Interview: Kathryn Tickell on Magnetic North East | Living North

Interview: Kathryn Tickell on Magnetic North East


Kathryn Tickell with red hair and striped jacket
Ahead of the second Magnetic North East concert at Sage Gateshead on 10 November, we spoke to Kathryn Tickell about the North East’s cultural heritage and future

What motivates you to put on the Magnetic North East concerts?
We haven’t had enough celebration of our heritage in the North East. That’s part of the reason Magnetic North East exists. There’s so much musically in the North East and quite often you do tend to get a Northumbrian piping concert or various sections, but I wanted to do something where you got a good cross-section, so it’s not just the very traditional music. We’re not just looking backwards – we’re looking forward. 

How do you look forward?
There’s always new material involved and new collaborations. Last year we had Paul Smith from Maximo Park coming in and the whole point was he didn’t just come in and sing what he normally would; he learned a folk song as well and performed it in his own style. We’ve continued that this year with The Lake Poets’ Martin Longstaff. A lot of his work is about the North East anyway. He’s also learned a folk song, and it’s particularly poignant because the one he’s learned is called Land of Three Rivers and it was written by Vin Garbutt, who was a folk singer from Teesside who died earlier this year. We’d been hoping Vin might come to the concert, because at this concert we’re launching this amazing anthology of North East writing and poetry from Bloodaxe Books. It’s called Land of Three Rivers and it’s got Vin’s song in it. We were hoping Vin would come and sing it, but sadly he died. It turns out that Martin, when he was a child, his parents used to take him to see Vin and he said he’d be honoured to learn that and sing it and hope to do Vin proud.

It seems the North East has a stronger folk music heritage than elsewhere. Why is that?
I think with the tunes, a lot of them have survived in very isolated rural areas, where the communities have been quite insular. That can be a negative thing in many ways, but that insularity might be why the music stayed there so long. The people I learned from when I was a young child were all from those rural, shepherding and farming, Northumbrian backgrounds. As for the songs, I think partly it’s because we’re so far from London that some of the more political pit songs had more of a chance to thrive and flourish, but also the fact that we have the rivers is very important. There’s a type of song called the Tyneside song, which is kind of a music hall one, the ones everyone would know – Cushy Butterfield and the Blaydon Races, that kind of thing. 

Why is it important to combine poetry with song and other forms of art?
I was brought up listening to poetry. My granddad loved poems, but it wasn’t a posh poetry reading. He was a County Durham miner. These weren’t people who studied poetry; they just loved it and it was very much part of their lives. It goes back to that time when everybody had a party piece they could do. It was what people did.

Why do you think this kind of entertainment is still popular today?
I think the people of the North East, from what I can see, like to know that where they’re from has this heritage. It’s something to be proud of. I’m hoping they come out and support it.

Magnetic North East returns to Sage Gateshead on 10 November at 7.30pm, with Kathryn Tickell and special guests The Lake Poets and Baltic Crossing. Tickets are available from or by calling 0191 443 4661.

Published in: October 2017

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