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Review: Big Music for Northumbrian Smallpipes by Dick Hensold

Let me start by admitting that I’ve never been a big fan of the Northumbrian smallpipes - and I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s the staccato style of playing resulting from the closed fingering, or maybe it’s the style of music that I can’t get along with. Then again it may just be psychological - me being a Middlesbrough lad and despite the Borough being distinctly part of the North East, being brought up constantly being told you’re not a proper Geordie…

Well anyway, apart from a few albums

by Pauline Cato and a compilation album of old

stuff - Billy Pigg, Forster Charlton and the like

  • my collection of piping CDs is particularly

lacking in Northumbrian smallpipes. This

album, however, the latest by Dick Hensold,

has been a bit of an eye-opener for me. I have to say I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to it - repeatedly.

I got the CD when someone contacted me from Minnesota wanting a copy of my own CD but being unable to pay via the internet. I suggested a swap - she could have mine if she could send me an American bagpipe CD. As she was going to a Dick Hensold concert, that was what she suggested - and what a good thing that was. Dick, of course was a guest performer at the Blowout in 2008 so I knew more or less what it would be like. What I hadn’t anticipated was the variety of instrumentation on the album and the quality of the arrangements.

Dick tells us: “This album was born out of my

love for the sound of the Northumbrian smallpipes, and for traditional music. But it also reflects a desire to play new (and bigger!) music on the pipes, as well as play them in groups, and compose and arrange for them - all while combining traditional and 18th century musical styles.”

All I can say is -

mission accomplished! There is a mixture here of Dick’s own tunes and traditional ones from for example the Dixon manuscript as well as a number of Scottish tunes. A couple of tracks have piano accompaniment giving them a distinctly Cape Breton feel - as intended.

Overall I think I prefer Dick’s own compositions to the more traditional ones, such as ‘Zoe Cansdale of Hartburn’, an ensemble piece for smallpipes plus harp, flute, guitar, violin, viola and cello. Least favourite tracks include ‘My Ain Kind Dearie’ with variations for solo smallpipes (and which at eight and a half minutes long is just way too much of a good thing for me…) and ‘Rheung Knome Jop Hai’ a Cambodian pop tune which has Dick accompanied by Cambodean hammered dulcimer and electronic keyboards. Although a nice piece in itself, I thought it just didn’t work here - too much of a contrast to the other tracks, I suppose.

All in all, however, I thoroughly recommend this album. You can get hold of it from Dicks website - -