I just came across an old notebook with a playlist in it, left over from a trip a few years ago to Lindisfarne, off the north-east coast of England. It seems a shame to waste it. My family comes from the region, so I have a particular interest; here’s my top eight records, in no particular order, from the north-east.
Alex Glasgow: Vol 3/Now and Then. Perhaps more than any other single individual responsible for popularising the north-east’s repertoire – both the folk songs and the 19th century broadsheet songs – during the folk revival of the ’80s and the ’70s, while also adding some classics of his own, as in his work with Alan Ayckbourn, which resulted in songs such as Close the Coalhouse Door and When It’s Ours. Vol 1 & 2, also available on a single CD, with far more of his own songs on it, is also worth a listen.
Thomas Allen and Sheila Armstrong, Songs of Northumbria. The two classically trained singers have collaborated on a couple of records of Northumrian songs, accompanied by orchestra and choir. I’ve chosen Volume II because it has Lambton Worm on it, a song with a particular family meaning for me, which was, incidentally, once utterly murdered in a version by Brian Ferry.
Kathryn Tickell, Back to the Hills. I first learned of the Northumbrian bagpipes tradition through Kathryn Tickell. This record is recorded in modest locations around the region with the traditional fiddle player Willie Taylor.
Northern Lights, Airplay. Folk and jazz collaborations are often unfortunate. This one, commissioned by the Sage Centre in Gateshead, with the concertina and Northumbrian pipe player Alistair Anderson and the jazz trombonist Annie Whitehead, and an accompanying band, is not.
The Animals: As, Bs, and EPs. Newcastle’s contribution to the ’60s R&B boom. The animosity between the band members seemed to force its way into their performances, which was probably a good rather than a bad thing. And I liked the way they adapted the blues songs they were covering to match the local geography: Gonna Send You Back to Walker, for example, started life in the US as Gonna Send You Back to Georgia, but loses nothing (even gains something?) in the translation. When they sing We Gotta Get Out of This Place you get the impression they mean it.
Rachel Unthank and the Winterset, The Bairns. The north-eastern tradition keeps renewing itself, as the Unthanks recent run of fine records demonstrates. The Bairns is a fine collection of songs which captures some of the distance and desolation of the region. Their third, Here’s The Tender Coming, after they changed name (to The Unthanks) and lineup, which came out after this playlist, is even better. The Unthanks are currently one of the most interesting and inventive folk groups in Britain.
Field Music, Tones of Town. Spiky but subtle Sunderland post-punk. (Their latest record, Plumb, has been nominated for the Mercury Prize this year).
Alistair Anderson, Islands. The only musician who has squeezed in twice. partly because this record has on it a suite inspired by the Farne Islands, south of Lindisfarne, which are home to thousands of seals.
There’s others of course. I’m a fan of Republica’s song Ready To Go, which Sunderland used in the Peter Reid years as a theme song when the players came onto the pitch. I could be persuaded that Kathryn Tickell’s earliest records sound fresher. And some post-punk fans would press the claims of The Futureheads over Field Music. Certainly their strangely compelling a capella record Rant would probably have forced its way on if I’d done this playlist last week.
The photograph of Lindisfarne is a Creative Commons image from Wikimedia.