Biography - Fil Campbell

Fil (or Phil) Campbell grew up in Belleek on the Co. Fermanagh/Donegal border in the North of Ireland.  She was brought up on the folk songs that were popular in that area and spent her childhood immersed in music. With both ceilidh bands and singers in the family, music was all around and performance was part of everyday life, both at home and at school. Belleek is the home of the world famous Belleek Pottery, where Fil's father worked all his life, and where she in turn spent several Summer holidays working.

Fil Campbell 1977

“Fil Campbell … has been likened to a lot of female performers, but can be compared to none. She has a unique voice and a knack of making every song her own.” The Word (Ireland)

Fil has been working as a full time performer since the late 1980s, having performed part time throughout the 70s while still at school and studying at University and in her early working life. Throughout the 90s she toured extensively in Europe, Ireland and the UK building up a strong and loyal following on the folk circuit, accompanied by her husband and musical partner, percussionist and singer Tom McFarland.

Her first CD, The Light Beyond the Woods, was recorded in 1992 in the world famous Spring Studios in Rostrevor, home of the Sands Family.  A collection of favourite songs, played by the cream of Irish musicians, this album brought Fil and Tom to live in Rostrevor. 

Dipping her toe into songwriting, Dreaming was recorded in 1996 - the title song, a commentary on life in Northern Ireland during the turbulent 90s, was written while travelling in Germany. It won the prestigious Letterkenny Song Festival. The rest of the album contains songs from Julie Matthews and Chris While, Nina Simone and Van Morrison to name but a few.

Beneath the Calm followed a couple of years later and was a full collection of Fil's songs, - it had the beautiful “I Still Think of You” which she wrote in memory of her father and which was recorded later by the well known French folk singer Flossie Maliavialle.

Another project album followed in 2001.  Together with a group of local musicians - Peter Benson on keyboards, Maria Flynn on vocals, Dermot McQuaid on lead guitar -  Fil and Tom completed the line up of Jaimidi who produced a one off show to celebrate the summer solstice in 2001 and recorded an album of the show - the Turn of the Day.   Later the same year the group, with their sumptuous vocal harmonies,  reprised and augmented the show to celebrate the winter solstice.  People still ask when Jaimidi will take the stage again, but the individual commitments of all the performers makes it unlikely. 

After a chance encounter in America, Fil decided it was time to record a collection of Irish songs to complement her own writings.   What followed took her on a 10 year journey.  By coincidence rather than design, the collection of songs from her childhood, had for the most part  been first recorded by the pioneer of Irish recordings Delia Murphy.   A colleague suggested making a documentary to support it and this turned into a multi media project called Songbirds – a TV show, touring show, CD and DVD which profiled the lives of women singers in Ireland who had recorded the popular folk songs of the 30s, 40s and 50s.  You can read more about the project and the singers at the above link - and you can view the TV programmes on the Songbirds You Tube channel.  

In the 5 years that followed, Fil recorded a total of 3 CDs of these folk songs - Songbirds, Farewell To Cold Winter and A Place of My Own, which included many beautiful old Irish songs - The Connemara Cradle Song, the Gartan Mothers's Lullaby, Teddy O'Neill, Erin Gra mo Chroi, the Doffing Mistress, the Connemara Shore and many many more.  

In 2013 it was back to writing, for a project with Hungarian poet Csilla Toldy, setting Csilla's poems to music and developing a show called The Emigrant Woman's Tale which toured as a 1 hour show of songs, dialogue and poems in 2015 and 2016.  The accompanying book and CD reflects the coming together of two women from opposite ends of Europe.

In 2015, Tom and Fil produced their first CD of contemporary songs in nearly a decade.   Back There is a collection of their own and their contemporaries' songs - and received lovely reviews with lots of airplay on folk and Irish programmes around the world.  This marked Tom's start into singing on record, a lovely addition to an already wide catalogue. 

Together was released in 2017 - a collection of original songs, loosely themed around peace and reconciliation, written by both Fil and Tom and featuring both of them separately and together on lead vocals.  




A lifetime in music

* While performing has always been Fil's passion, she has also worked in many other areas of the music business – as a promoter, radio presenter, booking agent, voice coach, backing vocalist ….

* She currently runs Singmarra, a community choir for people who say they can't sing!!  They all can sing - beautifully.   

* Fil is the Irish spelling of Phil – she changed her name from Phil to avoid confusion with the male Phil Campbell’s in the music industry of which there are many. In fact, there is a town in America called Phil Campbell?!! True!!  Her full name is Philomena.

* She has a degree in Arts from Queen’s University, Belfast - her main subjects being French and Music.

* For 7 years she was a radio presenter for BBC Radio Ulster in Northern Ireland, presenting folk-based evening and daytime shows, including ‘Folk Club’ for 3 years, as well as health documentaries and some late night programmes.  She had to choose between touring and presenting in the mid 90s and chose to follow her passion of performing on stage.

* While working as a music publicist/promoter she helped promote major shows like Queen at Slane Castle, the Bolshoi Ballet, and Rod Stewart. She also promoted shows for Ulster Television, local radio stations, and even promoted a Dolphin Show (!)

* Fil was a backing vocalist for RTE Television and for several studio sessions; sang in a cabaret band in the Middle East and sang in several operas. She plays flute, piano and guitar and has also played harp.

* Together with a school friend, Fil was writing winning songs as early as 1977 when she was a prize winner at the Manorhamilton Song Contest and in a special teenager’s song contest in Dublin.

 * While she was still at school Fil reached the final stages of the Voice of Ireland competition, represented Ulster in the Scor na nOg and sang with several showbands in a series of Peace Concerts across Northern Ireland.

* The year she graduated Fil directed the Belfast Fringe Festival and was the first promoter to give U2 a gig in the North of Ireland. They supported Squeeze!

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