Interview with Shooglenifty

Scottish band Shooglenifty
Shooglenifty in Delhi (Oct 2014)


Scotland’s folk-fusion band Shooglenifty was formed in Edinburgh 25 years ago, and the 1980s electronic and dance influences are evident in their sound today as well. For the first time, the band’s lineup includes a vocalist. The group blends Scottish instruments and danceable melodies with funk and jazz (‘Acid Croft’), and the band has collaborated with musicians from Africa and Asia as well.

The group has toured extensively around the world, and performed at the Rainforest World Music Festival earlier this month (see my coverage here: Rainforest World Music Festival 2015: 18 years of global sound, diversity and celebration! ). Shooglenifty’s drummer James Mackintosh joins us in this exclusive interview on the group’s musical journey, collaborations and message.


Drummer James Mackintosh (Shooglenifty)
James Mackintosh (Shooglenifty) at Reel Festival in Beirut (2011)


Q: What was the vision behind founding of your music group? What new lineups and instruments have you experimented with since the early days?

A: We simply wanted to play the music we had passion for, and to explore it’s many possibilities, rhythms, sounds and melodies. We have had four switches in line up since we began. Our original mandolin player Iain Macleod left after our third album and Luke Plumb from Tasmania joined on mandolin and toured for over 10 years, contributing to the following four albums (he also contributed two compositions to our latest album ‘The Untied Knot’ before deciding to settle in Australia with his new family).

Ewan Macpherson has joined playing mandolin and Jaw harp, and he has contributed a few tunes to the album as well. Our bass player Quee Macarthur has been with the band since the original player, Conrad Molleson left after our third album. This is our first album to include vocals, which are sung by Kaela Rowan, who has contributed in the past but hasn’t toured with us until this year. It’s great to have her on board as it adds a further dimension.

We have always experimented in the studio, sound effects, pianos, clavichord on the new album, bouzouki, all sorts of percussion, as well as samples and vocal harmonies.


fiddler Angus R Grant (Shooglenifty)
Angus R Grant (Shooglenifty) at Celtic Connections 2015


Q: How was your overall experience at the Rainforest World Music Festival?

A: Overall it was a wonderful experience. The hospitality we received on arrival from Jun Lin Yeoh and her team was lovely, which makes all the difference after a very long journey. This being my fifth visit I thought knew what to expect but you’re always in for a few surprises at Rainforest World Music Festival!

The Kecak group from Bali were a highlight for me, particularly as they participated in the percussion workshop I was hosting, and the spontaneous contribution from one of the audience members was hilarious. The Congolese group was a rare treat, beautiful sounds and beats. Being able to participate in the Kecak ritual was a very special moment, and overall the delightful audiences and sense of festival community were the best aspects of the weekend.

Q: What are the challenges you face as a musician and composer?

A: It’s not the easiest means of making a living, so you have to be prepared to be versatile. Many of us do a little session work or teaching to complement our earnings from the group. Keeping our sound fresh and not becoming complacent is always desirable. Exciting trips and festivals such as Rainforest World Music Festival are always a bonus.


Shooglenifty in Rajasthan (Oct 2014), James (middle), with Kaela, Angus, Malcolm and musicians from Rajasthan
Shooglenifty in Rajasthan (Oct 2014), James (middle), with Kaela, Angus, Malcolm and musicians from Rajasthan


Q: Who would you say are the leading influences in your musical career? Who are some of your favorite musicians?

A: Too many to list here, and I gained a few more over Rainforest World Music Festival. I am constantly inspired by many of the diverse and outstandingly talented musicians I meet, be they singers, drummers guitarists or otherwise.

Q: How do you blend different musical influences and genres in your music? How do you bring about this ‘fusion without confusion?’

A: It’s not a conscious thing, we are like sponges, soaking up the sounds and atmospheres we are immersed in, and these influences infuse our music. Like a well blended tea. Hopefully a nice infusion!



Q: How would you describe your musical journey and how your albums have evolved and changed over the years?

A: Educational, inspiring and worthwhile. We have evolved from novices in the recording studio to a group who produce and create and present their own music. The music has hopefully evolved into something that is entirely our own, and that no one else really sounds like, something unique.

Q: How does your composition process work through a main songwriter, or through collaboration/jams between your band members? Do you compose on the road also, while travelling?

A: All of the above! Someone will write a tune, we will rehearse, jam, deconstruct, always collaborative ultimately, then rehearse again. I recall Luke writing tunes on the moving walkway in an airport.

Q: What are some unusual reactions you have got during your live performances?

A: Someone threw an orange onto the stage at Rainforest World Music Festival the second time we came. It was a playful gesture, I hope. It’s unusual if people manage to get through one of our gigs without dancing.



Q: What kinds of social and political messages have been conveyed in your recent albums? What is your vision of what music can do in this age of political/economical turmoil?

A: None overtly. We are musicians and we have been extremely fortunate to have worked with and collaborated with many other musicians from many far flung parts of the globe: Afghanistan, Korea, North American Inuit, Rajasthan, Poland, Africa, etc. etc.

Perceived divisions are usually instilled by political systems and governments, when it comes down to it, the basic human instinct must be to co-exist peacefully, with mutual respect and enjoy each others’ talents and diversity. I was wondering at Rainforest World Music Festival if such a condensed and concentrated weekend of integration and camaraderie can offer as an example of positive human interaction.

If you meet someone in a neutral environment and you have no idea where they are from, how do you respond? The overwhelming evidence from Rainforest World Music Festival seems to be very positive, a small example of how the world could be. Each culture has so much to offer the other in so many different ways.

Biography and discography at Shooglenifty [updated in 2017]

Author: Madanmohan Rao

Madanmohan Rao is an author and media consultant from Bangalore, and global correspondent for world music and jazz for World Music Central and Jazzuality. He has written over 15 books on media, management and culture, and is research director for YourStory Media. Madan was formerly World Music Editor at Rave magazine and RJ at WorldSpace, and can be followed on Twitter at @MadanRao.


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