Heading West: a Story about a band called Shooglenifty

Glasgow Film Theatre
30th Jan 2023

I must confess that I chose ‘Shooglenifty’ Celtic Connection’s 2023 somewhat at random, boy did it pay off. This event was a documentary/film that brought together a most brilliant journey for a band whose serenity rubbed off everywhere. The film was a show to see behind the curtains and marvel at what they had done and still do for music with a flight that almost brought tears to my eyes in the first moments.

We were introduced to the footage and said hello to Angus R Grant (I can also say I had never heard of him) and immediately fell for his story in the band Shooglenifty (a light hearted name). Their story since the 90’s has done nothing but develop and become. The musical influences of their happening were scenes of Folk mixed with a new disco or dance and at it they mastered it for themselves.

The boundaries were so easily transgressed as time went by, in their travels, taking them to the Asia (not least India) their art perpetrated all and yet was ever revealing itself. To scenes of Scottish mountains the haunting music offered a depth of a springboard of roots as friends and close ones where filmed telling the truth about Angus in particular. They laughed they wept and they spoke of the highest of respect for Angus’s life and personality.

The discovery during this film was nothing less than a spiritual one; their shows were a means to many things, showing how music really is the greatest lover. It led them across the planet with a beloved Scottish sound that brought their sense of harmonic fusion to fit in leading places reeled at the Connections, nightclubs and dancing for folk.

And every step along vague completions the band was more often than not spontaneous. They verbally fought for a free flowingness that may have even ended up as some kind of enlightenment through entertainment. Their personalities grew and grew onscreen, life and the joy spurned out of them as they used their roots to landscape a music as straight as an arrow and as heartfelt as to capture a kind of powerful, effortless communal between band and audience.

Angus R Grant

Bringing that element of old and new, made in caves, that grew larger and larger as people began to fall for them. They knew to read the room, to ask of the audience what they would like and in doing so dispel many myths about the stage.

It was a live and excited atmosphere. They fused and channelled themselves championing a scene they helped to set, with lots of smiles and hard won laughter importantly keeping a pristine and amazing flow. This had them in a state of changing cultures (almost swapping them) and with sparkling eyes remarking that the greatest teacher thus far was difference of style and technique in a world as bright as day.

He died relatively young in his late 40’s, but he also died a man loved.
His absence brought about a number of crises not least ‘Do we replace our fiddle playing magician?’ The momentum of the Shooglenifty train would not wither but instead find another fiddler that came along as easily as their talents always had.

The love in evidence poured out as their journey by necessity had each who knew him tell us how he could just touch your heart, I was right there with them at the Glasgow Film Theatre as someone who now loved these strangers, he performed like a leader and brought to the set a great honesty and skill (as the band certainly did). The spirit shared by the band looked like being also shared by life itself, so many times meeting them in abundance.

Their musical achievements are still in effect as a band who brought a great deal to the table, and in a sense of heightened freedom they had this ongoing tale to tell and brought inclusivity on a global level. Never knowing how and why, they somehow made great decisions on a whim, and to their tilted hats were given more then they needed. If nothing else than to make sure of the bands continuance, to keep bringing fresh life to life and love to love, and bringing joy to their communities, club nights, festival (where they have done very well), doing it for the rest of us and totally for themselves.

No facade, mask, just being themselves in a universal special. One of the best adventure documentary I’ve ever had the pleasure to come across: about a greatness of sharing, to bring the world alive both in themselves and all who they would meet to play with (of which there were plenty)Their musical story is so interesting, compelling, adorable.

Daniel Donnelly

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