Kathryn Tickell

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Kathryn Tickell
Tickell 2004.jpg
Background information
Born (1967-06-08) 8 June 1967 (age 48)
Northumberland, England
Genres English folk music
Occupation(s) Musician
Instruments Northumbrian smallpipes, fiddle
Years active 1986–present
Associated acts The Kathryn Tickell Band
Website www.kathryntickell.com

Kathryn Tickell OBE DL (born 8 June 1967) is an English player of the Northumbrian smallpipes and fiddle.[1] She has recorded over a dozen albums, and toured widely.

Life and career[edit]

Tickell took up the smallpipes aged nine, inspired by her family—especially her father Mike, who was heavily involved in the local traditional music scene—and by the music of an older generation of traditional musicians such as Willie Taylor, Will Atkinson, Joe Hutton, Richard Moscrop, Billy Pigg and Tom Hunter. By the time she turned thirteen in 1980, she had won all the traditional open smallpipes competitions, and was also making a name as an accomplished player of the Shetland fiddle style which she learned from the Shetland fiddle master Tom Anderson at Stirling University's traditional folk summer school.[2] Tickell has also incorporated the Border pipes into her traditional ensemble.[3] Her family is from the North Tyne Valley area of Northumberland.[1]

Her first album, On Kielder Side, was released at the age of sixteen, in 1984. In the same year she was named the official piper for the Lord Mayor of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Tickell turned professional in 1986, immediately entering a busy touring schedule throughout Britain and abroad, as well as recording her second album, Borderlands, which was the first recording to include her own compositions.

In 1987 a TV documentary, The Long Tradition (Channel 4), chronicled her musical development and background. This was broadcast in December 1987 and released on video in 1989.

She continued touring throughout the world both solo and with The Kathryn Tickell Band, which she formed in 1990. As of 2005, the band consisted of her father's stepson Peter Tickell (fiddle), Julian Sutton (melodeon), Ian Stephenson (guitar, acoustic bass guitar), and herself (Northumbrian pipes and fiddle).

She has also composed music for two productions by Newcastle's Live Theatre, presented a series of programmes for BBC Radio 2 and TV programmes on music composition for Channel 4 Schools, recorded with the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, The Chieftains, Beth Nielson Chapman, The Boys of the Lough, Jimmy Nail, Linda Thompson, Alan Parsons, Andy Sheppard and many others. She also contributed to four Sting albums, as well as joining him to play live at Newcastle City Hall, Carnegie Hall and also on TV. She has also contributed music for the production music library Audio Network.

Two ex-members of the north-eastern traditional music group the High Level Ranters have appeared on her albums: Tom Gilfellon on On Kielder Side and Alistair Anderson on Borderlands (1986). The latter album included to a tribute to Wark football team.

Several other pipers have appeared on her albums: Troy Donockley on Debatable Lands, Patrick Molard on The Gathering and Martyn Bennett on Borderlands. Debatable Lands included "Our Kate", a composition by Kathryn Tickell dedicated to Catherine Cookson. Jazz saxophonist Andy Sheppard wrote a piece with her in 2001. It was premiered at the opening of the Gateshead Millennium Bridge.

In 1999 Tickell was awarded a bursary from the Britten-Pears Foundation to study composition with Judith Weir at Dartington International Summer School. The following year "Lordenshaws"—her piece for pipes and small ensemble—was premiered, toured and broadcast. The other major project of the year was her formation of Ensemble Mystical—a group including musicians from classical, jazz and folk backgrounds. The album Kathryn Tickell and Ensemble Mystical was released in the autumn and was followed by a sell out tour.

2001 saw Tickell touring Uganda, Canada, Italy, France and the UK. Collaboration with jazz saxophonist Andy Sheppard resulted in a major multi-media work which was premiered at the opening of the Gateshead Millennium Bridge. It was also released as a limited edition CD. In September 2001, she performed as part of the Last Night of the Proms celebrations, the first time the event had included traditional folk music. The performance was broadcast nationally and internationally.

In 2002, Tickell released her tenth album Back to the Hills, featuring solos, duets and trios in traditional style, as well as archive recordings of herself with Northumbrian shepherd and fiddle player Willie Taylor. She also founded Folkestra North, a project to develop young, talented musicians aged between 14 and 19, in which she remains involved as Artistic Director.

September 2004 saw the release of Air Dancing by the Kathryn Tickell Band, followed by another sell-out tour and she was awarded Musician of the Year at BBC Radio 2's Folk Awards.

In March 2006, the TV documentary Kathryn Tickell's Northumbria was broadcast on Channel 5, attracting an audience of 750,000. October 2006 saw the world premiere of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies' suite, Kettletoft Inn. This work was written for and dedicated to her "in admiration and respect for her work in making her home county come alive with a reawakened awareness of its own musical heritage, and of inexhaustible developments and transformations of its traditions." Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.[citation needed] 2006 also saw the release of two more albums: The Sky Didn’t Fall with Scottish harper/singer Corrina Hewat and Strange but True, an album featuring collaborations with many other artists throughout Tickell's career.

In 2008, Tickell and Kuljit Bhamra brought to fruition the SPNM's Folk From Here project, featuring work from new composers. Also, the BBC commissioned Tickell to compose a new work for London Sinfonietta, Muzsikas (Hungary) and Folkestra, premiered in July at The Proms.

In 2009, Tickell was presented with The Queen's Medal for Music, awarded to those deemed to have made an outstanding contribution to British music. She became Artistic Director of Folkworks, the folk development agency of the north east. The Nash Ensemble invited her to perform with them to celebrate the 75th birthday of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. Her continued work with Sting led to the release of If on a Winter's Night..., followed by performances in Europe and New York.

Tickell was granted two commissions in 2010: one to contribute to Alex Wilson's Compass Suite for the first Summer Solstice festival at Canary Wharf in June; and the other to compose a piece for pipes and piano for Joanna MacGregor. This led to a further commission in 2011: to compose new work and curate a programme for Bath International Festival with McGregor. Later that year, Tickell went on to curate the programme, present and perform at BBC Proms Percy Grainger night, to great critical acclaim. She also developed a new touring show Northumbrian Voices, supported by the Arts Council of England and, following a hugely successful UK tour, she went on to release the double album Northumbrian Voices in 2012.

Also in 2012, Tickell composed Northumbrian Fantasia for the National Youth Orchestra, produced Jig Hop, composing for and performing with Folkestra and other artists for BT River of Music, part of the Cultural Olympiad. She continues to work with Sting on his music theatre show The Last Ship.

In 2013, Tickell won the prestigious Musician of the Year in BBC Radio 2's Folk Awards.

She was awarded the OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours of 2015,[4] for services to folk music.

Kathryn was awarded an Honorary Degree from The Open University for "Notable contribution to education and culture" [5]


  • On Kielder Side (1984)
  • From Sewingshields to Glendale (1986) compilation album with Alistair Anderson, Joe Hutton, Willy Taylor, Will Atkinson, Mike Tickell and others
  • Borderlands (1987)
  • Common Ground (1989)
  • The Kathryn Tickell Band (1991)
  • Signs (1993)
  • The Gathering (1997)
  • The Northumberland Collection (1998)
  • Debatable Lands (1999)
  • Ensemble Mystical (2000)
  • Music for a New Crossing (2001)
  • Back to the Hills (2002)
  • Air Dancing (2004)
  • The Sky Didn't Fall (2006)
  • Strange But True (2006)
  • Instrumental (2007)
  • Durham Concerto (2008, with Jon Lord)
  • What We Do (2008, with Peter Tickell)
  • Northumbrian Voices (2012)[6]
  • Kathryn Tickell & The Side (2014)


  1. ^ a b Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 282. ISBN 1-904041-96-5. 
  2. ^ Lancasterukonline.net
  3. ^ Kathryntickell.com
  4. ^ Kathryn's award in the Queen's Birthday Honours, http://www.kathryntickell.com/news/2015-06-12/kathryns-award-in-the-queens-birthday-honours, retrieved on 13 June 2015
  5. ^ Presentation of Graduates and Conferment of Honorary Degrees 2015, http://www.open.ac.uk/students/ceremonies/files/ceremonies/file/2015%20directory.pdf
  6. ^ "Interview: Kathryn Tickell – Northumbrian Voices". Folk Radio UK. 18 September 2012. Retrieved 18 September 2012. 

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