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Hooky Mat Records  HMR012

Windy Gyle? That’s a hill near The Cheviot, isn’t it? Correct. It’s also the name of Anthony Robb’s solo album in 2007, and the name he used for the band of relatives, friends and pupils which came together at the post-production party for that album. The Windy Gyle Band is possibly unique among 6-piece bands in Northumbria, Great Britain and even the world in having a member born in each decade from the 1940s to the 1990s. Music truly does break down barriers, especially when it’s as sumptuous as this.

1940s babe Anthony plays Northumbrian small pipes (hereafter “pipes”) and fiddle. His wife Heather plays fiddle. 1990s babe Alice Burn (a finalist in the 2008 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Awards) plays pipes. Nikki Williamson plays fiddle. Paul Knox plays pipes and fiddle. You guessed it, this is a pipes and fiddle band. Only Ged Lawson bucks the trend with his guitar.

There are 13 tune sets of rants, reels, hornpipes, jigs, polkas and airs. The band finds plenty of variation, with duets and trios breaking up the ensemble pieces. It’s all lovely stuff – as fresh and crunchy as celery, but much tastier. The tunes span the ages: from those found in seventeenth and eighteenth century manuscripts, through those from the repertoire of traditional players like Will Atkinson, Joe Hutton and Willy Taylor, to recent ones from Nikki.  The living Northumbrian tradition is drawn out in a golden chain.

One of the links in the chain is a re-working of two tunes from Jimmy Little’s album How Does It Gan, where Jimmy (one of the few surviving traditional players from North Northumbria) guests on mouth organ. Another guest is Emily Hoile on clarsach and harp, who duets with Alice’s fiddle on two tracks. Ruth Ball is another guest on fiddle. Like Nikki and Paul, she’s a graduate of Newcastle University’s Folk Degree.

These busy multi-generational folk probably don’t get too much time for touring, but I’d cross a hill or two or three to see them play.

Tony Hendry

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This album was reviewed in Issue 88 of The Living Tradition magazine.