This film is part of Free

The Long Tradition

A Northumbrian soul: the language and history of a landscape in the music of Kathryn Tickell.

Documentary 1987 50 mins

From the collection of:

Logo for North East Film Archive


How does music come to belong to a landscape? Once a child prodigy at the Rothbury Music Festival, Kathryn Tickell has since coaxed Borders folk out of its ghetto. She plays the Northumbrian pipes with classical ensembles, jazz trios – and rock star Sting. But this 80s TV portrait of a young Tickell roots her music at home: the North Tyne country, wilful, remote, rich with Reivers history, and the tunes and ballads of shepherd musicians from whom she learns her craft.

This TV documentary was broadcast on Channel 4 in December 1987, the year after Kathryn Tickell turned professional. It’s especially rewarding for the insight into older Northumbrian musical and oral traditions. Tickell’s sessions with fiddler Willie Taylor, Will Atkinson on harmonica and Joe Hutton on pipes, collectively known as The Shepherds, and her grandfather Joe Tickell’s performance on violin, are superb. Tickell herself reveals a deep connection to the Northumbrian landscape: the ruins of old hill farms are ‘like cairns for a people and a life passed away’.