Kathryn Tickell, Northumbrian piper and fiddler. Surely you don’t need to known anything else in order to tell Stephanie at Musikfolk that you want this CD, but I suppose you’ll make me tell the tale of this CD anyway.
Tickell’s credentials as a traditional musician are in the North Tyne Valley of Northumberland, where many of her relatives still play traditional music. Her father Mike Tickell is an acclaimed performer of the songs of this area. She took up the Northumbrian small pipes at the age of 9 years and by her early teens had won all the traditional open small pipes competitions and was rapidly making a name for herself as a fiddle player as well. If you’ve read our review of A.D. Schofield and J. Say’s Billy Pigg: The Border Minstrel, you will have a good idea of where she comes from as Pigg is one of her musical inspirations.
Suffice it say that Kathryn plays the Northumbrian small pipes as well as any piper including the legendary Billy Pigg, and she is recognized as one of the best pipers in the world. She is also an superb fiddle player, and has won several Open Fiddle awards for her playing. The Daily Telegraph said of her that ‘… with fluent Northumbrian piping and fiddle playing, faultless professionalism and an engaging stage presence, Tickell may well be the best living advertisement for English folk music.’ Tickell has done quite a few albums over the years including Kathryn Tickell & Ensemble Mystical which has a carnyx, a two thousand year-old Celtic war horn, as one of the instruments, and Debateable Lands, on which her amazing talents as an instrumentalist, composer, and arranger of individual tunes are well demonstrated.
The Gathering was recorded after a break of almost four years — the longest break from recording she’s ever taken. On this album, Tickell is joined by Ian Carr on guitar and Neil Harland on bass. These two fine musicians provide a fitting musical texture for Kathryn’s lively fiddle music and ever-so-haunting piping. (Two guest musicians are also present — Paul Flush on piano, and Brendan Power on harmonica.) Now the label, Park Records, will tell you that this is an album of ‘traditional’ sounding tunes, but they’re rather wrong. It took me but a few minutes to remember where I’d heard an album like it … It’s Hamish Moore’s Dannsa’ Air An Drochaid album which has a jazzy edge to it. That same jazzy edge can be found on this album. That is not surprising given that Kathryn has appeared on four of Sting’s albums so far, including a cool solo on ‘Fields of Gold’ (Ten Summoner’s Tales, 1994), and was on the Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s Union Station. You can hear this best on ‘Reel Blues Reel’ which was written by Brendan Power, the harmonica player on this cut and the one after it, ‘St. Kilda Wedding’. The harmonica against her fiddle creates a jazzy/bluesy feel that is very, very cool but anything but traditional.
Now don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty of well-written, excellently played traditional material here. ‘ Lads of Alnwick/Sunderland Lasses/Peacocks March’ is a traditional Northumbrian set of tunes, as is ‘Green Brechans O’Branton/I Saw My Love Come Passing by Me’ which are two very old Northumbrian piping tunes. Kathryn also has one lovely traditional Cajun waltz on here, ‘La Bataille dans le Petit Arbre’ which is quite pleasing to the ear and to the feet! Everything here is among the best work she’s done — check out two of the tunes she wrote, ‘Rain check’ and ‘Mr. Nelson’s Birthday Waltz’, to confirm that fact. You likely won’t be able to tell that they are not generations old.
For me, there’s no such thing as a less than perfect Kathryn Tickell CD. And this one is no exception to that rule. I’ve no doubt that you will like this CD as much as I do!
(Park Records, 1997)