All three musicians have gone on to global acclaim: John Doyle (Dublin – vocals, guitar, bouzouki, mandola) is an Irish music linchpin and a founder member of acclaimed group Solas, who has worked with Joan Baez, Linda Thompson and Mary Chapin Carpenter. BBC Radio 2 Folk Award Winner John McCusker (Glasgow – fiddle, whistles, harmonium) has played with The Battlefield Band, Mark Knopfler and Bob Dylan, recorded with Paul Weller, and recently produced albums for Eddi Reader, Heidi Talbot and Kris Drever. Mike McGoldrick (Manchester – flute, whistles, Uileann pipes, bodhran, clarinet, congas) is a BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winner, founding member of Lúnasa, and current member of Capercaillie, who has worked with Mark Knopfler, Eddi Reader, John Cale. And that’s just for starters.
Although they’d bumped into each other over the years, all three really hit it off when they started playing as part of the BBC’s annual Transatlantic Sessions in 2007 . “That felt like it was a real coming together of the three of us,” McCusker says. “It’s always been really natural to play together, and as pals, it always feels really natural to hang out. That’s how the idea of us doing this as a trio came about: after The Transatlantic Sessions, we didn’t want the fun and the music to stop. So we said, ‘Well, why don’t we just keep going?’”
And so they did. Doyle, McCusker and McGoldrick have performed as a trio since 2009. They released a live album in 2009, and continue to tour together regularly. “We try and keep it as fresh and exciting as we can,” McCusker says. “Live, we’ll often go onstage with no set-list, just to try and keep that energy up, that freshness. It’s about flying by the seat of your pants, about playing from the heart, about not over-thinking things. We wanted to approach this album in a similar way.”
Largely recorded in four days at Sight & Sound Dearne Valley, The Wishing Tree is, says McCusker, “A mixture of stuff we’ve been playing over our time together, brand new tunes, and traditional songs that go back hundreds of years.” In the liner notes, Doyle recalls learning ‘The Wicked Belfast Man’ from acclaimed singer and song collector Dan Milner. He also pays homage to one of the first songs he ever picked up (‘The Banks of the Bann’), while one of his own songs, ‘Burke and Hare’, explores the mythology of Edinburgh’s notorious villains – as cheerily interwoven with an old Auld Reekie nursery rhyme.
The title track, meanwhile, says McCusker, is a nod to nature, and family, and hope (all three discovered, coincidentally, that they had planted trees with their own young offspring). But it’s also a salute to upholding tradition while pushing things forward. “Even when you’re writing new tunes, you’re trying to keep the roots of something alive,” McCusker offers. “You’re trying to help it grow, by adding new tunes and songs. Hopefully maybe these new songs will inspire younger generations to pick up an instrument, and to play, and make music, the way we were inspired by older songs when we were young…”
All three retain their youthful excitement for making records and life on the road. “The whole thing’s great fun,” McCusker nods. “We have no agenda other than having a nice time and playing music. That’s the way we tour as well – we throw ourselves in a little car, instruments on our laps, and off we go. And the record? Well, I hope it’s the sound of three old friends, having a great time, making music together.”