We speak to the band ahead of their summer concert in Bught Park.
‘He’s amazing, he lives in the songs, it makes me so proud’ exclaims accordion player Angus MacPhail as he piles the plaudits on singer and guitarist Norrie Maciver. I’ve just asked Angus if there are any songs he’s particularly proud of during his time with the band and, after a moments thought, ‘Alive’ is one the one that comes to mind. ‘The fans really enjoy it but I get a real kick as a songwriter when someone else sings one of my songs, he brings more to it than I can ever have imaged when I wrote it’.
Norrie looks slightly embarrassed by this praise but can’t help nodding a little. He’s a relatively new addition to the band, having joined four years ago, but Angus recognises that he’s been part of a new influx of band members that have brought an extra dimension to the group. Bassist Charlotte Printer plied her trade in punk and rock bands before joining Skippinish and that obviously brings a different quality to the band whilst opening her eyes to a whole different genre of music. It’s not all twee fiddles, accordions and ‘tak the floor’ ceilidh tunes, trad music can properly rock out too!
It’s a busy Saturday afternoon in the Eastgate Centre and it’s about to get busier in expectation of a short live set by Skipinnish to promote their upcoming 20th anniversary gig in Bught Park in July. McPhail, originally from Tiree, formed the band back in 1999 and since then they’ve gone on to release eight albums, including a couple of live albums. Known for their energetic live performances they were one of the stand out acts at Brew at the Bog a few years ago during an electrifying double header with Skerryvore, who also hail from Tiree. Since then they’ve returned to Inverness on a number of occasions and they’re always a welcome to addition to any lineup. The Bught Park concert could well be one their biggest in the Highlands and they’re sitting very comfortably alongside Noel Gallagher, Kaiser Chiefs and Madness and The Proclaimers as part of a busy summer of music in Inverness curated by LCC Events.
Guitarist Malcolm Jones from the now disbanded Runrig has been announced as a guest for the upcoming gig in Edinburgh’s Usher Hall in May and I ask if we should expect any similar surprises in Inverness? ‘Well that would spoil the surprise now wouldn’t it? There will be surprises, but we’re not sure what they’ll be, but they’ll definitely happen,’ Angus laughs. After a career spanning twenty years it must be difficult put setlists together and it’s something that they are considering for this summer. ‘We haven’t actually put anything together yet, but it will be something we’ll be discussing soon. The difficulty is always going to be pleasing everyone, you’ll always get a couple of fans who will say they’ve travelled a long way to hear a song and complain that we didn’t play it!’
There’s a new as yet untitled album to be released this summer which should hopefully be ready in time for fans to get their teeth into it before the Inverness show. I get the impression that this is as good as ready but they just need to finalise a title, ‘we’ll probably talk about that next week,’ Angus confirms.
Meanwhile the crowd outside by the Eastgate statue is building and there’s an air of expectation around the shopping centre. Crowds throng up the stairs and in the upper levels of the mall. Part of a very healthy traditional music scene; Skerryvore and the likes of Niteworks, Manran and Julie Fowlis are doing their utmost to keep Scottish music on the map, nationally as well as internationally. The idea that ‘trad’ is the sole preserve of crusty old geezers in chunky Aran jumpers and whispy beards is well and truly blown out of the water by the current crop of Scottish musicians and it’s reflected in the audience at the Eastgate. It’s predominantly young families, which you might expect on a Saturday afternoon in town, but the demographic is clearly a varied one and the response when the band takes to the stage is enthusiastic to say the least.
Their popularity is clear and seems to be growing rather than tapering off or flattening out which you might expect of a band of their longevity. Angus agrees, ‘yes, there’s been a steady increase over the years, particularly since Norrie joined and we’re playing bigger and bigger venues. I couldn’t imagine when we started out that we’d end up playing the Usher Hall in Edinburgh’. Anyone who has been to Usher Hall will recognise what he’s saying, it’s an impressive concert hall and one that they left all seated the first time they played there last year. Norrie says, ‘We left all the seats in last time and everyone ended up on their feet, so for the next gig we’re going to remove the seats for the first few rows so folk can dance’.
I wonder whether Social Media has helped with that in any way and Angus thinks it has certainly helped get the word out and believes that the bigger venues are a testament to that. It can be hindrance in some ways, no-one buys physical albums anymore, it’s far easier to stream. But it’s the live performance where they come into their own and the little taster at the Eastgate proves that by some considerable measure. The last time I had seen them it was at the double header with Skerryvore at Brew at the Bog and it was easily the highlight of that particular weekend. The gig at Bught Park is sure to be an absolute cracker and you’ll need get your tickets soon before they sell out.
Skippinish play the Bught Park Big Top in Inverness on Friday 5th July 2019
Tickets £37.40 and are available from Ticketmaster or from Cafferys in the Eastgate Centre, Inverness