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Shoogled, not stirred

Scottish sextet mixes the traditional with the 'nifty'

IN CONCERT

What: Shooglenifty and the Marc Atkinson Trio

When: Sunday, 7:30 p.m.

Where: UVic Centre Auditorium

Tickets: $35 (tel. 250-721-8480)

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North Americans might call it a hip-shake. But this Scottish sextet prefers to call it "shooglenifty."

That's also the name of their Celtic fusion band. Shooglenifty is a combination of the Scots slang word "shoogle," meaning to shake, and "nifty," meaning ... well, cool. Or hip. Or something like that.

"If a table had uneven legs, that would be a shoogley table," said Shooglenifty bassist Quee MacArthur, phoning from Canmore, Alta.

The odd band moniker (Shooglenifty's, not Quee's) stems from its unorthodox combination of traditional Celtic music and rock, pop and funk. Though unusual, such hybrids are not unheard of. For instance, the Afro Celt Sound System fuses Celtic and African music to techno rhythms. MacArthur notes another Scots band, the Peatbog Fairies, blend rock and Celtic music. And in Canada, such musicians as Ashley MacIsaac and Great Big Sea have experimented with Celtic/rock grafts.

Over a dozen years, Edinburgh's Shooglenifty have cut seven CDs and travelled the world. They've played for 250,000 at the Hogmanay celebration in their home city. They were the first act to incite an audience stage invasion at the famed Sydney Opera House (the band invited hundreds to dance with them). And at another event, Tony Blair joined them in mid-performance.

This happened at the British Embassy in Tokyo during a U.K. trade fair. For some reason, Blair, then prime minister, jumped on stage.

As MacArthur related the story, his bandmates -- overhearing the interview -- entreated him to stop.

"They don't want to be associated with him," he said, noting that for many Britons, Blair was a disappointment. "They [the band] were all completely mortified about this. They had no idea he was going to turn up."

MacArthur's real name is Ranald, by the way. He explained: "When I was born, my sisters thought I looked Chinese, so they nicknamed me Quee."

He joined Shooglenifty six years ago, taking over on bass from a founding member who left to focus on family and other musical projects. MacArthur was a good fit. He had previously played in traditional Scottish bands. And a background in rock, funk and soul prepared him for Shooglenifty's contemporary sheen.

He had even played in an outfit called Mouth Music that, like Shooglenifty, paired a Scots sound with funky grooves.

One might imagine some kilt-wearing Scot would object to Shooglenifty's non-traditional approach to Celtic music. This hasn't been the case so far, MacArthur said. Audiences are typically broad, ranging from grandparents to grandchildren.

"Maybe some people wouldn't necessarily like it," he added. "But that's because it's a bit loud, really."

Shooglenifty takes pleasure in a cosmopolitan approach to making music. This includes, for instance, having Canadian Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq join them on their latest album, Troots. It seems logical such a global mind-set might be influenced by living in an ethnically diverse city like Edinburgh.

In fact, MacArthur said, Shooglenifty's DNA is more about the collective musical experiences of its members. His own playing has been influenced by gigs at the international music festival WOMAD, where he heard top artists from around the globe.

While they enjoy globe-trotting tours, MacArthur and Shooglenifty take special pride in having played Hogmanay festivities back in Edinburgh. Hogmanay is a Scottish New Year's celebration. According to tradition, it's good luck if a tall, handsome, dark-haired man is the first visitor to your house in the new year.

MacArthur said this tradition was honoured in his own home when he was young. Friends and neighbours would come by for a drink and a song after the clock struck 12.

"It was really exciting, that is, if I managed to stay awake, when I was wee."

achamberlain@tc.canwest.com

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