He has a strange Mohican haircut, he tells appalling jokes and, trust me, you really don't want to know why he's called his new album Goodnight Ginger. But few musicians are more respected or better loved by their peers than John McCusker.
Still only 29, the brilliant Glaswegian has been one of the folk scene's favourite sons since he was in short pants almost since he first picked up a fiddle at the age of seven ("My mum's Irish and I was brought up listening to a lot of Irish music - she wouldn't let me play football - she gave me a dress and a fiddle and sent me off to do Irish dancing," he laughs.) A regular in local youth orchestras and ceilidh bands, he formed the band Parcel O'Rogues with some schoolmates at 14 and a couple of years later he gave up a place at Glasgow's Royal Academy to go on the road with the legendary Battlefield Band. "I was so lucky," he muses. "All I wanted to do was play music and it really was a dream come true to join a major band like that. I was so naïve, but I learned fast."
He ended up being a Battlefield Bandit for 11 years -toured all over the world and has the anecdotes to prove it - and by the time he left he was one of the top traditional musicians in the land, also composing a rich fund of original tunes (borrowed by the likes of Sharon Shannon, Solas, The Poozies and Natalie McMaster). John also guested on over 150 albums working with an amazing range of musicians including Teenage Fanclub, BMX Bandits, Danny Thompson, Eddi Reader, The Silencers, Tim O'Brien, Linda Thompson to name but a few. By then he'd already hit it off with a young singer from Barnsley called Kate Rusby. He joined her band, became her producer and is now also her husband - just don't call them the Posh & Becks of the folk scene…
John's already formidable reputation was enhanced with his highly acclaimed solo album Yella Hoose in 2000, with its strong array of guest musicians, -"Superlatives can barely do his playing - or writing - justice" - Hot Press; but feels he's gone one better with his new one Goodnight Ginger, recorded at his home studio. The cream of the folk scene queued up to help him with Ian Carr, Andy Cutting, John Doyle, Michael McGoldrick, Ewen Vernal, Simon Thoumire, James Mackintosh, Iain MacDonald and Phil Cunningham among the guests - while Kate Rusby delivers the one vocal track, a show-stopping ballad, The Bold Privateer.
"I just saw it as a chance to get all my pals round, have a bit of fun and play a few tunes," he says. "I write tunes as I go along so it all came together very spontaneously. I never have a big plan about anything. We just play around with ideas in the house and then go out in the studio and record them, it's great!"
John is mainly known for his consummate fiddle playing but is also a virtuoso on a range of instruments including whistles, piano & cittern. In recognition of his outstanding contribution to Scottish Music he was presented with the Spirit of Scotland Award for Music in 2000, and he can now add the title of film score composer and arranger to his list of credits since working on the Miramax movie Heartlands - directed by Damien O'Donnell (East is East). It will be on general release in 2003 distributed by Buena Vista.
The success of John's production work is self-evident as he has been involved in some of the best-selling and most critically-acclaimed Folk albums in recent years, including the Mercury Music Prize nominated Sleepless, by Kate Rusby, plus releases by Eliza Carthy, Linda Thompson, Cathy Ryan and Blazin Fiddles.
John still finds time to perform live and tours in many guises. In the near future we will see more of 'The John McCusker Band' featuring the likes of Michael McGoldrick, Andy Cutting, Ian Carr, Phil Cunningham, Ewen Vernal, Tim O'Brien, Iain McDonald, Kris Drever, John Joe Kelly and guest vocalist Kate Rusby- the line up is a testament to John's outstanding talent. The band has played Celtic Connections, Sidmouth, Cambridge and Tønder festivals. "…they stole the show" - Living Tradition. "Highlight of the weekend" - Cambridge Festival
"It's mental," he says. "With all the other stuff I don't often get the chance to play just as John McCusker. I'm really looking forward to it…"
You can listen to short samples from some of the tracks from this artist using the player below.
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