In a far distant past (1986) I saw the then very young Kathryn Tickell charm an audience at Sidmouth Folk Festival with her Northumbrian pipes and her fiddle. She was named as one of the bright hopes for the future of British folk. The performance I attended made me buy her first LPs (the big black ones in thick paper covers). But somewhere through the years I lost contact with her output. Until now, that is.
Although Kathryn Tickell has fulfilled all the promises of 1986, her 2004 release Air Dancing is very much a group effort. With Peter Tickell, fiddle and viola, Joss Clapp, guitar, and Julian Sutton, melodeon, she has an interplay and complexity of the music sometimes reminiscent of SWÅP. The group feeling is underlined by the fact that all “trad arr” arrangements are attributed to all four of them and that all of them contribute their own compositions. Sutton especially comes across as a composer with a lot of personality. In the sleeve notes he is described as “the Picasso of the melodeon,” a description that his tune “Winding Sideways” bears witness to. The title is not misleading, if I may say so.
With four composers, a number of traditional tunes and the odd ones taken from other sources, Air Dancing is a very varied album. You get fast traditional tunes like “Elsie Marley,” with a very rhythmic background; complex ones, like the Sutton one mentioned earlier; and some slow beautiful airs.
There is a lovely set of waltzes, called just “Waltzes,” halfway through the album. It starts of with a birthday waltz for Kathryn’s and Peter’s father, played as a fiddle duet. It is a slow delicate tune, obviously not for dancing. A nice guitar intro brings us into Peter Tickell’s “Carolina’s,” a majestic but somewhat soft waltz. Most of it is played by Peter, with Kathryn adding harmonies on occasions. The melodeon takes over for the first verse of D Panting’s “Wedding gift,” another slow but danceable waltz. In all a set that works very well.
Another slow, beautiful air is “Air Moving,” written by Kathryn. The main part of the air is performed solo on the pipes, making good use of the drones. The full band joins in at the end, without changing the feel of the track.
“Herbert” is a quicker medley, made up of three titles. “Herbert the Sherbet” by Martin Ellison could be mistaken for a traditional Scottish tune, but some of the harmonies at the end reveals its more modern identity. It is followed by a Neil Gow tune, “The Stool of Repentance,” performed not unlike you would expect the Easy Club to play it. Then there is another twisted Sutton tune, “The Bar is Ruaridh,” which acts as a middle eight before the Gow tune returns. Another well composed set, where the tunes interlock nicely, in spite of each being clearly distinguishable.
Air Dancing is an album full of great playing, both from the individuals and from the group as a whole. Its well produced, while at the same time the music on it has kept it freshness and shows a little roughness in its attitude. There is a nice balance between the traditional way of playing and a more modern approach to the music. It is firmly rooted in tradition, the way that tradition was portrayed on the very early Tickell albums from the 1980s, but it does not stay entirely within that tradition, but takes it further and widens the possibilities.
You can learn more and order the CD at Kathryn Tickell’s website.
(Park Records, 2004)