LIVE REVIEW: Kathryn Tickell and The Darkening, The Lake Poets @ The Fire Station, Sunderland (10.12.21) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Kathryn Tickell & The Darkening by Iam Burn

In 1984, the then 17-year-old Kathryn Tickell, the famed Northumbrian smallpipes player, was named official Piper to the Lord Mayor of Newcastle, filling a space left empty for 150 years until that point. Since then, Tickell has performed alongside and collaborated with a true abundance of artists and bands, most famously with fellow local hero Sting on six of his solo albums. But her latest band, The Darkening, formed in 2018, with whom she recorded her most recent album, Hollowbone, promises to prove perhaps most marvellous of all.

The cornerstone of their music is the piercing sound of Tickell’s Northumbrian smallpipes, which seems to kindle a yearning for Northumberland and the history of the North East with its much more reposeful and far less abrasive timbre than that of Scottish bagpipes.

This performance was a particularly special one, as Kathryn Tickell & The Darkening were chosen to officially open Sunderland’s brand new venue, The Fire Station. With a wonderfully open feel and a warm and intimate auditorium, it seems the perfect addition to the city’s Cultural Quarter.

Supporting and then returning to the stage to accompany the headliners at the end of the night was local singer songwriter The Lake Poets, whose heartfelt lyrics, all steeped in love for his hometown of Sunderland and its cultural heritage, was a great fit for the night.

Accompanying Kathryn, who also plays fiddle to a virtuosic standard, are Josie Duncan, a harpist and vocalist from Stornoway, Kieran Szifris on mandolin, Joe Truswell on drums, and Amy Thatcher on accordion and vocals, the latter treating us to an unexpected burst of clog dancing. Each and every last one of these performers was impeccable, all delivering their own moments of glory: Kieran’s Challenge, aptly named for the ridiculous amount of wah-wah-mandolin-mastery he displayed, and Lads of Alnwick/Sunderland Lasses, fronted by a sprightly homophonic melody of accordion and pipes which must somehow have come close to breaking the sound barrier, if music can do that, were just two highlights in a lengthy list.

An appropriately stunning opener for such a phenomenal new venue.

The Lake Poets by Iam Burn

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