Shooglenifty’s Angus R Grant dies aged 49

Angus R Grant

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 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.

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, and, 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.

Ewan MacPherson announces solo album

Ewan MacPherson fetch

“Over the last 20 years I have been lucky enough to play with a wide range of folk musicians from all over the world, but especially Europe. It has been an inspiring journey learning from some of the finest players in a variety of culturally rich countries.

From the Celtic and Anglo Nations across to Scandinavia, my musical travels have led me to write this collection of tunes reflecting those experiences.

I am not from a family of tradition bearers, but my forebears hail from all over the British Isles and music is in my bones. I have a genuine love for it, along with a mongrel’s freedom which allows me to jump headlong into new cultures and get involved, learning many of the nuances in traditional styles from the generous musicians I have met.

Fetch is the culmination of all those experiences, with a few good friends from along the way, each one of them a respected musician in their own right. This is also a way to say thanks and perhaps a chance to give something back. In these uncertain times it feels good to be part of such a vibrant culture so full of bright energy.

This has been a very hands-on project, I wrote 95% of the music on this album, produced and recorded in Scotland and Norway, designed the cover art and booked the tour.”

Ewan MacPherson has been working in the music industry for 20 years. As a multi-instrumentalist he is a recognised figure on the vibrant Scottish music scene and as such was nominated for Instrumentalist of the Year at the 2014 MG Alba Trad Music Awards.

He is a founder member of three acclaimed bands (Fribo, Salt House and RoughCoastAudio) and has taken stages around the world with a wide range of traditional and contemporary folk/roots artists.

Ewan’s music has taken him as far as India, Malaysia, Canada, America, Australia and throughout Europe, in addition to his own projects he is currently a member of renowned acid-croft band Shooglenifty and tours with Patsy Reid. Ewan has also worked with many prominent artists including: Afro-Celt Sound-system, Alan Kelly Gang, Alasdair White, The Battlefield Band, Bella Hardy, Breabach, Bruce MacGregor, Burach, Chloe Matharu, Chris & Thomas, Claire Mann, Daimh, Dannsa, Emily Smith, Ewan Robertson, Fine Friday, Gillie Mackenzie, Gillebride MacMillan, Hannah Read, Inge Thompson, Jeana Leslie & Siobhan Miller, Kongero, Lori Watson, Maeve Mackinnon, Mairi Campbell, Malinky, Nuala Kennedy, Ranarim, Shooglenifty, Salsa Celtica and The Treacherous Orchestra.

A skilled multi instrumentalist, vocalist, songwriter and producer Ewan released an album of self-penned songs in 2008 (which included a collaboration with Vashti Bunyan) many of which have been covered by other leading artists including Breabach, Patsy Reid and Siobhan Miller. He produced Gillie Mackenzie’s debut solo album in 2011.

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the Ewan MacPherson link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist’s website: www.ewanmacpherson.com

‘Brutus The Husky/MacColl’s’ – the opening track from Fetch:

 

AFRO CELT SOUND SYSTEM – The Source (ECC Records)

The SourceThe Source is the first new album from Afro Celt Sound System for ten years as they celebrate their twentieth anniversary and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Not, perhaps, a record that sounds as indefinably spiritual as this.

There are a huge number of musicians of this album in addition to the six core members of the band led by Simon Emmerson and the first voices we hear are those of Les Griottes, the female African group who appear on eight of the thirteen tracks. The opening track, ‘Calling In the Horses’ is a gentle sweeping piece that evokes the open land of West Africa with an accompaniment and is admirably restrained and features the Uilleann pipes and whistles of Davy Spillane and leads into ‘Beware Soul Brother’ which builds with the addition of Seaná Davey’s harp and the keyboards and bass of Richard Evans.

I like the way these two tracks morph into ‘The Magnificent Seven’ changing the mood into a decidedly Irish feel. ‘The Cascade’ finally blends the afro and the celt elements of the band completely with the modern electronica and beats for which they are probably best known. Four members of Shooglenifty appear on the track, as do The Dhol Foundation, and Griogair Labhruidh takes the lead vocal part while Les Griottes provide the African vibe. Kick Horns also join the company for this track and the next, ‘A Higher Love’, which includes the tune ‘Monkswell Road’ borrowed from Shooglenifty.

By now the styles and influences are thoroughly mixed. ‘Where Two Rivers Meet’ and ‘Mansani Cissé’ gives us a break from the excitement and N’Faly Kouyaté’s kora features here while Griogair’s pipes take the high road of the lead melody on the former. Pál Ó Siadhail reads an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Wonder And The Medicine Wheels on the Gaelic ‘Child Of Wonder’ which sounds like a waulking song and Johnny Kalsi lends his name to the final track, ‘Kalsi Breakbeat’.

The Source is a superb album and the implication of going back to the roots of the music is totally justified. This is Afro Celt Sound System, however, and there are always surprises.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artists’ website: www.afroceltsoundsystem.org.uk

‘The Magnificent Seven’ – live at Celtic Connections:

SHOOGLENIFTY – The Untied Knot (Shoogle SHOOGLE15015)

SHOOGLENIFTY TheUntiedKnotYou never know what you’ll get with Shooglenifty. Venus In Tweeds was one thing, Murmichan another and The Untied Knot is something else again. Lots of new somethings, in fact. Words for a start.

On the first play The Untied Knot felt rather dark and that begins with the cover art by John Byrne. I know that these people are dancing and supposedly having fun but look at them. The impression is reinforced by Quee MacArthur’s title track which opens the first set. The drums, although very quiet, sound as though they have been imported from another piece of music; not wrong exactly, just unsettling. They fade still further before Garry Finlayson’s banjo opens the second part of the medley and then come back as straightforward as you please.

With the departure of Luke Plumb, who has returned home to Australia, new boy Ewan MacPherson has shouldered his share of tune-writing responsibility including the all-purpose march ‘Somebody’s Welcome To Somewhere’ and ‘Samhla Reel/Scolpaig’. Plumb left the band with two new tunes, ‘The Highway Carpark’ and ‘The Arms Of Sleep’ – although if I had a night such as the one he depicts I’d be seriously worried.

The big innovation is the input of Gaelic singer Kaela Rowan mixing old and new songs and some stunning puirt a beul while Shooglenifty travel the world. The prime example is ‘The High Road To Jodpur/Am Bothan A Bh’aig Fionnghuala’ which mixes mouth music and a decidedly sub-continental melody. Finally ‘Fitzroy Crossing’ is a dreamy Australia-inspired piece by Angus R Grant to calm everything down.

Once again Shooglenifty have done something different and made a remarkable new album.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

‘Someone’s Welcome To Somewhere’ live, featuring Ross Ainslie: