The Old Library today

It is inarguable that Orkney is unusually rich in old buildings, writes Garry Finlayson. But there were two, not particularly old by Orkney standards, which seemed ancient to a boy growing up in Kirkwall.

One was the Grammar School, now reborn as the council offices and though I have never experienced it in its new form I assume it’s a well-lit place of rational discussion – quite a change really. In my day it was a gloomy Victorian remanent ruled with an iron rod – or leather strap, I should say. Not one word of a lie: my pal Mike once got the belt from the headmaster (who I won’t name, for superstitious reasons) for making an appointment with the careers advisor. I know, hard to believe, isn’t it? But true, nonetheless. I’ve described it to my children as Hogwarts after the wrong side won. Of course other people will remember it differently.

The other was the Old Library in Laing Street. A much happier set of memories altogether: endless hours trawling shelves, often indiscriminately, judging books by their covers. I spent day upon day in the Orkney Room – you had to ask at the desk for the key, but once you were in nobody bothered you from opening time till close. The Orkney archives were very different in those days – none of the efficient and detailed organisation seen in the new library – you could just dive in and come up spluttering for air several weeks later.

So I am seriously looking forward to experiencing the building in its new role a week on Saturday (22 February). It is now the home of Kirkwall’s finest music venue The Sound Archive and Grooves Records (when I was a boy we had to order 45s at the fishing tackle shop). As soon as I heard about this development my soul shouted a loud YES! What a great use for what is a fine building with an honourable history.

We Shoogles are delighted to be coming to play at the The Old Library on the 22nd and look forward to seeing a lot of old friends. But remember where you are – so SHHH …

Shooglenifty plays The Sound Archive at The Old Library, Laing Street, Kirkwall on Saturday 22 February 2020. Get your tickets here >>

Not so long ago, we sent all the Shoogles a questionnaire to fill in. To welcome Eilidh to the band we wondered how she would manage with our existential questions (pretty well as it turns out). Read on …

Why are you joining Shooglenifty?
It’s an honour to be asked! (And would be rude not to!)
What are you looking forward to most about being in the band?
Doing lots of high-energy, foot-stomping gigs.
What should audiences expect from the band’s forthcoming gigs in Edinburgh and Shetland?
What is your favourite Shoogle tune and why?
Venus in Tweeds. Angus and I were flatmates at the time the album came out and I got slightly obsessed with that tune, to the point where I had a dream in which it was being played by a full classical orchestra.
What is your favourite gig outfit?
Anything sparkly.
What would be your fantasy gig location?
Anywhere with sun, sea, sand and a party crowd.
Who would play you in Shooglenifty: The Movie?
Jimmy Crankie
Shooglenifty will headline Edinburgh Tradfest on Saturday 28 April and the Shetland Folk Festival – 3–6 May 2018. Tickets are available here >>

For all those of you who are wondering what the Shoogles are up to right now and what the band’s plans are for the future, finally a little enlightenment…

The questions we’re getting asked the most are: ‘who is going to replace Angus?’ and ‘are you carrying on?’ The answer to the latter question is a simple one, ‘yes’. But right now, we’re not ready to replace Angus. He was someone so close to us and so immutable that to parachute someone directly into his shoes does not seem fair: to us, to those of you who love our music, and to that person. No matter how amazing they are, they will be instantly at a disadvantage in comparison to Angus, who was so much more than just our fiddler.

But in the interests of carrying on and some rather large items on our ‘to do’ list (see below), we will continue to work with special guest fiddlers. Those of you who made it to our Night for Angus concert at Celtic Connections will have seen some quite epic performances and, schedules allowing, we will continue to work with some of those extraordinary performers and a few others. To be quite clear though, we are not carrying out an extended audition process to find a new fiddler, rather collaborating with members of the extended Shoogle family to produce new work and delight our audiences.

This rather neatly leads us on to the aforementioned massive ‘to do’ list. Just before Angus found out that he was ill we had put in place, and received Creative Scotland funding for, plans for making a brand new album in Rajasthan with our friends in Dhun Dhora (the band we collaborate with at Jodhpur Riff), and to make a documentary about that process. All this activity was to have taken place in October 2016, and the album was to be launched at Celtic Connections in January. Those plans were put on hold and rearranged several times as we learned just how serious Angus’s condition was, and there was the slight matter of James ending up in intensive care for several weeks at the end of August. From July to October we were living on shifting sand.

We all wanted to make the album, but efforts to get Angus to record some of the new tunes he was working on were overtaken by his illness. He got to the point where he felt he couldn’t play fiddle well enough to be recorded. We knew he was playing about with garage band on the new iPad that we bought him, and could still work on his tunes on the mandolin, but at that point he hadn’t let anyone hear his new compositions.

October was fast approaching. No one wanted to travel to India without Angus and he really wanted to be well enough to go with us. But in the end it was not to be. Our friends at Jodhpur Riff made rapid contingency plans to replace the band at the festival, and Angus passed away on 9 October 2016.

So our show at Celtic Connections became a tribute to our much loved and admired fiddler, and we used some of our funding to film the gig. This footage will form a stand alone video of the concert and will also be used as part of the documentary. It will take a more winding path now than originally planned.

As for the album it is our hope to complete it this year. There are lots of tunes that we were working on with Angus that we want to include. We got hold of his iPad after he died, but sadly the tunes he was composing could not be found. It seems that he had not figured out how to save his work.

As part of the wider album project we will travel to Santiago in Spain in August to play some gigs and most likely do some recording with our friends from A Banda das Crechas, whom we have known and played with since the early days. And we will finally get to Rajasthan in October to play with Dhun Dhora, whom we hope will be very much part of our future. We will also record with them, as planned, in the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur.

Our immediate plans are to finish the mix for the video of our performance at A Night for Angus and release it on Vimeo. We know many of you are looking forward to seeing it. The proceeds from the video will help us complete the documentary, and also act as a fundraiser for Cancer Research.

We will continue to play live too – you’ll see that we already have some gigs scheduled in England with Eilidh Shaw in May. Playing live is extremely important to us and we’re really looking forward to this short tour with Eilidh, and some other dates that are still in the planning stage. It’s crucial for us to feel the reaction of you, the audience, to our new material and to hone it in that setting. The last thing we want to become is a tribute band to ourselves, just hammering out the old favourites (but don’t worry we’ll still be playing them!).

As you would expect our collective mood is subject to wild fluctuations and there’s no doubt that this year will not be plain sailing for the band. However, just last week we received an unexpected boost when Angus’s sister Fiona found a couple of new tunes that he had been working on, stashed on her old computer. It seems he had worked out a way to save them after all.

So there’s a lot to do, we need to salvage those precious tunes from Fiona’s rickety old PC, arrange and develop tunes we’ve been working on for a while, write new tunes, play more gigs, record an album, and make a documentary (phew!). The whole year will be devoted to that effort, to working with collaborators, old and new, and to working through our grief, which is, by turns, firing up and backfiring on all this effort. It’s melting our heads at times but as Angus once said, if you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room.

Shooglenifty will be appearing at: Saltaire Live (Victoria Hall) on Friday 26 May, The Water Rats, London on Saturday 27 May and at Lewes Con Club on Sunday 28 May. Tickets and details are here

Shamless plug no 2: our totally retro and totally cool ACID CROFT t-shirts are now on sale. Get yours here




There’s going to be an explosion of genre-defying music this Friday when current Gaelic Singer of the Year Griogair Labhruidh aka Ghetto Croft joins the Shoogle tour. To celebrate we got Griogair to answer a few difficult questions. Here goes …

Did you grow up speaking Gaelic and if so, where, and did you get it at school?
Where I was brought up, near a wee village called Gartocharn on the border of the Southern Highlands and the central belt; It was English we had in the house, didn’t get a word of it at school! I started speaking Gaelic in my late teens because my family, originating from the West Highlands on both sides, all spoke it and my dad’s family in particular were very famous for being a big part of the Gaelic tradition (singers, pipers, tradition bearers).

What or who first got you into music and what was the first instrument you learned? And now what instruments do you play?
I first got into music through my parents – my father is from a famous hereditary tradition of pipers spanning many generations as is my mother’s (although she doesn’t play herself). I learned the pipes first of all and I’m told I could sing ‘canntaireachd’ before I could talk. The instruments I play now are: highland, small and uileann pipes, electric/acoustic guitar (like playing jazz guitar in particular), whistles, a bit of percussion, mouth organ, and of course the beatmaking/rapping.

What kind of music did you listen to growing up and what did you like about it?
I heard bagpipes, bagpipes and more bagpipes! The bit I loved best about it was seeing my dad playing and competing etc. I really loved the drums in the local pipe band though and that’s probably where my early feel for percussion and beats started. When I got into my teens I listened to everything from rock, blues, classical etc. I was also exposed to the commercial end of the Gaelic music scene and attended Runrig concerts as a youngster. I remember being really into them when I was still in primary school and singing along with their Gaelic material.

What or who inspired you to start rapping – and did you always rap in Gaelic?
My biggest influence as a rapper when it comes to Gaelic material is unquestionably the late Calum Eardsaidh Chonnich (Calum Beaton) from South Uist, where I spent my early twenties. I used to hear him recite line upon line of Gaelic poetry and with the drive in me to become a master of the language and its literature I aspired to be able to do the same. It was only when I had mastered some of the poems I heard from him and started reciting them musically without music that I realised the musicological connection between what he was doing and what I heard in the complex meters of some of my favourite MCs like Talib Kweli. When I started rapping it was all old traditional poems I used. Following that (being a Gaelic poet already anyway) I started developing my skills and the prospect of becoming an MC became a reality.

Why do you think rap or hip hop music works for Gaelic/Highland themes – what points of contact do you feel with the original African American rappers?
In non-colonised West Africa they have the tradition of the griot who, at one time, as well as being a musician and poet, would be able to recite people’s ancestry to them and tell stories, sing songs of someone’s forebears to give them a sense of ‘dùthchas’. In the writing down of our traditions our filidh, bàird, griot or whatever you want to call them lost their place in society and this coupled with Britain’s dismantling of our traditional communities killed off our very own tradition of Gaelic rap which has existed for thousands of years.

There’s nothing new about what I’m doing, only that I have set the poetry to contemporary sounds and beats using a turntable and a sampler or working with African drummers/singers for these sounds as opposed to the guitars, mandolins, keyboards of western folk music it usually meets. The difference being when it meets those instruments in a folk context it usually changes the nature of the music to be more Westernised; rap brings the poetry straight back to its roots. Most of the melodies and styles of ‘sean-nós’ we have are relatively new when compared with the recitative styles I encountered when studying the performances of our most ancient music; the aural poetry of Oisinn and other greats. When I refer to the poetry of Oisinn I do not mean the reshaped invented traditions associated with James MacPherson, but the thousands of lines of aural poetry which were collected in Scotland that we believe to be the actual words of the ancient poet himself.

As far as points of contact with Hip Hop culture are concerned, the first point I’ll make is that Hip Hop is not a culture. It is a civilisation! It’s about self respect, peace, love, unity and having fun. Its roots are ancient and go beyond what the big record companies and the media have led us to believe it is. Like Gaelic culture it has been highjacked and had its true spirit taken out. The people who celebrate both cultures are colonised and have been for centuries. The parallels between what has happened to all the exploited peoples of the world have already made an appearance in Hip Hop. It’s only the racists that believe Hip Hop should be for blacks only. It is a truly global culture and has instilled confidence in, I’m sure, millions of culturally disillusioned people like myself to move their culture into the modern era. It is a truly global phenomenon. It has it’s roots, but they go back a lot further than the ghettos of NY in the 1980s; it goes back to Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair, Duncan Ban Macintyre – to all the great poets of history, musicians, dancers, artists of the world who have expressed a collective consciousness for their people the world over.

When did you first hear Shooglenifty’s music, and, assuming you are a fan(!), what do you like about it? Any favourite tunes and why?
The truth is that I didn’t listen to any trad fusion music at all until very recently. Whilst exploring my own tradition I was obsessed with ‘the pure drop’ as they say in Ireland and the material I enjoyed listening to was all unaccompanied, old style music! I remember explaining that to Angus [Grant] the night of Knockengorroch and how I really wasn’t familiar with their material at all for that reason! I had performed with his father and spoken about old tunes, but never with himself. I particularly like Angus Senior’s version of my grampa’s cousin Willie’s tune Mrs MacDonald of Dunach and I hope to get it from him some day!

It’s only recently, having had something of a revolution of the mind in my approach to tradition that I have opened up to listening to Shooglies, Treach etc, and appreciating the amazing creativity of others of who have found a way of blending tradition and the new in their own unique way. I’m glad I came at it this way though, because it gives me a deeper understanding of how what I’m hearing came together and I must say, having gone through the back catalogue on Spotify I think The Untied Knot is my favourite! James [Mackintosh]’s drumming in particular is completely immaculate and I count him as one of the very best drummers in the country (a really rare thing indeed). The grooves he provides and the tempos etc. are always spot on. 

When did you first appear live with Shooglenifty and how did that feel? How did it work fusing what you do with the Shoogle tunes?
When I met the boys backstage at Knockengorroch this year I had no idea that they would be up for having me on stage, I think it is testament to how keen the guys are to encourage the up and coming (if indeed that is what I am!). I remember standing and listening from the side of the stage with my pal Joe Peat who was doing the monitors and being blown away by the audience’s reaction (mainly made up of people you wouldn’t associate with traditional music). It showed how the guys are kind of ‘genre-less’. Acid Croft is surely about as close as you could get to it! When I finally got the signal from James that my spot was coming up I got a huge rush of energy. It was the first time I’d ever performed on a stage that size and I must admit, I got a hell of a buzz out of it! As far as the fusion goes, I think it worked very well considering we had never tried it before and I hope in the future that there will be more collaborative opportunities!

What did it mean to win your recent award at Na Trads (Griogair won ‘Best Gaelic Singer’ at the recent traditional music awards in Dundee)?
Winning the Trads meant a lot to me because it made me feel like I’m a part of the bigger picture of all these wonderful musicians and great minds who are currently creating so much beautiful music in this amazing little country of ours. Just to be a part of that and to be considered worthy of being nominated, never mind winning the award was a real honour.

What can people expect at the Glasgow gig? How can you encourage people who might be put off by the “Gaelic rapper” tag?
At the Glasgow gig expect to hear REAL HIP HOP combined with REAL GAELIC MUSIC. That is what we intend to bring to the table every time. It’s the realness of getting up there and saying it like it is (or like you think it is), cutting and scratching sounds that blend naturally from the african American tradition with the raw energy of Gaelic music (not just poetry, but piping, fiddling and singing) that is the GhettoCroft signature sound. 

If people are expecting to turn up and be shouted at in Gaelic, they’re in for a surprise! This is something you have never heard before. We also have English language material that people can participate in and understand so the non Gaelic speakers won’t be alienated and maybe, just maybe, a little door into the world of the bàrd/Gaelic MC will be opened up to those who are open to it. There is a deep spiritual element to the kind of Hip Hop we are into anyway and this is reflected in our material. The kind of African American Hip Hop we listen to is all about picking yourself up out of the ‘Ghetto mentality’ and raising your consciousness to create a better you and a better planet. In a disenfranchised, colonised highlands/Scotland where we have our own struggle for freedom many people (although they maybe don’t admit it) feel a strong sense of disillusion and frustration at what is happening politically. We’re here to remind people that they are somebody. That they can and will make a difference in building themselves, their nation and their culture for the generations of Gaels and Scots yet to come.

What’s next for you?
My immediate future plans are centred around the release of the highly anticipated Afro Celt Sound System‘s The Source, which is due for release next year. Thanks to my man James Mackintosh, I got quite heavily involved in the album and went on to become a full blown member of the band. With that in mind the tours, festivals, etc. I will be undertaking with my new found kindred spirits in Afro Celt Sound System will take up much of my time and creative energy. Gaelic Hip Hop will certainly not be taking a back seat and, indeed, I see the two projects as being very much part of the same thing both ideologically and musically!

Griogair will appear with his own combo and with Shooglenifty at Stereo in Glasgow on Friday 18 December 2016. Also on the bill is DJ Dolphin Boy. Get your tickets here >>



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.
EwanScotland 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.
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?
: 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.
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…
I couldn’t possibly pick one out, the aim is to make all the future gigs an uplifting and joyous experience for all involved.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
Joie de vivre!
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.
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: T
o have a good time!
Expect to bop, or should I say, shoogle?

What is your favourite Shooglenifty gig story?
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 c
an’t remember, sorry.
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!
It’s the one where Garry fell off the stage. I can’t remember anything about the gig, I only remember the funny part.
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!
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 “CrazyCrazy” and looking, erm, crazy. Though no doubt it didn’t  look at all strange in Glastonbury!

What is your favourite Shooglenifty tune and why?
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.
The next one.
James: Farewell to Nigg.
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.
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.
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?
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: L
oose 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.
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).
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.
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?
That the NHS is more important now than ever.
Ewan: Don’t worry about it …
Garry: To listen.
How to pace oneself during lunch in Galicia? Soundchecks are vastly overrated?
Always relax as much as possible.
Nothing is very important except the things that are actually important.
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.
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.
I’ve already played it.
A sleazy bar somewhere in the cosmos, a bit like the one in Star Wars.
Inside a broch in Glenelg.
At the top of the Iguazu Falls in Brazil.

Who would play you in Shooglenifty: The Movie?
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.

The band are heading out on tour soon – see all dates here – and we’re bringing our new secret weapon with us – ‘puirt à beul’ vocalist Kaela Rowan.

Kaela’s been delighting audiences from Borneo to Brittany, Comrie to Cambridge this year already and we’re sure you’re going to love her.

But you may wonder, what exactly is ‘puirt à beul’? Literally it means ‘music of the mouth’ and has probably more in common with adding another instrument to the mix than a singer. Native to Scotland, Ireland, Cape Breton and Nova Scotia it is often used to dance to. Some believe it derives from a time when instruments such as bagpipes were banned, and there is some evidence that this happened in Scotland after the Jacobite rising in 1745.

Because the voice is used like a fiddle or pipes the rhythm and sounds are more important than the lyrics which can often be non-sensical. Kaela, who grew up in Lochaber, first heard puirt (pronounced “purscht”) at local dances, ceilidhs and sessions, and she was taught her first bit of mouth music at school.

“I loved the rhythm of it,” she remembers. “It’s quite hypnotic and fun too as often the songs are playful.” Kaela has listened to quite a lot of old recordings of puirt where the singers often had an incredible sense of rhythm. “Their voices were more like instruments and at times sounded like gravel and sand rubbed together. I particularly liked this kind of voice, because it didn’t matter that they didn’t have sweet singing voices, what mattered was the beat, and I particularly loved that they’d use their voices with such gusto.”

It’s no surprise then that mouth music goes so well with Shooglenifty’s dynamic sense of rhythm and rough edged groove. Kaela brings an added top layer of melody, more like adding another fiddle or a set of pipes. “I guess it’s like adding another dimension to the tune playing,” she says.

So if you forget for a moment that any words in the puirt originated as Gaelic, it is pretty easy to join in with the sounds and the rhythm of most of the songs on our new album The Untied Knot. Kaela recommends starting with Mile Marbhaisg Air A’Ghaol (1,000 Curses on Love), the vocal element on the title track. Work with the rhythm first, and don’t be afraid to learn the sounds phoenetically.

Strictly speaking, Mile Marbhaisg Air A’Ghaol  is a ‘waulking’ song which was sung by people stretching tweed, whereas, in general, puirt tunes are made for dancing, having fun – just like a Shoogle gig.

Finally, we asked Kaela for her favourite Shoogle puirt. “That changes by the day,” she says. “But for something gentle and cheerful I’m loving Ruidhleadh Mo Nighean Donn/Am Buachaille Dubh Fionnghal (My Brown Haired Girl Would Dance a Reel/Fiona’s Dark Haired Shepherd) at the moment. A pretty laid back set of tunes that really make me happy.”

Download The Untied Knot here. Shooglenifty will be on tour in Scotland and England from 6 November 2015. Get more details.


Shooglenifty Tour Poster2_sep15

We’ve put together a little tongue-in-cheek poster (see left) for our upcoming Untied Knot tour (all dates are here). If you would like to download it, print it, and put it up somewhere that would be great. (Can be printed at A3 or A4.)

And we’re offering two gig tickets to the person who puts it in the most outlandish location. The lucky winner can make their choice of gig from The United Knot tour.

So send a pic of the poster in its location to by 2 November 2015.

The winner will be announced on 3 November 2015.

Download your tour poster

This time next week (7/8/15) the Shoogles will be enjoying their fourth trip to the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) in Borneo. This is a music festival, that, as the name suggests, happens in the jungle. It’s hot, sweaty and full of amazing sounds – musical and otherwise.

Festival Director Jun-Lin Yeoh remembers that the band was first invited to the Malaysian event via the British Council in 1999, “The were such a hit that we had to have them back again two years later. Then we had them for the festival’s 10th anniversary, and now we’re having them back to celebrate their 25th anniversary.”

Unsurprisingly the band are relishing the opportunity to entertain in the Rainforest once again, and new band member Ewan MacPherson is particularly keen to visit the orangutans that are native to Borneo. “Hopefully he won’t get lost like Conrad [Ivitsky] did on one of those first trips,” says James Mackintosh.

Erstwhile Shoogle bass player Conrad is a keen hiker and decided to head off into the jungle late in the afternoon. “In Borneo, it gets dark just like that, and when night fell he couldn’t see an inch in front of his face. There was a search party sent out and he was found at 9pm. He said it was the most terrifying two hours of his life, he had a load of unknown and unseen creatures crawling up him.”

For current bass player Quee MacArthur his encounter with wildlife was in more familiar surroundings. “We were on stage,” remembers James. “The place was going mental and Quee started really moving and jerking around, and I thought, he’s really getting into it tonight. Then I saw him motioning to our sound engineer Craig on the monitor desk. The next thing I saw was Craig grabbing something on Quee’s neck and throwing it into the forest. A praying mantis had landed on his bass and then moved on to his neck where its tiny claws were digging into his skin!”

So you get the picture. The main stage at RWMF is not called the ‘Jungle Stage’ for nothing. The backdrop is the rainforest, and the audience are housed in a natural amphitheatre. “It’s a big gig,” says James. “There are about 10,000 people all going nuts.” And why does he think that Shooglenifty’s music is so popular with the Borneo audience? “Simple really, they like an upbeat tune, and they love to dance like everyone else.”

Jun Lin Yeoh is in no doubt: “the Rainforest audience loved them the first year they came. They all looked mighty fierce and badass, but were really gentle giants, and their music rocked.” For those of us used to midgies, that sounds a bit like the wildlife.

The Rainforest Music Festival is held each August in Sarawak, Borneo. Shooglenifty will headline the festival’s Jungle Stage for the fourth time on Friday 7 August 2015.


No body can put an exact date to the day that Shooglenifty was born. The year, however, is not in doubt. In 1990 Angus R Grant, a rebellious highland fiddler, Malcolm Crosbie, a guitarist who got his start in a semi-glam New Wave combo, and James Mackintosh, a drummer with groove going spare went busking in Spain. The trio experimented with the traditional tunes Angus had known since knee-high to a fiddle stand, and twisted them into the germ of something new and exciting. When they returned to Edinburgh they added banjo, bass and mandolin to the mix and that germ began to grow. The band rehearsed like mad, and played in pubs around the city until Martin Coull, the manager of the newest club in town, La Belle Angele asked them if they’d like to play his joint.

“The first gig at La Belle was six punters and an electric bar fire,” remembers Malcolm. “It was the middle of winter and we just huddled round the centre of the floor.” It was perhaps an inauspicious start, but having great faith in the band, Martin turned this one off gig into a residency, the Shoogles built their audience, and by the end of the year it was an essential weekly event for progressive folkies and energetic dance fans alike. Check out the poster above, a remnant from that time, by original Shoogle bass player Conrad Ivitsky Molleson.

It would not be unfair to say that the Shoogle sound evolved in La Belle, and many of the band’s early fans have fond memories of that time. The residency led to the band’s first album, Venus in Tweeds, and the launching of the Shoogles onto the international scene. Since then Shooglenifty has entertained audiences from a few hundred in highland village halls to tens of thousands in festival fields. Back home in Edinburgh La Belle Angele became one of the city’s hippest haunts, but sadly burned to the ground in the fire of 2002.

Fast forward to 2015, and La Belle Angele lives again in its original location of Hasties Close, just off the Cowgate, (after a very long wait it finally reopened in November 2014). Shooglenifty is celebrating 25 years and where better to have the biggest, banging party to celebrate that milestone, but the club that launched them on their way.

Shooglenifty’s 25th Anniversary Party and CD Launch is at La Belle Angele on Saturday 16 May 2015 at 11pm. Get your tickets here!

Last night (Tuesday 20 January 2015) at the CCA we were joined on stage by our Rajasthani friends for the BBC Radio Scotland Celtic Connections Show. The clip below features Someone’s Welcome to Somewhere from our soon to be released album, and then the drummers asked to play our fastest tune, so Venus in Tweeds it was (top clip)!

You can listen to the whole show here.