THE past 18 months have been especially difficult for Shooglenifty, one of Scotland’s genuinely trailblazing folk bands.

Blasting out of the Edinburgh session scene in the early 1990s, the band’s “acid croft” style of music gave the folk scene a timely boost, melding as it did traditional tunes with mandolin and banjo-heavy melodies and beats taken from the burgeoning dance music scene of that time.

In October 2016, however, the untimely death of the band’s iconic fiddler Angus Grant shook the Shoogles’ world.

Following Grant’s death, the other members of the band needed time – time to mourn, time to think and time to decide what the future held for Shooglenifty, if it held anything at all.

Percussionist James Mackintosh explains: “I think there was a brief hiatus after Angus passed away when we had no idea what we would do and whether we would carry on.

The National:

“Angus was such a massive figure in the band in so many ways. He was a founder member alongside Malcolm [Crosbie] and myself and the thought of carrying on without him was too hard to contemplate for a while.”

However, as Mackintosh explains, Grant himself had always been adamant that the band should continue.

“He wanted us to carry on. I had conversations with him where he told us that we must continue. But how we were going to do that we just didn’t know,” he continued.

“The one thing that gave us some momentum and kept us going was the album we had been planning to do in India.

“We had received help from Creative Scotland toward that so we decided that, since we planned that with Angus, we would finish that project and dedicate it to him. It then turned into a very different type of project.

“He was so excited by that project and, as he was progressively getting more ill, we tried several plans. We were at one stage looking to bring the Rajasthani musicians to Scotland to record with Angus in the Highlands, which would have been incredible. But it just couldn’t happen as Angus deteriorated quite quickly.”

The band, though, were determined to finish the collaboration in Grant’s memory and so began looking at other ways to complete the project.

“Our manager Jane-Ann Purdy said we needed to work out whether we were going to carry on and if so how we were going to carry on. We all decided it was impossible to replace Angus, you’ll never replace Angus, so we decided to work through the year with guests.

“We worked with several amazing fiddlers as guests and one of those who did our first gigs after Angus’s death was Eilidh Shaw.”

The National:

Taynuilt native Shaw was recently unveiled as the band’s new full-time fiddler, following on from Grant. Her explosive style and stage presence – and the fact that she, like Grant himself, was taught by Aonghas Grant senior, Grant’s father – make her the perfect choice to follow on as Shooglenifty begin to look to the future. However, at the time the band remained unsure who, if anyone, would follow on from Angus.

“We did three gigs in May [2017] with Eilidh and the audience were so receptive and they genuinely appeared delighted that we were carrying on,” says Mackintosh.

“It felt great gigging with Eilidh but we knew she wasn’t available for a variety of reasons so we continued to work with an array of amazing fiddlers. I think, though, there was an underlying sense that Eilidh would have been perfect.

“It wasn’t until last year that we began to realise that we had to start working with a more consistent line-up. So we all got together in Edinburgh to try and make a decision.”

Ahead of the meeting there were some concerns among the band that they may all be plumping for different fiddlers so it was with a slight sense of trepidation that Mackintosh came to the meeting. He needn’t have worried.

“Unanimously everyone said in an ideal world they would like to work with Eilidh,” says Mackintosh. “And so Jane-Ann gave Eilidh a call. She was quite surprised to get that call.

“I think because we’d been working with all these other fiddlers – Laura-Jane Wilkie for instance recorded with us in India and was amazing – Eilidh had thought we were going in another direction, so to speak.

“However, we told her we hadn’t been able to get those first gigs in May out of our heads so she asked for a wee while to think about it as she obviously has lots of other commitments.”

The National:

What followed was a nervous wait which was only ended after a chance meeting in the Co-op in Corpach, not far from Aonghas Grant senior’s shed, where Shaw used to have fiddle lessons.

“Everyone was starting to get a bit twitchy as we hadn’t heard from Eilidh and I was asked to give her a wee call,” Mackintosh explains

“I was in Locheilside at the time, visiting family with Kaela (Rowan, Shooglenifty singer and Mackintosh’s partner), so had to drive into Corpach to get some reception.

“I had left a message on Eilidh’s voicemail and was outside the Co-op, where I used to drop-off and pick-up Angus, when I decided to nip in and get a snack. And there was Eilidh, standing at the bread counter.”

The pair had a chat and parted with Shaw promising to get back with an answer. Within 10 minutes she had called Mackintosh to say she would join the band.

“Eilidh has that west-coast energy and intensity about her playing and that sense of anarchy. And her and Angus went back years so there was that commonality that makes it feel right,” Mackintosh adds.

THE sense of serendipity is heightened by the fact Shaw was just the second recipient of the red tassel given by Aonghas Grant senior to his most gifted pupils. The first recipient was of course Grant junior.

With the addition of Shaw the band can now begin to look to the future. Grant’s influence will always be part of Shooglenifty – his tunes, his personality – but now it is time for a new chapter.

“We’re pretty excited,” says Mackintosh.

It is hard to overstate the influence Shooglenifty have had on the Scottish folk scene. When they emerged they were so exciting and different. They, along with the likes of Martyn Bennett, lie at the very heart of the Scottish folk revival.

“At the time were weren’t aware of what we were doing. We weren’t iconoclasts, though. We always had huge respect for the music that went before us,” explains Mackintosh. “We just wanted to keep it rolling.

“We got together with the original line-up for the Trad Awards a few years back and afterwards a couple of people who I consider my contemporaries – people who I really respect – came up to us and said they never thought they’d hear us play Venus In Tweeds live and that was when I started to realise that we had such an influence. I’d never thought about it before.

“I had a chat with one of the Elephant Sessions recently and he was so gracious and happy to meet people who’d influenced him. And they’re brilliant. They’re now taking the music on further. It’s really lovely.

“And the Scottish traditional music scene is so healthy just now. It’s so varied as well. I remember 20 years ago a preview of Celtic Connections said ‘it’s time for the Aran sweaters again’. There’s no way you could pigeon-hole it like that now. You’d get laughed at.”

And now Shooglenifty are preparing to reclaim their place in that scene. First up is a trip to the Edinburgh Tradfest on April 28, followed by a long-awaited journey north for the Shetland Folk Festival on May 3 and then a trip to Eden Festival on June 10.

And Mackintosh is eager to get on the road again. And to get back into the studio.

“We have a whole bunch of material sitting in the wings and we want to get stuck into that hopefully by the end of the year. We’re hoping to get the Indian collaboration – working title The High Road To Jodhpur – released soon, too,” says Mackintosh. “We have some dates around that as well with six Rajasthani musicians, including Shrewsbury Folk Festival.”

After a traumatic time Shooglenifty are back, and with a new lease of life.

“We’re excited now to get out on the road and get back to it. There’s always going to be a sense of melancholy about certain aspects but I think we’re definitely ready to rock now.”