It is with deep sadness that we announce that our brother Shoogle, Angus R Grant, passed away last night after a short illness. We would like to thank his doctors and the team from St Columba’s Hospice who enabled him to die peacefully at home surrounded by family and close friends. Here follows a short appreciation …

Angus R Grant

Angus first picked up a fiddle at five years old. He was given a quarter sized instrument by his uncle and the family were amazed when in just few days he had three tunes on the go. Perhaps they shouldn’t have been so surprised. As the son of the renowned left-handed fiddle player and teacher from Lochaber – Aonghas Grant – his destiny was to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Not that he saw it quite in the way that Grant Sr intended. In fact, his teenage years were full of filial rebellion, as he gave up the fiddle and took up the electric guitar. It was the time of punk, and a do-it-yourself vibe. Spending hours practising pibroch and puirt tunes seemed less attractive than thrashing away at a guitar. In those days, playing fiddle was decidedly uncool, ironically something Angus did much to change in the next 30 or so years.

It was his school friend Kaela Rowan (now providing vocals for Shooglenifty) who persuaded Angus to dig out his fiddle again and go along to a session. Shortly after, Iain Macfarlane, himself a fine fiddler, persuaded to Grant Jr to join his band Pennycroft with Kaela as third member. The threesome worked their way round the bars of Glenfinnan, Glenuig, and Loch Ailort, not forgetting Fergie’s Bar in Mingarry, a particular favourite.

Angus became a regular visitor to Edinburgh from 1985, following in the wake of his old school friend James Mackintosh, and James’s sister Fiona (both Art College students). Encountering other players in the capital opened his eyes to other musical possibilities, and he persuaded James to take their music to the streets during the Edinburgh Festival in that first summer. As James headed back to college he left with his fiddle for a busking tour of Europe. In that trip he visited Vigo in Spain which inspired one of his most famous tunes Two Fifty to Vigo. On his return Angus joined James and Fiona’s boyfriend Malcolm Crosbie in experimental punk bluegrass combo Swamptrash. Also in the line up were Orcadian banjo player Garry Finlayson and bassist Conrad Molleson.

Swamptrash fitted the late 1980s Edinburgh music scene. It was a time anything could be thrown into the musical pot and musicians from all disciplines jammed together. By the time Swamptrash split up in 1990 it wasn’t unusual to find jazz musicians forming folk bands, trad musicians discovering improvisation and a young piper called Martyn Bennett hanging out in the city’s clubs.

As Swamptrash ran its course Angus, James and Malcolm were at a loose end and took themselves off to Spain for a spot of busking. By this time Angus had begun to embrace his father’s tradition once more. But now the music of the bagpipes and Gaelic song were peppered with a mixed bag of more modern influences: Captain Beefheart, the Fall, Brian Eno, Talking Heads and Miles Davis among them.

Returning to Edinburgh the embryonic Shooglenifty found a regular table in Christie’s Bar in the West Port. They drew in Finlayson, Molleson and mandolin maestro Iain Macleod, and, as bigger and bigger crowds were drawn to their stirring tunes they moved down the road to a residency at Cowgate club La Belle Angele.

Shooglenifty’s sound was brewed in those early sessions – Iain’s precisely handled mandolin, Malcolm’s pumping guitar, Garry’s wayward banjo, Conrad’s grooving bass line, James’s tight as a drum dance beats. And soaring above was the, by turns, wild and serenading fiddle of Angus R Grant. They were a rock band. With a fiddle player as a front man.

And with Macleod, the Sundance to his Butch Cassidy, Angus brought the spirited coupling of fiddle and mandolin to the fore. When Iain left the band in 2002, the Shoogle front man formed another dynamic duo with Tasmanian mando maestro Luke Plumb, a warm and inspirational partnership that lasted for over a decade. When Plumb returned down under in 2014 his shoes were filled by Shoogle fan and razor-sharp stringsmith Ewan MacPherson, a pairing imbued with lashings of energetic empathy.

With Venus in Tweeds, Shooglenifty’s first album, the band took the folk world by the scruff of the neck, and they’ve kept on shaking ever since. Through seven studio albums, gigs to a few hundred in small Highland village halls, playing to tens of thousands in festival fields across the globe, and a couple of line-up changes, Angus was there, centre stage. He had never missed a gig until this July when illness forced his hand, but he returned to the stage to complete Shooglenifty’s run of August festival appearances.

In addition to the iconic first album’s title track Venus in Tweeds and Two Fifty to Vigo, Angus wrote some of Shooglenifty’s most memorable tunes including She’s In The Attic, Nordal Rhumba, Glenfinnan Dawn and Fitzroy Crossing, the haunting closing track to the band’s most recent release.

Shooglenifty filled most of Angus’s musical life over the past 26 years. He rarely played in other combos (the Funky String Band with Luke Plumb a notable exception). Latterly, he was happiest playing traditional music in pub sessions in the Highlands and around his adopted home of Edinburgh.

Somewhat bohemian in outlook, Angus was more rigorously unconventional on stage, leading audiences in a merry dance for over 30 years, and influencing a whole generation of musicians. With his rock n roll swagger, he made fiddle playing cool.

The Shoogle front man was a flighty and mercurial figure: he lived on the breeze, loving to disappear on walkabout (or, more often, hitchabout) in the Highlands, to pop up in far flung bars, and drop by for random visits with a legion of much loved friends. He eschewed modern technology, never owning a mobile phone and remained a stranger to social media. He lived without ties and responsibility, but was devoted to his music, his family and his fellow musicians. He was asked recently if he and the other Shoogles were like brothers after so long playing together. He said, “Worse: wives!”

Angus is survived by his father Aonghas, his mother Moira, sisters Deirdre and Fiona, niece Eva, and Shoogle wives Ewan MacPherson, Garry Finlayson, James Mackintosh, Malcolm Crosbie, Quee MacArthur and Kaela Rowan.

Angus Roderick Grant, musician and inspiration, born 14 February 1967; died 9 October 2016.

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.
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?
Angus:
Euphoric-ish-ness.
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: T
o 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 c
an’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 “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?
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: 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.
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?
Angus:
Vindicated.
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?
QueeSurprising!

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?
Angus:
Glen-Eigg.
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.

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 shoogle@shooglenifty.com 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.

 

DSCF5169_webWe are really looking forward to the Scottish Trad Awards this year because we are going to be playing and anticipating our 25th Anniversary Year, coming up in 2015. What we didn’t know when we agreed to play was that two of our band members would be nominated for awards … in the same category!

Our amazing new mandolin player Ewan MacPherson has been nominated as instrumentalist of the year, as has our very modest (and great) drummer and percussionist James Mackintosh. Both are fabulous and highly acclaimed musicians, and both are essential elements of the Shooglenifty sound.

Here’s what James said about his nomination: “I’m surprised and delighted to be nominated … looking forward to the gathering, tunes, friends and craic.” And Ewan had this to say, “The level of musicianship is amazing on the scene just now, I could pick any number of players at random who are all worthy of this category. So it’s great to be working amongst such good friends and musicians.”

I think you’ll agree it’s a dilemma. So all we can say, is it’s up to you. Read the info and make your choice, and hopefully see you at the gig on Saturday 13 December at Inverness Leisure.  You can buy tickets here