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Shooglenifty in action. Photo/Alamy

The Scottish musical nomads world famous in Ōnekakā

Shooglenifty are returning to New Zealand to hit the arts festival circuit – and visit a favourite pub in Golden Bay.

When Scottish musicians James Mackintosh and Angus Grant first holidayed in New Zealand more than 20 years ago, they stopped in at the Mussel Inn in Golden Bay. Mackintosh headed for the bar while Grant went to the gents. Mackintosh noted a locally brewed ale called A Whisky Kiss. “What’s the reason behind that name of your beer?” he asked the woman behind the bar. “Well, it’s the boss – he just loves this strange band from Scotland,” she replied.

“And so he named his beer after their second album?”

“Yes. Do you know it? You know them, too?” Grant walked into the bar looking perplexed. “James, you’ll never guess what I’ve just seen. There’s a photo of me in the toilet!”

Mackintosh and Grant were members of that strange band from Scotland, Shooglenifty, and with the release of A Whisky Kiss were only a few years into recording their peculiar brand of music, a mix of West Highlands folk, rock, punk and elements of festival-friendly and utterly danceable trance.

They’d been playing music together for years in various combos, settling on the name Shooglenifty while busking in Spain. But here they were, famous in Ōnekakā on the other side of the world.

“We were invited to stay and sample their beer and the next night we even played a session there and they gave us dinner,” remembers Mackintosh, who, a couple of decades later, is still drummer with Shooglenifty and now has 10 albums with the band under his belt.

Shooglenifty in action. Photo/Alamy

That first visit to New Zealand followed their first ever Womad tour, where they shared the bill with artists such as Malian afro-pop star Salif Keita, Sardinian shepherd singers Tenores di Bitti, Fairport Convention legend Richard Thompson, and Loudon Wainwright III. For a bunch of guys from Scotland, such an “extraordinary experience” opened their eyes to what the world had to offer, Mackintosh says.

“For years now, we’ve had these encounters with musicians whose language we don’t understand but who we can sit down with and have these incredible, empathetic experiences, be they from Africa, Sardinia, India or Malaysia.”

That empathy has morphed into what’s now a seven-piece outfit, recording with musicians from all over the world.

Having met and played with Rajasthani supergroup Dhun Dhora over a number of visits to an annual music festival at Jodhpur, the two bands decided to put out the album Written in Water in 2018, fusing the languages of Gaelic and Marwari into a thoroughly danceable mix of styles. It’s telling that the track Jog Yer Bones even has a dance remix courtesy of renowned Scottish DJ and producer Howie B.

Recent years, though, haven’t always been kind to the band. In October 2016, seven months after their last visit to New Zealand to bring what was then billed as “hypno-folkadelic ambient trad” to Auckland’s Art Festival, Grant died. The day Mackintosh discovered his childhood friend had been diagnosed with terminal cancer was the day the band received confirmation of funding to make a documentary of their trip to India to record with Dhun Dhora. That idea was put on the back-burner. Instead, Mackintosh says, they embarked on filming “the catharsis we’ve been going through over the past two years”.
With original fiddle player Angus Grant, right. Photo/Alamy

The heart of the new documentary is the tribute concert, A Night for Angus, which took place in January 2017 at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall and featured more than 60 musicians, including Grant’s replacement on the fiddle, Eilidh Shaw. The final shot of the documentary is set to be the band’s new line-up walking on to the stage at this year’s Edinburgh Festival at The Lyceum – the same venue Grant and Mackintosh busked outside three decades ago.

The documentary will be released next year, alongside a new album to celebrate the band’s 30th anniversary. Mackintosh says next month’s New Zealand tour gives the band the chance to practise the new songs before recording them at Watercolour Studios, just down the length of Loch Linnhe from his old home town of Fort William.

“Thirty years … it’s quite extraordinary,” he says. “Good lord, but I feel like we’ve been going through this whole thing of losing Angus and having Eilidh joining, which has been such an incredible shot of fresh air because she was an old friend of Angus’ and an amazing spirit and a great musician. I’m so excited about this new album and this tour because you rarely get the luxury of playing an album through before recording it, but that’s what we’ll be doing in New Zealand.”

What’s more, Shooglenifty will be back at The Mussel Inn in Ōnekakā as part of their 10-date tour. “I’m very excited to be going back – not sure if they’ll be still brewing that beer, though.”

Shooglenifty play Wellington’s San Fran on October 17; Carterton’s Kokomai Festival on October 18; Nelson Arts Festival on October 19; Takaka’s Mussel Inn on October 20; Christchurch’s Blue Smoke on October 22; Dunedin’s 50 Dundas on October 23; Auckland’s Tuning Fork on October 24;  Tauranga Arts Festival on October 25; Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival on October 26 and Hamilton’s Nivara Lounge on October 27.

Dave Dobbyn. Photo/Getty Images

Coming to a town near you

Shooglenifty may be playing most of the coming month’s arts festivals on their tour of New Zealand but local artists are also using them as a touring springboard.

Dave Dobbyn

The veteran singer-songwriter warms up for the summer with two dates. First, he’s joining Anika Moa, Annie Crummer, Maisey Rika, Rob Ruha and Teeks on the opening weekend of the Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival for a show entitled “Under an East Coast Moon”, at the Gisborne Soundshell on October 6. Then, he’s under canvas in Havelock North (October 21) for the Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival, performing A Night In With Dave Dobbyn, a show that promises some stories as well as songs.

Tami Neilson

The county-soul singer is including the Nelson (October 21) and Tauranga (October 28) arts festivals on her seven-date national tour, which features her brother and occasional co-writer Jay playing guitar.

The Topp Twins

The nation’s favourite yodel-comedy sibling duo return with shows at the Hawke’s Bay (October 25) and Nelson (October 27) festivals.

Pitch Black

Also at the Hawkes Bay and Nelson events is the pioneering dub-electronic act who are touring on the back of new album Third Light. They’ll be soundtracking the mixed-media street show “White Night” in Napier on October 19 before performing on the Nelson Cathedral steps (October 25), accompanied by a triggered video show.

Reb Fountain. Photo/Getty Images

Reb Fountain

Fresh from her impressive appearances on the recent Live Rust supergroup tribute to Neil Young, the singer-songwriter takes her own songbook around the country, with the festival dates on her tour including Gisborne (October 17), Havelock North (October 20) and Tauranga (October 24).

Anthonie Tonnon

Multi-instrumentalist Tonnon is beaming down with A Synthesized Universe, the multimedia astronomy-inspired show he originally developed for planetarium performances, and playing in Gisborne (October 11), Nelson (October 24) and Tauranga (October 26).

Björk

All Is Full Of Love: The Blackbird Ensemble, helmed by composer-arranger Claire Cowan, takes its live homage to the songs of the Icelandic pop artist to Nelson (October 18) and Hawkes Bay (October 24), among other tour dates.

NZSO

Our national orchestra kicks off its six-date North Island Podium Series with an appearance at the Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival on October 17. The concert, at the Gisborne War Memorial Theatre, features the world premiere of composer Kenneth Young’s Te Māpouriki, a work commissioned as part of the NZSO Cook’s Landfall Series.

This article was first published in the September 28, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.