Review: McGoldrick, McCusker & Doyle

Three maestros… Mike McGoldrick, John McCusker and John Doyle
4 Mar 2019 @ 8.39 pm
| Entertainment

Roland Walls, organiser of the Black Swan Folk Club, told me Mike McGoldrick, a maestro on flute, pipes and whistle, has been top of his “most-wanted” list for years.

However, they found it hard to come up with a convenient date, which is hardly surprising when you consider the much-in-demand McGoldrick is a founding member of Flook and Lunasa as well as holding down berths with Capercaillie and Mark Knopfler’s Band along with being involved in many other musical projects.

McGoldrick, McCusker & Doyle

But Roland finally managed to hook this musical Leviathan for a gig; and what a gig he landed.

McGoldrick ripped through a dazzling set of jigs, reels and songs with fellow stellar musicians John McCusker (fiddle/whistle/harmonium) and John Doyle (guitar/vocals). Best of all, Roland was there to witness it; he was not going to allow motor neurone disease to prevent him attending this concert.

Gifted musicians

The three stalwarts of the BBC’s acclaimed Transatlantic Sessions are halfway through a 25-date tour of the UK and it was a privilege to witness such gifted musicians, with a deep passion for traditional music, share a stage inside the candlelit interior of a former church.

The ancient stones resounded to the primeval, haunting sound of McGoldrick’s uilleann pipes, accompanied by McCusker’s harmonium, as the concert started with a slow air which soon developed into a fast tune. Sitting in the front row I could feel the musical energy generated by the multi-instrumentalists, a glorious fusion of sound textures that ended with a fist-pump from McGoldrick as he responded to the capacity audience’s cheers and applause.

There followed a Child ballad sung by Doyle which led into a set of three tunes written by McCusker: Jessica’s Lullaby named after his four-year-old daughter who calls her Dad “John The Custard”; Eddi’s Trip To The Mall, composed after the popular singer Eddi Reader experienced every performer’s nightmare by missing her stage entrance in Japan after choosing the wrong door and ending up in a shopping mall; and Billy’s Reel in honour of the Scottish comedian Billy Connolly.

Grave robbers

After the interval, McGoldrick introduced a set of tunes from the trio’s studio album The Wishing Tree, released last year, followed by a song composed by Doyle about the notorious grave robbers and murderers Burke and Hare.

We were taken from the dank, dismal and dangerous streets of 19th century Edinburgh to the West Coast of America, in particular Friday Harbor. Such was its natural beauty that McCusker, then 18, was inspired to compose a sublime waltz called Leaving Friday Harbor while touring the region with the Battlefield Band.

More beautifully arranged songs sung by Doyle enhanced a maritime flavour with the audience needing little encouragement to join in the chorus of a rousing sea shanty.

McCusker ended by praising Roland and his team at the Black Swan Folk Club for working so hard to keep traditional music hale and hearty in York; a fitting end to a wonderful concert.