London Korean Links

Covering things Korean in London and beyond since 2006

Gig review: Kathryn Tickell + Black String

The performers enjoy their applause
The performers enjoy their applause at the end of the gig (photo: KCCUK)

After witnessing so many astounding gigs at Club Inegales, where musicians from different cultures come together to create new and unrepeatable sounds, it really should not surprise me when a collaboration that looks slightly weird on paper is actually a stunning success when it happens.

Collaboration, between Korean and British-based musicians, is one of the themes of this year’s K-Music Festival. And for the opening concert at the Union Chapel it was a collaboration at two levels, because the Korean contingent, Black String, is itself a fusion of traditional and modern instruments: geomungo, daegeum, electric guitar and percussion (both modern and traditional Korean). Their debut album for ACT, Mask Dance, was well received by the world music critics, and tracks from that disk were featured in the live set at the Union Chapel. They also have a great pedigree in collaborating with British musicians: their electrifying gig with saxophonist Tim Garland at the 2012 London Jazz Festival was shortlisted for LKL’s live performance of the year.

Black String + Kathryn TIckell
Black String + Kathryn TIckell live (photo: KCCUK)

Kathryn Tickell, someone I’ve been following for 30 years since she released her Borderlands LP, is a folk musician specialising in the sounds of Northumbria. For her K-Music debut she was joined on-stage by Amy Thatcher on accordion (and clogs) playing a selection of traditional and new tunes on the Northumbrian smallpipes and fiddle. Because of the timelessness of the melodies it was difficult to distinguish between old and new, but there was a nice personal touch when Tickell told us the story behind one of her tunes composed for her local village hall in Northumberland. The connection with real people is often what makes folk music so special.

The second set was played by Black String on their own. Before reading Tickell’s tweet about rehearsing with Black String I’d never really thought of it as loud, but during this set they certainly filled the venue with their music. Nothing like the earth-shattering, bone-shaking volumes that Jambinai can achieve in full flight, but a generous, enveloping sound.

Heo Yoon-jeong and Kathryn Tickell introduce the final set
Heo Yoon-jeong and Kathryn Tickell introduce the final set (photo: KCCUK)

The first two sets were good, but – as is the case at Club Inegales – it was in the third set that the sparks really began to fly as North-East met Far East for the first time before a live audience. The players started with Tickell’s repertoire and finished with Black String’s title track Mask Dance. Who on earth would have predicted that a Northumbrian reel, Stockport clog-dancing and Korean minyo would sound so good together?

Given that the musicians only had a day to rehearse together the results were remarkable, and the only sadness is that the session could not last longer. The audience understandably hoped that the standing ovation would encourage the performers to give us an encore. But the musicians had to head off to Broadcasting House where they had a date to perform on Tickell’s live world music show on BBC Radio 3 later that evening.

Black String at BBC
Black String in the BBC studios later that event (photo: Heo Yoon-jeong via Facebook)


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