Kathryn Tickell & The SideKathryn Tickell & The Side
Album: Kathryn Tickell & The Side
Label: Resilient
Tracks: 12

Though rightly renowned as a virtuoso musician par excellence (Northumbrian pipes and fiddle), Kathryn has also built a career around a succession of innovative projects on which she's coordinated the skills of other musicians with whom she's expressed a desire to work - always with stimulating and genuinely spellbinding results. This latest undertaking is typically ambitious, for the setting-up of this group has involved some particularly onerous long-distance logistics (harpist Ruth Wall lives in Cornwall, while Ruth Wall is a full-time cellist with the Royal Northern Sinfonia, so getting together with Kathryn and accordionist Amy Thatcher, both based in Northumberland, has not exactly been easy!).

But there's no sign of the stresses of all this in the relaxed, almost effortless ambience of the music-making on the KT&TS debut CD; these are four lasses that seem born to play together, such is the feel of respectful camaraderie that comes across here, whether on skipping uptempo pieces like the delightful pairing of tunes sourced from Percy Grainger (The Nightingale & Molly On The Shore) or the atmospheric landscape sketch Bonny Breezes, a strikingly beautiful examples of Kathryn's gift for original composition at the crossroads where folk meets classical-pictorial. The instrumental blend is impeccably judged, both within the wonderfully varied timbres of the four-piece band itself and with the occasional deployment of guests including Dominic Miller (guitars), Ian Stephenson (double bass) and Marney O'Sullivan (percussion), whose combined forces add even more drama to The Prior's Standard. The distinctive tones of Ruth's bray harp impart a mysterious, quasi-eastern tang to the dark-toned, legend-inspired Ad Gefrin, with some particularly lithesome ensemble playing following on the reel The Monday Men; while the closing air, Ship's Tyne Main, conjures a powerful, plaintive aura from the combination of pipes, percussion, electric guitars and steel pan. There may be a bit of a Transatlantic Sessions feel to Dark Skies Waltz and Confluence, but the productive cross-fertilisation of musical territories is of course a hallmark of the whole album, as is the often dual-purpose character of the tunes Kathryn has composed - a good example of this being the emotional double-edge of Stonehaugh, a happy little celebratory piece that Kathryn here slows down to provide a wistful farewell to the old ways (the track is one of a pair that also involves RNS's leader, Bradley Creswick, on violin). The double-edge feel even surfaces in the disc's lone vocal track (Queen Of Pleasure), Kathryn's limpid setting of part of a Swinburne poem that eerily captures its cautious blend of florid beauty and uneasy reflection.

Celebration is the order of the day on every track of this vital, excitingly accomplished musical offering, however, and the invention is irresistible.

David Kidman

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