Category Archives: Reviews

Living Tradition CD Review – VARIOUS ARTISTS – The Omnibus Northumbrian Pipers’ Society NPSCD01

Link to Living Tradition HomepageREVIEW FROM
Northumbrian Pipers’ Society NPSCD01
This CD sets out to show the breadth of Northumbrian pipe music being played today, with some world renowned players and some less famous. It includes traditional and modern pieces, solos and ensemble playing, French and Irish music, as well as many Northumbrian favourites. Sixteen pipers and various other musicians play over 40 tunes in 19 tracks: well over an hour of music on the Northumbrian smallpipes. Each set of pipes is slightly different, and sometimes this can be clearly heard. The arrangements differ too: pipes and fiddle, pipes and harp, pipes and hurdy-gurdy, pipes and harmonica and of course guitar and keyboard. Familiar names include Kathryn Tickell, Andy May, Chris Ormston, Anthony Robb and Becky Taylor, with Stewart Hardy on fiddle. All the other pipers here are of a very high standard, although some tracks are quite unpolished.With Northumbrian music you expect certain things: hornpipes, rants, slow airs and variations. The Omnibus has all of these in full measure: 3/2 and 4/4 hornpipes by Hill or attributed to Hill or nothing to do with Hill, rants by Pigg or Tickell or neither, plus a whole slew of slow airs, jigs, slip-jigs and marches. There are traditional variations on classics such as Holey Ha’penny and My Dearie Sits Ower Late Up. There are modern virtuoso variations on Grey Bull Hornpipe and Wark Football Team by the inimitable Kathryn Tickell. It’s the unexpected which makes this collection special: a set of French bransles, an air transposed from the Irish pipes, a Swedish waltz and several stunning new slow airs by Northumbrian pipers. Listen to the sweeping beauty of Catcherside, the stately grandeur of Memories Of Wallington, or the heartfelt sadness of Whisky Is Not Enough. If you ever wondered what Northumbrian smallpipes could sound like, here’s your answer.

Alex Monaghan

Northumbrian Pipers Society Newsletter Article

Last Autumn I was asked to write an article for the Northumbrian Pipers Society quarterly newsletter. An edited version was published in the Autumn edition, but here is the full version…

Northumbrian Smallpipes

Waking up on the morning after my birthday this year I realized with some horror that I had now been playing the pipes for 30 years (you would have thought I would have the hang of it by now really wouldn’t you?!..)

Starting back in 1983 with Dave McQuade’s loan sets to schools and moving on to a particularly decrepit Hedworth set which I played for many years, my early NSP playing was unorthodox to say the least, and heavily influenced by the Irish musicians in the area and my passion for Uilleann piping for which I am perhaps better known. The defining moment in my NSP playing career was when, after many years I finally acquired a beautiful boxwood 17key set from Colin Ross in 2008 – it did take a little persuasion it must be said, as he was concerned that the Bb keys may not have been strictly necessary, with me assuring him that them they were, and subsequently playing many Gminor sets just to make sure I got the good use of them! Anyway, on playing this set it was impossible not to fall in love again with the sound of NSP and I returned to regular playing with renewed enthusiasm.

Over the years my piping career has taken me to some interesting places, most recently in Russia where I was invited to play (Uilleann) pipes as a guest with the legendary Boris Grebenshikov and his (mainly rock based) band Aquarium. After several visits I introduced the smallpipes as my F set very conveniently played in the keys of F and C that my Uilleann sets (being a concert pitched or ‘B’ set) couldn’t, and they were subsequently used on several tracks even making a brief appearance on the (very heavy) album ‘Архангельск’.

Playing NSP in Russia with a (very large) rock band came with its own particular set of challenges, the first of which was getting them there. Travelling through Russian border control with a pipe case containing both Uilleann and NSP is interesting to say the least. The very first word I learnt in Russian was ‘волынка’ pronounced ‘Volinka” and meaning literally ‘bagpipe’ and it is essential information for smoothing the difficult conversation between me (no Russian) and the rather bemused looking immigration staff (little English) when they pointed to my case with a stern ‘open’..

Once there I discovered the climate is vastly different from the UK, with temperatures ranging from a chilly -25 during one December visit and a muggy +35 degrees during some of the summer festivals. Surprisingly the summer hot and humid weather did not seem to affect the pipes too much – tuning was remarkably stable and no adverse effects on the boxwood occurred. It was the cold weather that really caused the problems, with the extreme dryness actually causing my chanter to bend alarmingly (sorry Colin) with every cotton-wound joint falling apart, reeds coming loose and tuning all over the place. Thankfully on return to the somewhat wetter climes of Yorkshire the chanter returned to normal after several recovery days! Somehow I managed to keep the pipes going for the performances which were a series of large concerts for the 40th Anniversary of the band – The following photograph was taken in a sports stadium concert in St Petersburg, I am wearing an earpiece monitoring system as hearing myself (and adjusting tuning) acoustically onstage through the usual monitor wedges was virtually impossible with 8 band members, including a full backline and drumkit, percussionist, bass, electric violin, keyboards, guitars and whistles courtesy of Brian Finnegan. I am not a fan of reed-mics or ‘bugs’, and found several decent stage microphones (such as the AKG C1000’s) were required to adequately amplify the pipes without feedback – no mean feat in a 5000+ seater stadium, and a non-english speaking road crew!

The Ross set in Saint Petersburg

Photo by Konstantin Sakhin, St Petersburg April 2012

However, not all my playing in Russia was with Aquarium, I played some solo concerts in August 2012, most notably at The Country Estate Arkhangelskoye – The Theatre Gonzaga in the Krasnogorsky region of Moscow, where I gave a short and formal recital of traditional Northumbrian Smallpiping to a very enthusiastic and interested audience of theatre –goers who had not seen or heard the pipes before. I chose the material carefully to reflect traditional NSP playing and included The Wild Hills O Wannies, Peacock followed the hen, Small Coals an’ Little money and other well known Northumbrian tunes which were enthusiastically received by the audience. A similarily well received solo concert of both Northumbrian Smallpipes and Uilleann pipes highlighted to me the interest that Russians have in traditional music from western shores. There are a handful of Uilleann pipers in and around Moscow, although only one NSP player that I know of, and interest in all aspects of ‘Celtic’ and particularly Scottish and Cape Breton music and dancing is high. Accessibility to instruments is probably the biggest hurdle for aspiring Russian pipers, and their enthusiasm for the NSP and indeed all forms of western traditional music, is not to be underestimated.

More recently and somewhat closer to home I have ‘depped’ for Andy May with Jez Lowe and the Bad Pennies. Kate from the band named it ‘stunt doubling’ which had me worried for a while, and conjured up images of performing dangerous manoeuvres whilst playing the Biddlestone Hornpipe backwards! Thankfully my fears were unfounded and the shows went well – I am clearly enjoying the Ross set at this point – looking deliriously happy at that ‘g’ I’m playing in the photo below!


One of Roger Liptrots photos from Jez Lowe and the bad pennies at the Bury Met  April 2013 (
Photo by Roger Liptrot ( taken at The Bury Met, April 2013




Ireland Bridge Review (FolkWorld CD Reviews – by Alex Monaghan)

Becky Taylor “Ireland Bridge”
Label: Own Label; 10 tracks; 38 min
From the North of England, this young uilleann piper combines Irish music with aspects of English, Breton and other traditions. Her second album is aptly named. In a little under forty minutes, Becky Taylor stravagues through a musical landscape from Tyneside to Donegal. Francis Donnellan’s, Rattle the Cash and The Kilkenny Jig sit alongside her own compositions, which often have a slightly English feel. As well as the Irish pipes, Ms Taylor plays Northumbrian smallpipes, concertina, fiddle and whistles. She’s joined by several friends: Dave Wood, David Kosky and Paul Cowham on guitars, Leigh Stothard on drums, and Hugh Bradley on bass. For those who heard her debut CD, Ireland Bridge is a big step forward and presents Becky as a piper to be reckoned with.
The Gift mixes rustic modal melodies with the world music sound of Barely Works or Oyster Band numbers. Smallcoalpiper is a contemporary Northumberland showpiece, full of pops and stops, with a driving topline and a strong beat, finishing on the classic Small Coals. The air Mable strays across the Celtic rim, somewhere along an imaginary line between Callanish and Compostella. When It’s All Over is a little further West, halfway across that Ireland bridge; a pair of breakneck whistle reels a la Finnegan or McGoldrick. Track 6 is firmly on Irish soil, Carolan’s Captain Kane. The traditional jigs Red Haired Polly and Rattle the Cash keep us there, and The Lady’s Cup of Tea adds some very fine Irish piping. Becky’s style is open and uncomplicated, and the melody comes through strongly. The stately air River Rose leads into an impressive whistle solo. Can’t Help Smiling rounds off this recording with a medley of jigs, leaving no doubt as to Becky Taylor’s abilities: a fine command of her instrument, a repertoire as wide as these islands, and a gift for contemporary composition. Ireland Bridge is good solid pipering from start to finish, and should broaden the horizons of most traditional musicians.
Alex Monaghan

This review appeared on the FolkWorld webiste, Issue 36 published  July 2008 Folkworld CD Reviews

fROOTS Ireland Bridge CD Review

Becky Taylor Ireland Bridge (own label 880992 14004 1)

Already a noted exponent of uilleann and Northumbrian smallpipes and whistle, Becky’s expertise now also encompasses piano, duet concertina and fiddle, all the while sharpening her arranging skills. Becky’s musicianship emerges fresh every time on this, her second CD, aided by Dave Wood (guitar) and others. Sparky, much alive and of constant interest. 

fROOTS June 2008 No. 300