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Thursday, 21 October 2010

Various Artists – Wild Hills o’Wannie: The Small Pipes of Northumbria

(Topic, 12TS 227, 1974)

A fascinating compilation of Northumbrian piping from Topic Records, with highly informative sleevenotes. The pipers featured include Billy Pigg, whose virtuosity and sound was a key influence on Richard Thompson’s guitar playing; Diana Blackett-Ord, one of the first female pipers to make a mark on the Northumbrian Pipers’ Society; and Joe Hutton, the shepherd whose beautiful music continued to charm audiences across the world right into the 1990s. A breakdown of the players and tunes is as follows:

Billy Pigg
Wild Hills o' Wannie
The Morpeth Rant
Skye Crofters / The Swallow's Tail
The Holey Ha'penny
The Gypsy's Lullaby / The Hawk / Memories / Coates Hall
The Lark in the Clear Air

Joe Hutton
The Midlothian Pipe Band / Charlie Hunter
Lovat Scouts / Roxborough Castle / Bonny North Tyne / Alston Flower Show
Rowley Burn Hornpipe
The Blackthorn Stick / Biddy the Bold Wife
The Humours of Bandon / Saddle the Pony

George Atkinson
The Barrington Hornpipe
The Navvy on the Line / The Friendly Visit / Remember Me / Biddy the Bold Wife / Lamb Sklnnet / De’ll Amang the Tailors
Oh Dear, What Can the Matter Be?

Diana Blackett-Ord
Blow the Wind Southerly
Londonderry Hornpipe / Boys of the Blue Hills / Corn Rigs / Harvest Home
Westering Home

Colin Caisley and Foster Charlton
Noble Squire Dacre
Salmon Tails up the Water / The Herd on the Hill / Sweet Hesleyside

Tommy Breckons
Sir Sidney Smith’s March
Fenwick o’ Bywell

Jack Armstrong – Celebrated Minstrel

(Saydisc, SDL 252, 1974)

This album, released 4 years before Jack Armstrong’s death, provides a wide-ranging retrospective of Armstrong’s career as a Northumbrian piper, composer/arranger of tunes, fiddler, and as the leader of the Barnstormers country dance group. Advisors on the compilation included such luminaries as Alan Lomax and Peter Kennedy. The recordings, from the BBC and other sources, are from a range of dates between around 1944 and 1954. They include solo pipe tunes such as Whittingham Green Lane, Noble Squire Dacre, The Wild Hills o’Wannie, and Derwentwater’s Farewell, as well as rousing country dance sets featuring tunes like the Keel Row, Durham Rangers, and Keep Your Feet Still, Geordie Hinney. A very good overview of one of the players who really brought Northumbrian pipes back to prominence and paved the way for stars such as Kathryn Tickell.

Jack Armstrong and his Northumbrian Barnstormers - North Country Dances

(HMV, 7EG 8455, 1959)

This EP, published under the auspices of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, was used to disseminate the joys of community country dancing. The four tracks are The Cumberland Square; La Russe; the Morpeth Rant; and Soldier’s Joy. Armstrong’s Northumbrian Barnstormers were by 1959 quite well-known due to their performances on the radio and TV Barn Dance programmes and this EP is a marvellous snapshot of the music used for these occasions before every other wedding booked a ceilidh band.

Jack Armstrong – Northumbrian Pipe Music

(Beltona, SEP 43, 1969)

This rare EP, autographed by Armstrong himself, is a rare appearance from an English piper on the Beltona label. This EP is filled with famous traditional tunes such as Cheviot Chase, Bobbie Shaftoe, Redesdale Hornpipe, and Border Fray (also known as Buttered Peas). Half a century before Kathryn Tickell brought the Northumbrian pipes to a wider international audience, Jack Armstrong had been approached by Burl Ives with a view to his participation in a (sadly abortive) Hollywood version of the Pied Piper of Hamelyn. Though perhaps not as wildly virtuoso as his contemporary Billy Pigg, Armstrong was very much the face of Northumbrian piping for many years.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Dick Gaughan – No More Forever

(Trailer, LER 2072, 1972)

A young Dick Gaughan in traditional mode here, recorded by the great Bill Leader. Tracks include Rattlin’ Roarin’ Willie; Jock o’Hazeldean; The Green Linnet and The Fair Flower of Northumberland. Gaughan’s fiery guitar is coupled with Aly Bain’s fiddle and, of course, the voice is unmistakeable. Whatever Dick Gaughan performs, he makes his own and this largely traditional set of songs is no exception.

The Easy Club – Skirlie Beat

REL Records, (RELS 483, 1987)

This album (and the percussion-heavy title track) is named after a peculiarly Scottish concoction, skirlie. Like the dish, the Easy Club’s music is a mix of very Scottish ingredients with other flavours. There’s a rock tinge to the mining disaster song, “Augengeich”, while the band’s version of Ewan MacColl’s classic “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” features some very lovely chromatic harmonica. There’s even the surprise inclusion of an old Kenneth McKellar hit, “The Song of the Clyde” – of course adapted to suit the Easy Club’s unique style. The vocals and instrumental playing are impeccable as ever, and the eclectic arrangements are still a joy even in these days when the likes of Bellowhead have rendered genre-mixing folk quite normal.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Dick Gaughan – A Different Kind of Love Song

(Celtic Music, CM 017, 1983)

With this album, the inimitable Dick Gaughan produced an instant classic. The power of Gaughan’s highly charged, political and very Scottish delivery is matched by his rapid-fire guitar playing. Something about this man’s voice ideally suits the richness of playback on vinyl. This set of songs clearly resonates with the early 1980s opposition to a Thatcherite Britain, and yet the lyrics have a relevance that is timeless. Gaughan’s own “Think Again” has become a folk scene standard. His version of Peggy Seeger’s “Song of Choice” is chilling and thought-provoking. Leon Rosselson’s “Stand Up For Judas” is provocative but powerful. And the album rounds off with a wholly unexpected but brilliant cover version of Joe South’s “Games People Play” (you categorize Gaughan at your peril).

The Easy Club – Chance or Design

(REL Records, RELS 479, 1985)

An absolutely gorgeous album which blends Scottish folk music with a Django-esque jazziness. The virtuosity of the playing and singing is easily understood when the line-up is made up of Jack Evans, John Martin, Rod Paterson and Jim Sutherland, but the sum is, if anything, greater than its parts. There’s a real musical alchemy in this album, all the way from the opening gentle swing of “Black is the Colour” (a version I prefer to Cara Dillon’s rather more famous recording) to the album’s final track, Jim Sutherland’s technically stunning bodhran solo.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Simon Thoumire and Ian Carr, Hootz

Black Crow (CRO 225, 1990)

This is the 1990 debut album by Thoumire and Carr, now mainstays of the UK folk scene and a duo who paved the way for a vibrant new generation of traditional musicians. Simon Thoumire (a Scotsman who brilliantly plays English concertina!) won the BBC Radio 2 Young Tradition Folk Award in 1989. He brings a jazziness and humour to his performance that sits incredibly well alongside a deep understanding of the traditions from which the music hails. Ian Carr is rightly one of the country’s most in-demand virtuoso guitarists, with a wonderful feel for syncopation and harmony. He has toured with the likes of Eddi Reader and John McCusker, was a lynchpin of the Old Rope String Band, and was a key component of Kate Rusby’s group as she stretched beyond the folk clubs and into mainstream TV and broadsheet recognition. This album is, as you’d expect from two young talents on their first vinyl outing, full of energy, vibrancy, and experimentation. More traditional fare such as “The Mason’s Apron”, “Old Hag You Have Killed Me” and “Master Crowley’s” sit alongside unexpected gems such as “St Louis Blues” and even that well-known English concertina piece (NOT!) “Lullaby of Birdland”.

A rare opportunity to hear two young musicians at the top of their game, but with their careers ahead of them.