Rowan began playing the fiddle at the age of seven with a traditional fiddle group in his home village of Broughshane, in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. He then studied with Johnny Murphy, a fiddler and fiddle maker from Ballymena in County Antrim, himself a pupil of the legendary Belfast fiddler Sean Maguire. Rowan went on to study at Newcastle University, graduating with a BMus in Folk and Traditional Music in 2014, where he was inspired and influenced by many great fiddlers including those from the English and Scottish traditions as well as those from Ireland. He also benefited from time spent at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at the University of Limerick. In 2013 he was awarded the ALCM diploma in Irish Traditional Music from the London College of Music.
Rowan is steeped in the Irish dance tradition, having begun playing at Irish dance festivals at the age of thirteen – touring Italy and Spain to accompany dancers at various Celtic festivals – and continues his involvement to this day. He played the part of the fiddler in the film ‘Moon Dogs’ (the ‘Feature Film Award’ winner at the Galway Film Fleadh in 2016) and, in the same year, completed a 6-month tour in England with the iconic Giffords Circus.
Rowan began composing when he was thirteen. His main focus is on the composition of traditional-style dance tunes and airs; however he also composes music in other genres, including a piece for the Royal Northern Sinfonia which was performed at the University of Newcastle in 2014.
In 2009, Rowan, Johnny Murphy, and pianist Rose Murray released a CD of Irish dance music. In 2010, Rowan released his own solo album, ‘Itchy Fingers’. This was followed, in 2017, by a four-track EP of his own compositions, entitled ‘Originals’. This recording can be found on iTunes, Spotify, Apple Music and Bandcamp. Rowan’s second album of his own compositions, ‘Escaping the Dawn’, was released in December 2020, and toured in the autumn of 2021. On this album, Rowan is accompanied by Graeme Armstrong (Talisk) on guitar, Andrew Waite (Dallahan, Tyde, Fourth Moon) on accordion and David Foley (RURA) on bodhran.
Over the last couple of years, Rowan has been collecting original tunes written by players from his native County Antrim and neighbouring County Derry and arranging them for the fiddle. This collection has recently been published by the American publishing house, Mel Bay: ‘Contemporary Fiddle Tunes from the Northeast of Ireland’ is currently available from Mel Bay and on Rowan’s bandcamp page and will soon to be in music shops worldwide.
Rowan currently lives in Glasgow, where the Rowan Leslie Band provides music for céilís, parties and other events with a variety of instrumental line-ups. He also plays with local Glasgow cover band, The Raggaels. He returns to Ireland frequently where he continues his involvement with Irish dancing festivals and with the local music scene.