John McCusker’s Under One Sky
Fruitmarket, Glasgow, Tue 25 Nov; Music Hall, Perth, Fri 28 Nov; Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Mon 8 Dec
John McCusker’s head has been in the clouds a lot lately – flying all over Europe and the Americas in a private jet, courtesy of Mark Knopfler. ‘Yes, 97 gigs,’ he says, ‘in six months.’ With the drummer and keyboard player from Dire Straits and three top US musos, McCusker played fiddle, cittern and some whistle in the band and, guess what, loved every minute of it.
‘It was an amazing experience,’ he enthuses,’ Usually we would stay in a hotel, say in Paris, for a week or so, and every day fly out to a gig in the South, or Belgium, or somewhere else; then at the end of the night we’d get off stage, get straight into the limos, head off to the airport and fly back to the Paris hotel. We had one day off a week.’
Wasn’t that wearing? I asked. ‘Yes, a bit of an endurance test,’ he admitted, ‘But the level of being looked after was excellent – and I learned a lot, especially from Mark. Just to be yourself. Not try to overplay. He would take out anything in the music not absolutely needed.’
That’s the lesson McCusker takes into his latest album project, Under One Sky. A dozen musicians from Scotland and England share the stage, playing music written or co-written by him, and original songs written by Roddy Woomble, Julie Fowlis and John Tams. ‘It’s a big band, ‘ McCusker notes, ‘and we can make a massive sound, but we don’t have to play all the time. Less is more, and we try to make every note count.’
Also on stage are Blur’s Graham Coxon, Jim Causley, folk virtuosi Andy Cutting and Ian Carr and Scotland’s Emma Reid on fiddle, piper Iain MacDonald, and Capercaillie’s rhythm section, bringing English and Scottish musical sensibilities together – something the Bothwell boy feels strongly about and wants to change. ‘You rarely hear Scottish musicians playing English tunes,’ he says. ‘We don’t know, or care much about the musical traditions on the other side of the Border, and that works in both directions. Yet we share the same island, the same sky.’