AS performance venues go, St George’s Hall Concert Room is arguably the finest in the city, in terms of style and elegance, even compared to its big sister, the Philharmonic Hall. Add to that the calibre of the combined musical dexterity displayed by these three acclaimed instrumentalists, each a wizard in his own right, and the scene was set for a superlative night on the town.
Expectations were high, as usual, for this trio who have made the hall’s rafters roar in the past and yet, with only ten minutes to go before metaphorical curtain up, the venue, which is verging on the cosseted and the cosy yet can accommodate approximately 500 or so under a magnificent shimmering glass chandelier, was surprisingly looking a tad sparse of traditional music aficionados.
But ‘nil desperandum’, as Caesar should have said: the fans were soon quickly shuffling en masse into the auditorium and it wasn't far short of a full house. This was grand, as Mr McCusker revealed it was the last gig of a tour of England and Scotland that had stretched over six weeks, not including the recent highly hailed outing at the Philharmonic Hall by the Transatlantic Sessions ensemble, amongst whom he and Michael McGoldrick figure large.
To be fair, few in the audience would have been unaware of the musical jamboree about to be unleashed and largely it was the anticipation of such that gave the place a certain frisson as the three wandered onto the stage with a cheery wave to be greeted by a welcoming rumble of appreciation.
And so two hours or more seemed to float by in an instant as Glasgow’s favourite fiddler John McCusker regaled with anecdotes and quips in between demonstrating that he is indeed a scion of his mentor and pal the redoubtable Aly Bain, and is surely following in the wake of fabled Scottish fiddlers such as Shetlander Tom Anderson.
A singular highlight was the trio’s rendition of John’s early successes at composition: the exquisite Leaving Friday Harbor which he had written when a member of Battlefield Band, whom he had joined at 17 during Glasgow’s reign as City of Culture in 1990, a time when such accolades were way beyond the ‘pale’ for Liverpool.
It was almost a family gathering feel to the evening as John McGoldrick, Manchester’s rival maybe to Davy Spillane and Paddy Moloney - and even Séamus Ennis, the “god of Irish pipes” - took uilleann pipes and a peppery, flighty flute to an even higher level of prowess and finesse while Dublin balladeer and gifted guitarist John Doyle, much in demand in the USA where he now lives, took us on a tour of some of the remarkable Child Ballads that are exalted in folklore circles; particularly of note False Lady.
The trio have been playing together now for a number of years and this clearly shows in the tightness of the performance and the ease where they interact and banter with each other.
Another indication of the kinship mood came when McCusker invited the audience to join the musicians in wishing the band’s Edinburgh-born sound man Murray a happy birthday, which they did with gusto, and at which he good naturedly grinned but was clearly a trifle discomfited…ah, but that’s what six weeks closeted on the road together will do for you.
Further tunes and songs included the lovely Breton Set, Lochaber Badger and a selection from Under One Sky, the remarkable collaboration of a dozen of Scotland and England’s finest traditional performance artists to celebrate the genre in a special tour and fine recording, all the initiative of John McCusker.
It was an evening enhanced by Mr Doyle’s enchanting songs linked to at times genteel and fast-paced music from McCusker and McGoldrick, which then lurched towards the furiously feral as the three stormed into rattling reels and jigs that obliged the audience’s feet to tap, limbs to jiggle and torsos to sway. Joyous stuff.
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