The Kathryn Tickell Band – Signs/Phil The Greek (90s – 47)

April 9, 2014

It must be nigh on 15 to 20 years since I heard either track, both coming from the 1993 album Signs. Tonight I set out to find them, and find them I did.

Kathryn Tickell plays the Northumbrian pipes. I had used to think bagpipes boring but when I first heard these tracks on release, I was in the middle of my Mike Oldfield rage. This meant I had heard Paddy Moloney on the uilleann pipes guesting on Oldfield’s albums. Moloney added a flurry of folk to a rock setting – a typical Oldfield sleight of hand – which for me recast the pipes a marching instrument to one of great subtlety and range. Already with an appreciation of folk – Mark Knopfler’s Local Hero soundtrack had started that – Oldfield taught me folk could be the basis of something new, different. The folk I was interested had to have a sense of otherness, unexpectedness – this an interest in, for instance, folk rock ala Steeleye Span.

Then one night Robyn Johnston on Radio National’s The Planet spun these two tracks by The Kathryn Tickell Band.

Signs is a cover of Prefab Sprout’s When Love Breaks Down, mixed with another tune called The First Time. At the time I wasn’t familiar with the Prefab track (though I was not long for buying that band’s From Langley Park to Memphis album on cassette) but I obviously recognised a well-written tune when I heard it. Hearing Tickell now, being more than familiar with McAloon, Smith and co’s original, I’m even more impressed with what she has pulled off. Replicating McAloon’s vocals lines is hard enough for an aspiring cover singer – to successfully gain something of McAloon’s fragility on pipes is startling.

Phil The Greek – medley of Fill The Tankard and The Greek Tune – is harder to place, and of the two tracks is the one which flashing into my memory whenever I see Tickell’s name every few years. The slow, droning build-up of Fill The Tankard – textured and subtle – again recalled Oldfield, but I would later link with other artists like the Penguin Cafe Orchestra or ambient electronica producers. The Greek Song provides energetic relief, but the incessant circling of Fill The Tankard was another little step down the path of fascination in variation and repetition which would go haywire when I eventually heard drum n bass.

So here they are on the incredibly hard to find Signs album. Enjoy


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