James remembers Angus

For those of you who couldn’t make Angus’s send off on Tuesday 18 October 2016, we thought you might like to read James Mackintosh’s heartfelt eulogy to his brother Shoogle

Welcome everyone, all of you who has come to pay their respects to Angus and his family today, I’m sure their spirits will be buoyed by so many friends offering condolences and support.

Aonghas Snr has asked me to say a few words about our dear old pal, and it is my privilege to do so, on behalf of myself, and the rest of the band.

Firstly, I must pay tribute to his sisters, particularly Fiona, who ever since his illness became apparent, bravely and selflessly cared for Angus at home, supporting him in so many ways, and allowing him to have his final wish, that he remain there, right up until his passing.

We must also thank his GP who went beyond the call of duty, and all the nurses from St Columba’s Hospice who did their very best to make him as comfortable as possible throughout these last few weeks.

I know that all of the families friends are rallying around, and will continue to offer Fiona, and her family, the love and support they will need over the coming months and years.

It wasn’t until the spring of this year we all finally realised that Angus was profoundly ill. A private man, he kept that illness hidden until it could no longer be mistaken.

When, in August, he was given the prognosis that his cancer was inoperable, he declined to undergo radio or chemotherapy. Instead he was determined to try and best prolong his life and maintain the quality of his life with more natural remedies.

His strength and his stoicism were remarkable throughout his illness, as was his determination and commitment to honour as many gigs and engagements as he could with the band, right up until the point where it became physically impossible for him to play.

A recent tribute from our friend Balazs Hermann who played bass guitar during one of Angus’s last concerts, illustrates his bravery and commitment beautifully:

“He seemed quite weak that day before the gig, and we all knew then how ill he was, and yet when we stepped on stage he transformed completely!

“He looked strong, and had an oozing charisma about him. He was free from all that burden while he played!

“His sorcery made everybody get up and dance, and freed us from all our little worries!

“After the gig he kindly thanked me for learning the material.

“It was a great lesson of love , and healing music , and it has made a mark on who I am today.”

Angus the sorcerer.

Many people who knew and loved his quirky and shamanistic stage persona might not have known the quieter side of the man.

I believe Angus chose the philosophy that he was the master of his own fate, and therefore everything depended upon him.

If he ever worshipped a deity, his  deity was nature.

From our teens, roaming the glens of Lochaber or sailing the lochs of Moidart, to gazing out at a sunset in the South China Sea, to marvelling at the constellations in the Southern Hemisphere, or gasping in awe, as yet another incredible vista came into view as we rounded a bend in the Rocky Mountains. He never ran out of wonder, superlatives, nor it has to be said, expletives, to express his joy and amazement at the beauty of the natural world.

I can recall him in sitting, in his element, on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, in a rocking chair, glass of wine in one hand, jazz cigarette in the other, gazing in wonder as the tall pines by the ocean swayed gracefully in the breeze.

“James, look,” he said, “They’re dancing  … have you ever seen such a beautiful dance”.

Angus the animist.

He never took our adventures for granted, and was always grateful for the opportunities to travel to new lands, and to meet and make new friends.

Throughout our travels, he saw beauty in diversity and was always excited by new experiences, always willing to be surprised and learn.

I believe he had a true appreciation of the nature of the world.

He was respectful of those who choose to follow their particular religion seeing truths in all of them, in that way perhaps his philosophy was akin to that of Bhuddism.

“There are some who prefer bread, and some who prefer rice. Each has different tastes, some eat rice, some eat flour, but there is, and should be no quarrel.”

In many respects though, he adhered greatly to the tenets of the Christian faith he was brought up in, respect for others, and an acknowledgement of differing perspectives.

He did his best to try to tread as gently and benignly as possible.

He didn’t chase acclaim, and he certainly didn’t seek to accumulate wealth or possessions, as he knew those couldn’t buy him happiness. As long as he had enough to get by, and a good book, which he would always pass on, he was content, as he knew that true wealth was accumulated elsewhere.

A mischievous and rebellious irreverence streak could often appear too though, more of which later …

I believe that music was Angus’ communion.

He was never more delightedly in his element than sitting in a session, or wee ceilidh, surrounded by friends, into the small hours, playing whatever instrument came to hand, and leading the assembled throng through a rousing version of Little Feat’s Willing, the Grateful Dead’s China Doll, or on very special occasions, and here shone that mischievous irreverence I mentioned earlier, a medley of Freddie Mercury songs sung in the call and response style of a Wee Free Psalm … Thunder bolts and lightning indeed.

As the hours passed, you  knew instinctively, that if it was “Willing O’clock”, it was already well past your bedtime, but invariably, the following morning Angus would be at breakfast, proudly proclaiming himself as having been “the last man standing “.

Of course his love of partying took an inevitable toll, but Angus knew the odds, and he shared more love, and packed more joy and fun into his 49 and a half years than many can do in 80.

I believe Angus will have passed through the eye of the needle with consummate ease.

His old friend Tina Cleary of Auckland, New Zealand, said yesterday:

“He was truly a man of music. A poet writer, a thinker, compassionate, deeply romantic and one of the funniest men I’ve ever known. His wit could silence a loud bigot or lift a shy child into laughing and joining him in a tune.”

Over the last few months he gave occasional insights into how he saw his place in the world.

He felt that the simple questions – “What is it I do when I go out to work? What’s my role in life? Do I make people happy or not ? – were important ones.

The answer that came was reassuring.

He was an entertainer, undertaking the very important role –spreading joy and happiness.

Amidst all of those myriad nights of music and dancing, he gave people the rare opportunity to  break the ice, shed their worries, inhibitions and tensions,  and often reach a state of pure and unadulterated mutual joy. He believed this condition is when we are at our very best, and surely as mother nature intended.

He also cheekily speculated on how many happy unions had been kindled during some of our concerts over the years. We know of a few happy couples who met during Shooglenifty concerts, who have gone on to raise happy families.

Hearts were ignited …

As Chloe Goodyear Director of the Woodford Festival in Australia illustrates, in a lovely tribute we received this week:

“Such wonderful memories of dancing to his fiddling, under bright starry skies, and in sweat-drenched venues in Brisbane. I know I’m one of so very many of those dancers for whom he poured out tunes that spurned on wonderful long crazy nights.

“I send deepest condolences, lots of love, and the warmth of all the hearts he helped to ignite here, amongst Woodfordians, to be with you during this time.”

I think perhaps I am about to make what will be a strong contender for the understatement of the century:

Angus liked to party!

Angus loved a party!

He served his “apprenticeship”, as he often put it, in his teens, playing tunes, and learning songs with his pals Iain Macfarlane, Kaela Rowan and Gogs Macfarlane and Graham Willowby, in their band Pennycroft. Their first big break was offered to them by Fergie Macdonald, a regular Sunday evening session over at his old bar at Mingarry. Where better for a young musician to learn the ropes and pay their dues.

I’m reliably informed that the troubadours would drive all the way home, through Glenuig to Glenfinnan, singing, and to the tune of Carrickfergus,

“I wish I was … in a car at Fergies”

Angus’ love of a good party is legendary, and he graduated with a diploma and a doctorate in the art  having learned from some of the great professors of our age. You know who you are.

When I reached Edinburgh and Art College, he appeared one summer and suggested we spend as much time busking as it would take to buy two return tickets to Amsterdam.

We managed this in less than three weeks, and set off on the adventure of a lifetime.

I returned after a few weeks to resume college, but Angus stayed out in Europe for some months, travelling throughout, studying under some of the greatest musicians and party animals in the land, and being inspired by a terrifying motorbike journey to write his iconic tune 250 to Vigo. He finally returned, in style, on a first class flight, courtesy of the Swiss Immigration Services. He had his partying diploma rolled up in his fiddle case, and took up residence once more under the living room table in my sister and I’s High Street flat.

His GP, whom we must thank for going those extra miles and showing Angus concern and kindness beyond the call of duty, recently observed:

“Angus certainly lived his life off piste, and that has to be respected.”

Given that he was a renowned fiddler in a popular touring acid folk combo, he otherwise managed to lead a remarkably anonymous existence, navigating his course well under the radar of conventional society and the establishment.

No mean feat in this day and age of social media, consumer profiling and celebrity worship.

Many friends from around the world knew that the most reliable way of reaching Angus was via his personal P.O. Box: The Shore Bar on the waterfront in Leith.

He was no man’s fool.

Where better than to stroll in, collect your mail, sit down, have a leisurely read, whilst enjoying a good pint of Guinness?

Angus did not own a mobile phone, in fact he said to me a couple of weeks ago:

“Can I state quite categorically, I do not, and never have, nor will I ever, own a mobile phone!”

This despite the best efforts of our long suffering manager Jane-Ann who recently tried to persuade him to use one, in case of an on the road emergency.

No beer backstage, for example?

In the early years, it seemed to us bandmates, and to his sister, that he truly believed soundchecks, interviews, rehearsals, tours, hotels and transportation, had all mysteriously coalesced through some great and mysterious cosmic alignment, and not the concerted efforts of many of his bandmates.  

Nor was he at all fond of social media.

Only last year he was horrified to learn that we had tracked him down to the Isle of Eigg, when he was spotted in the background of a friend’s picture in an online post.

The fact that he was only person at that particular fancy dress party not in fancy dress did make things a little easier though, that and that beard, his hat, and of course his fiddle.

He could be a very elegant man. Perhaps the living embodiment of “Shabby Chic”.

He sourced a seemingly endless supply of velvet jackets and flared jeans from Edinburgh thrift shops, and he adapted his clothes to suit whatever particular climate in whatever particular continent we happened to be in on any particular day.

Over the years, we witnessed him expertly perform several of his “trouserectomies”.

On arrival in Asia or Australia his jeans would prove too warm, so his solution was to simply cut them down to shorts with whatever implement came to hand.

I recall this causing a certain amount of consternation to the concierge at whatever venue we might be performing in. One particular occasion was at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Delhi, when the doorman seemed very reluctant to believe that a man in such attire could possibly be performing in his hotel’s ballroom that evening.

Another favourite tale is the journey he once made home from our wonderful trip to Bali.

He boarded his flight to Edinburgh from Denpasar wearing a very colourful sarong, sandals and a tie dyed t-shirt. On arrival in Edinburgh it soon became apparent his luggage was lost in Heathrow. He cut a very dashing figure striding across the Meadows in Edinburgh through the snow.

A prouder moment for him was some years before on the set of the Film Rob Roy in Glen Nevis. He was the only man in the film who required neither make up nor costume. This was confirmed at the end of one day’s shoot, when a make up assistant approached him and tried to pull off his beard, believing it to be false, like those of all the other extras.

The vagaries of fashion held no interest for Angus.

Someone recently defined cool thus:

“When you are about as far as possible as you can be, from being what is currently perceived as being cool, then you are truly cool.”

Angus was cool.

So, given his distain for social media and mobile communication devices, there is no small irony to the fact that the band, and Angus’s family have been inundated online and off,  with so many messages of love and condolence over the last few days.

I think he may be be wearing a wry smile knowing that he has been such a ubiquitous presence on Facebook in these few days after his passing.

The amount of love and respect that is contained within the many moving tributes we have received these last few days is testament to the high esteem in which Angus has been held by his many many friends, fans, and fellow musicians throughout Scotland and the world. We’ve compiled a book of them for Moira and the family, but I’d like to share just few excerpts with you just now.

The first  comes from the acclaimed Scottish playwright Matthew Zajac:

“Today we have lost, far too soon, a great Highland musician.  Angus Grant, the fiddle magician of Lochaber, the Shooglenifty sorcerer, the violin virtuoso who, with his wonderful band, led the Scottish folk renaissance into the most exciting new territory, with a legion of young musicians in tow. 

“Angus was my daughter’s first fiddle teacher, patient and always fun when she was 7 years old.  He was quiet and shy, though never on stage where his brilliance was both mesmerising and explosive. 

“What a loss. 

“Angus, I salute you. 

“Oidhche math mo charaid.”

From fellow musician Paddy Callahan:

“I was incredibly lucky to know Angus and I am a much better person for it. I first met him in Inverness and after a few encounters at various festivals, we became friends, who might not meet up often, but when we did it was fantastic.

“The advice, support and encouragement he gave to me as a young musician is something I will never forget. He was an inspirational person from whom a few short anecdotes on making his way in music helped me in so many ways.”

From the brilliant Tim Edy, guitarist and button box player:

“Life can be cruel and often the very best and most genuine human beings go too soon, I was so shocked to read about the loss of one of the true gents of the music scene, whenever I got to play in a session when he used to stay up in Birnam, or met him he was so lovely and always had time to have a natter, he was a true great.”

From Bruce Magregor, musician and Radio presenter:

“Angus Grant was an inspiration to so many of us as a musician , but away from the gigs he was also a hell of a nice guy. I remember being a 16 year old and seeing him and Iain Macfarlane in their band Pennycroft. They opened my ears to a new world.”

He went where he wanted and never followed the crowd.

A true legend of our music.

From percussionist Paul Jennings in the US:

“At the Shetland Folk Festival in 1995, my life changed forever.

“Shooglenifty and their frontman Angus had changed the playing field of Scottish traditional music and from where I was standing at the age of 13, I knew I needed to be part of it.

“Angus had a presence on stage like no other I have ever seen. Was he a rock star, was he a wizard, was he just a bad ass fiddle player who knew how to work a crowd?

“I think he was all of these things and more.

“Some years later I had the opportunity to tour with Shooglenifty. I will never forget this man and I feel blessed I got to play some great music with him. A true artist, musician, and one of my biggest inspirations.”

And from our good friend Luke Plumb, who shared the stage with Angus for many years, and sent us this message last night from Melbourne:

“For a period of seven years in amongst the albums and touring with the Shoogles and the Funky String Band, Angus and I were grounded together by the routine of a Monday night session at the Tap Inn in Birnam , and a Tuesday night at the Reverie bar in Edinburgh.

“Monday meant a rendezvous at Waverley to get the train together, fill in the sudoku and more often than not, remark at the grandeur of the Forth Rail Bridge, point out the boar in the farm just before Perth, and comment on how Perthshire was a slightly more genteel and unthreatening version of the Highlands.

“We’d watch University Challenge and then go to the session, and have more tunes in the bar afterwards.

“Tuesday night was more straight ahead, great tunes in a great venue with great folk. They were very different sessions but an intimate and grounding start to the week after whatever the Shoogly weekend had brought us.

“He was delighted to watch musicians at the sessions progressing from beginner, to having a good repertoire of tunes to join in with. He loved playing because when he did, the music came out and he knew how powerful that is.

“It was rare that these two days would pass without him saying to me, in wonder and almost surprise, ‘How lucky are we man. This is heaven.’”

From our friend and Shoogle family member Laura Beth Salter:

“What an amazing musician, friend to many and an incredible influence on a generation of musicians.

“I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to play music with and learn from Angus, to have heard tales of some of his crazy adventures around the world, to have been told the stories behind the music from the horses mouth  and to have been offered his gentle advice and to have shared a few drams.”

And from Somhairlie Macdonald, designer and musician:

“A hero of mine. Literally, if it had not been for him and all the others in Shoogles I may have never had the courage  to be myself and go after what I thought was cool, to embrace my own culture and distort it to make it my own. A staunch and unyielding individual, Angus was an artist that can be held in a timeless regard, like our poets and painters. An innovator and peerless front man with the stage craft of a rock God. A philosopher, a punk and a gentleman. My heart goes out to his family.”

What is clear within many of these heartfelt words, is that so many younger musicians were inspired in Angus’s wake, to be proud and fearless in expressing and continuing our traditions in new and innovative ways.

As a musician, Angus was surely part of what the late great Hamish Henderson called the “Carrying Stream”, and that he maintained the integrity of a tradition, keeping it vibrant and exciting to the next generation, is surely a very proud achievement.

Angus could never see music as a competition sport, only as a privilege to be shared with the next generation.

Brian Macalpine put it beautifully just yesterday:

“I hope that tomorrow is full of camaraderie, love and joy at the role Angus played in making Scotland a better place, where it’s cool to listen to trad music and that indeed trad music raises the bar in its evolution and survival. For all the sadness , I hope you are all surrounded with friendly faces all there not only to share in your loss, but to bring comfort to all that need it.”

From musician Mike Vass, all the way from The Celtic Colours Festival in Nova Scotia (or, as Angus liked to call it, the largest of the Outer Hebrides):

“I listened to Venus in Tweeds on repeat when I was a teenager, excitedly trying to make my fiddle playing swing like Angus’s. A huge inspiration to me.

“There was a lot of sadness in the air last night at the Celtic Colours festival club, I’ll be playing his tunes for years to come.”

Angus learned that unique swing from his father, as have scores, possibly hundreds of young fiddle players, learned from the teaching and generosity of a man in our midst who surely deserves the title of one of our great living national treasures.

Aonghas Grant senior.

I’m sure everyone will all agree that our lives, music and culture have  been enriched immeasurably by his efforts over the years.

Those efforts and energy are accumulating, and inspiring so many more young musicians, many of whom have been, and are being inspired in turn, by his son Angus.

I hope that in the sharing of these tributes, both Aonghas and Moira’s hearts will swell with pride, we all owe them both a debt of gratitude.

There is a quote from Dr. Vejay Verna, in this year’s programme for Jodphur RIFF, where had he not fallen ilI, Angus would have been today. I think it sums up his musical philosophy perfectly.

“It is not possible to turn back the tide of change. Our only hope can be to incorporate as much of the folk bequest into the web of life, with as little loss of innocence, spontaneity and vitality as may be possible.”

I believe our dear friend fulfilled these criteria in every respect, and indeed surpassed them joyfully, and I know myself and my bandmates to be so very grateful and fortunate to have shared so many magical adventures with our beloved friend.

I’ll sign off now with a couple of thoughts from two of Angus’s closest friends.

From his dear pal Teri Reilly:

“Angus meant something different to all of us: a son, a brother, a friend, or a lover.

“He was a thoughtful and thought-provoking man who loved the absurdities of life: from deep discussions on world politics, to trying to throw lemons into chimney pots and the infamous road party on Eigg.

“We all have Angus shaped holes in our hearts right now. But we also have the most wonderful memories to cherish and share.

“And music, to keep us shooglin’ and smiling along the way.”

Perhaps Luke Plumb speaks for many of us when he said last night in Melbourne:

“Angus existed in a condensed version of time that I know will slowly unravel, for the rest of my life, into endless joyous memories.”

And finally, in Angus’s own words, the words which he himself often spoke to audiences all around the world, as he departed the stage:

“One love … and  please remember, be kind to strangers.”

15 replies
  1. Beth Sowter
    Beth Sowter says:

    As a friend of Luke’s from Tasmania, I was invited up to the Tap Inn at Birnam with both of them, on the train from Edinburgh, and stayed at the hotel with them. I couldn’t answer any of the questions on University Challenge. At the session, James (I think it was) loaned me his fiddle and he played piano for the night, kind man. Angus continually started tunes that he thought I might know and at a speed I could handle. I had such admiration for this kind and gentle man. Thank you Angus.

    Reply
  2. david gray
    david gray says:

    lovely words angus is massively missed and a big shock , and id like to simpathise whith fiona and i went through the same thing reasntly with my mother so hats of to fiona /
    having met angus a few time and seen him play countless times he will be so missed and james word bring tears
    so R.I.P angus you were a legend and thank for everything
    and thnk you james for the woderfull words

    Reply
  3. Brian Forrest
    Brian Forrest says:

    Such a moving, heartfelt, tribute, to an unique, amazing, person. Every musician or artist, no matter the genre, can only be enriched, and depleted, by the passing of Angus Grant…but his net contribution to so many lives is massive. The tunes & craic will go on…R.I.P., and thank you…

    Reply
  4. Mhairi
    Mhairi says:

    What a beautiful and eloquent eulogy. The world has lost one of it’s finest fiddle players. My thoughts are with Angus’ family and friends at this sad time.

    Reply
  5. Margaret Ferguson
    Margaret Ferguson says:

    Sad as it was the service was the most moving I have experienced and would hope by sharing this remarkable mans life the world will be a better place.

    Reply
  6. Allan Savage
    Allan Savage says:

    My deepest condolences to friends and family of Angus, especially Moira and Aonghas. Aonghas and I played together for a few years and he was inparational. I remember young Angus as a boy playing in Glenfinnan and Glenuig and I always enjoyed playing in the sessions. Angus will never be forgotten.

    Reply
  7. Robin Watt
    Robin Watt says:

    I taught Angus art at Lochaber High School way back when.
    I remember exactly the work he did for his higher art. I remember Angus, his hair, his clothes, his passion and his ideas. He had that effect on people.
    I was sad to learn of his leaving us but learned so much from what James has put down so well here (yes, I also remember James).

    Reply
  8. Lawrie Fairweather
    Lawrie Fairweather says:

    Hello,
    I can`t recall how I came by Shoogle music but remember receiving the Troots album as a gift. It was fresh and exciting and an alternative to much of what I listen / listened to. I went on to discover some wonderful music through exploring further albums, especially The Arms Dealers Daughter. Stellar musicianship from all, with Angus playing weaving shapes around my head that would allow me to forget lifes pressing demands for a time.
    I have only managed to see Shooglenifty on stage once at the beginning of this year. From the audience you couldn`t help but be drawn in by the stage presence of this guy who quite clearly was all about the music. A fantastic talent.

    Reply
  9. Miriam Taylor
    Miriam Taylor says:

    I only read of Angus’ death in Songlines magazine this morning and am crying tears that take my breath away and don’t surprise me. I last saw him play at Banbury last year, captivating as ever. This tribute nails something of his enigmatic spirit. Angus came from another world, graced us with a little of it, and has returned there. The world needs more people like him, not fewer. So very sorry that he’s gone too soon.

    Reply

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