|Review - TheWansbeck
The Living Tradition
There's a famous American comedian who once said that it
was impossible to be sad while playing the banjo. In the case of Pauline Cato,
the same must be true of the Northumbrian small pipes. From her cheery grin on
the cover to the bubbling sound of her pipes on the disc she evidently has a
grand time making music. Even the laments have something less of a mournful
tinge, dwelling as she does on the graceful, sweet melodies rather than the
sadness which caused them to be written. The greater part of this recording is
unaccompanied piping of traditional-style tunes. Rather than exploring the
realm of avant garde music, Cato extends the boundaries of the instrument by
playing in unusual keys. She plays duets with herself and has several nice
variations worked out, including some of the challenging jig "Random" by James
accompanied on a few tracks by keyboardist Stephan Whitlan. Bassist Pete
Charlesworth joins them on "The Wild Hills O' Wannies", a slow, reflective
tune. On this cut, the bass and keyboard provide a subtle background for the
swooping, fluid melody. This track is followed in short order by a delightful
pair of polkas which shift the mood back to the bouncy lightheartedness which
permeates the disc. My favourite selection is number 13, which pairs the Pigg
tune "Wallinton Hall" with "The Locomotive" by Hill. The first is stately and
the second, good humoured, sneakily picking up speed as it goes along. Both
have nicely composed seconds by D.J. Hobbs. This is a brilliant first album by
a young piper with a great deal of talent. It may be hard to find a copy of
this recording in the shops, but it's well worth the effort.
|Review - TheWansbeck
The Bagpipe Society Newsletter, October 1992
Just as I was about to close the file on this edition of the
Newsletter, through my letterbox dropped a package containing a cassette and a
nice little note saying please review me. My first reaction was sod it, it'll
have to wait till the next issue. Then I played it. Ah, I thought, this one's
just to good to be kept from the bagpipe-listening masses for such a long time.
Doubtless by now you will have heard of Pauline Cato,
the latest brilliant young player from Northumberland to hit the Folk scene.
Young she may be, but Pauline has been playing for 9 years and was winning solo
piping competitions back in 1985; she also was first recorded along with Colin
Ross (her pipemaker) and Adrian Schofield in 1988 as the group Border Spirit.
Some of you may have been lucky enough to catch her playing briefly at the
Beverley Bagpipe Convention.
The is her first solo (though there's unobtrusive
accompaniment on some tracks) album and an excellent job she has made of it.
The sound quality is excellent, and the whole job has been professionally
produced with full sleeve notes and a full colour cover. The fine full rich
cound of Pauline's pipes on this recording is a tribute to her playing, to
pipemaker Colin Ross and to the JD recording studio in
There's something about Pauline's playing that I find hard to
describe. Adjectives such as spirited, uplifting, vivacious spring to mind but
they're about as useful as the pretentious twaddle that wine experts spout when
attempting to describe a particularly fine wine. And as with wine, the only way
you'll ever know what's meant is to go and taste the product for yourself.
During the course of this album she gets through a
bewildering range of keys, modes and drone settings, all of which, coupled with
a sensible balance of tempos, help to keep you wanting more instead of falling
into the aural lethargy that so often comes with solo piping records. I think
she's well aware of this danger because, as well as the above tricks, she
judiciously calls on the help of a couple of friends (Stephan Whitlan,
keyboards and Pete Charlesworth, fretless bass) to provide a bit of delicate
background. I particularly like the use of such accompaniment on Billy Pigg's
The Wild Hills of Wannies where the use of these other instruments, plus
the careful application of reverb, create a spine tingling ambience.
Pauline occasionally uses those arrangements that only seem
possible on closed-fingering pipes whereby the ear is conned into thinking
there's a second piper playing - you can sometimes hear the same effect on the
Dudy, another closed-fingering pipe. One such example is Remember Me.
There's also actual double-tracking on Wallington Hall and The
Locomotive where the 'second' piper begins in strict unison then moves on
to an interesting counter-melody. As with all the other tricks on this album,
it's used sparingly, leaving the punter wanting more - a wise move, I
While this album contains a fair few of the de rigeur
arpeggiological fireworks of which Northumbrian pipers are so fond, there's
also a lot of extremely plain playing that is, quite simply, a joy to listen
to. The ability to play a tune simply yet satisfyingly is surely the mark of a
true master (mistress?).
There are lots of goodies on this album: old favourites like
The Carrick Hornpipe and Happy Hours; new stuff (to me, anyway)
like The Acrobat and The Locomotive. The moods range from the
sombre (Lament for Ian Dickson) to the bright and cheerful (Bluebell
Polka). This latter, by the way, I've always considered to be a bit naff,
especially on bagpipes. No longer - it's my favourite on the whole album!
I have to say that, although I've been listening to and
enjoying the Northumbrian Smallpipes for many a long year now, I'm no authority
on the beast. As a result, I'd originally planned to pass this one on to
somebody else who could do it more justice. The trouble was that, once played,
I simply couldn't bear to part with it. I reckon it could well have the same
effect on you.