The music traditions of Northumberland, a small region in northeast England that borders Scotland, have been promoted by English concertina and smallpipe player Alistair Anderson. A founding member of the High Level Ranters, the group most associated with the revival of Northumberland music in the 1970s, Anderson has continued to explore the music of his homeland as a soloist.
Anderson's involvement with music was inspired by childhood friend and future Boys of the Lough member Dave Richardson, who played blues harmonica. Acquiring a guitar and teaching himself six chords, Anderson was soon able to accompany Richardson.
Influenced by the American folk music of the 1960s, Anderson taught himself to play his father's mandolin and began frequenting folk clubs. After buying a concertina for five pounds, he gave the mandolin to Richardson. Influenced by the bagpipe playing of Billy Pigg, he developed a unique, melodic style of playing that worked well with traditional dance music.
While hanging out at the Bridge Folk Club at the north end of High Level Bridge in Newcastle, Anderson became friends with accordion player Johnny Handle and piper and fiddler Colin Ross, who managed the club. When the club launched a weekly dance night, Anderson played with the band, which soon evolved into the High Level Ranters. Their debut album, Northumberland For Ever, was released in 1968.
Between 1971 and 1979, when he left the band, Anderson balanced his involvement with the High Level Ranters and his solo career. Although he continued to explore the music of Northumberland, he increasingly forged his own direction. The title track of his 1982 album, Steel Skies, was an original, extended, classical-tinged suite.
In 1974, Anderson began playing the Northumbrian smallpipe, a bellows-blown, two-octave, closed-end bagpipe known for its bright, staccato tones.
Moving to North Northumberland, Anderson became associated with the Shephards, a group that played national events throughout England from 1980 to 1995. He remained active behind the scenes as well. In addition to founding the Rothbury Traditional Music Festival, he helped to form Folkworks, a folk music development agency that has produced numerous festivals and workshops. ~ Craig Harris