HebCelt looks to Shoogle its way to next milestone


After a quarter of a century of taking their ‘acid croft’ brand of music around the world, Shooglenifty are well qualified to share the secrets of longevity.

“Not knowing what might be just around the corner, hard work, a certain amount of luck, and patience”, said James Mackintosh, the band’s drummer, as the Edinburgh-based six-piece continue with their 25th anniversary celebrations.

Those celebrations take them to HebCelt’s own milestone 20th festival in the summer, having performed at the first ever event in 1996. They remember starting that show to an empty Town Hall, before the audience decanted from the nearby pub and packed out the venue by the end of the first number.

Both band and festival have changed considerably since then; Shooglenifty’s line-up has altered and now features Quee Macarthur on bass, Malcolm Crosbie on guitar, Garry Finlayson on banjo, Ewan MacPherson on mandolin, Angus Grant on fiddle as well as James. Their latest album, ‘The Untied Knot’, released on 6 July, also includes singer Kaela Rowan, marking a departure from their previous instrumental work.

“When a band’s line-up changes, the different personalities put their imprints on the sound”, James said. “Our original line up with Iain (Macleod) and Conrad (Ivitsky) was really unique and exciting, but couldn’t last.

“Luke Plumb was inspired and energetic and his enthusiasm was contagious, and now we have Ewan (MacPherson) and Kaela (Rowan) aboard there’s a distinctly new dynamic, which is a new chapter for the band.

“She is a phenomenal singer and has a great presence, and always sings with passion and soul. After six instrumental albums we thought it would be a great way to celebrate our seventh by incorporating her voice. She’s fitting in beautifully and has just the right attitude.”

HebCelt has also changed, from the debut festival that attracted some 1,000, mostly local fans, to the international, multi award-winning event that welcomes an audience 15 times that size nowadays.

Why do the band think HebCelt has experienced similar longevity to their own and what makes it attractive for visiting artists?

“A unique location for one and the consistently imaginative programming for another”, explains James. “Also, of course, the audiences, who are really appreciative and enthusiastic.

“Because of the effort it takes bands to get there, it’s always appreciated by the festival crowd. Its relative ‘remoteness’ also makes it special.”

As HebCelt looks forward to its next decade, what about the next 25 years for Shooglenifty?

“It would be great to visit some parts of the world we’ve never been to: Africa and South America spring to mind, but who knows? We live in exciting times, and, as I said before, you never know what’s just around the corner!”

This year’s HebCelt, which runs from 15-18 July, will also feature acts including Idlewild, Afro Celt Sound System, Treacherous Orchestra, the Karen Matheson Band, Chastity Brown, Le Vent du Nord, Raghu Dixit and Salsa Celtica.

Tickets for all events during the festival can be bought at www.hebceltfest.com/booking