To paraphrase a well known saying… Have fiddle, will achieve. Trying to do justice to the eclectic, wide ranging career of John McCusker would seem to be quite a task, when you consider where his music’s taken him through the last three decades. McCusker isn’t a musician who does anything low profile, virtually everything he’s done is writ large, achieved in wide screen style. Even his haircuts were reactionary – remember the rooster mohican? But I digress, what we have in fact is a remarkable audio document of a man who’s never been afraid to try something different/new, who knows no boundaries, regularly veering off track to face fresh challenges.
From his early membership of the redoubtable Battlefield Band, where he lowered the average age of membership by at least twenty years to backing up the likes of Mark Knopfler, via adventures with Kate Rusby, Heidi Talbot, Michael McGoldrick, Kris Drever, Roddy Woomble, Duncan Chisholm – you fill in the rest, the list is endless – to his work as a writer and composer of material based in or on trad sources you’d readily recognise his influence no matter whose name is on the record label. All those facets of his vocation are celebrated on this two CD collection. There will be as there always is – amongst the collected faithful – the debate about what’s missed out and what’s included, but let’s be honest at thirty tracks the selection is a fair sweep.
That he has played with some of the same musicians for a long time gives the feeling of continuity across the discs. It’s nigh on impossible to lift one track over another they are all such high quality, but twist my arm up my back and I’ll confess to a soft spot for ‘Night Visiting Song’ from his time with Kate Rusby, the Battlefield’s rolling ‘The Shepherd Lad,’ with vocals by Karine Polwart, ‘Calendar Boys 30’ is a real blazing stomp along of various Scots reels and jigs. Hey, look kiddo, buy this for yourself and pick your own, I’m too busy reaching for the remote and intend to listen to this on repeat for a good while yet.
What is certain is that John McCusker isn’t going to stop producing progressive Celtic folk and you could well have another collection like this in a few years time. For those in the know this is affirmation and proof of his talent and crusading, for those unfortunate to have missed out so far it makes a grand introduction. Though I’d have to say if that’s you.. where have you been for roughly thirty years? Some what decent then!