Earlier this month Blue Rose Code and Beth Malcolm reintroduced live music to a newly renovated Perth Theatre when they played the first gig in the Monday Night Thing series of Concerts. We were lucky enough to secure an interview with Beth ahead of that gig and you can read a little bit about what these gigs mean to the local music scene here.
The music continued last Monday with a concert by the trio Michael McGoldrick, John McCusker and John Doyle in what promised to be a night of traditional Celtic music with a twist. To be honest, I was largely unfamiliar with their music, although I knew that John McCusker had played with some of my musical heroes including Roddy Woomble and officially the best band in Scotland, the U.K. and the universe, Teenage Fanclub, so I had a feeling that I was really going to enjoy the night.
I arrived about 15 minutes early to find the foyer and bar looking pretty empty which led me to think "uh oh couldn't have sold well". Thinking I still had plenty of time, I grabbed a pint and wandered through to the new Joan Knight Studio where I thought I would have my pick of the unreserved seating. Turns out that the reason there was no-one in the bar was that they were seated in the already packed auditorium and there were only a couple of spaces available at the back. I took my seat thrilled to find that there was a handy shelf behind me that was the perfect place to rest my pint of Ossian.
A few stragglers made their way to the last remaining seats (the show was it was like listening to a more trad Vangelistotally sold out) and the fellas took to the stage. Spectral chords rang out from McTuskers accordion, joined by the atmospherically sparing guitars of John Doyle. Although this was an instrumental, the vibe, slow pace and instrumentation put me in mind of the awesome song Leslie by King Creosote. What took things up another notch was the amazing playing by Michael McGoldrick on the Uilleann Pipes. He managed to create a sound that really was quite unlike anything I'd ever heard. Notes seemed to bend and slide into tune, so although the instrument was wholly natural sounding it also had an almost synthy quality, it was like listening to a more trad Vangelis. The pace picked up and the song broke into a jig, with McCusker switching to fiddle, McGoldrick switching to flute as Doyle dug in with some percussive left-hand muting on the guitar. It was rousing stuff and by the time the instrumental drew to a close the trio was sweating profusely.
After the initial instrumental, the three musicians took turns in introducing songs. John Doyle dealt mainly in ballads starting with the murder ballad, The Two Brothers which told a tale of fratricide resulting in an argument over a hazel wand and this is long before the days of Harry Potter! He also played a few sea shanties including the love against all odds The Apprentice Boy which he introduced as "the only optimistic love song I know".
The other John, or "John the Custard" as his three-year-old daughter Jessica referred to him, plays a beautiful piece written about her birth entitled "It's a Girl". This was followed by Billy, titled after Billy Connolly, another Scottish legend that McCusker has worked with.
Next up it was the turn of Michael McGoldrick to introduce his choice of songs and he opted for a couple of instrumentals made famous by pipers Fred Morrison and Allan MacDonald, with the instrumentals Leaving South Uist and Lochaber Badger. McCusker harmonised on a pipe of his own, creating a really cool, almost reed organ kind of sound. All the while John Doyle funked things up a bit with some syncopated, almost 70's sounding acoustic guitar.
The first half drew to an end with Doyle singing another cracking sea shanty Fall Down Billy O Shea. I'm ashamed to say I'd never heard it but I was definitely in the minority, as the folk-loving Perth audience were lapping it up. Doyle's guitar playing on this track was really something, so catchy and limber, it almost had a Joni Mitchell vibe. I loved it!
During the interval, I decided against another drink. I've been trying to watch my weight and I thought that instead, I would do a wee bit of research on my smart-phone. I knew that John McCusker had played with Teenage Fanclub before but I didn't know how much until I fell down the rabbit hole of his Wikipedia page and discovered that he had played strings on Thirteen which is my favourite album of theirs. What's more, he had recorded an album with another trio, this time Roddy Woomble and Kris Drever called Before the Ruin. This album not only featured Fanclub singer Norman Blake on backing vocals but also their drummer Frances McDonald. I'm a bit of a Teenage Fanclub completist, particularly when it comes to Blake, so the music geek in me was very excited with the discovery of this, previously unknown to me, Fanclub related release.
I immediately jumped out of my seat and hot-footed it to the merch table near the bar to see if they had a copy. Not only did they but it was none other than McCusker manning the stall so I got it signed and I got to bore him with some Teenage Fanclub related questions. I took my seat ecstatic with my new purchase and waited for the show to restart. I did kind of regret not getting another pint though.
The second half began with the boisterous Battlefield Band song Frank's Reel which featured some great interplay between McCusker and McGoldrick and was followed by a heartbreaking Napoleonic love song about a soldier dying on the battlefield. There then followed some lovely instrumentals including the lyrical Leaving Friday Harbour, and then yet another rousing sea-shanty, Across the Western Ocean that went down like gangbusters with the Perth audience.
The show ended with an encore of The Banks of the Bann that featured my favourite lyric of the night, possibly of the year: "It was her cruel parents that first caused her variance." The Monday Night Thing had really exceeded my expectations and I was already really looking forward to my next visit.
Information about future Monday Night Things gigs can be found here >>>
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