As the old adage goes, if you want something done, ask someone busy. And if you want to hear some of the freshest, savviest, sweetest and most original songwriting around, look no further than three of the busiest musicians in Scotland, newly in cahoots as a trio: Kris Drever, John McCusker and Roddy Woomble. With their respectively distinguished pedigrees ranging freely across the folk and rock spectrum – and overlapping via several previous projects – each brings a wealth of diverse experience to the table, in a collaboration impelled primarily by that most magical of musical catalysts: pure enthusiasm.
“Our paths had all crossed in various ways over the past few years – working with Kate Rusby, and on Kris and Roddy’s solo albums – and our starting-point was basically just that we all really liked each other’s stuff,” says McCusker, the ex-Battlefield Band fiddler now equally renowned as a producer, composer and multi-instrumentalist. “There was no plan, except to try and write good songs: let’s all meet up and see what happens. That sense of freedom’s been really exciting, the opposite of keeping things safe – just putting yourself in that space where spontaneous things can happen, where you’ll just go for it and wing it; not worrying about making it immaculate, but going with whatever happens in the moment.”
For Woomble, who recently marked ten years as lead singer of top indie-rock band Idlewild, the new trio project is a natural onward step from his acclaimed 2006 solo debut, My Secret Is My Silence. “Being in the same band for that long, you get used to writing songs in that context,” he says. “The solo record was the first time I’d really pushed myself in other directions, and that’s given me the confidence to take it further: Kris and John each have such a different take on things like melody and lyrics, but we’re all working equally on the songs together, so the whole thing feels totally new. And it’s great getting to make another ‘first’ album at our age.”
That forthcoming fresh yet seasoned debut, named simply for its authorial triumvirate, was written over the course of just six or seven afternoons in McCusker’s Edinburgh living-room, demo-ed on a laptop, then transferred to the studio with judiciously minimal embellishment. “It was amazingly quick,” says Drever, the Orcadian singer-guitarist who won a 2007 Radio 2 Folk Award for his own first solo album, Black Water, and is a member of firebrand folk trio Lau. “We had a target number of songs we wanted to record, and we really didn’t discard many. A lot of them have stayed quite stripped-down, keeping that rawness, though there’s bass and drums on others, and a fair number of the colourful jazzy chords I like. It’s ended up an unusual mix – not quite folky, not quite rock – but it’s all really musical.”
Fruitfully muddying the waters still further is an array of stellar guests from both the folk and rock spheres, including Radiohead drummer Philip Selway, Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake (vocals) and Francis MacDonald (drums), Capercaillie bandmates Donald Shaw (keyboards), Mike McGoldrick (flute/whistles) and Ewen Vernal (bass), plus Irish singer Heidi Talbot.
Forging the ideal balance between innocence and experience, Drever, McCusker and Woomble achieve a rare and thrilling synergy. With that founding enthusiasm only compounded by making the album, due out in spring/summer 2008, they’ll be hitting the road fon a full UK tour in the autumn.
KRIS DREVER: Orkney-born Kris, emerged from the ferment of the late-90s Edinburgh session scene as a member of bands including Fine Friday and Session A9, and an increasingly sought-after accompanist, working with artists including Eddi Reader and Julie Fowlis. Fast building his name both as a guitarist of exceptionally eclectic talent, and a singularly eloquent interpreter of traditional and contemporary songs, he released his debut solo album, Black Water, in October 2006 for Reveal Records, going on to win the Horizon prize for best newcomer at the following year’s Radio 2 Folk Awards. Doubling as a founder member of the electrifying folk trio Lau, alongside fiddler Aidan O’ Rourke and accordionist Martin Green, he spent much of 2007 taking the international festival circuit by storm.
JOHN McCUSKER: Was born in the same Bellshill hospital as most of Teenage Fanclub and Sheena Easton, John McCusker formed his first band, Parcel O’Rogues, at fifteen, and joined top Scottish folk act the Battlefield Band two years later, remaining with them until 2001. During this time he also began a twelve-year partnership with celebrated Yorkshire folk-singer Kate Rusby, producing several of her award-winning albums and anchoring her live band. John’s film and TV soundtrack credits include the Damien O’Donnell movie Heartlands, Jennifer Saunders’ BBC1 sitcom Jam and Jerusalem, and Billy Connolly’s World Tour of New Zealand. He has recently recorded on Mark Knopfler and Paul Weller’s latest albums, and is current producing the forthcoming debut solo release by Radiohead drummer Philip Selway. In between working with Kris and Roddy, John will be spending much of 2008 in private jets and stadiums, as a guest on Mark Knopfler’s world tour before releasing another album and tour from his Under One Sky commission in the early Autumn of 2008.
RODDY WOOMBLE: A native of Irvine – small-town Scotland writ large – Roddy co-founded Idlewild in 1995, naming the band for the quiet haven featured in his then-favourite book, Anne of Green Gables. Given that the NME likened their early punk-fuelled sound – deftly revisited on their latest album, 2007’s Make Another World – to “a flight of stairs falling down a flight of stairs”, the quiet haven part was initially somewhat ironic, but gradually came closer as Idlewild meanwhile progressed through sweeping melodic rock to rootsy, melodic sparseness. Extending that softer lyrical vein of Roddy’s songwriting, 2006 saw his first solo release, My Secret Is My Silence, winning rave reviews across both the rock and folk press. He was also a key instigator behind the acclaimed 2007 album Ballads of the Book, bringing together leading Scottish poets and musicians to collaborate on new songs. After extensive recent touring with Idlewild, Roddy will be spending much of 2008 – as every other year – scribbling observations and lyrics in his notebook while out on walks.