Alistair Anderson, a leading light of Northumbrian music and with a history going back some fifty years, launches an exciting new project. Joined by a bunch of young disciples, they explore a varied collection of tunes, jigs, reels, marches, hornpipes, contemporary and re-interpreted song, all with a strong North Eastern flavour. Indeed, conjuring up the spirit of the people and the landscape of the North is a mission well accomplished.
The combination of Ian Stephenson and Sophy Ball, who have worked together in the Andy May Trio, plus multi-instrumentalist Sarah Hayes from Admiral Fallow provides the more youthful legs to the quartet (Alistair even gets to sit down on the album cover).
Northlands comes split into sets of tunes and more conventional songs, which sees Ian Stephenson taking up the challenge of providing new tunes to some well established material. Jez Lowe’s shipyard ballad Taking On Men provides a lively opening and we get the familiar The Snow It Melts The Soonest, with its nigh on two hundred year history, given a stately yet sparse reading, with just the accompaniment of Ian Stephenson making it sound like he’s been studying recently at the Martin Carthy school of playing.
Last Shift combines Stephenson’s melody with Mike Tickell’s tale of his grandfather’s and father’s life down the mines. Another subtly paced piece with the needle of sentiment nudging the red. The similarly well-known I Drew My Ship Into A Harbour similarly draws the album to a close with a full ensemble version before the final notes are left to Anderson and his trademark pipes.
In contrast, the tune sets offer a huge variety of pace and mood, particularly when Stephenson gets one of his signature driving rhythms going. The Paddy Whack set offers a comparably lively introduction to the first of the tune sets. The Fiesta Waltz leads into Scots country dance, while the cross cultural pollination continues with the One-Horned Sheep jig and its link with rapper sword dancing.
The educational journey continues with tunes adapted from mouth organ virtuoso Will Atkinson, with the quartet adding their own jaunty interpretation into some more contemporary contra dance music from the USA.
The eighteenth-century Risty Gulley set is perhaps the pick of the tune sets. Led by some bright and flowing fiddle from Sophy Ball, each player contributes their individual part making for a whole where it feels like each musician is following their own path yet it coming together perfectly. Typical of an album which seems like a passing of the baton from the old to the new.Mike Ainscoe
Released on 7 January 2017. Recorded, mixed and mastered by Ian Stephenson at Simpson Street Studios.
1. Taking On Men
2. Paddy Whack / Coffee Bridge / Spirit Of Whiskey
3. Fiesta Waltz
4. Ian Macphail’s Compliments to Chrissie Leatham / Cooper Of Stannerton Heugh / One-Horned Sheep
5. The Snow It Melts The Soonest
6. Redeside Hornpipe / Kyloe Burn
7. Neil Taylor’s / Fourth Of February / Strawberries Galore
8. Last Shift
9. Reel De Mattawa / Wedding Bells
10. Cutty’s Hornpipe / Firth House
11. Risty Gulley / Geld Him, Lasses / Apprentice Lads Of Alnwick
12. I Drew My Ship Into A Harbour