Kathryn Tickell & The Side National Centre For Early Music October 17, 2016
Folk and chamber classical collide, but it's not always clear how to untangle the parts, or whether we even want to, as another entity entirely is created. The Side ensemble is a half-and-half meeting between Northumbrian piper (and fiddler) Kathryn Tickell, accordionist Amy Thatcher (also from the north-east of England), both of them being hardcore traditional music practitioners, with Ruth Wall (harp) and Louisa Tuck (cello), who arrive from airy classical quarters. Prolonged exposure since forming in 2013 has led to both factions being infused with each other's traits and tactics, resulting in a proper crossover: folk made more ethereally romantic, and classical getting soiled in the barn. Ultimately, the tunes are folkish, mostly being composed by Tickell, so it's in the delivery that classical tendencies might be discerned, though these are mainly of the modernistic variety anyway.
During her folk shows, Tickell will typically blow the Northumbrian pipes on most tunes, occasionally picking up her fiddle. With The Side, she's more likely to concentrate on that violin, turning to the pipes less frequently. This is probably due to compatibility reasons, regarding harp and cello. An overwhelming mood is provided by the high, bleak locations of Northumbria, Tickell often penning tunes that are evocative of her home, or of its denizens. She prefers to have a narrative source, so she can deliver one of her warming introductions to a number, explaining its genesis. Tickell is one of the most impressive orators in music, her storytelling almost standing on a equal footing to the actual music.
She plays a duo with Tuck (who is, busily, the principal cellist with the Oslo Filharmonien), part of the frequent breakdowns into smaller parts, making the foursome returns all the more bracing. Tickell relates how the rest of the band were struck by Wall working through a tune during a soundcheck, asking her what it was, she replying that it was what she always plays as her part in one of their regular set-pieces. Suitably embarrassed, the other three encouraged her to feature the melody more prominently during the tune's live appearance each night, forevermore. Thatcher unties her boots, and puts on her clogs, to dance a few tunes away (including "Music For A New Crossing") with some of the best footwork witnessed on a folking stage, far surpassing most of the stuttering Quebecois Canadians that your scribe has seen in action during recent years. She has a winning technique of added bassy toe-strikes, multiplying the potential for precision fast-step machine-gunning. Thatcher's accordion skills are also exceptional, of course, notably when combining telepathically with the articulately flitting wheeze of Tickell's pipes. Thatcher and Tickell play "Water Of Tyne" together, then all four offer "Gather Here," a work penned by Helen Walker earlier this year. She was the winning composer of the Alwinton Summer Concerts competition, of which Tickell was a judge. It's a slow, mournful piece, dominated by sorrowful cello sweeps. Contrastingly, a speedy Scottish trot follows, the gig ending with an encore that includes "Dark Skies Waltz," from The Side's recent debut album. Despite any reservations regarding said recording's sometimes too placid nature, the live experience of The Side is a completely different matter, providing one of the year's most substantial folk performances, multi-layered in appeal, and with its every aspect in ascendance.