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ANDY MAY Northumbrian Smallpipes The Yellow Haired Laddie
Fellside Recordings Ltd fecd174

This champion young Northumbrian piper is tipped as the obvious successor to Kathryn Tickell when she hangs up her feather bonnet. Nine times open championship winner, Andy May is still only in his twenties but he's just old enough to have caught the tail end of pre-revival piping in Northumberland. He cites Billy Pigg and Tom Clough as major influences, and there are numerous echoes of Charltons, Armstrongs and other great piping families here. Andy's debt to the tradition, and his respect for it, can be clearly heard in his classic treatments of Sir Sidney Smith's March, Billy Pigg's Hornpipe, Bobby Shaftoe and others.

About half the two dozen tunes here are from the Northumbrian tradition, or at least adopted long ago. The other half come mainly from Scotland, with a couple from Irish piping and one or two from the wider English tradition. The Scots connection is highly appropriate: pipe tunes have been swapped across the border for centuries, and much of Tom Clough's music was influenced by James Scott Skinner. Interestingly, it's the Scottish tunes which stand out for me: inspired versions of Skinner's Bonnie Lass o' Bon Accord and Anderson's Da Slockit Light, a full-flood rendition of The Spey In Spate, and powerful performances of the lament Roslin Chapel and the strathspey The Sidlaw Hills.

Technically, Andy May's playing isn't note perfect but it's pretty close. Artistically, he's well able to convey the Northumbrian tradition and he has plenty of his own ideas to try: sometimes they work brilliantly, as in Cheviot Lament, but occasionally they fall flat as in Blow the Wind Southerly or The Banks Hornpipe. Of the fourteen tracks here, almost a dozen are a complete success and the others are still better than average, giving 52 minutes of very fine music. Andy plays with himself on pipes and piano, and he's joined by four friends including Kathryn Tickell - no hard feelings, obviously. The whole thing is very nicely put together, with good sleeve notes too, so The Yellow Haired Laddie seems to be a winner all round.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 52 of The Living Tradition magazine.