The chord count is more than three and folk music is often liberal with the truth, but let’s not allow such constraints to shackle us too much. This blog once displayed the phrase ‘start with the cliché before branching out where the music matters’, and the music certainly matters when Mike McGoldrick, John McCusker and John Doyle re-convene for what has now become a fairly frequent tour of collaboration. Post Transatlantic Sessions is the usual time for this Englishman, Scotsman and Irishman to team up, and this is not the intro to that well-worn joke, give or take the odd quip from John McCusker. Right in the middle of a 25-date strong UK tour, the Midland Arts Centre (MAC) in Birmingham is once again the Midlands port of call and a sell-out audience is testimony to the trio’s standing in the folk world, alongside frequent trips to the area in the past.
The format of these evenings varies very little, mainly due to each performer honing in on their particular area of expertise. Splitting the individual brilliance and the collaborative blend is a fine cut, with both facets conspiring to make this a virtuoso performance of traditional music, albeit sprinkled with a few new tunes to stoke the fire of the past.
For those unware of this trio’s long line of work, John McCusker is a premium fiddle player, whilst adding harmonium, whistle and various other strings to his repertoire. Mike McGoldrick is a Uileann pipe specialist plus assorted whistles and flutes, while John Doyle adds the vocals to the mix and a combination of acoustic and electric guitars. The set-up is along the lines of each bringing their own tunes/songs to the table before giving them a multi-instrumental makeover. This format did finally attain recorded status with 2016’s THE WISHING TREE album, but this project retains a prime focus of the live arena, or more aptly theatre.
It would take far more than a layman’s ear to absorb the finer detail of the tunes presented, but this evening is best enjoyed by letting the spellbinding sounds wash over you. Emotions, moods, vivid bouts of imagination and a roller coaster of tempo and beats flow from the floor to fill a venue and infiltrate the open senses of a tuned-in audience member.
In contrast to the avalanche of instrumentals, the contribution of John Doyle lies in the folk storytelling tradition, and that usually means death, more death and events that lead to a death. All told in a non-morbid and tongue-in-cheek way. Eventually the songs conjure audience contribution, climaxed in a usual way for folks previously attending these events with a rousing version of ‘Billy O’Shea’.
After these collaborations, which do crop up at various other times as noted by a Cambridge Folk Festival appearance lined up for this summer, Mike McGoldrick, John McCusker and John Doyle slip back into their many other projects. The one near certainty is that this trio will likely re-convene again and this sell-out audience indicates a Birmingham return would be an opportunity too good to miss.