FOR Gillebride MacMillan the old maxim that art imitates life has never been truer. Famous across the world for his portrayal of Gwyllyn the Bard in global sensation Outlander, MacMillan is in real life a torchbearer for that very same bardic tradition. However, as his latest album shows, he is, unlike his on-screen co-stars, not content with living in the past.

MacMillan’s third album, Freumhan Falaichte, which translates as Hidden Roots, is composed entirely of self-penned songs that explore contemporary topics, ranging from the personal to the political. His rich and distinctive voice is a joy throughout but it is his unwillingness to stick with traditional songs that makes this offering unique.

Originally from South Uist, MacMillan was brought up in a Gaelic speaking tradition and sees it as something of a mission to ensure the language retains a relevance even in today’s modern world.

“I was born and brought up in South Uist and had Gaelic as a first language,” says MacMilllan. “I’d always been singing traditional songs so with this album all being my own words and music I was trying to also base it on the songs I heard when I was growing up. I wanted to tackle modern-day themes with contemporary arrangements but with something that was also very much rooted in the tradition.

“Gaelic is, I suppose, the language I would naturally think in and write in so it’s very natural for me to do it but it’s also very important that there are new songs and new poetry dealing with what’s going on in the world today but with a Gaelic voice.”

MacMillan’s journey began when he first started singing at around five at local ceilidhs and Mods and from there developed until his early teens when he stopped, only to take it up again in his twenties, winning two gold medals at the Royal National Mod in the process.

His life, though, changed back in 2014.

“There was never any plan, really, but in 2014 I got the chance to be cast as Gwyllyn the Bard in Outlander which has allowed me to be part of this amazing journey because it’s taken me all over the world,” says MacMillan. “I’ve been singing in Canada every year since, in the United States, in Germany and all over Scotland and England as well.”

While being brought into the Outlander world created opportunities for MacMillan, did he find himself at all shocked at just how big a phenomenon the show has become?

“Oh, completely,” admits MacMillan. “To be honest I had never heard of the show or the books until just before I got the part. I saw a Facebook post looking for Gaelic singers and I’d heard of the show just before that as a friend of mine was the Gaelic coach on the programme, but before that I hadn’t heard of it.

“So it was such a shock to me. It has such a huge following across the world of people who love the show and love the books. The fans seem to just love Scottish culture in general, which is such a huge bonus for Scotland.

“And for me personally I just love this idea of being able to bring new songs to people.”

The National:

MacMillan’s hope is that the exposure provided by Outlander will bring Gaelic song and poetry to a new generation of people from across the globe.

“I still haven’t really changed that much but because you have this exposure on a worldwide scale it’s just incredible,” says MacMillan. “But I’m hoping that Gaelic speakers and those who are interested in the music and who love the songs in Outlander will seek out this album.”

The album features a who’s who of traditional musicians, including Ewan MacPherson of Shooglenifty, Fraser Fifield (Capercaillie, Salsa Celtica and the Grit orchestra), Donald Hay (Old Blind Dogs), American cellist Natalie Haas, and a certain Julie Fowlis on backing vocals. The album also features Galician singer Rosa Cedron who joins MacMillan on the track Santiago - a homage to the Galician city where MacMillan lived for seven years and where he met his wife.

”Half of the song is in Gaelic and my wife translated the other half into Galician which is sung by Rosa,” says MacMillan. “I lived there for seven years and just after I moved there Capercaillie came over to Vigo and it was just the most incredible concert. Then I heard Luar na Lubre, which I guess are like a Galician Capercaillie, and heard Rosa singing, so I knew her music long before I asked her [to sing on the album].”

For MacMillan, Gaelic is more than just a language to sing in. He lives and breathes the language and, indeed, works as a lecturer in the subject at the University of Glasgow.

“I teach Gaelic language, Gaelic literature and also teach a course in Gaelic song,” says MacMillan. “I speak Gaelic to my children, to my mother, it’s very much a language I’m rooted in.”

ALTHOUGH a native of South Uist, much of the album was penned on Canne, where MacMillan was able to spend a week exploring the archives at Canna House so lovingly collected over the years by John Lorne Campbell and his wife Margaret Fay Shaw.

“Several of the songs on the album were composed on Canna,” says MacMillan. “I was looking in the archives during the day and just going on walks in the evening and songs would just come to me.

“It was incredible being able to read these letters from Margaret Fay Shaw to people across the Gaelic-speaking world who have been writing books for years, keeping the language and the culture alive. And then walking home and a song would come as I walked around Canna.”

MacMillan himself is now one of those people who are keeping the language and culture alive. Does he believe the future remains in good hands for the language and the culture?

“Certainly in terms of the music and the traditions,” says MacMillan. “It’s healthy because it’s such a vibrant scene and there’s a lot of talent there and that means there’s an audience for it as well.”

MacMillan, the Gaelic bard, is himself one of those talented artists of whom he speaks. And his words and music are part of the new, contemporary wave of Gaels who are pushing the culture into the future.

As Outlander author Diana Gabaldon puts it in the foreword to Freumhan Falaichte: “While warriors may rise and fall, the need of a good bard is with us still.

“And we are privileged indeed to have the music of Gillebride MacMillan - one of the modern world’s great bards, whose music reminds us so brilliantly of the world around us and the world within.

“Like the bards of old his songs speak of the important issues of our day. These original songs – and they are songs in the age old Gaelic traditions where the words and melody are completely entwined and composed as one – span the breadth of human experience dealing as they do with love, loss, joy, pain, politics and passion.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Gillebride MacMillan plays the Spree Festival in Paisley in October. For more information, visit