Southside of The Tracks: John McCusker Band and Friends, at The Queen’s Hall Edinburgh tonight is my first performance review of 2020 and, always, there is a little bit of personal superstition to first show of the year for me as good, or bad, it seem to set the standard for the next few shows.
This almost informal collective of musicians is a tried and tested format at The Queen’s Hall, and as with earlier shows last year as part of the Queen’s Hall’s 40th anniversary as a music venue, John McCusker has done a fine job once again in curating a diverse collection of musical talents that work well individually, and collectively, on stage. The diversity of musical talent on stage was impressive this evening with a core band made up of John himself and James Mackintosh, Ian Carr, Ewen Vernal, Michael McGoldrick, Louis Abbott (Admiral Fallow) and Phil Cunningham. Moving on and off stage as required throughout the show were a diverse selection of guests including Julie Fowlis, Kris Drever, Ye Vagabonds (Ireland), Roddy Woomble, Kitty Macfarlane (Somerset) and Sofia Karlsson (Sweden).
The theme here throughout this show was a simple one, music, and how despite coming from different countries and backgrounds there is often a musical tradition that unites everyone together both as musicians and audience. Here, it is so clear when you listen to Sofia Karlsson singing folk songs in Swedish, or Julie Fowlis singing folk songs in Gaelic that there is a connection between the two that goes back centuries. This evening was as much about diversity as tradition though and hearing Sofia Karlsson sing Sandy Denny’s “Like An Old Fashioned Waltz” was unexpected, and interesting.
A show format like this one only allows for a limited amount of time for any artist to perform on-stage, and without turning a review of an evening like this into a very long one, it is impossible to cover everyone and name-check everyone, so my apologies in advance to those I leave out here, but whether your personal liking be the always impressive fiddle skills of John McCusker, the flute and pipes of Michael McGoldrick, or the effortless looking ease of Phil Cunningham on accordion, there was something for everyone here in this show. With a guest line up like this one, there were so many highlights too as friends old and new were obviously having a good time together on-stage and transferred that energy to the audience for what was nearly a three hour show (including interval and encore). Along the way you could listen to Robby Woomble on vocals for “Into The Blue”, Ye Vagabonds showing clearly why they have won so many awards recently, Kitty Macfarlane showing that songwriters of quality are still out there, Kris Drever singing about the scuttling of the German Fleet at Scapa Flow in 1919 to name but a few moments.
The Queen’s Hall was very busy tonight, with a full downstairs and a lot of upstairs seats filled too, so this is obviously a combination of artists and show format that the audience want, and perhaps with the cost of performing live getting always more and more expensive for artists this is the way forward as a format for many future shows, a sort of return to the review touring shows of the 1950s and 1960s.
Southside of The Tracks did exactly what it set out to do I think, provide a diverse selection of musical talent for the evening, and at an affordable ticket price too. It looks like my first show of 2020 augers well for the new year.
Review by Tom King