Park Records PRKCD92

Virtuoso Northumbrian piper and fiddler Kathryn Tickell returns to the tight bouncy sound she championed in the 1990s.  Instrumental follows on from Signs and Debateable Lands, mixing Northumberland traditions with material from farther afield (no songs, of course).  Most of the pieces here are new compositions by the band, but some are almost indistinguishable from traditional melodies.  The line-up is Kathryn on pipes and fiddle, Peter Tickell on fiddle, Julian Sutton on melodeon, Ian Stephenson on guitar, plus a couple of guests and some instrument-swapping.

The opening track serves as a declaration of intent.  Ian's Trip to Wales is an unashamedly English slow reel, almost a hornpipe, played with plenty of swing on pipes and melodeon.  It's followed by a testing little Asturian muñeira, probably traditional, with fiesta-style accompaniment. Fun, stylish, and tastefully eclectic.  The next two tracks are all Kathryn's compositions, except for the futuristic Mountain Streams from a 1982 album by concertina ace Alistair Anderson.  The mixed-mode hornpipe In the Shadow of the Angel by melodeonist Julian Sutton would fit anywhere from Blowzabella to Deaf Shepherd with its fiddle and clarinet effects, and gives way to the firmly traditional Keelman Ower the Land played as a piping showpiece.  There are more echoes of Southern European piping in Cat in Coldstream.  The big fiddle piece Yeavering is Nordic to the bone, ringing bass strings and eerie harmonies: a great tune in anyone's tradition.

One For Julian is another unplaceable 4/4 fancy, from the piper to the box-player. Perhaps Sutton returns the compliment with High Spirits and Short Attention Spans two tracks later.  In between we have the descriptive piece Hareshaw Burn, and a piece called Coquet to Rede which in this mood of eclecticism had me half-expecting the 1965 Beatles classic.  In fact this end of Instrumental is short on classics: there are a couple of so-so jigs, and Sheep on the Moor bears an uncanny resemblance to the traditional Irish tune known as Willie Coleman's.  Then we come to Tiger's First Bird, a darkly stirring slow slip-reel, which transforms into a whirling sparkling dance with a driving hypnotic beat, a dramatic climax to this intriguing and gem-studded CD.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 75 of The Living Tradition magazine.