l-r Kaela Rowan, Ewan MacPherson, Quee MacArthur, Angus R Grant, Garry Finlayson, Malcolm Crosbie, James Mackintosh.
We sat the band down in separate rooms and asked them some questions about the forthcoming tour. It was a bit like Mr & Mrs (remember that?) only none of them is going to win a caravan.
Why are you touring?
Angus: My stocks and shares portfolio is is terminal decline.
Ewan: Scotland is a great place to tour in the winter. Dancing is a great way of keeping warm, so taking the Shooglenifty caravan [hang on…] up north will bring some much needed grooves for highland folk to dance to, and of course work off the mince pies and sherry.
Garry: We’re always keen to do our bit for the environment – it would be very wasteful of fuel to have all those people come to us.
James: 1) We’re celebrating our 25th anniversary year, and we’re promoting our 7th studio album The Untied Knot. 2) Life off the road gets a bit sedate and band members keep breaking things so we’re looking forward to jumping into the van and having some wild discussions comparing knitting patterns, asking where you might purchase curtain hemming material, and posing the age old question, “is there a rider?” (Is this the only job in the world where people turn up expecting alcoholic beverages?) 3) We need the exercise.
Malcolm: We’re like sharks, if we don’t keep moving we start to die. Also, playing gigs is good fun.
Quee: Not unlike Canada geese, the Shoogles feel the collective urge to explore the boundaries of the British Isles as they sense the turn of the seasons, tying knots that were left undone and foraging in new musical territory.
Kaela: Because I must be a fruit cake! Oh, and I love discovering new places and lovely folk, there are so many good folk out there doing such amazing things. It constantly restores your faith.
Which gig are you looking forward to the most, and why?
Angus: All of them.
Ewan: Astley Hall Arisaig, because they know how to party in the wild west.
Garry: As always, the gig I’m looking forward to the most is the next one. Why? It would be unfair to look past it.
James: I’m looking forward to playing Stereo in mono, looking forward to playing mono in Stereo. Sorry. Always great to play in Glasgow, and Skye seems to have a certain something. There are quite few venues we’ve never played so that’s always exciting. Bristol is a great town, looking forward to that one. And dinner in The Old Bridge Inn (Aviemore) the last time we played was one of the most delicious meals I’d had in months: it’s not all bout the gig you know…
Malcolm: I couldn’t possibly pick one out, the aim is to make all the future gigs an uplifting and joyous experience for all involved.
Quee: I am looking forward to playing Inchyra Arts Club (Friday 27 November). I recently went to see John Cooper Clark there and it’s a great looking venue with a good community of people in the audience.
Kaela: Getting to the Highlands – Arisaig, Sabhal Mòr on Skye and I can’t wait to go to Applecross – it’s been many years since I was there and I remember it being very beautiful. Mind you, the Old Bridge Inn in Aviemore does amazing food and the Mac Arts centre in Galashiels is a fab new home spun arts centre and I can get to my own bed that night!
Why did you decide to play such a mix of venues/locations?
Angus: To play the same one every night would be silly.
Ewan: See Q1 and we hope to make far more regular appearances in London.
Garry: We come from the Variety Hall tradition, except the other way round.
James: 1) We’re not run of the mill guys (and gal). We enjoy sweaty, intimate gigs just as big sweaty festival stages. We’re hoping to bring out our own brand deodorant in time for hitting the road. 2) It’s been too long since we toured the Highlands and an awfully long time since we graced London with our presence too. 3) What are you saying? After starting out the year in Woodford Australia, flying off to Stornoway, Cambridge, Borneo, and Lorient this seems like quite a compact, logical and cohesive little trip.
Malcolm: a) It would be difficult to find a string of gigs that were all alike. b) We’ll play anywhere, we’re not fussed. c) A good variety of everything is beneficial. (There’s some truth in each of these.)
Quee: One of many skills Shooglenifty has as a band is to adapt well to any size venue. From a stage barely big enough to stand on, to concert halls. We always make a connection with the people in the room, often the more intimate gigs bring out a different side of the band and make for a very memorable evening.
Kaela: The great thing about this band is each gig can be so different depending on the venue, intimate and intense or big and powerful, and both are wonderful. I think a Shoogles gig creates happiness and is awffy good for the soul.
What should the audience expect?
Ewan: To feel a strange compulsion to move around the dance floor in-between consuming alcoholic beverages.
Garry: Joie de vivre!
James: A braw selection of our favourite sets from our seven studio albums, and a few rarities perhaps (any requests for tracks we rarely play live?). And we’re hoping to showcase The Untied Knot in its entirety as well. Who knows there might even be a couple of new sets in the mix? Quite a lot of our audience won’t have heard Kaela Rowan singing with us so they have that to look forward to.
Malcolm: Some high octane jigging and reeling, some visceral freak outs, some psychedelic mind bending and a smattering of sensitive new age cuddly stuff. (I prefer to keep the latter to a minimum.)
Quee: To have a good time!
Kaela: Expect to bop, or should I say, shoogle?
What is your favourite Shooglenifty gig story?
Angus: Too many to single out one.
Ewan: Conrad [former Shoogle bass player] getting lost in the jungle at night and having to be rescued. Story has become legendary at the Rainforest Festival, so much so that when we announced we were off for a jungle trek in Baco, Festival Director Jun Lin and her co-organisers almost fell over in fear!!
Garry: Like Angus, I can’t remember, sorry.
James: I’m not sure Malcolm would be very pleased if I answered that one. My second favourite was when a fellow in New Zealand collapsed with a heart attack during our second number (we were playing a bit fast in those days). He had to have an atropane injection through his chest right in front of us and the entire audience à la Pulp Fiction, and on the way out of the venue sat upright on his stretcher and said he was fine and wanted to stay and enjoy the rest of the gig. He made a full recovery by the way, and a messenger brought word from hospital telling us to have a great night!
Malcolm: It’s the one where Garry fell off the stage. I can’t remember anything about the gig, I only remember the funny part.
Quee: We played in Bloomington, Indiana and the the drum kit and amps that had been kindly lent to us were hilariously old and ramshackle. The bass drum on James’s kit was so big you could barely see him behind it and he needed to spend an hour with a pair of pliers to get it into playable shape. The PA also had its eccentricities so by the end of the soundcheck our expectations of the gig were not great. As it turned out it was one of the best gigs of the tour and we included a recording of a tune from it on our live album, during which the old bass amp fell off a table onto the back of my legs and if you listen carefully you can hear the thump on the recording. The best thing is that it is in time!
Kaela: Angus trying to wake up Crazy, (aka Craig Gaskin), our sound engineer in a tent at Glastonbury. He was holding onto the tent and shaking it and shouting “Crazy…Crazy” and looking, erm, crazy. Though no doubt it didn’t look at all strange in Glastonbury!
What is your favourite Shooglenifty tune and why?
Angus: That’s like trying to pick a favourite child …
Ewan: The Pipe Tunes. Can’t touch it. Core Shoogle sound. And I love playing Da Eye Wifey.
Garry: The next one.
James: Farewell to Nigg.
Malcolm: The Eccentric. When I first heard it I couldn’t believe how good it was. It’s one of those tunes that somehow manages to alter my brain chemistry in some strange way.
Quee: I have to make two choices here: one is The Eccentric because I really enjoy playing it, the groove is always subtly different in swing. From a listening point of view Fitzroy Crossing is my new favourite because it it has quite a unique sonic landscape.
Kaela: Fitzroy Crossing the now because I think its got a real beauty and power in it, I find it quite moving. I love its big bass end and how it changes harmonically in unexpected ways. The song I like singing best changes every night – they go down differently with each different type of crowd. When it’s a banging festival gig, I do love Peaches as it can go to an amazing place. It’s got a lot of energy and can get quite trance like, in a house tune kind of way. There is always an element of improvisation going on, so it feels fresh and surprising to me.
What is your favourite gig outfit?
Angus: My Gucci three-piece.
Ewan: My ’70s glam rock one. Not tried the dog’s head mask yet [good luck playing the jaw harp in that ;-)].
Garry: Loose shirt and Thai fisherman’s trousers (any colour).
James: It’s a toss up between the 98% viscose shirt I wore in Glenuig for our fancy dress night and the blonde wig I wore onstage in Stornoway a few years ago.
Malcolm: My pre-war (1930s I think) wool suit but I can only wear it for very cold gigs.
Quee: The glam rock outfit from Glenuig (April 2015).
Kaela: I will never quite be the same again since dressing up as and becoming [my alter-ego] Crystal Meth at Glenuig’s fancy dress night April 2015.
What does it feel like to have been playing with Shooglenifty for 25 years?
Garry: Surprising. You don’t imagine that when you start playing a few tunes with a bunch of guys that it’s going to be your life’s work. It feels like the backbone of my musical existence.
James: No one is more surprised than me.
Malcolm: Playing with Shooglenifty for 25 years sometimes feels like a long time and other times it still feels like it’s the new thing. I’m still get the occasional feeling like I’m amazed that I’m actually in a band, it’s great.
What does it feel like to have been playing with Shooglenifty for 13 years?
What does it feel like to have been playing with Shooglenifty for 4 years?
Ewan: It has been an amazing experience for me, I was a fan of the band back in the 90s. Became hooked after I saw them in a black and white video on S4C tv in Wales. Since I started playing I have always respected original mandolin player Iain Macleod and his unique style which lends itself more to pipes or west coast Scottish fiddle than American mandolin. He is also a great tune writer.
What does it feel like to have been playing with Shooglenifty for a year?
Kaela: Like I’m hanging out with my brothers. It’s lovely to join the family on the road.
What’s the most important thing you have learned from performing with Shooglenifty?
Angus: That the NHS is more important now than ever.
Ewan: Don’t worry about it …
Garry: To listen.
James: How to pace oneself during lunch in Galicia? Soundchecks are vastly overrated?
Malcolm: Always relax as much as possible.
Quee: Nothing is very important except the things that are actually important.
Kaela: Don’t know, perhaps this – and I’ve not so much learned it, as been reminded of it – that dancing is important.
What would be your fantasy gig location?
Ewan: You mean in addition to all the amazing places we’ve played already? I’d actually like to do a gig at the North Pole.
Garry: Now that’s a hard one – we’ve played in so many places which were beyond my imagination I realise that anything I can come up with will be less than what might be.
James: I’ve already played it.
Malcolm: A sleazy bar somewhere in the cosmos, a bit like the one in Star Wars.
Quee: Inside a broch in Glenelg.
Kaela: At the top of the Iguazu Falls in Brazil.
Who would play you in Shooglenifty: The Movie?
Angus: Dame Judi Dench.
Ewan: Chuck Norris, sigh.
Garry: Catherine Tate.
James: Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Malcolm: George Sanders.
Quee: Michael Caine.
Kaela: Sofia Loren, of course!
Shooglenifty is heading out on a 17-date tour of Scotland and England on 6 November 2015. Check out the full list of gigs here.