famous concert hall, where she starred alongside Ray Davies of the Kinks. They’d been introduced by mutual friend, Tapeire fiddler Ashley MacIsaac. “It was like something out of a dream. I’d always hoped that I would one day have the opportunity to play at Carnegie Hall.”
Gow has toured the world with her music, collaborated with many well-known faces, played for the Queen and twice for the Dalai Lama, but she says she has always remained true to her Scottish roots and resisted the temptation to move to the US, despite Glass’ advice.
“Scotland is in my soul,” she says. “I’m not sure I could ever fully break that tie.”
Her current project pays homage to that, an ambitious album called The Edinburgh Suite composed by Gow and recorded with the London Metropolitan Orchestra in May, along with the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. It is expected to be released next year and is a musical take on the city, with tracks such as the Royal Mile, the New Town and the Scott Monument.
“It was commissioned by Tim Hollier [musician and movie financier] and it was the first time I had written for an orchestra,” she explains. “I started writing it about a year ago and I actually have the film director John Landis to thank for that.
“I wrote pieces for the soundtrack to his Burke and Hare film, but I never got the part. Not getting it actually worked out really well though as I was able to take on The Edinburgh Suite, which I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.
“I saw John Landis not that long ago and thanked him for turning me down. It’s all worked out really well.”
Laughing at the unexpected turn of events, Gow, who was born in the Borders, brims with excitement as she reveals how The Edinburgh Suite was recorded at the legendary Metropolis Studios in London, a favourite with musical greats such as Paul McCartney, Madonna, The Rolling Stones and Elton John.
“It was great to have the pipers from the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard there, the moral support was fantastic,” she says. “It’s so easy to forget they are soldiers as well though, and not just musicians. The album was written for the pipes, and it was a challenge for me – I love a challenge though.”
There seems to be no question about that, for although she may come across as very laid back, Gow has been hugely driven to succeed in the music industry since she gave her first public performance at the age of 12 on the harp, an instrument she had begged her parents to let her try from a very young age.
“I remember my first performance,” she says. “I was a shy, skinny thing but I realised music was my way of expressing myself.”
A classically trained pianist from the age of eight, Gow – who is a descendent of Niel Gow, the famous 18th century Scottish fiddler – taught herself to play the harp using a cassette and has been lugging the instrument across the globe ever since releasing her first album, Winged Spirit, in 2001.
“Luckily I am at the stage now where I can request a harp at venues, to save me from travelling with them. They can be really heavy on your back,” she says.
Although she admits she is hugely ambitious, always “ready for more” while looking ahead to her next project as one door closes, she is remaining very tight-lipped about what could lie ahead for The Edinburgh Suite.
The album was written while Gow was staying in France. She says she finds it easier to write about the Capital while away from it, and although she is happy to say it could be released in 2012, the rest is a secret.
“I really cannot say too much at this stage,” she says, the excitement clear in her eyes. “It really is very exciting though.”
Gow now plans to spend two months in New York playing “as much as possible” and collaborating with new artists before returning to the UK to work on a soundtrack for a production with the Royal Lyceum, which, you guessed it, she is remaining equally tight-lipped about.
“I’m sorry,” she says. “It’s just that it’s not really my show to talk about at this stage. But I definitely will be back by December to work on it.
“This trip to New York, though, is about sowing seeds. It’s a dream for me, the place resonates with creative style. I’m going to stay with some friends I have there and I am going to be meeting up with some session musicians who play with Patti Smith. I’ve met them before and we’ve kept in touch. It feels like the right time for me to be going and I’m very excited.”
Who knows who she will bump into when she is over in the US? Perhaps she’ll even get the chance to fulfil her dream of performing with Sting or Andrea Bocelli. The industry names would be two more to add to her growing list – if Gow were keen on name dropping. “I just see people as people, and if we can share something musically that is very special,” she says. “Music is my religion and my best friend – simple as that.”