Kathryn Tickell (credit Tony MacAnaney)
Kathryn Tickell (credit Tony MacAnaney)

Kathryn Tickell is the foremost exponent of the Northumbrian pipes, a composer, performer and successful recording artist whose work is deeply rooted in the landscape and people of Northumbria.

Kathryn was awarded the OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, 2015. The OBE recognises her extraordinary career which began with learning tunes from old shepherd friends and evolved to traverse genres from jazz and world music to large-scale orchestral works. Exploring and cultivating her bountiful native heritage of Northumberland have been a constant throughout.

Kathryn is currently recording and touring with her folk-classical ensemble The Side, comprising Louisa Tuck (cello), Ruth Wall (harp) and Amy Thatcher (accordion, clog dancing). The Side first toured the UK in autumn 2013.  Support from the PRS for Music Foundation enabled Kathryn to write and commision new work. The quartet's debut album was released in September 2014 followed by UK touring. Early 2015 saw them play concert hall dates at the Berliner Philharmoniker and Luxembourg Philharmonie, followed by further UK touring and summer festivals.

On her home ground, Kathryn is the founder of The Young Musicians Fund at the Community Foundation, which has raised over £100,000 for young people in the North East. The fund has built an endowment which will make grants to young musicians in the North East in perpetuity. The Fund is held by the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland. More details at Kathryn’s “Just Giving” page. In 2015 Kathryn also became a Deputy Lieutenant of Northumberland.

In 2013 Kathryn was awarded "Musician of the Year" in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. Her album "Northumbrian Voices" won "Best Traditional Album" in the Spiral Earth Awards, voted for by the public. Kathryn initiated and was Artistic Director for "The Festival of the North East", a celebration of arts across the region. Included in the programme was "One Night in Gateshead" where Kathryn's new pieces for Royal Northern Sinfonia were premiered; this night also saw the premiere performance by The Side. Kathryn also worked closely with Live Theatre as Musical Director for a new play "Tyne", performed in June and July, with further successful runs at Theatre Royal Newcastle and the Customs House South Shields in March 2014. Ongoing collaboration with Sting resulted in her performing in the theatre music show "The Last Ship" at The Public Theatre, New York in autumn 2013. She continues to be involved in the development of the material.

Northumbrian Voices (credit Shaun Bloodworth)
Northumbrian Voices (credit Shaun Bloodworth)

Kathryn works collaboratively across many genres, making her work contemporary and exciting. In 2009, she was presented with The Queen's Medal for Music, awarded to those deemed to have made an outstanding contribution to British music. Kathryn was granted two commissions in 2010: to contribute to Alex Wilson’s "Compass Suite" for the first Summer Solstice festival at Canary Wharf in June, and to compose a piece for pipes and piano, for Joanna MacGregor. This led to a further commission in 2011: to compose new work and curate a programme for Bath International Festival with Joanna. Later that year, Kathryn went on to curate, present and perform in a BBC Proms Percy Grainger night, to great critical acclaim. Kathryn also developed her music-theatre show "Northumbrian Voices", supported by the Arts Council of England, and following a hugely successful UK tour went on to release the double album "Northumbrian Voices" in 2012.

New compositions by Kathryn in 2012 included "Northumbrian Fantasia" for the National Youth Orchestra. She also produced "Jig Hop", composing for and performing with Folkestra and other artists for BT River of Music, part of the Cultural Olympiad.

A brief history...

Kathryn first took up the Northumbrian smallpipes at the age of nine, inspired by her family and by the music of an older generation of traditional musicians such as Willie Taylor, Will Atkinson, Joe Hutton, Richard Moscrop, Billy Pigg and Tom Hunter.

Kathryn Tickell (credit Tony MacAnaney)
Kathryn Tickell (credit Tony MacAnaney)

Landscape, weather and the stories of the people that lived and worked in rural Northumberland were part of her childhood. Kathryn’s personal evocation of this is heard through the traditional tunes and songs that she brings to audiences all over the world. She has released 15 of her own albums to date and has also recorded and performed with Sting, The Chieftains, The Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Evelyn Glennie, Andy Sheppard and many others.

Her first album, "On Kielder Side", was released at the age of sixteen, in 1984. In the same year she was named the official piper for the Lord Mayor of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Kathryn turned professional in 1986, immediately entering a busy touring schedule throughout Britain and abroad, as well as recording her second album, "Borderlands", which was the first recording to include her own compositions.

In 1987 a TV documentary, "The Long Tradition" (Channel 4), chronicled her musical development and background. This was broadcast in December 1987 and released on video in 1989.

Kathryn continued touring throughout the world both solo and with The Kathryn Tickell Band, which she formed in 1990. As of 2009, the band consisted of Peter Tickell (fiddle), Julian Sutton (melodeon), and Joss Clapp (guitar, acoustic bass guitar). She composed music for two productions by Newcastle's Live Theatre, presented a series of programmes for BBC Radio 2 and TV programmes on music composition for Channel 4 Schools. Kathryn also contributed to four Sting albums, as well as joining him to play live at Newcastle City Hall, Carnegie Hall and also on TV.

In 1999 Kathryn was awarded a bursary from the Britten-Pears Foundation to study composition with Judith Weir at Dartington International Summer School. The following year "Lordenshaws", Kathryn's piece for pipes and small ensemble, was premiered, toured and broadcast. The other major project of the year was "Ensemble Mystical" - an exciting new group set up by Kathryn and including musicians from classical, jazz and folk backgrounds. The album "Kathryn Tickell and Ensemble Mystical" was released in the autumn and was followed by a sell out tour.

2001 saw Kathryn touring Uganda, Canada, Italy, France and the UK. She performed as part of The Last Night of The Proms celebrations, the first time the event had included traditional folk music. That year she also wrote a piece with Jazz saxophonist Andy Sheppard, which premiered at the opening of the Gateshead Millennium Bridge.

In 2002 Tickell released her tenth album "Back To The Hills" and founded Folkestra, a project to develop young talented musicians aged between 14 and 19. She remains as Artistic Director of this dynamic and exciting young ensemble.

September 2004 saw the release of "Air Dancing" by the Kathryn Tickell Band, followed by another sell-out tour, and Kathryn was awarded "Musician of the Year" at BBC Radio 2's Folk Awards.

In March 2006 the TV documentary "Kathryn Tickell’s Northumbria" was broadcast on Channel 5, attracting an audience of 750,000. October 2006 saw the world premiere of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies' "Kettletoft Inn". This work was written for and dedicated to Kathryn “in admiration and respect for her work in making her home county come alive with a reawakened awareness of its own musical heritage, and of inexhaustible developments and transformations of its traditions.” Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.

2006 also saw the release of two more albums: "the sky didn’t fall" - with Scottish harper/singer Corrina Hewat, and "Strange but True", an album featuring collaborations with many other artists throughout Kathryn’s career.

2008: the fruition of spnm’s ‘Folk From Here’ project, led by Kathryn and Kuljit Bhamra, featured work from new composers. The BBC Proms commissioned Kathryn to compose a new work for London Sinfonietta, Muzsikas (Hungary) and Folkestra, premiered in July at The Proms.

2009 Kathryn became Artistic Director of Folkworks, the folk development agency of the north east, a role she fulfilled until 2013. Also in 2009 the Nash Ensemble invited her to perform with them to celebrate the 75th birthday of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. Her continued work with Sting led to the release of "If On A Winter's Night", followed by performances in Europe and New York.

“To say that Kathryn plays pipes is like saying that Shakespeare was a bit of a writer… one of the true stars of our music.”  Living Tradition

“I can’t remember feeling so exhilarated by such a match of music and landscape.” Richard Morrison, The Times

"...the best living advertisement for English folk music." The Daily Telegraph

“...possibly Kathryn’s most important album to date. Probably my album of the year.” Dai Jeffries, BBC Radio 2 Magazine (reviewing Northumbrian Voices).

Connect with Kathryn



Listen or download Kathryn’s back catalogue:

Kathryn Tickell: “Debateable Lands”


Kathryn Tickell & Corrina Hewat: “The Sky Didn’t Fall”


Kathryn Tickell & Peter Tickell: “What We Do”


Kathryn Tickell: “The Gathering”


The Kathryn Tickell Band: “Air Dancing”


Kathryn Tickell: “Northumbrian Voices”


Kathryn Tickell & The Side


Kathryn Tickell & Friends: “Northumberland Collection”


The Best of Kathryn Tickell