Shooglenifty are heading south, bringing their unique high energy, instantly danceable music to audiences in the south of England, before heading back to Scotland at the end of May for a couple of small venue gigs and then the start of the festival season.
Their blend of the Celtic tradition with dance grooves has its roots back in late 80s Edinburgh and has evolved steadily ever since. When I had the chance recently to chat with original band member Garry Finlayson, I was interested to know if the band recognised any particular influences driving this evolution.
“Well there have been many influences over the years but it would be a very tricky job to trace them all. I’d say that as soon as we started playing at festivals world-wide we were exposed to influence by music from many different cultures with the common factor of being played by great musicians. Of course it works both ways, we have influenced them too – and some of our most joyous experiences have come from sharing the stage and the music with others – so I suppose many of our most positive and lasting influences have been a two-way process.”
These two-way processes have extended beyond just musical influences; a major project for the band in 2011 was a collaboration with Frank McConnell’s Plan B dance company as featured by Folk Radio UK at the time (read it here). How did the band react to working in a structured way with dance and dancers?
“It was indeed a great project, one which we enjoyed immensely. We’d love to do more of that and so would Plan B but the logistics of getting such a large project together are such that it can’t really happen all that frequently. Frank was a delight to work with, as were the other dancers…”
So, great fun to do, did it change the band?
“…the format pushed us into an approach to our music which was way more disciplined than we were used to and proved a very positive experience for us all.”
From quite early days, Shooglenifty has been a widely travelled band; tours to Australia and North America have been regular events. One particularly notable tour of Australia in 2001, resulted in Luke Plumb, mandolin, first sitting in on gigs and subsequently becoming a permanent band member. Even so, a trip to Beirut must have been a bit of a surprise?
“That was a great trip, though sadly, not quite the trip which was planned. We were supposed to play Beirut and Damascus but unfortunately the Syrian stage had to be pulled at the last minute – for tragically obvious reasons. It was a memorable time and we’d love to do more there – you never know what’s round the corner.”
Well that was a pretty obvious lead to ask, what might be round the corner?
“…a musical collaboration on an international level – but perhaps we shouldn’t say too much about that until we know it’s definitely going to happen.”
Not giving much away there. The band’s last album was Murmichan in 2009 so how about recording new material?
“We are indeed working on new material. We have never been one of those bands who feel the need to release work at regular intervals – we prefer to let things happen naturally and the next album will come when it’s ready.”
Track titles on Shooglenifty albums often beg for the label quirky, on Murmichan we had “Would you like an olive, Wes?” and “The ham in the boiler room” to name just two. Was dreaming these up a band activity, I wondered. More a personal activity it seems, “like a kind of snap-shot in the cultural life of the band or the melody writer… almost a sort of diary… remind us of people and events which we might otherwise have forgotten.” It seems this is destined to continue…
“They are of a time and place – for example a couple of us were round at Angus’ flat the other day working on one of his new melodies “ The Silence of the Trams” – a cultural allusion which needs no explanation to the people of Edinburgh.”
Whilst the music evolved, the band, though, has proved remarkably stable. Four of the current line up are original members whilst both of the ‘new boys’ have now clocked up more than 10 years service. The band has developed from its roots in the clubs of Edinburgh to play venues ranging from village halls to concert halls, arts centres to the largest of festivals like Glastonbury. Did this variety cause them to consciously tailor performances?
“Well, in the old days (and that is indeed a wee while ago now) we did prefer all-dancing, rocking venues mainly I think because that was the sort of environment the band evolved in – indeed, in the very early days we never had any rehearsals at all and the response of the dancers was the gauge we used to tell if we were getting it right. We’ve played an enormous number of venues since then and have evolved further so that we now enjoy all kinds of atmospheres. There’s a lot to be said for a seated space with good acoustics – where all the nuances of the music can become more accessible. And even then it’s rare that there are not a few dancers by the end of the evening. I think we’ve learned not to pre-judge a venue as you just never know how much fun you can have in a space until you try it. As for consciously coming up with different performances – well, I guess it’s a bit more natural a process than that – which again comes from our original sense of always, well, sharing a gig with the audience rather than just performing it to them.”
The south of England gets its chance to share in Shooglenifty gigs over the next few weeks and I’ll be at Ashcroft Arts Centre on May 10th in Fareham. Maybe I’ll report back on a detailed comparison with when I last saw them at The Fruitmarket in Glasgow. On second thoughts, no, I’ll just join with everyone else and jig about like someone possessed. You’d do well to pop along to your nearest venue and do the same, a rip-roaring night is guaranteed.
Interview by: Johnny Whalley
- 07/05/13 The Stables Milton Keynes
- 08/05/13 Talking Heads, Southampton
- 09/05/13 The Thunderbolt, Bristol
- 10/05/13 Ashcroft Arts Centre Fareham
- 11/05/13 Forest Arts Centre New Milton
- 15/05/13 Stamford Arts Centre
- 16/05/13 Ropetackle Centre Shoreham
- 17/05/13 Malvern Cube
- 18/05/13 Exeter Phoenix
- 19/05/13 Bearded Theory Festival Derby
- 20/05/13 The Junction 2 Cambridge
- 24/05/13 Catstrand, New Galloway
- 25/05/13 Easdale Island Community Hall
- 26/05/13 Mhor Festival Balquhidder
- 01/06/13 Mareel, Lerwick, Shetland
- 08/06/13 The Brewery, Kendal
- 15/06/13 Fynefest
- 22/06/13 Grassington Festival
- 28/06/13 Glastonbury
- 29/06/13 Aberystwyth Arts Centre
- 28/07/13 Lomond Festival
- 02/08/13 Wickham Festival
- 10/08/13 Shrewsbury Farmer Phil’s
- 24/08/13 Mawdesley Methusala Festival
- 25/08/13 Bromsgrove Artrix
- 31/08/13 SUMMER ISLES FESTIVAL