Kathryn Tickell’s The Kathryn Tickell Band, and Borderlands

cover art for The KAthryn Tickell BandKathryn Tickell has made a name for herself as well as working tirelessly to promote her instruments, the Northumbrian smallpipes. Coming from a family of musicians, she has extended her work into academia through her position at Newcastle University as a lecturer. In addition to her career as a touring and recording musician, she is also quite involved in the preservation and extension of the traditional music of her region, as well as developing this tradition amongst young people. She raises large sums of money for this purpose through a foundation she initiated. Her work with Andy Sheppard as well as a variety of classically trained composers marks her as a talent who also “plays well with others.” These two rereleases will make her fans particularly happy, and should provide an excellent introduction to her work for those who have not had the pleasure of hearing her before.

While fans of Celtic music are often familiar with the Irish and Scottish piping repertoire, the traditions of Northumbria and the Scottish borderlands have not been popularized as often. Here at GMR we have a number of folks with a keen interest in all things involving bagpipes and have regularly highlighted diverse piping traditions, so regular readers will not suffer from a lack of exposure, despite the relative inattention of some elements of the folk music industry. Whether you’re already hooked on these traditions or not, if you like piping music, particularly Irish uilleann piping traditions, you must run, not walk, to get these discs. Tickell has a fabulous sense for arranging instrumental music that makes these discs an absolute delight. Not surprisingly, she also surrounds herself with top musicians, making for some superb instrumental music.

The Kathryn Tickell Band is a well balanced album, an absolute pleasure to hear and savor. Tickell balances between the jaunty (“The Desperation”) and more contemplative numbers (“Roly Gentle,” “Hot Rivets,” “Tarter Frigate,” “Closed Face Reel”), both within sets and between them. Her own expertise is evident in every song, although she allows the skill of her fellow musicians to show through. The last song “Otterburn” is particularly well done, although there is not a weak track on this disc – I just really like this expressive, emotional number. In fact this disc compares well with many of the traditional musicians doing their own compositions, blending in classical and jazz influences. It clearly draws from within the tradition, yet has an unselfconscious originality in the way that it blends contemporary influences.

cover art for Borderlands, showing a young Kathryn Tickell standing above the windswept Northern HighlandsBorderlands has a more traditional feel, although it displays the same fine sense of musicianship Tickell’s other albums have. This is a collection of mostly traditional works, with a few originals scattered throughout. The disc begins with a strong selection, “Mary the Maid” and continues on from there. This disc will please those desiring a more strictly traditional album; they will be impressed by the prowess of the piper, as several numbers are awe inspiring, including “Ahlston Flower Show – Wark Football Team”. The album ends with a nice version of “Flowers of the Forest” that will stand up against anything out there, with the pipes augmented by an incredible slide guitar accompaniment. I also particularly enjoyed the set including “David’s Hornpipe/Tents Hornpipe/Walker Street Reel,” and “Gypsy’s Lullaby /The Tarter Frigate” (the latter appearing on both discs). Tickell’s Web site describes this as the disc that marked her departure from child prodigy to independent artist, and it’s clear that she displays considerable musicianship on this disc. It’s a fine debut, and both traditionalists and her fans will be very pleased to see this rerelease.

If I had to chose one of these discs, I’d be hard pressed. I’d probably go with The Kathryn Tickell Band for its lighter feel, while recognizing that Borderlands has more of that dark feel that can be so satisfying. Tickell’s pipes are much more prominent on the latter, while the disc with her band shows more of an ensemble’s balance. Luckily, I don’t have to choose, and hopefully neither will GMR’s readers.

(Resilient Records re-release, 1991, 2002)
(Resilient Records, 1986, 2002)

[Kim Bates]

GMR has also reviewed Kathryn Tickell’s Back To The Hills, Debateable Lands, Kathryn Tickell & Ensemble Mystical, and Kathryn Tickell and Friends’ The Northumberland Collection.

Kim Bates

Kim Bates, former Music Review Editor, grew up in and around St. Paul/Minneapolis and developed a taste for folk music through housemates who played their music and took her to lots of shows, as well as KFAI community radio, Boiled in Lead shows in the 1980s, and the incredible folks at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, which she's been lucky to experience for the past 10 years. Now she lives in Toronto, another city with a great and very accessible music and arts scene, where she teaches at the University of Toronto. She likes to travel to beautiful nature to do wilderness camping, but she lives in a city and rides the subway to work. Some people might say that she gets distracted by navel gazing under the guise of spirituality, but she keeps telling herself it's Her Path. She's deeply moved by environmental issues, and somehow thinks we have to reinterpret our past in order to move forward and survive as cultures, maybe even as a species. Her passion for British Isles-derived folk music, from both sides of the Atlantic, seems to come from this sense about carrying the past forward. She tends to like music that mixes traditional musical themes with contemporary sensibilities -- like Shooglenifty or Kila -- or that energizes traditional tunes with today's political or personal issues -- like the Oysterband, Solas, or even Great Big Sea. She can't tolerate heat and humidity, but somehow she finds herself a big fan of Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys (Louisana), Regis Gisavo (Madagascar), and various African and Caribbean artists -- always hoping that tour schedules include the Great White North.

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