Kathryn Tickell: ‘A lot of musicians have made great use of lockdown, I’m not one of them’

Kathryn Tickell’s excitement is palpable down the phone from her home in Northumberland. For the first time more than 16 months she has gigs in her diary – and next week two of them are due to take place on the same day at Ryedale Festival.

Kathryn Tickell. Picture: Tony Mac/Killerimage.co.uk

“It’s been such a long time,” says the 54-year-old renowned as Britain’s leading exponent of the Northumbrian smallpipes, adding that she has found the lack of live shows since March 2020 “really disorientating and hard”.

“It’s not just a job, it’s part of who you are, really,” she explains.

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On July 27 Tickell will be playing at the Milton Rooms in Malton with her friend and longtime bandmate, Amy Thatcher. “She’s a fantastic accordionist and clog dancer and she’s writing some great tunes as well, so I’m looking forward to all of it,” she says. “I’m even looking forward to the journey down, being in the van, the whole thing.”

Tickell first spotted Thatcher’s performing talents while she was still at school. “I was doing a project in her school and thought ‘That’s one to watch’, and well, here we are years later,” she chuckles.

The idea of playing two shows in one day came about from the need for the audience to socially distance. “They couldn’t get everybody in one concert as they normally would, but instead of doing one concert in two halves, we’re doing two longer concerts with no interval, so half the audience will come to each of them. We’ll still have the same amount of people but just in two showings I suppose in the cinematic term.

“We might do the same programme in both shows or we might not, we’ll see how it goes. Certainly some of it will be the same, but I always like to leave a little bit of leeway in case you feel the urge to play something different or react to something that’s happening.”

The set will include “a lot of new tunes but in a traditional style”, she says. “During lockdown, both Amy and I have found ourselves strangely going back to some of the earlier tunes, things that we played on when we were kids. I don’t know if it was looking for comfort in some way or looking back to a time that felt safe to you. These are tunes we wouldn’t normally have played onstage but we’re actually going to play a couple of those.

“They might be simple but they’re so full of meaning and memory and they’re beautiful tunes. I don’t think it’s all about let’s play the fastest, most impressive thing or the slowest, most dramatic thing. Sometimes you just want to play the tune that is actually so full of meaning for you.”

Initially during lockdown, Tickell says she “completely went into hibernation, there was nothing creative going on in my head”, but latterly, inspired by “the thought that we may get to play together again”, she has found herself “full of ideas” for a follow-up to her 2019 album Hollowbone. “It’s a great relief, and also it feels like me again,” she says. “A lot of musicians have made great use of lockdown; I’m not one of them. I want to play with real musicians in the same room to an audience, that’s what it’s all about for me. When that was taken away I didn’t want to engage with music until we could be in that situation with real people again.”

Ryedale Festival runs until July 31 at various venues. For full programme details visit ryedalefestival.com