John McCusker
at the National Centre For Early Music,
York, UK
(15 December 2003)

Determined to shrug off a dose of flu, John McCusker performed a cracking set to a full house, with much of his material from his acclaimed solo release Goodnight Ginger. The venue is great for live music, with very fine acoustics and a relaxed, intimate atmosphere.

His beautifully crafted fiddle playing marks him out as one of Scotland's finest contemporary musicians. He also played cittern and whistle this evening, though his output on the latter was reduced due to the flu! He was assisted by two longstanding collaborators: Andy Cutting (diatonic accordion/melodeon) and Ian Carr (acoustic guitar) -- the three play with incredible craftsmanship, empathy and timing and they are a joy to listen to. Multi-instrumentalist Kris Drever (Fine Friday/Session A9) joined them on double bass, acoustic guitar and vocals, and proved himself an artist of exceptional note. His singing was every bit as enjoyable as his double bass and guitar work. As a quartet, I was highly impressed by each musician's ability to watch and listen to each other, ensuring the most assured, intelligent playing from all. McCusker's wife Kate Rusby also guested during both halves of the set.

This gig was first rate musically, both in terms of sound and performance -- McCusker composes most of his own work (he has a fantastic knack for writing music that sounds incredibly traditional) with contributions from Carr, Cutting and Rusby. McCusker grabbed the audience's attention immediately with "Bonnetts," followed by the loveliest of tunes, "Leaving Friday Harbor" -- it was an inspiring start to a set lasting well over two hours. There was a wealth of musical detail for the listener to absorb. No great surprise, really, that Rusby should join McCusker as guest! She performed "Wild Goose," "Ploughboys," "Sleepless" and "Withered & Died," and the audience was pretty keen to join the singing. Drever sang some very fine and moving songs in his inimitable voice: "Funery," "Flowers of Saskatchewan," "Shepherd" and an exquisite finale, "A Braw Sailing on the Sea." Marvellous, as ever, to hear those Yorkshire and Orcadian accents coming through those vocals!

There were many instrumental highlights -- these are musicians who clearly love to perform together, despite all that banter to the contrary. Carr's "Egg Bound" (as in Eigg bound!) was excellent, and "Floating Candles" and "Waiting for Janet" superb. But the instrumental that spoke loudest to me was "Wabazi Heaven." Tunes of this calibre are capable of taking a musician's playing to another sphere altogether -- this one is really special, a real stand-out number.

McCusker made a substantial personal contribution at Glasgow's Celtic Connections Festival earlier this year, where he performed with Kate Rusby, Basque accordionist Kepa Junkera and Portuguese fado singer Mariza.

- Rambles
written by Debbie Koritsas
published 11 September 2004