Musician and composer

Born: February, 14, 1967;

Died: October 9, 2016

ANGUS R Grant, who has died aged 49 after a short illness, was one of the most distinctive figures on the Scottish traditional music scene. Bearded and long-haired, he became a part of the visual image of the band Shooglenifty in the same way as his fiddle playing contributed to the unique sound they forged at the beginning of the 1990s, a sound that was dubbed acid croft.

The instrument that took Grant round the world, playing with Shooglenifty in rain forests and deserts, collaborating with South African choir Ladysmith Black Mambazo, gypsy musicians from Rajhasthan and Inuit singer Tanya Tagac Gillis, and even starring at Sydney Opera House, entered his life when he was five.

He had regularly heard his father, the renowned left-handed fiddle player and teacher, Aonghas Grant, playing at home in Lochaber and when his uncle gave Angus a quarter sized fiddle the five-year-old took to it so naturally that in next to no time he was playing tunes the family recognised. Grant senior continued to show his son tunes and guided him into his teens but as Grant told The Herald in an interview to mark Shooglenifty’s 25th anniversary, he began to develop his own tastes and they were more suited to him taking up the electric guitar.

A year or two later a friend from Fort William High School, the singer Kaela Rowan, who would eventually join Shooglenifty some years down the line, persuaded Grant to take his fiddle along to a pub session and this led to the formation, with fellow fiddler Iain Macfarlane and Rowan, of Pennycroft, who became a familiar attraction around West Highland bars.

When another school friend, James Mackintosh, moved to Edinburgh to study at the Art College in 1985, Grant began visiting him. The late 1980s in the capital saw a vibrant musical melting pot develop. It was a time, remembered Grant, when everyone came out of their ghettoes. Folk musicians were playing with jazz musicians and discovering free improvisation. Jazz musicians, including saxophonist Tommy Smith and drummer John Rae, were forming folk bands. And round the large table at the foot of the stairs in the Tron Bar, all sorts of potent musical cocktails were being mixed, with the young Martyn Bennett among the mixers.

Grant and Mackintosh had busked on the streets during the Fringe and Grant had gone off on a busking tour of Spain, where he wrote one of his and Shooglenifty’s most famous tunes, Two Fifty to Vigo. When he returned he joined the experimental mood and formed a punk bluegrass band, Swamptrash, which personnel-wise was almost the direct forerunner of Shooglenifty and featured Mackintosh on percussion, guitarist Malcolm Crosbie, banjo player Garry Finlayson, and bassist Conrad Molleson.

Following Swamptrash’s demise a further trip to Spain found Mackintosh, Crosbie and Grant thinking of ways to encompass Grant’s Lochaber fiddling background with an interest in jazz, art rock and ambient music. They returned to Edinburgh, found a pub table of their own in Christie’s Bar in the West Port, and with Finlayson, Molleson and mandolinist Iain Macleod, they began to develop the Shooglenifty sound.

As word spread of their joyful sessions, the band had to find a bigger venue and they took up residency in La Belle Angele, which would later be destroyed by the Cowgate fire, going electric to penetrate the sweaty masses.

Eventually, some five years into their existence, Jim Sutherland, a flavour of whose vibrant cittern playing and catchy compositions for Edinburgh’s early 1980s swing-folk quartet the Easy Club may be detectable in Shooglenifty, locked the band in a studio and produced their first album, Venus in Tweeds. The effect this album had on the folk world and wider music circles was earth-shattering on more than one level. Shooglenifty’s tunes, especially Two Fifty to Vigo, passed into the tradition and the band became the go-to attraction for dance stages at festivals. They also drew young people, especially but not exclusively in the highlands and islands, into traditional music – and Angus R Grant’s soaring, keening fiddle and his tunesmithery were a major part of the attraction.

As well as Two Fifty to Vigo, Grant wrote the title track to Venus in Tweeds and other popular tunes including She’s In The Attic and Nordal Rhumba. He was an ever-present figure as the band progressed from village halls to playing to audiences in the tens of thousands at festivals across the world, recording seven studio albums along the way. When not working with Shooglenifty, Grant would turn up and play in pub sessions in the Highlands and in Edinburgh. He also gave fiddle lessons and played a memorable concert with his father for the annual Scots fiddle festival that at the time was held in the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh.

Shooglenifty’s manager, Jane-Ann Purdy, has described Grant as a flighty and mercurial character who lived on the breeze, eschewed modern technology such as mobile phones social media and preferred to live without ties and responsibility. He was devoted to music, however, and always loyal to his family and fellow musicians. After playing with Shooglenifty for 25 years, he told The Herald: “We’ve become like each other’s brothers, only worse: wives!”

He is survived by his parents, Aonghas and Moira, sisters Deirdre and Fiona, and niece Eva.