Magnetic North East is a Community Interest Company (CIC), borne out of a love for the region: its music, arts, culture, heritage, places and people. Through its work, Magnetic North East celebrates and promotes the distinctive cultural identity of the North East of England, rooted in the region’s traditions but boldly exploring new creative opportunities. At its heart are a number of key players including Northumbrian composer, performer and educator Kathryn Tickell who is one of Magnetic North East’s Directors.
While best known to most as an exceptional player of the Northumbrian smallpipes, she is also widely recognised for her contributions to education and culture. In fact, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Northumbria University and an Honorary Masters Degree from The Open University for “Notable contribution to education and culture”. Kathryn is also a lecturer at Newcastle University and continues to teach and perform nationally and internationally. In 2015 Kathryn was awarded the OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to folk music.
To shed more light on the work of Magnetic North East we caught up with Kathryn and started by asking about the broad remit covering music, arts, culture, heritage, places and people and she felt this was an area that has been overlooked in the past.
“I do. There are quite a few different agencies that were set up to represent specific areas of Northeast culture, but Magnetic North East’s vision is to take an overview of it all (I like to think big!) I think that all those aspects – the places, the people, the music, the culture and the heritage are linked. One of our big aims is to help creative artists working in the Northeast by finding alternative income streams (like Commission-a-tune), performance, teaching or exhibition opportunities and by helping to promote and support what they already do in whatever way we can. Of course, as we are doing all of this without funding, we have to start small, concentrating on the areas we already have strong links with – like the folk and traditional music scene, but our aim is to be working through all genres.
I thought the whole idea of Commission-a-tune was an interesting one as it’s something musicians used to do in the past for people or special events such as a grand opening of a transport link. The North East has a rich industrial history so I’m guessing such special events were very common but to be able to commission such a gift to a person, for example, is unique. How does that work?
“Yes – I think most tune-writers have used their art for ‘Dad’s Birthday Waltz’ or something like that at some point! I was pretty sure that there would be lots of people out there who would jump at the chance of having a tune composed especially for them, so I thought this might work as a way of creating an extra income stream for composers, providing a completely bespoke service for anyone who wants to commission a tune, and also (very importantly) over time creating a new body of work – new tunes created in the northeast. There are several composers – Alistair Anderson, myself, Amy Thatcher, Ian Stephenson and Kieran Szifris, so although we have agreed that the default setting will be something composed in a typically ‘folk/trad’ style, if you wanted something a bit different you could choose a composer who might be up for that (for example Amy Thatcher would be the gal for the job if you wanted something funky with big accordion riffs and heavy bass sound!).
“We’ve had quite a few commissions so far, and each has been very different. Tunes for big Birthdays are popular. Usually we are asked for a specific type of tune, or a particular title or dedication, or to include some kind of musical nod to County Durham, or Cornwall…or whatever, but one of my favourites was where the commissioner asked me to write something that I would enjoy playing – something that other Northumbrian pipers might want to play – that might eventually become part of the Northumbrian tradition, and that would be the best present they could have – to have contributed to the evolving tradition.
“It’s good for the composers as well – it makes us write new material! Copyright remains with the composers, so we get to give the tune away (the recording that the commissioner receives, and the sheet music) and still keep it – brilliant! (and the commissioners know that their tune, with their chosen title, might go on to be recorded, played in concerts, or become a session classic…!) It takes us a few weeks to get the tunes written, arranged, recorded, written out and sent off though – so if anybody reading this wants one as a Christmas present they’d better get a move on!” Click here for details.
Also, as an agency, you also offer easy access for those wanting to hire traditional musicians, singers and dancers for things such as ceilidhs, weddings and other celebrations. Are you finding that more people are wanting to connect to the traditional roots of the North East for such occasions?
“I think that people just don’t think about it. Hotels and wedding venues we’ve spoken to say that they don’t often get asked for Northumbrian pipers or specifically North East entertainment – but then they aren’t advertising that as an option. We’re hoping to change that – and again, the main aim is not to be running an agency, but to be raising the profile of our traditions and giving musicians extra income opportunities. Playing background music at a wedding is not always the most creative gig you can get – but the money buys you time to do creative things.”
You have an online shop which is gradually growing in size, offering music, books, gifts and artwork. I saw you had some of Natalie Reid’s work (Artist, Illustrator, Printmaker) on display (see below). She’s a perfect fit – based in the North East, steeped in the folk tradition, currently involved in a project around the Doc Rowe Archive. Do you hope to expand this area and introduce more artists, craft-makers from the North East?
“Yes, we’d love to expand this and do more commissioning of new work. Nat Reid has done some gorgeous designs for us – based on local folk songs, like Bonny at Morn and Blow the Wind Southerly – so, again, we’re promoting her and giving paid work, whilst also promoting the fact that we have this wonderful repertoire of traditional song. But it doesn’t all have to be about traditions – we’re starting off with that, but who knows what else we might do…suggestions welcome!”
You also have a big poetry publication on the horizon – ‘Land of Three Rivers: The Poetry of North-East England’ a poetry anthology from Bloodaxe Books, edited by Neil Astley, which maps the region in poems relating to the North East’s past and present, depicting life from Roman times, through medieval Northumbria and the industrial era of mining and ship-building, up to the present day.
“I am SO excited about that. Bloodaxe are the premiere poetry publishers in the UK, they are based in rural Northumberland but had never done an anthology of Northeast poetry. I’ve been badgering them and lobbying for it for years and it’s actually happening. It’s not just straight ‘poetry’ but includes a few songs, both traditional and modern – from Border Ballads to Jimmy Nail’s Big River as well as all the great NE poems…and loads more you’d never think of. Of course, it’s ended up being twice the size it was originally meant to be – there’s just so much good stuff out there. It’s going to be an incredible new resource – Bede, Bunting, Auden, Wilfrid Gibson, Tom Pickard, Katrina Porteous, Richard Dawson, Julia Darling, Philip Larkin’s poem about Bellingham Show…all sorts of goodies!”
Talking of Bellingham Show I see you were invited there to host Traditional Music Tent and Northumbrian Piping Competitions. Was this new to the show? How did it go?
“Magnetic North East was very proud to take over the running of the traditional music tent at Bellingham – the show has been going for 175 years, and the piping competitions are an important part of the day. It was lovely this year to see 12-year-old Abbey Tilley opening the entire show, singing the old Bellingham Show song (not the Philip Larkin poem!) out in the showfield. She came and sang it in our tent later too. Great to see a mix of ages all playing their part in keeping our traditions alive.”
The upcoming concert on November 10th marks the launch of Land of Three Rivers: The Poetry of North-East England, It also takes its title from a song by the late Vin Garbutt which is a lovely tribute.
“Yes, I was so sad to hear about Vin’s death. He was pleased that his song was going to be in the book, and we had hoped he’d be able to come and sing it at the concert. What is lovely is that Martin Longstaff (aka The Lake Poets) grew up listening to Vin’s songs, and has offered to sing that one ‘Land of Three Rivers’ as a tribute to him.”
What else can the audience expect at the concert?
“Well, Martin Longstaff will be doing some of his own songs, Magnetic North East’s own youth folk group Superfolkus will be playing (don’t let the idea of ‘Youth Folk Group” mislead you, this lot are absolutely awesome). The brilliant NorthEast/Scandi fusion band Baltic Crossing are on…and loads of other things…it’ll be an all-singing-all-dancing extravaganza! With the occasional poem…and rapper dancing…!”
Magnetic North East Annual Concert & Giveaway* – 10 November 2017
Magnetic North East’s annual concert takes place on 10th November 2017, 7.30pm (Sage One).
Featuring the stunning songs of Sunderland troubadour Martin Longstaff (The Lake Poets) and the superbly energetic North East/Scandi fusion of Baltic Crossing, who unite fiery Scandinavian fiddles with the irresistible energy of the Northumbrian pipes, this is an unmissable event! Also performing are the highly sought after youth band Superfolkus, and dynamic rapper sword team Star & Shadow!
They are also launching a new anthology from Britain’s leading poetry publisher, Bloodaxe Books – ‘Land of Three Rivers’ is a celebration of North-East England in poetry, featuring its places and people, culture, history, language and stories in poems and songs with both rural and urban settings. http://www.bloodaxebooks.com/
In Association with Magnetic North East, Folk Radio UK have a pair of tickets to giveaway for the concert.
To enter simply email us here: firstname.lastname@example.org. In your email include “MagneticNorthEast” in the subject along with your name and address in the body of the message. Last entries by 10 am on 20 October 2017.
To find out more about the great work of Magnetic North East visit: http://www.magneticnortheast.com
*Terms & conditions apply:
- Only one entry per household.
- Winners will be chosen at random on 10 October 2017.
- The winners will be informed soon thereafter.
- Your information will not be shared with any other parties other than the winner’s address/contact details which will be passed on to Magnetic North East.
Folk Radio UK’s full terms can be found here.
Photo Credit: Tony McAnaney