McGOLDRICK, McCUSKER & DOYLE– City Roots Festival, The Junction, Cambridge (27 February 2018)

McGoldrick, McCusker & Doyle
Photograph by Su O’Brien

Even on this icy night, the venue is full, the crowd enthusiastic – a significant portion seemingly also having attended the recent Transatlantic Sessions. It’s the second visit to Cambridge in very short order for this trio of musicians and they are most warmly welcomed back. (As a side note, it looks like a simple accident of timing prevented Transatlantic Sessions from inclusion in this year’s City Roots festival).

Arriving slightly late (delayed by a missing bike lock key), the band is already underway, so it’s John Doyle’s Child song ‘What Put The Blood’ that makes the first impression. John McCusker follows with a trio of songs from his Hello Goodbye album incorporating a tender tune for his daughter, called ‘It’s A Girl’ with a strathspey link into ‘Billy’s’, a reel for Billy Connolly.

Doyle then takes up an elegant, restrained electric guitar for ‘Liberty’s Sweet Shore’, about the mass death of thousands fleeing the famine en route to Canada. Doyle’s plainly touched by a recent meeting with an elderly woman in Scotland who’d somehow survived this horrific ordeal.

Mike McGoldrick’s seemingly bottomless lungs and dancing fingers are in fine form as he takes the reins on ‘Leaving South Uist / Lochaber Badger’, two tunes learned and loved from earlier Transatlantic Sessions. To round off the first session, the crowd joins in with the deceptively jolly sea shanty ‘Billy O’Shea’, a cautionary tale of pressganging and death. Doyle momentarily loses his thread and, casting heavenwards for inspiration, he fills on guitar, greeted by an encouraging roar of support from the audience as he finds his place once more. It’s reassuring to know that even the most gifted among us is only human, after all!

A quintet of tunes including ‘Keane O’Hara’, ‘Rip The Calico’ and ‘Coming Of Age’ opens the second session, all taken from the new album, The Wishing Tree, and followed up by ‘Across The Western Ocean’ a downbeat sea shanty learned from Doyle’s father. The band happily jumbles over the various tune titles, finally settling on a relaxed, “they’re all on the CD” – which pretty much sums up their easy-going unforced rapport, the kind that only years of friendship can bring.

When they play, it’s a different matter altogether. There is a precision and clarity that unites them. Totally focused, totally in sync, every note is played cleanly: no smudging, blurring or elision. From bow strokes, to finger placing to chords, the line of the music is always sharply defined and crisp, no matter how fast the tempo gets.

They’re superb quick-change artistes too, swapping out instruments mid-tuneset in the blink of an eye, not missing a beat. Starting on whistles, McGoldrick switches to flute and McCusker to fiddle, whilst Doyle changes guitar. As the tune gathers pace, the sheer physical effort is etched on their faces and in their body movements, with Doyle arched over his instrument, practically driving it into the floor. Afterwards, McCusker only says drily, “Well, that went slightly faster than we’d hoped”.

Doyle presents his murder ballad ‘Burke And Hare’, with its chorus based on a children’s rhyme, and ‘The Apprentice Boy’ (aka ‘Charming Anne’) which he introduces as “an optimistic song – my only one”. McCusker’s tender ‘Leaving Friday Harbour’ provides a tender, wistful interlude.

The audience remains utterly engaged and absorbed, rocking out with the faster numbers, quietly attentive on the slower ones. At the end of the show, there’s uproarious applause and foot-stomping until the band returns with an encore of ‘The Banks Of The Bann’.

Never having seen this trio play before (I know), their superb musicianship delivered so much more than expected and, mostly, with apparently effortless ease. What an absolute pleasure to share in their warmth, intimacy and richly talented company for the past couple of hours.

Su O’Brien

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Live at Warwick Folk Festival:

Cambridge City Roots Festival – the line-up

Cambridge City

The spirit of the world-famous Cambridge Folk Festival will inject the city with winter cheer in February and March, when Cambridge’s second city-wide winter folk and roots festival opens for two weeks of exceptional music and events.

An all-encompassing Corn Exchange line-up includes: the soaring, Gambian sun-drenched chords of stunning Kora virtuoso and opening Festival headliner, Sona Jobarteh performing alongside Cameroon’s blues and jazz artist Muntu Valdo; the Americana-tinged sound of Wildwood Kin – crowned this year as legendary broadcaster Bob Harris’s ‘Emerging Artist of the Year’ –  supporting Cambridge Folk Festival summer headliner, Ward Thomas; award-winning comic Rich Hall performing Hoedown – a withering dissection of Trump’s America which finishes as a celebration of Americana with stand-up, improvised ballads, and amazing musicianship…’Blissfully funny’ (The Guardian) and Cambridge born Tom Robinson with the 2-4-6-8 Motorway 40th Anniversary show. Tom is one of the founding team for BBC Radio 6, where he hosts three shows a week and has become known as a champion of new emerging artists via BBC Introducing.

At Cambridge Junction, an array of City Roots music is on offer: Chouk Bwa Libète bring drums, poetry and trance from Haiti’s vodou heartland; BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards winners Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys rediscover and renew the music of Sam’s gaelic heritage, transcending boundaries of trad and popular music; Cambridge Folk Festival favourites and three of the world’s finest folk musicians, Michael McGoldrick, John McCusker and John Doyle set the stage alight playing material from their latest album, The Wishing Tree and legendary ex-Steeleye Span fiddle player, Peter Knight joins forces with John Spiers, one of the leading melodeon players of his generation for an unmissable gig. Cambridge Junction also presents a very special evening at St Barnabas Church featuring BBC 2 Radio 2 Folk Award nominees Megson.

Appearing at renowned city music venue, The Portland Arms will be folk festival Club Tent sensation, Darren Eedens & The Slim Pickin’s – whether they’re held spellbound by a poignant ballad or jumping up and down as one to a stomping groove, Darren’s command of an audience is absolute!

Following the success of last year’s Creative Roots, the festival’s valuable professional development day will be held at The Portland Arms. Music industry professionals will once again gather to offer a career development day of workshops, talks and sessions, offering gems of advice and a wealth of experience.

Drop-in music sessions around the city; a special City Roots Family Day with free attractions including craft workshops, face-painting, storytelling, Come And Try’ ukulele workshop and fun walkabout characters; plus what promises to be a sell-out City Roots highlight – a fascinating live interview, in association with the Cambridge Union Society, with charismatic Canvey Island rocker Wilko Johnson – and it’s safe to say City Roots will be one of the most anticipated events in Cambridge in 2018!

Festival website: click here

KATE RUSBY – Life In A Paper Boat (Pure PRCD41)

life in a paper boatUnquestionably my favourite female folk singer of her generation, traditional or otherwise, dubbed the Barnsley Nightingale, her pure voice never seeking to disguise her Yorkshire vowels, Rusby has been plying her trade for 24 years. Life In A Paper Boat is her 14th studio album, one which, while hewing to familiar tropes, nevertheless sets sail for new boundaries. This time round, husband Damien O’Kane had more time to experiment with the production, adding in sounds and effects that could be reproduced on stage, most specifically in areas of non drum percussion, courtesy of Josh Clark, and in extensive use of moog by bassist Duncan Lyall, enrobing the traditional with the contemporary.

As ever, the material is a mix of originals and traditional numbers, the title track, like many a recent folk album, inspired by the migrant crisis, but also serving as a springboard for other images and themes. Her repository of ballads provides the source for the album’s 17th century opener, ‘Benjamin Bowmaneer’, string section, bouzouki and diatonic accordion providing the backing for an rhythmically heady nonsense story of a tailor who fought for England with a horse made from a sheer board, a bridle of scissors and a needle as a spear, sometimes also known as ‘The Tailor And The Louse’, in which the flea represents his wife.

The first of the self-penned number, the yearningly delicate, slow waltzing ‘Hunters Moon’, takes on equally symbolic imagery, going cosmic in the use of the sun and the moon as metaphors for unrequited lovers, then it’s back to the traditional for her own musical setting of ‘The Ardent Shepherdess’, a dreamy, suitably pastoral arrangement that features a banjo interlude from Ron Block.

Maybe it’s because we’re a approaching Christmas, but the title track has a carol feel, O’Kane’s tenor electric guitar providing the tune’s foundation, Cooke’s accordion surfacing midway as Rusby sings of a widowed mother and her child, an ancient land “left behind in ruins” and a tentative note of hope in the prospect of the promised land to which they sail. The sea is at the heart of another of the originals, this time claiming the narrator’s life in the breathily-sung traditional coloured ‘The Mermaid’, one of the tracks to make extensive and effective use of moog and programming as well as featuring guest harmony vocals from Dan Tyminski.

Starting faintly before Anthony Davis’s keys enter the picture, Lyall’s double bass. O’Kane strummed acoustic and Steven Iveson’s electric guide Rusby’s melodic setting of the lover’s pledge ‘Hundred Hearts’. It’s credited as “words trad & K Rusby”, though, given Google failed to identify any folk song by that name or with similar lines, the traditional springboard in question may well be the anonymous valentine’s card epigram “A hundred hearts would be too few / To carry all my love for you.”

Firmly traditional in origin as well as sound, featuring accordion and Michael McGoldrick on whistle and flute, the mid-tempo ‘Pace Egging Song’ stems from the West Yorkshire Easter tradition (Pace derives from Pacha, the Latin for Easter) of performing Pace Egg Village plays wherein St George takes on all comers, here including Lord Nelson, Jolly Jack Tar and Old Miser and is, essentially, a beer begging number.

The last of the traditional numbers, another steeped in celestial imagery, ‘Night Lament’, again sees Rusby adapting the words and providing the tune, arranged for viola, fiddle and cello, and again one for which I cannot trace the source material.

Not traditional as such, but certainly getting on a few years, the longest track here, at over six minutes, is, accompanied solely by electric tenor, moog and double bass an atmospheric, a version of Archie Fisher’s epic narrative ‘The Witch of Westmoreland’, originally featured on his 1976 album. The Man With The Rhyme, and later popularised by Stan Rogers, which tells of a how a wounded knight is led by various animal guides to the witch who can heal him in both flesh and spirit.

The remaining two ‘official’ numbers are both by Rusby, the jaunty but reflective ‘Only Desire What You Have’ (which about not pursuing greed rather than about just accepting your lot) again featuring Tyminski, McGoldrick and Block, while, the most experimental sounding in its programming and percussion, ‘I’ll Be Wise’, a familiar tale of a girl beguiled and betrayed, plays out rather like a slow shanty sway.

There is, though, a bonus track, one on which Rusby’s playfulness sparks through, ‘Big Brave Bill’, which, set to a military beat with Yorkshire brass flourishes of cornet, flugel horn, French horn, tuba and euphonium, tells of Barnsley’s own super-hero performing such derring do feats as rescuing a lad from the mud, a trapped miner and, most notably, old Mrs Dobbins from Dearneside who found herself in Mallorca, served with a cup of warm water, lifeless tea bag and UHT milk until Bill swooped in with a kettle and some good old Yorkshire Tea. These adventures, as well as sending off a flying saucer, can be thoroughly enjoyed with the accompanying animation at Kate Rusby, folk music’s proper brew.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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Artist’s website:

‘Only Desire What You Have’ – official video:

HEIDI TALBOT – Here We Go 1,2,3 (Navigator Records)

Here We Go 1, 2, 3Heidi Talbot has been musically quiet of late, with her last album Angels Without Wings released in 2013 and only a Christmas single ‘Christmas in September’ in 2015.  However, that does not mean life has been uneventful and from those experiences comes a new album Here We Go 1,2,3 due for release on 23rd September and available to pre-order now.  The title track reflects a sense of things to come; a deep breath before a step into the unknown.

The central theme of the album is time, the way it can both move forward into the unknown and back in a loop to the familiar. Talbot has experienced both the joy of motherhood and the loss of her own mother in recent years and several of the songs have this ambiguous quality of both a mother and daughter being there for somebody else.  ‘Time To Rest’ could be a lullaby for a baby or a song of comfort for somebody at the other end of their life. ‘Mother Land’ also doesn’t specify who the songs is about. “Mother Land, Cradle me, Close me eyes, Lullaby me to sleep, Keep me safe, Lie with me, Stay beside me, Don’t go.

With 8 of the 10 tracks on the album either written or co-written by Talbot this is a very personal collection of songs that make the most of her delicate voice which has just that hint of vulnerability.  ‘Tell Me What You Think Of Me’ is a heartbreaking ode to unrequited love.  “I can’t be the only who loves him from afar, Every thought I have is him and every sunrise starts with him.  Tell me, do you ever think of me?

Despite this the album is not a collection of maudlin songs, instead it shows the comfort music can bring at times of change.  Whilst not upbeat it has a quiet, restorative calm and gives the listener a chance to step back from the here and now and take stock.  It’s a beautifully crafted work that draws the listener in and leaves them comforted that all will be well in the end.

Although the key sound is the voice the carefully selected musicians, including John McCusker, Innnes White and Michael McGoldrick amongst many others, ensure quality in every note.  There will also be a nationwide tour in the autumn to accompanying the release and details are available on the website.

Tony Birch

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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 Artist’s website:

There are no videos from the new album yet but here’s a one-off. ‘The Blackest Crow’ as a duet with Kris Drever:

John McCusker – new album

John McCusker

In celebration of his 25th Anniversary as a professional musician, John McCusker will release Hello, Goodbye on April 29th 2016 and tour the UK in April and May. A wonderfully evocative set of compositions, Hello, Goodbye is John’s first solo album in thirteen years, the first on his new record label Under One Sky Records and the first recorded in his state of the art studio, built over the last 2 years in a bothy dating from 1779, which neighbours his Scottish Borders home. Designed by legendary record producer and studio designer Calum Malcolm, the new studio is a winning combination of the traditional and the new, much like John’s music itself!

Hello, Goodbye was composed while John was on a world tour with Mark Knopfler. The core musical group for the album is an all-star cast of handpicked musicians with whom John has been fortunate to work over the past 25 years: James Mackintosh, Drums/Percussion (Shooglenifty, The Blue Nile, James); Ewen Vernal, Bass (Deacon Blue, Capercaille); Ian Carr, Guitar (Eddi Reader, Julie Fowlis, Swap); Michael McGoldrick, Whistle (Mark Knopfler, Capercaille, Sharon Shannon); Andy Cutting, Melodeon  (The Who, June Tabor); Tim O’Brien (Grammy Award Winning US bluegrass star); Phil Cunningham MBE, Accordion (Bonnie Raitt, Nicola Benedetti) and acclaimed Irish singer Heidi Talbot.

Born in Bellshill, near Glasgow, John began playing whistle and fiddle as a child and joined the legendary folk outfit Battlefield Band aged 17. During his 11 years with the band, he also released his first two solo recordings, 1995’s self-titled debut and 2000’s Yella Hoose. His most recent albums include Under One Sky and the reissues of Yella Hoose and Goodnight Ginger re-mastered deluxe.

John has long been renowned for his skill at transcending musical boundaries: striving to keep his music fresh and exciting, never leaving the past behind but always embracing new sonic adventures. As a live and studio guest he has shared stages with Paul Weller, Paolo Nutini, Teenage Fanclub, Graham Coxon and Eddi Reader. Since 2008, he has been a member of Mark Knopfler’s band, playing arenas around the world including a double bill with Bob Dylan at The Hollywood Bowl and 20 nights at the Royal Albert Hall.

An expanding portfolio as a producer features debut albums by Kris Drever and Idlewild’s Roddy Woomble. He’s also manned the controls for top folk chanteuses Eddi Reader, Heidi Talbot, Eliza Carthy and Linda Thompson. Film and TV work includes soundtracks for the movie Heartlands (2002) and 16 Years of Alcohol (2003), Billy Connolly’s World Tour of New Zealand (2004), Jennifer Saunders BBC sitcom Jam and Jerusalem (2008) & Starlings sitcom for Sky TV (2012).

John was awarded the coveted BBC Radio 2 Musician of the Year in 2003 and also The Spirit of Scotland Award for music in 1999 and again in 2009.

The John McCusker Band, featuring some of the finest traditional musicians including Andy Cutting, Adam Holmes, Innes White and Toby Shaer, will embark on an extensive UK tour in April/May:

“One of the UK’s most gifted and versatile musicians in any genre, John McCusker is equally in demand as a multi-instrumentalist, producer and composer.” The Guardian

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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‘Muireann’s Jig/Farewell to Whalley Range/Roddy McDonald’s’ – The John McCusker band live:


Artist’s website:

KATE RUSBY – Ghost (Pure PRCD38)

KRGhostAn album by unquestionably my favourite female voice in contemporary folk (it’s those homely, but somehow also sexy Barnsley vowels) and a version of ‘Martin Said’, the song that first introduced me to folk music – Christmas has definitely come early.

Working, as ever, with guitarist husband Damien O’Kane and variously joined by Michael McGoldrick on whistles and flute, double bassist Duncan Lyall, bouzouki player Steven Byrnes, accordionists Nick Cooke and Julian Sutton, electric guitarist Steven Iveson and Rex Preston on mandolin with Union Station’s Ron Block providing banjo, not to mention the occasional string quartet, Rusby’s 12th studio recording is also her first all new material in four years, Unlike Make The Light, however, there’s only three self-penned tracks here, the rest being arrangements of traditional numbers.

One such opens proceedings in the shape of her take on the familiar Child Ballad, ‘The Outlandish Knight’, the unease in the lyrics about a maiden getting the better of her murderous suitor underscored by guitar drone and haunting diatonic accordion. It’s traditional again for the second track, ‘The Youthful Boy’, another false heart tale as, her lover having gone off to sea, the abandoned woman declares she’ll not mourn his death, Block’s banjo dappling notes around Rusby’s airy tones.

Buoyed up by accordion, the first original is ‘We Will Sing’, a sprightly contribution to the canon of songs celebrating May and spring’s renewal while its two companions are the liltingly lovely, melody cascading ‘After This’ with its affirmation of the healing power of song and the rather darker title track album closer, a somewhat gothic tale of a departed lover’s brief haunting visits (reflected in the booklets artwork) played out with just voice and piano.

It’s a theme mirrored to implied or overt extent in two of the album’s traditional numbers, the gently wistful ‘Night Visit’, set to a tune by Tony Cuffe, where a man braves the ‘roaring tempest’ for a night of passion with his lover, and the suitably subdued air of ‘The Bonnie Bairns’, where a lady encounters two mysterious children who lead her deep into the woods to deliver new of her lover’s fate.

Heartbreak weighs heavy too on ‘I Am Sad’’s acoustic melancholic lament of blighted love, but you’ll be pleased to know that it’s not all doom and gloom, with the remaining traditional contributions including a spiritedly upbeat ‘Three Jolly Fishermen’, the electric guitar (courtesy of Doyle) and accordion refrain friendly swayalong ‘The Magic Penny’ and, with McGoldrick on whistles, ‘Silly Old Man’, another tale of coming good financially as the titular protagonist turns the tables on the thief who tries to rob him. As R. Dean Taylor once said, there’s a Ghost in my house. There really should be one in yours, too.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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Artist’s website:

A behind-the-scenes look at Ghost: