James Macintosh of SHOOGLENIFTY


“Let arms give place to the robe, and the laurels of the warriors yield to the tongue of the orator.” -Cicero (106 BC – 43 BC)- 

Celt In A Twist: Shooglenifty are pretty nifty indeed. Through their innovations and imaginations they have not only developed a unique expression of Scottish tradition but also expanded well beyond it to define a whole new musical genre called ‘Acid-Croft’. Though fans of this program have become accustomed to the band’s off-centre stylings going back to albums like A Whiskey Kiss, North America only really became formally introduced to Shooglenifty’s charms with last year’s ‘Solar Shears’. For 2003, the group has emerged from the recording studio with another stellar slice of sonic experimentation. This one’s called, The Arms Dealer’s Daughter. James Macintosh, the beat behind the band joins us to talk about it. Hello James. Congratulations on the new album.

James: Thank you very much.

CT: Do you set out to challenge your audience or is it an occupational hazard of an active imagination?

James: I think the latter more likely. We don’t really set out to challenge anyone. I actually think the latest album is more accessible than previous album, Solar Shears. It’s not quite a frightening in places.

CT: We just heard Scraping the Barrel. Maybe you can tell us about that tune and the shift on this album toward totally original material.

James: That tune is a set of three written by our mandolin player, Luke Plumb. He’s a prestigious multi-instrumentalist we met in Tasmania. Luke wrote Scraping The Barrel. I think it was the first tune he volunteered for the Shooglenifty treatment. As far as the shift towards our own material, we’ve only ever tried to do our own compositions. If we cover a tune it’s only because we feel that tune has a particular quality that we can evoke.

CT: The Arms Dealer’s Daughter seems more organic than previous albums. Is that a natural by product of the band’s experience with programming and sampling?

James: Ya, I reckon so. Plus the fact that Quee (MacArthur), the bass player and I are getting pretty good at recording ourselves. We’ve had a lot of experience in studios now. The great thing about modern technology is that it can, ironically, enable a more organic feel I think (burp) excuse me, that’s the linguini talking. We got a real good drum sound in a village hall in Scotland. We got some good mikes, set the kit up and I played to a guide track. And so, we worked the rest of the album in a more organic way than the previous one, width several instruments going down at once. Whereas with Solar Shears, the studio was so small and computer-oriented, it didn’t allow any more than two people playing together at the same time. With more instruments being recorded at once, you may occasionally lose some precision but there’s a vibe there … you can get something quite special in return. You know that thing you get when people play together is something else.

CT: Ya, the sum being greater than its parts.

James: Ya, exactly.

CT: At the risk of sounding like a skipping CD, can you shed some light on the group’s name, Shooglenifty?

James: You get the prize for asking the most asked question ever! It came from our guitarist, Malcolm in our very early years. We were busking in Madrid outside this bar and we were offered an evening concert. And a woman from the bar said to Malcolm, “I need a name of the band for the blackboard”. So Malcolm came up with Shooglenifty. Shoogle is old Scots vernacular, like shaking the saltshaker, you ‘shoogle’ it. And nifty is fairly universal.

CT: You’ve got your Celt In A Twist and we’re talking with James Macintosh about The Arms Dealer’s Daughter, the brand new release from Scotland’s Shooglenifty. Connect yourself with the band. Find out when they’ll be touring in your neighborhood. Log onto shoogle dot com. You might even be able to pick up a t-shirt. James, this new album seems to flow decidedly eastward, with traditional sounding jigs and reels morphing at a moment’s notice into gypsy and middle-eastern flights of fancy. Did someone in the band recently purchase a hookah? What are we hearing?

James: Oh no, we’ve all had hookahs for years. We just started using them lately. I think if you listen back to our previous albums you’ll hear more of those eastern scales. On this disc I suppose some of them just came to the fore. I’ve actually got my first composition on this album, ‘A Fistful Of Euro’, and I guess that’s one of the tracks you’re talking about. That’s fairly eastern sounding. It was just me mucking about with a Middle Eastern scale and Luke taking it and turning it into a nice little tune. Angus (Grant), the fiddle player has been living in Seville, Spain for the past year, so there’s a very strong Moorish and flamenco influence in a couple of his tunes. Or, maybe we’re just yearning for a little more sunshine.

CT: Living in Edinburgh I can see why. Well, is there a story behind The Arms Dealer’s Daughter? How did that concept come about?

James: That’s a funny little title. Years a go in Spain, one of the band members met a young lady and a romance blossomed. The owner of the bar we were playing in said, “Do you know who this girl is?” and we said, “No”. He said, “She’s the daughter of an arms dealer.” And we said, “Oh No!” It turned out her father was a manufacturer of armaments and during that week he appeared in the bar to interview the suitor or scare him away more likely. People ask us whether it’s wise in the current climate to name your album in such a way but there’s no malice intended. Although our CD’s, which were manufactured in Australia … when the shipment arrived, on the outside of the boxes it just said, “ARMS”.

CT: (laughs) Try getting that through customs! We’ll look forward to your next visit to the Westcoast of Canada. James. Thanks so much for doing this. You’ve had your linguini for dinner and now we’re going to listen to “A Fist Full Of Euro” which for some reason reminds me of spaghetti westerns.

James: Ya, very good! Absolutely. It’s kind of got that vibe and that inspired our designer to come up with the sleeve. A lot of people wonder about the painting on the cover and we were very lucky to have permission to use it. It was painted by Otar Imerlishvili and we’re very pleased with it.


Cal Koat is a freelance world music broadcaster and producer of Celt In A Twist on AM 1470 in Vancouver