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A tribute to Angus R Grant by 17 year old Grace Stewart-Skinner

To look at, Angus was nothing special. In fact, his baggy jeans, woolly jumper and signature unkempt beard gave him, if anything, a slightly shabby appearance. He did not feel the need to make a huge effort; he was far too busy living each and every moment of his life to the full. This is what I admired the most about Angus.

Before I met him in person, I knew Angus by reputation. So it came as a slight surprise when, in a bar in Stromness, my mum turned to me and said, “Do you know who that is?” She was referring to the lanky, hairy, tall man leaning casually on the fireplace who, for the last 10 minutes, had been making very funny faces at me. I was already laughing at Angus’ attempt to amuse me across the dancing fiddle bows and hell-bent accordion keys. All I could do in reply was shake my head. “That’s Angus Grant.” I felt my eyes growing wider in my head. I had just been told I was standing in the same room as a legend. As he put down his fiddle, I noticed the red tassel hanging from the scroll. Only people taught by his father, Angus Grant Senior, were part of the ‘red tassel brigade’. Mum had worked with Angus many times over the years so it did not come as a surprise to her when he came over to speak. I, however, was so in awe of this man that I hardly said a word.

The next time I met Angus was almost two years later. It was early in the year but it had already been a year of great loss. Angus’ band, Shooglenifty, was playing a gig in the memory of a dear family friend who had recently passed away. Angus played one particular tune which had a deep impact on me. I can remember distinctly closing my eyes and allowing the music to engulf me. It was just me and Angus in that hall. There was something modestly comforting in the way he played. It was okay to be sad.

After the gig, I found myself outside while Angus was having a cigarette. I was at a loss as to what to say. I was certain he would not remember me from our brief encounter in Orkney. We stood together in thoughtful silence. There was no awkwardness; in contrast to Orkney, I felt comfortable in his presence. I am not sure how long we stood, immersed in our own thoughts, before he broke the musing. The words we exchanged were not those of sorrow, but rather a modest celebration of life. He was a man of few words and this suited me well. As we spoke, it became clear that he did in fact remember me. This touched me. Angus must have met so many people in the course of his wanderings and yet, he could easily put a name to my face. I felt a strong connection with him that night; one of my most treasured memories of Angus is how, when he looked at you, he did not just look at you, he saw you.

I was at the fèis in Ullapool when I heard of Angus’ death. It was the tutors’ concert on the Tuesday night. The fiddle tutor, Innes Watson, who is usually extremely jovial, came on stage. There was something different about him. He announced the tune he was going to play. Then that he was going to play it in the memory of Angus Grant, who had passed away last week.

That was it. I felt my heart-rate quicken and my whole body tense. I completely zoned out for the rest of the performance, trying to remember every detail of Angus. I was letting the music wash over me; it was just me and Angus in that hall. He was a man I did not want to forget.

In January of this year, the concert, A Night For Angus, took place in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall as part of the Celtic Connections festival. I can say that I have never been to a gig where the description “sold out” has been more accurate. I learned more about Angus that night than I ever knew when he was alive. He was a truly amazing man. He was never swayed by fashions or trends. He never owned a mobile phone. His fiddle and a few clothes being the extent of his possessions, he could pack all his belongings in a single bag. A running joke throughout the concert was that Angus had no home address, all his fan-mail was sent to whichever pub he was closest to at the time. I can only imagine what it would be like to live a life like Angus’. It would not be for everyone, to have no particular ties in the form of marriage or children, to never ‘settle down’; always free to wander, following your nose, wherever that may take you. That being said, Angus was extremely well-loved and, wherever he went he would almost definitely know someone. He had a way of connecting with people and making them feel special without ever mollycoddling. There were performers taking the stage at his memorial concert that had travelled from Galicia and Rajastan, to be there for that one night; to share in our commonality, our love for Angus. He touched so many lives in so many different ways while still living his own to the absolute full.

I want to be like Angus one day; perhaps not quite to the extent where I would get rid of my mobile phone. But, I want to be able to impact people’s lives in a way they won’t forget. To be so steeped in music that the flow of life just picks you up and you have the confidence to just go with it. To wear fame lightly; not a big deal, just a fact. It takes talent to be a musician like Angus Grant. I hope that one day I can, even just slightly, manage to master such talent. His passing left a hole in the heart of traditional music and while this may heal, all we can do is play the music that may transport us to that place I am sure we have all been when listening to Angus.

I learned many things from Angus. The main thing is that life may not take you down the river you might expect but whatever it is, just go with it. Above this, the most important thing to remember is, in the words of the man himself, “Be kind to strangers. One love.”