Popular Scottish dance music band, Shooglenifty, will be celebrating their twenty fifth anniversary in 2015, having played their official debut gig at the Orkney Folk Festival in 1990. “Most of us played together in a different outfit beforehand,” explains founding member Malcolm Crosbie in our recent interview, on the eve of their Australian tour. “And when it became defunct, we carried on playing together just in a folk session in a bar and we ended up doing a few different bars and eventually there was this guy just started managing a new venue and he started developing a decent sized gig. The first night we played there, it was in the middle of winter. There was the six of us, six other people and a three bar electric fire in the middle of the floor of this large room. We played there every Thursday and after a few months, it started building up and more and more people came every week and eventually a PA and amplifiers came up on the stage and we had this really fine gig and that’s how we kind of evolved initially.”
Their mandolin and bass player both left within a short space of time, forcing the band to find a new mandolin player. “The departing bass player was getting married to an Australian lass,” Malcolm tells me. “And she happened to come from Tasmania. He was over there on a honeymoon and knew that there was a forthcoming tour of Australia coming up and we were short of a mandolin player. He saw Luke playing at a session and said ‘How would you fancy joining us for a gig in Tasmania?’ so Luke met us at the airport when we arrived, played with us that night and then he was with us ever since. He has only just left us recently. Apart from being quite ill and not being able to tour with us much, he also got married and has just had a little baby girl and with all this going on, the best thing for him to do is to stay in Melbourne. And Ewan McPherson who was actually depping for Luke for a couple of years, while he was recovering from his illness, slotted in perfectly.” However, change is once again on the horizon. “Now our bass player is leaving again,” he laments.
Singer Kaela Rowland will also be joining the band on vocals on this tour. “She will be doing half a dozen or so songs,” says Malcolm. “It’s a new thing for us. We went for almost twenty five years as an instrumental band with just kind of incidental vocals from time to time and then our drummer, a couple of years ago, married Kaela and so it just seemed quite natural to get her to do a few songs. She’s a very, very good singer. We’ve done quite a few gigs with her so far and she has done quite a few numbers on the new album.” Malcolm tells me that the album is ‘just about finished’ and should be released in early 2015 but Australian fans will get a bit of a sneak peak of the new material at the band’s shows on this tour.
After their Australian tour, Shooglenifty will be returning to the U.K. and performing at the Celtic Connections in Glasgow which, Malcolm tells me, is also going to feature the Dhol Drummers of Rajasthan. “They’re coming over to do a bit of drumming with us.”
Shooglenifty’s music is quite a unique style. I ask Malcolm if this was intentional or was it something that just happened?
“We’re quite free in the way that we arrange things,” he explains. “We start with a melody and then everyone has a bash at putting ideas together and they all come together and we think ‘That’s a good riff. We’ll use that here and we’ll use that chord sequence and maybe we’ll just change that a bit’ and so we’ll have a number of rehearsals and it starts to come together and then you’ll get the bits that aren’t working so well and then you change it. There’s no fixed school of thought as to what you get at the end. We just evolve as we go along. It’s quite a natural process.”
If you enjoy a bit of modern Scottish dance music, you can catch Shooglenifty this weekend at the following venues:
by Sharyn Hamey
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