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We fell in love with

Whisky Kiss

Cutting-edge ceilidh band Whisky Kiss love mashing the old with the new and pride themselves on creating Scottish music for the 21st century. From castles to music festivals to international fashion shows, they are at home on any stage. We caught up with musician Iain MacPhail, who fell for folk music at a young age. Here he shares his music philosophy, his vision for ceilidh keep-fit, and tells us about the time Whisky Kiss got a taste of Trump power.

How did you get into music and this cutting edge band?
My dad is the Queen’s official accordionist (he plays at Balmoral twice a year) and I was brought up in a household where people were always just dropping in from places as far flung as Shetland and Perthshire, just for a “tune”. There were always live sessions on the go. There’s been such a big revival in the Scottish folk scene since the mid-90s, but back in the 80s and 90s you had to be prepared to be out on a limb playing reels & jigs when everyone else was going Acid House crazy, or into indie, etc. So I’ve always looked to take the best bits from all these other styles and mash them in with the fabulous old (and new) Scottish tunes from the traditional scene, in a way that’s both respectful and refreshing. We’ve become pals with people in other creative industries locally who are mashing the old & new too – it’s a great time to be in Edinburgh, with people like Joey-D and Howie Nicolsby of 21st Century Kilts doing similar things to us in the world of fashion, for example.

What do you love most about it?
When we were setting up Whisky Kiss we wanted to do three things really: Firstly, to create some great new music & events, mashing modern contemporary culture (music and dance) with the fabulous inheritance we’ve got in terms of traditional music & dance. Secondly, we wanted to see the world, go to far flung places and perform at outrageous events and locations close to home too. And finally, there’s such a massive boom in the number and quality of young performers in the traditional music world coming through, that we wanted to be a place where the best young talent in Scotland could come in, perform with us on amazing stages, be as creative as they wanted, and make a name for themselves.
The thing I love most about how things have gone with Whisky Kiss is that all these things we hoped to do when we set out have happened. We’ve had a great time creating new music, performing with some of the hottest young talented people around, and performing for brilliant crowds and lovely people everywhere from Glamis Castle to Dressed to Kilt in New York; from Kuala Lumpur to Shanghai & Oman; from Scotland’s biggest party (Edinburgh’s Hogmanay) to Scotland’s biggest festival (T in the Park).

And what’s been the highlight so far?
If I can be greedy and pick three it would be Dressed to Kilt in New York, our gigs in Shanghai and at T in the Park (especially as we’ve been asked back at least three times to each event). These have been great life experiences, unforgettable places and events. The best thing I’ve found about being in a band at these events is you get opportunities that money literally can’t buy, things that are just right place, right time. For example, Donald Trump Jr saw us at Dressed to Kilt and immediately organised us a private tour of Trump Tower for the next morning. We had the immaculate Ivanka showing us around her boardroom and her father’s, looking out over Fifth Avenue, Empire State, Central Park…amazing! As big fans of the American Apprentice, stuff like that was brilliant. We all took a turn in The Donald’s actual chair, baring our teeth and wagging a Trump-esque index finger, firing each other from the band – “You’re Fired!”. Good times!

Which new trends are you seeing?
The majority of brides & grooms who book us for their wedding have half the guests from Scotland and the other half coming from somewhere else entirely. That could be somewhere in the UK, Ireland or – increasingly – from places as far flung as Venezuela, Bulgaria, Netherlands, USA, Canada, Australia, Italy and South Africa. In those scenarios, the show we’ve developed is working really well. It’s a first half ceilidh and second half disco.
The first half ceilidh has the dances being taught on the night, with a bit of humour and a tasty soundtrack in the background. This really gets the night going! In between the faster dances (when guests want a breather or to visit the bar) we bring on our DJ, band, world champ Highland dancers & Scottish champ breakdancers. Guests are given an aural and visual spectacular, as the girls dance off against the breakdancing Bboys, and the Highland Hotties (our dancers) can help overseas guests learn the ceilidh dances too.
Once the first half ceilidh is completed, we then let the DJ take the full dancefloor through to the end of the event, mixing the best 70s/80s classics and contemporary hits to ensure the party finishes with a real bang too. We love bringing the ceilidh dances to a whole new international audience, in a way that’s fun and accessible, and we’ve been struck that almost every wedding over the past 18 months has had a majority of guests from overseas. Good times!

What’s your favourite thing about the Scottish wedding scene?
The venues are amazing and the people we perform for are so lovely!
What/who inspires you?
I love the Latin scene, where a lot of traditional genres of music and dance combined (like tango in Argentina or salsa in Cuba) have been given a contemporary twist, retaining all the integrity and respect for the traditions that have been handed down through generations, but making them accessible to a global audience in the 21st Century. Big examples are the Gotan Project, Argentina and Buena Vista Social Club, Cuba. Love it!
If we were to really reach our goals with Whisky Kiss, it will be when we’ve created a Zumba-style phenomenon, worldwide, with people having fun and keeping trim based on ceilidh moves and dancing to Highland tunes that have been given a Whisky Kiss tartan twist!

If you weren’t rockin’ the ceilidh you’d be?
Enjoying a dram of AnCnoc single malt in the Kilberry Inn, Argyll near a wonderful wedding venue called Crear. It’s where my father comes from, it’s idyllic, looking over Islay and Jura, and it’s a highly decorated restaurant in the middle of nowhere. Either that, or eating a freshly made bowl of Pasta a la Norma in my favourite restaurant, Barbarossa in Vaccarizzo, Sicily.
On a rare day off we’ll find you where?
Depending on the time of year and time of day, you’ll find me in one of The Kilberry Inn, Easter Road, Vaccarizzo (Sicily) or having a delicious coffee in the Broughton Delicatessen on Barony Street, Edinburgh.