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ALISTAIR ANDERSON, Islands

ALISTAIR ANDERSON, Islands
White Meadow Records WMR2008CD 

Alistair Anderson is without doubt one of the all-time greats of Northumbrian music.  In addition to his masterly playing of English concertina and Northumbrian pipes, he is noted for his work in widening the net of traditional music through such schemes as Folkworks, whose partnership with Newcastle University has led to their degree course in traditional music.  He is also a great researcher of old tunes and composer of modern music, which is hugely influenced by his native traditions.

This latest CD sees Alistair teaming up with Martin Simpson, guitars; Emma Reid, fiddle; Ian Stephenson, Guitar and the Alistair Anderson Band.  Together they all contribute to an album, which displays a wide range of moods, from quiet and contemplative to driving and exciting.  There’s a blend of older and newer tunes, too, to add to the variety; eighteenth-century manuscript tunes rub alongside present-day pennings with no noticeable joins.

There are new arrangements of some of Alistair’s earlier pieces, such as Franklin River, from the Steel Skies album, which was a major composition in its time.  This CD gives us the latest “long” composition, the Farne Islands, a 23 minute reflection on those rocky guardians of the Northumbrian coast.  The band fuse their sounds of concertina, fiddles, cello, clarsach, whistle, oboe and pipes admirably to conjure up images of gurly seas pounding their relentless way.

This is an outstanding new composition, which will be a reference point for the way in which traditional themes can be used in wider musical settings.

All in all, this is a virtuoso performance from a true musical great.

Gordon Potter

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This album was reviewed in Issue 82 of The Living Tradition magazine.