Kathryn Tickell & The Darkening - Cloud Horizons

2023 studio album

Cloud Horizons - Kathryn Tickell & The Darkening

the bright young folk review

The 16th album bearing Kathryn Tickell’s name on the spine, Cloud Horizons is the second one to feature The Darkening alongside it, following 2019’s Hollowbone. On board this time alongside returning Monster Ceilidh Band stalwarts Amy Thatcher and Kieran Szifris plus drummer and synth programmer Joe Trusswell are Josie Duncan and Stef Conner.

Though Tickell’s reputation as the foremost Northumbrian smallpiper performing today will be what draws many folk fans to Cloud Horizons, it’s very much a group effort. Tickell acts as the fulcrum as much as frontwoman on this eclectic album of all-original music that alternates between two subsets.

On the one hand, there’s the uptempo instrumentals in traditional formats with her smallpipes or fiddle front and centre alongside Amy Thatcher’s accordion playing. Listen to barnstorming sets such as Quilley Reel or Just Stop and Eat The Roses and you could be basking in the sun at your favourite folk festival on a perfect summer’s afternoon.

These are more than simple 32 bar dance tunes, with the two time interlude on Galician jig One Night in Moana either an interesting diversion or unnecessary interruption depending on your point of view, while Clogstravaganza goes heavy on the drums and bass synth on a track as stonking and full throttle as the name suggests.

On the more downtempo songs things get more leftfield, tying in lyrical themes of Northumbria’s history and natural environment with sparser musical textures dominated by the plucked strings of Duncan’s clarsach and Conner’s lyre, with both joining Tickell and Thatcher on harmony-rich vocals.

The new agey Caelestis speaks to the history of Northumbria as a frontier land at the edge of the Roman world. Meanwhile the lyrics of Gods of War draw a thread between past and present over the foreboding thud of drums.

There’s a large amount of variation in texture not just from track to track but within them. Bone Music winds its way on a journey through multiple keys and timings moving up the gears from a sparse mandola based texture to earth-shaking drums and synths.

But it all hangs together with plenty in there to reward open minded listeners. To try and sum Cloud Horizons up? It’s hard to do better than the band’s own tagline of Ancient Northumbrian Futurism to describe an album that despite being made up of contemporary material still feels rooted in something much older. Truly 21st century folk.

Nick Brook

Released on CD and digitally September 1st 2023.

1. High Way to Hermitage
2. Long for Light
3. Caelestis / Sheep in the Temple
4. Quilley Reel
5. Freedom Bird
6. Just Stop & Eat the Roses
7. Bone Music
8. Clogstravaganza
9. Gods of War
10. One Night in Moaña
11. Back to the Rede

Kathryn Tickell & The Darkening discography