Reviews / Sandison’s Ghosts’ knack for master melodies

Jack Sandison's band the Holy Ghosts release their debut album this month.

NOT ONLY are Shetlanders resolute flag-bearers for their own local-based musical compatriots, but it seems they’re pretty proud of the expats too.

One sooth-dweller with treble clefs and semi-quavers particularly running through the veins is Edinburgh’s Jack Sandison, who has furrowed a notable path in Scotland’s music scene and beyond since leaving Shetland in the 2000s for university.  

He’s meandered through a few different styles since hitting the live music circuit as a teen, from spitting out lyrics with the punked-up Death By Monkeys in country halls to flirting with grunge in Little Green Machine.  

However, it seems with blues-meets-rock’n’roll outfit The Holy Ghosts that Sandison has finally found a place to settle down and call home.  

The quintet’s debut album ‘Ride Them Down’ sees the vocalist and rhythm guitarist cut a confident figure as he swaggers through 11 retro-doused numbers that echo the likes of The Rolling Stones in their nonchalant pomp.  


Whilst Jagger, Keef and co. may have a combined age of nearly six hundred (or something), The Holy Ghosts – who also currently feature Jon Mackenzie, Jonny Voodoo, Angus Ross and Andy Barbour – conjure up some pretty sprightly, youthful stuff.  

Album opener ‘Leave No Stone Unturned’ sets the pace nicely, with the Edinburgh group running through some country-tinged verse/chorus action whilst subtle lead guitar licks pirouette overhead.  

What’s clear through the record is this band’s knack for master melody making, with the amped up pair ‘Ride On Baby’ and ‘Little Kickstarter’ witnessing lead and backing vocals working in perfect synchronicity.  Indeed, unlike the Scottish independence debate currently raging on and on…and on, there’s no separatism here, with the quintet’s various elements – such as piano, brass section and mouth organ – melting together as one.

Those who have kept tabs on the group since their inception in 2012 will already have a few of the album’s cuts implanted somewhere in their subconscious, with the likes of ‘Devil on Your Side’ and the groove-monster ‘Old Snake Hips’ – which would charm the most reticent of gig-goer onto the dancefloor – rearing their heads on previous EPs.  

Become a supporter of Shetland News


It’s clear from the vintage chops that emanate through the 11 songs – close your eyes and you can almost hear the vinyl bumps and scratches – that The Holy Ghosts aren’t reinventing the wheel. But they don’t claim to be, and any boundary pushing by the band, whose sound is regularly associated with The Rolling Stones’ 1972 effort ‘Exile on Main Street’, might have come across as contrived.  

It’s not just shades of the Stones that shimmer on the record though, with fans of country given enough to grab on to – and there are dashes of Dylan and offerings of Oasis-stained rock too among The Band-esque vocal harmonies.  


It’s up to ‘Revolutionary Son’ to close the album, which shows itself as one of the most engaging tunes on ‘Ride Them Down’ as The Holy Ghosts channel languid and lilting Scots-tinged folk. Gone is the rock n’ roll bluster and oft-reared American undertones as Sandison instead rolls his Rs and goes reflective to give the record a somewhat pensive conclusion after all the cocksure swagger.  

Whilst the The Holy Ghosts may not quite be revolutionary sons in terms of their historical-leaning sound, ‘Ride Them Down’ ultimately proves itself to be an engrossing affair set to give the group the launchpad to impact many more hearts and minds across the globe. Something, indeed, that will make Sandison’s Shetland comrades’ pride swell that little bit more.  

* ‘Ride Them Down’ will be released physically and digitally on May 30 and the band will support The View at Mareel in Lerwick on June 21. Tickets for the gig are available from Shetland Box Office.

Chris Cope

Become a supporter of Shetland News

Shetland News is asking its many readers to consider start paying for their dose of the latest local news delivered straight to their PC, tablet or mobile phone.

Journalism comes at a price and because that price is not being paid in today’s rapidly changing media world, most publishers - national and local - struggle financially despite very healthy audience figures.

Most online publishers have started charging for access to their websites, others have chosen a different route. Shetland News currently has  over 600 supporters  who are all making small voluntary financial contributions. All funds go towards covering our cost and improving the service further.

Your contribution will ensure Shetland News can: -

  • Bring you the headlines as they happen;
  • Stay editorially independent;
  • Give a voice to the community;
  • Grow site traffic further;
  • Research and publish more in-depth news, including more Shetland Lives features.

If you appreciate what we do and feel strongly about impartial local journalism, then please become a supporter of Shetland News by either making a single payment or monthly subscription.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.



Subscribe to a selection of different newsletters from Shetland News, varying from breaking news delivered on the minute, to a weekly round-up of the opinion posts. All delivered straight to your inbox.

Daily Briefing Newsletter Weekly Highlights Newsletter Opinion Newsletter Life in Shetland Newsletter

JavaScript Required

We're sorry, but Shetland News isn't fully functional without JavaScript enabled.
Head over to the help page for instructions on how to enable JavaScript on your browser.

Your Privacy

We use cookies on our site to improve your experience.
By using our service, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy.

Browser is out-of-date

Shetland News isn't fully functional with this version of .
Head over to the help page for instructions on updating your browser for more security, improved speed and the best overall experience on this site.

Interested in Notifications?

Get notifications from Shetland News for important and breaking news.
You can unsubscribe at any time.

Become a supporter of Shetland News

We're committed to ensuring everyone has equitable access to impartial, open and quality local journalism that benefits all residents.

By supporting Shetland News, you play a vital role in ensuring we remain a pivotal resource in supporting the community.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.