Not The Anderson Twins: Alistair Anderson vs Ian A Anderson
Alistair Anderson and Ian A Anderson in a double header concert or festival set where 50 years of deathfolk, blues, psych-folk, trad & world twang meets 50 years of up close and personal Northumbrian Music. Each performs their own solo set before culminating in new collaborations between these two master musicians.
English Concertina and Northumbrian Smallpipes
Internationally acknowledged as a master of the English Concertina and a leading performer on the Northumbrian Pipes, Alistair Anderson has appeared on TV, radio and the concert platform across the world and has recorded and performed with artists ranging from Kate Bush to the Lindsay String Quartet, from Nigel Kennedy to John Williams from the Northern Sinfonia to the Singapore Chinese Orchestra and recently appeared on Richard Thompson’s 70th birthday party at the Albert Hall.
Alistair grew up in Wallsend in industrial Tyneside and discovered a concertina when he was just turning 16. Self taught, he was hugely influenced by Northumbrian musicians of previous generations.
He was fortunate that a teacher at school knew the great Northumbrian piper Billy Pigg and took Anderson to rural Northumberland to meet him. Although Alistair only knew him for 4 years, before Billy’s untimely death, it was a friendship that changed Anderson’s life. Alistair went on to spend the best part of 30 years playing with other musicians of that generation especially Joe Hutton (Northumbrian pipes), Willy Taylor (fiddle), and Will Atkinson (harmonica).
Alistair performed with the influential band The High Level Ranters from 1964 till 1978 but started performing as a soloist in the late 60s and gave up his teaching job to concentrate on music in the early 70s. As well as establishing his career as a soloist with tours throughout Europe and North America, Anderson was painfully aware that very few people had had the opportunity to hear Billy Pigg play live. He became determined that more should hear the wonderful musicianship of Will, Willy and Joe so started taking them to festivals and concerts. They thoroughly enjoyed playing to, what for them was a new audience, and their families said it gave them a new lease of life. They certainly influenced a whole new generation of musicians across the country.
Billy Pigg, Will Atkinson and Willy Taylor all wrote new tunes and Anderson continues that tradition writing some tunes which fit close to the existing tradition and some more expansive pieces which, while obviously rooted in the tradition, are something other than “Traditional Music.”
His first extended composition – Steel Skies 1982 – led to him being asked to run a folk element within South Bank Summer Music under the overall direction of Simon Rattle and later John Williams. The success of that festival led to him being approached by Northern Arts to take the initiative in supporting folk music in the region. Anderson set up Folkworks focusing on getting more young people involved in singing, playing and dancing. Gradually widening its scope to include all ages, Folkworks worked in schools, ran tours with associated workout days, published song and tune books and “how to” guides and set up a series of Summer Schools which continue to this day. Several of today’s leading performers went to those Summer Schools as youngsters. Eventually more and more of the young people coming through the Summers Schools were looking for degree level learning in this field and persuaded Anderson to set up England’s first degree course in folk and traditional music at Newcastle University. Although he has handed on his responsibilities there to the next generation he frequently returns to teach the current students.
Throughout the busy years of Folkworks and Sage Gateshead, Anderson continued to perform and compose. He was commissioned to write a piece for string quartet and concertina by the Lindsay String Quartet and toured the piece, “On Cheviot Hills”, across the north both with the Lindsays and later with a quartet from the Royal Northern Sinfonia. Bath International Festival commissioned Anderson and jazz trombonist Annie Whitehead to create new music for a mixed folk and jazz ensemble while the Singapore Chinese Orchestra commissioned 2 works for concertina and a small ensemble of Chinese instruments. In 2014 Anderson composed music for the PRS New Music Biennial. Other compositions include “A Lindisfarne Gospel” commissioned by the Holy island Partnership and performed across the north including Holy Island and Durham Cathedral. He created music for Northern Stage productions of “Juno and the Paycock” and “Blood Wedding” and worked with the poet, Katrina Porteous to create a piece of music theatre based round the ballad of Tam Linn.
Alistair toured USA extensively in the 70s and 80s and he met some of the great names in Blues – Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and Memphis Slim. So, although his first love remains the music of Northumberland and the Borders, he has a fascination for the blues and is really looking forward to sharing the evening with Ian and his uniquely English approach to Blues related music.
Ian A Anderson
Veteran old time trad English deathfolk blues, psych-folk & world twangist & singer Ian A Anderson has returned to solo gigs, mixing a huge variety of songs from his 50+ year career with fascinating anecdotery.
First inspired by ancient folk blues records, Ian A Anderson (no, not that one!) was caught up in the late 1960s blues boom, mentored by Alexis Korner and supported by radio DJs like John Peel. Following a series of indie-label EPs, his first proper album Stereo Death Breakdown came out on Liberty/UA in 1969 to coincide with a national tour on which Ian Anderson’s Country Blues Band supported US blues legend Mississippi Fred McDowell.
But then, performing regularly in key venues of the day like London’s celebrated Les Cousins and the Bristol Troubadour, he took a sideways swerve into what now gets called ‘psych folk’. He released 4 solo albums of original songs and tunes, 3 of them on Bristol’s legendary Village Thing label, and appeared at the very first Glastonbury festival.
By the mid-’70s he’d returned to folk, blues & roots material, but with his own English accent. His duo Hot Vultures with Maggie Holland (3 albums) toured extensively internationally as well as on the UK college circuit and at early folk festivals such as Cambridge. People from the emerging punk scene like a pre-Clash Joe Strummer could be found alongside folk fans in their audiences. They were among the few ’70s UK folk artists to have an LP released in the USA.
Entering the 1980s, he teamed up with some notable English traditional folk musicians in The English Country Blues Band (2 albums), noisy dance band Tiger Moth (2 albums) and its world music influenced big-band recording offshoot Orchestre Super Moth. Then, for most of the ’90s, he took a long break from live performances while he concentrated on broadcasting, producing records and other music-related activities.
Everything changed again in the 21st century. From 2004-2006, Tiger Moth re-formed for festivals like WOMAD, Sidmouth and The Big Chill. Then, following a command performance for folk legend Shirley Collins – who had helped uncover the fact that Ian’s great grandmother had been a source for songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1904! – Blue Blokes 3, an impromptu trio with PiL’s Lu Edmonds and 3 Mustaphas 3’s Ben Mandelson, were invited to make an album and toured nationally. After this he and Mandelson continued recording and live dates as the duo The False Beards, and in 2016 Hot Vultures re-united for a successful summer tour, shining at folk festivals including Sidmouth, Priddy and Shrewsbury.
Re-enthused, in 2017 Ian decided to try a few solo gigs again for the first time in 45 years, “to scare myself.” They actually turned out rather well, so he continued, including returning to first principles with the entirely solo acoustic release Deathfolk Blues Revisited. 2019’s Onwards!, the first ever compilation to range across his entire musical career, highlights his startlingly varied recorded output, which will probably surprise both newcomers and those who only know a part of it.
So now he’s greatly enjoying performing and recording solo again, with repertoire and informal anecdotes drawn from across those 50+ years of experience. And most recently he’s also forged an unlikely but very effective double-header gig partnership with Northumbrian traditional music master Alistair Anderson, billed as Not The Anderson Twins!