It is always a pleasure when a true legend of English folk music like Alistair Anderson releases a new album, and the sense of delight intensifies when one discovers that it is a double CD. The world-famous concertina and Northumbrian smallpipes maestro has gathered a number of tunes, the vast majority of which are self-penned, and a great line up, featuring, among the others, Andy May and Sarah Hayes, to record his new work Hethpool Linn. It comes with a very inspirational recording of Hidden Hexham, his folk suite to celebrate the fetching Northumbrian town, as a second CD.
The first disk is the ten track album Hethpool Linn; it includes both solo concertina numbers like the title track and the lively Farewell to the Dene set, and some great band efforts like Pies in the Parish House and the opening Peacock Blues / Issac’s Cut. Other notable highlights include the redolent solo Northumbrian smallpipes set Heynhallow / Heyna Helga and the warm-sounding Village Inn Set.
Anderson has always had the reputation as one of the most innovative folk musicians; this album is the proof that his ability of giving a new life to old material is matched by his composition skills, even when the tune does not strictly adhere to the standard forms of traditional music.
Many of the tracks present nice variations and impressionistic passages, but surely Wild Geese Over Wooler stands out for its changes of keys, the diverse atmospheres it creates, his adventurous arrangements, similar to a dodecaphonic piece, and the many shades this artist is able to produce with his concertina.
Hidden Hexham, the only recording on the second CD, is a circa 26 minute suite conceived to be played from start to finish with no skipping or interruptions, like a chamber music piece. Even from a quick read of the names of the tunes that form its core, take for example Gilesgate House, The Skinner’s Arms and Battle Hill, it is clear that this quaint and historical town’s buildings, streets, views and stories were the main source of inspiration for the work, beautifully delivered by the whole ensemble.
From the historical events that took place in this corner of Britain to the quirky buildings that make Hexham town centre so characterful, from its green spaces to his welcoming people, this highly personal tribute to this market town feels so heartfelt that many listeners will instantly recall their memories of the place or wish to visit it as soon as the first haunting notes of St Wilfrid’s Gate unfold. The suite had already been performed live, but this is its much-anticipated first studio recording.
Having recently celebrated his 75th birthday, Alistair Anderson still proves to be a prolific and inventive composer and a great source of inspiration for younger generations of trad musicians; Hethpool Linn and Hidden Hexham are new milestones in a career that has deeply influenced folk music much further than his native Northumberland.Michele Mele
Released on 1 August 2023 on CD and digitally. Recorded by Ian Stephenson at Simpson Street Studios, Thropton, and by Alistair Anderson at Mount Hooley, Wittingham.
1. Peacock Blue / Issac’s Cut
2. Morpeth Town Hall Set
3. Pies in the Parish House Set
4. Eynhallow / Eyna Helga
5. Farewell to the Dene Set
6. Wild Geese Over Wooler
7. Liz’s Waltz
8. Dave Pattinson’s Birthday
9. Village Inn Set
10. Hethpool Linn
1. Hidden Hexham: St. Wilfrid’s Gate, Windmill Hill, The Hencotes Jig & Cockshaw Burn, The Tannery Burn & Gilesgate House, The West Road, Gallows Bank & Battle Hill, Priestpopple, Windmill Hill & St. Wilfrid’s Gate, The West Road, The Skinner’s Arms & The Old Tannery