Friday evening and Shooglenifty breeze into a chilly, and eventually soggy, small Hampshire town. It wasn’t meant to be like this, the band were looking forward to a trip down to the South Coast as an antidote to the unseasonable snow they’d experienced on the way to Dingwall at the start of their May tour. Surely, thought Quee MacArthur, coming 600 miles south there had to be a heat wave in comparison? Well, not in the Britain of 2013, it would appear.
Regulars at the Ashcroft Arts Centre are more used to all-seated gigs in the raked theatre so, whilst opening up the partition between the dance studio and bar gave plenty of space for dancing, only time would tell how much that space would get used. We opened with a fairly leisurely paced tune by Shooglenifty standards and this didn’t tempt anyone seated in the bar to venture forward. Well, Angus wasn’t going to let that pass without comment, so we entered a Feng Shui interval. When the furniture had been rearranged to band and audience’s satisfaction, we were underway again with a couple more, gentle tune sets. But by the time we got round to McConnell’s Rant, in celebration of an especially fine exponent of that typically Scottish genre of monologue, a good proportion of the audience was on its feet. Did you know ranting is a centuries old tradition, originating shortly after Scots invented whisky? It must be true, Angus never lies.
We were being treated to classic Shooglenifty fast-paced rhythms from James’ drums, Quee’s bass and Malcolm’s guitar, whilst the fiddle, mandolin and banjo of Angus, Luke and Garry weaved and intertwined with the tunes. When the 6 of them are in full flow I’d defy anyone to sit still. The first half closed with Cleiken the Deil, seemingly dedicated that night to Alan Sugar for reasons not entirely clear, but leaving everyone in need of some refreshment and, in a few cases, oxygen.
Shooglenifty describe their music as the Celtic tradition infused with dance grooves but the band members have picked up a wide range of influences over the years and showed off several after the break. A calypso rhythm was followed soon after by Bjork’s Chauffeur, a tune that is as near as you can get to Celtic reggae. Caribbean sunshine pervaded the Ashcroft in spite of the wind and rain outside. Excess Baggage pays homage to those cornerstones of touring bands’ foreign travel arrangements, the low cost airlines. Angus is getting worryingly proficient with his cabin crew safety briefing during this tune, he must be spending far too much time in the clutches of Ryanair.
The evening worked up to a satisfying crescendo with The Eccentric and Charlie and the Professor with just about all the dancers managing to keep going to the end. Judging from the brisk cd sales, Shooglenifty gained quite a few more fans during the night. Meanwhile, the Ashcroft showed just how flexible a venue it can be and, I would imagine, gained a few more regular patrons. Hampshire’s Shooglenifty fans, new and old, will be able to get another energy shot when they return to play Wickham Festival in August.
Shooglenifty are: Luke Plumb, mandolin, bouzouki; Angus Grant, fiddle; Malcolm Crosbie, guitar; James MacKintosh, drums and percussion; Garry Findlayson, banjo, banjax; Quee MacArthur, bass.
Review by: Johnny Whalley
Shooglenifty live at the Music Hall, Beirut, Lebanon (2011)
And for those wanting a full flavour of the band in full flow here’s a recording by the British Council which supported Reel Festivals, a group of events in Scotland, Syria and Lebanon that bring film, music and poetry from all three together. This was recorded in Beirut, Lebabnon in 2011: