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Michael McGoldrick, JohnMcCusker and John Doyle in Concert/St George’s Hall

Lew Baxter is on a fabulous reel

Published on February 28th 2012.


Michael McGoldrick, JohnMcCusker and John Doyle in Concert/St George’s Hall

IN times of unexpected distress, attack by rascally Reivers or even Wallasey Wreckers - or just general mayhem - folk used to murmur: “Ah, sure: it never rains but it pours”, and go about their business with a sigh. 

Yet, in times of considered mayhem, in traditional musical terms, this well known bon-mot takes on rather the opposite meaning, as it did at that fabulously elegant concert room, in St George’s Hall, just the other evening, when the audience was observed sighing, even swooning, en masse with bliss. 

Michaelmcgoldrick8Michael McGoldrickIt was billed as a show featuring the multi-talented bits and bobs of three splendid instrumentalists: the Manchester born uilleann pipe and flute player Michael McGoldrick, who was a founding member of the outfits Flook and Lunasa, the latter a “hooligan” band that could set heather ablaze with a high C; and the Dublin guitarist and singer John Doyle who works closely with Joan Baez, no less, and was an original member of that wonderfully feral outfit Solas. 

Completing the cabal was the Glasgow fiddler John McCusker who, from his early days with the Battlefield Band, could rouse the Valkries from their slumbers in Valhalla. And certainly, in latter times, playing with the likes of Jools Holland and Rosanne Cash, as well as taking part in that “holy of holy hoolies”, the Transatlantic Sessions, has established his credentials for a place on the Fiddlers Marble Plinth. 

There was many a toe tapping and hundred of knees and legs juddering in time to the pulsating tempo as McGoldrick’s fingers seemingly flew as though conveyed by fairies along the flute

So the expectations were high, and the adrenalin beginning to pump, as what was clearly a capacity crowd shuffled in to take their seats beneath the hall’s glistening chandelier, a stunning creation in glass and apparent fragility that could easily steal the thunder from lesser performers. 

There was, however, a wee treat in store as we discovered that the billed bonny bunch of buckaroos would be preceded by three other musicians with pedigrees which, whilst not quite gilded as the boys to come, still had silver linings. 

In fact, those who babble in wild raptures about Liverpool’s acclaimed and astonishing tribute to traditional music, the Irish Sea Sessions, will recognise this trio. 

This is the bit where the originally referred to rain, turning into a downpour, comes into play as the terrific Belfast fiddler Meabh O’Hare was joined on stage by bodhran wizard and wit Gino Lupari, an Italian-Irishman, also from Belfast, with all that conjures up for cultural complexity. And then Liverpool’s own John Chandler, a dextrous guitarist who was a founder of the Irish Festival in the city that spawned the Sessions. 

For the price of one ticket, we were, therefore, getting two shows – perhaps modelled on a Tesco “cheesy-pop’s” sales gimmick but far more of a bargain. They gelled and played so well together that some had almost forgotten the main purpose of the gig. 

John DoyleJohn Doyle

But then as the “visitors’ strode out on stage, introduced by Gino, it was clear within two minutes of them shifting into gear that we were in for a class night of sublime music, a smattering of grand auld songs and a welcome bit of banter and craic. 

The set list veered in different directions and allowed all to shine in their own medium, while the frantic sum of the parts could easily have transformed that opulent hall into a disorderly house of ill repute, wherein ceilidhs and other frolics would ensue. Indeed McCusker did invite anyone with an urge to get up and kick his or her heels in the ample aisle space. But perhaps we were constrained by the neo-classical gentility of the joint, for no one did. 

Be that as it may, there was many a toe tapping and hundred of knees and legs juddering in time to the pulsating tempo as McGoldrick’s fingers seemingly flew as though conveyed by fairies along the flute, or then brought to a hushed halt as a haunting melody floated through the room. 

John McCusker performed some of his own compositions, with support from his two contemporaries, from earlier recordings such as Yella Hoose and Goodnight Ginger, and from the remarkable experiment in fusing Scots and English traditional music that he forged for Celtic Connections with the unforgettable Under One Sky project. 

Doyle, who is a guitarist of a singular personality and skill, also has a penchant for the old songs from the Child Ballads collections, stuff that is at the very heart of our folklore, such as his first choice False Lady. But then, in truth, presenting a “catalogue” of their offerings doesn’t fire the furies as much as a recalling the energy and dexterity they instilled in the music, as individuals and as a combo. 

Each has played as part of five- and six-piece bands, but in this assembly - exciting and often with an air of the impromptu - their own cooperative sound can compete for pace, precision and passion with any of those earlier collectives, and left us all bellowing for more. 

Rattling reels, joyous jigs and a deploying of that evocative Celtic flavour and spirit that can set the blood running fast and the tears flowing in torrents; such softies are we all.

 

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