Billy Pigg: Northumbrian piper

There were two things Janey Little loved best in the world: music and books, and not necessarily in that order. Her favorite musician was the late Billy Pigg, the Northumbrian piper from the northeast of England whose playing had inspired her to take up the small pipes herself as her principal instrument. From the opening paragraph of Charles de Lint‘s The Little Country

That’s Billy Pigg playing on the sound system, and we’ve got a case of Northumbrian Brown Ale at hand for drinking on this bitter midwinter day, so let’s get started…

So you haven’t heard of Billy Pigg, the Northumbrian piper who was one reason Janey Little became a musician in The Little Country?

Well go read this review of his biography, A.D. Schofield and J. Say’s Billy Pigg: The Border Minstrel. That review also looms at The Rough Guide to English Roots Music which also has music by Mr. Pigg on it.

You can get into a spirited discussion over the matter of Northumbrian music being English or Celtic. I hold that is neither but rather forms a distinct tradition unto itself. Others such as Jack Merry claim it’s more Scottish than English.

It is worth noted that there is now, after years of most of his music save that with the High Level Ranters, there is now which is called The Border Minstrel and it is a collection of live performances, some in concert, but mostly recorded at Pigg’s home. If you love the sound of Border piping, you’ll definately want to hear these tunes.

Finally you should check out the work of piper/ fiddler Kathryn Tickell as she learned her trade from the group of musicians that included Billy Pigg among them. I think her early album, Borderlands, most clearly shows the influence of Billy Pigg upon her style but her later work such as Strange but True which was her fourteenth (!) album shows her to still be mindlful of long held piping traditions.

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