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ANTHONY ROBB The Primitives

ANTHONY ROBB The Primitives
Hooky Mat Records HMR014

Anthony Robb was at the heart of the Northumbrian Piping revival in the seventies and eighties, with his various Cut & Dry projects. A champion piper, he was a great influence on younger virtuosi such as Kathryn Tickell and Andy May, and a link to the great pipers of the past. On this recording, Anthony plays strictly solo on a set of pipes in F which are unusually simple. With no keys to extend their range, these "Primitives" can play only one octave, making them even more limited than the highland pipes. They also have only simple drones, so every tune has the same major cadence ground. Despite these restrictions, Robb tackles some complex pieces here, as well as many simpler melodies, spanning the classic Northumbrian repertoire and adding a few foreigners to the mix. His playing is beautiful, smooth and controlled, with easy mastery of this demanding instrument.
Many of these melodies are familiar to me from the Cut & Dry Dolly LPs which I listened to around 1980. The Keelman Ower Land, Lads Of Alnwick, Because He Was A Bonny Lad and others were popularised by Anthony Robb and friends, but the solo versions here are a little freer and of course played on a primitive unkeyed chanter, which seems to produce a slightly richer tone. This suits both the Northumbrian classics and interlopers such as Flett From Flotta, Leaving Lismore (a favourite waltz of mine), Blowzabella and Roisin Dubh. There are a few English session standards here too, originally Northumbrian or not: Winster Galop, Michael Turner's Waltz, and a spirited version of The Hesleyside Reel.
I said this recording was strictly solo, but there is double-tracking on Sunderland Lasses, Rowan Tree and Farewell To The Creeks, some inventive harmonies adding a touch of variety. Although this is far from gilding a lily, Anthony Robb is well able to hold an audience for an hour on a single instrument: airs, waltzes, marches, jigs and reels are all charmingly played on The Primitives. This collection finishes strongly with three challenging pieces from the small pipes repertoire: I Saw My Love Come Passing By Me, Lasses Pisses Brandy and Mount Your Baggage - there's almost a story developing there, ending a fascinating CD from a true master. Google Hooky Mat Records for more information.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 91 of The Living Tradition magazine.