What a fantastic night! It was my first musical event at the Howard Assembly Rooms, but it will not be my last! By the time the lights went down, it was a full house and their was an air of expectancy. With such a beautiful and atmospheric venue, I think that everyone in the audience had high expectations!
The award winning duo Gilmore and Roberts – Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts – provided the opening support act. Had they any nerves, they hid them well, bursting into a series of toe tapping tunes. At times, their sound brought to my mind the band the Civil Wars, with the same emphasis on beautiful harmonies.
Katriona Gilmore seamlessly alternated between the violin and vocals for a couple of tunes, which was remarkable, while Jamie Roberts provided consistently masterful guitar playing that set the tone for many of the tracks.
One of the most interesting aspect of this duo is that they write their own songs and find inspiration in the most unexpected sources. They seem to have a particular love and talent for storytelling via song.
On this evening, they paid homage to everything from a doctor with a secret (Doctor James); an arm with an agenda of its own (The Stealing Arm); their love for sat nav (Silver Screen)and a surprisingly emotive tale about a failed Scarecrow.
They also played a track from the album Songs for the Voiceless – a collaborative effort highlighting the lesser known stories from the first world war. The track – Billy Green was probably my favourite.
The pair mentioned that they would be performing in Leeds in a few months time, I will certainly try to catch them then!
Gilmore and Roberts – Website
Twitter – @GilmoreRoberts
Youtube – Channel
There was a short internal before Kathryn Tickell and the Side were on.
Promptly, with no fanfare, the four musicians took to the stage and immediately began to perform. It was truly remarkable. I had heard that The Side were a super-group of musicians but honestly, I hadn’t understood what that meant before they began to play. The music swelled, lifting up to the high arched ceiling and encompassing every inch of the venue. The vast majority of the songs were set in or about Northumbria, an area that Kathryn Tickell clearly loves to the core of her being. In a second, the mood would change from plaintive and thought provoking, to joyful and stimulating.
Kathryn Tickell was as personable and funny as you could ever hope. A consummate professional – she has won every award and accolade that this island has for instruments and musicianship and then been awarded a few more. Thankfully, she was also a generous host, introducing most of the songs and telling funny anecdotes about her family, her home and the tour that they are engaged in. She played both the fiddle and small pipes with an easy smile that belied the difficulty of the instruments. Virtuosa doesn’t really cover it! One the aspects that I most enjoyed was that she would also make last minute off the cuff changes to the set list or format of the songs – such as changing the final song that Amy Thatcher would be dancing to – and mentioning it a few seconds before it began! Whether intentional or not (and she is a pro!), it ensured that the evening felt like the once off very personal event that all musical events should…but often don’t.
Louisa Tuck was mesmerizing. She played the cello as though she were a woman possessed. During a few of the faster moving pieces, her facial expressions became so animated that it felt as though she was telling a story – embodying it in fact – using music as her medium. At times, I couldn’t take my eyes off her; she was so passionate. At least twice, she was inspired to spin her cello round, which raised cheers from the crowd and frustration from Kathryn Tickell – who knows from the audience’s response that it happens, but never seems to catch it herself!
To her far right Ruth Wall performed in an utterly different way. If Louise was possessed by a some sort of dancing sprite, Ruth appeared taken over by an elf (of the Lord of the Rings variety); playing her harp with elegance, grace and dignity. Every time she spoke, her sense of humour came through, but while she played, it was calm and measured, as if she was transported away from us.
Amy Thatcher on the accordion portrayed the same degree of delight and joy in the tunes as Louisa …though in a much more controlled way. It was when she took to the small stage in order to demonstrate her clog dancing – which was wielded as much as an instrument on the stage as her accordion – that she allowed a mischievous, almost wicked little grin to transform her cooler facade and reveal her intense excitement and joy in her craft.
One of the songs that they performed was specially written to complement the four different women, musicians, instruments, forms and personalities of the band. It was remarkable to watch each come into their own and join to create a more complete whole. Two musicians representing folk, two representing classical. Within the group; there appeared to be a balance and harmony which made for a truly remarkable set.
Kathryn Tickell and the Side – Website
Youtube – Channel
The Side consists of Kathryn Tickell on the fiddle and Northumbrian Smallpipes; Amy Thatcher on accordion and clog dancing; Ruth Wall on harps and Louisa Tuck on cello.
Visit the Howard Assembly Room HERE
Visit the Opera North website HERE