Music Preview: Fiddler John is at home on any stage

John McCuskerJohn McCusker
John McCusker
It’s a long way from the Hollywood Bowl to the Greystones in Sheffield in more ways than one, but John McCusker is at home in venues of any shape or size.

For more than 30 years, his instrumental prowess and versatility - on the fiddle in particular - has seen him perform alongside the cream of traditional folk musicians and in bands of varying musical directions.

It has taken him from the Battlefield Band to Mark Knopfler’s studio and touring outfit to a longstanding member of the annual Transatlantic Sessions house band via all sorts of diversions.

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The Scottish multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer was due to bring a band to the Greystones just over a year ago on a tour to mark his 30th anniversary as a professional musician until Covid continued to take its toll.

The rescheduled date is at the Greystones next Tuesday (October 25) with an impressive line-up of guitarist Ian Carr, multi-instrumentalist Sam Kelly, singer Helen McCabe and flute and fiddle player Toby Shaer.

John can look back on a career that began to take shape as a 17-year-old playing whistle and fiddle in the Battlefield Band, one of Scotland’s foremost acts.

He was to go on to perform - on tour and in the studio - and produce albums by an extensive list of folk artists – the likes of Kate Rusby, Kris Drever, Roddy Woomble, Heidi Talbot, Michael McGoldrick, Andy Cutting, Eddi Reader, Eliza Carthy and Julie Fowlis.

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The awards have rolled in, notably including the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Musician of the Year in 2003.

At the same time, his portfolio has broadened considerably. The teaming up with Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler dates back to 2008 and memorably included sharing a tour bill with a one-time folkie called Bob Dylan.

It was an experience John describes as “turning my world upside down in the best possible way.

“I have learned so much from Mark and the rest of his band, not least how to perform on big stages in arenas around the world including Madison Square Garden, the Hollywood Bowl and the Royal Albert Hall.”

And that was 20 nights at the Royal Albert Hall.

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His branching out has seen him working with artists such as David Gilmour, Paul Weller, Paolo Nutini, Teenage Fanclub, The Proclaimers and Ocean Colour Scene and delve into TV and film soundtracks.

The 30 year landmark is being marked with a ‘Best Of’ album, including four new tracks, and a book, John McCusker: The Collection, comprising 100 of John’s compositions.

It’s a good time for reflection. “I’ve never had a plan,” he says. “Good things have just happened and, so far, it’s worked out as well as I could possibly have dreamed of.”

His 25th anniversary tour stopped off in Sheffield 11 and now it’s time to celebrate his achievements again with what promises to be an exceptional night of traditional folk music in a venue somewhat smaller than the Hollywood Bowl or the Royal Albert Hall.