This is a particularly valuable release, since it gathers together almost an hour’s worth of wonderful live performances by three legendary traditional musicians from Northumberland – Joe Hutton (smallpipes), Will Atkinson (mouth organ) and Willie Taylor (fiddle) – who in retirement joined together to tour as The Shepherds, for a time during the late 1980s and early 1990s travelling throughout England playing at concerts, clubs and festivals.
This well-filled disc provides a rare chance to acquire for posterity examples of playing of top quality from closely-knit musicians (all with family connections) steeped in a tradition that pre-dates the folk music revival and whose performances and sparse early recordings have unquestionably inspired a whole generation of North-Eastern musicians – including of course Kathryn Tickell (read the Northumbrian Voices interview with Kathryn). Bearing that in mind, it’s strange that there still aren’t terribly many recordings of these musicians available on CD (mostly isolated tracks on Topic compilations, for example), although they had been rather better represented in the vinyl age.
Their repertoire on these live recordings mingles familiar pieces like Morpeth Rant and Nancy Clough with hitherto unfamiliar tunes, and is not exclusively Northumbrian in origin. For while that region is naturally the source of a good proportion of the tunes played, including some composed by Willie himself and more modern examples from the likes of Billy Pigg, Scotland is also well represented, including tunes from the Borders and from the pen of James Scott Skinner. The performances on this disc are taken from recordings made at Derby, Whitby, Will’s Barn and London between 1988 and 1991; around half are ensemble renditions, the remainder scintillating solos or duets (and for an extra treat Tom Gilfellon’s deft guitar rhythms accompany Will’s moothie on one particularly sprightly selection). And the recording quality is generally pretty fine while retaining a lively sense of occasion and atmosphere. Fittingly complementing music and performances of such rugged beauty and life-affirming, invigorating yet intimate spontaneity, the foldout digipack presentation of this release is impeccable, and contains fulsome notes on all the tunes played, together with superb biographical sketches. In short, this is another fully recommendable Veteran product.
Review by: David Kidman
Available from: www.veteran.co.uk.