One often unacknowledged consequence of the technological developments that have made recording and CD production so readily available is that control over not just content but presentation is now in the hands of the recording artist. As a result a CD today can be more akin to a personal meeting with a performer than a recording of their repertoire and ability. In short a CD these days can be a much more human object.

This recording by Durham-based piper Paul Martin is a fine example. It is named after his horse (whose portrait appears on the cover of the insert) and includes a windswept moor of a tune, written by Paul, called ‘Nine Miles to Bailey’, ‘which commemorates the feeling of after riding through the Border County and sleeping rough for three nights reaching what was thought to be our destination (beer and food) and discovering there was another nine miles to go’. I take it that the ‘our’ in question comprised Paul and Blue. We also get to meet Paul’s young son Loughlin, who gets a tune to accompany his bathtime; I particularly enjoyed this 11/8 tune, played by Paul on Low Whistle and it sounds like one-year-old Loughlin did too.
Blue also has his own tune, ‘Blue’s Buck’, a syncopated kind of mazurka which Paul says he named ‘after being on the receiving end of Blue’s springtime acrobatics’. Altogether, six of the twentynine tunes on this CD were written by Paul;  seventeen others are traditional bagpipe music, mostly from the border country, including ‘Cut and Dry Dolly’ (Dixon’s version, accompanied by accordion, a sound reminiscent of the Devonshire-based pipe-accordion duo Dave Faulkner and Steve Turner, though here perhaps a little heavy on the accordion drone), ‘Derwentwater’s Farewll’ (on an F set of Northumbrian Smallpipes with a fine fiddle accompanying them), ‘A Mile to Ride’, ‘Go to Berwick Johnny’ and ‘The Peacock Followed the Hen’ among others; one track is Julian Goodacre's ‘Whitwell Waltz’, one is by fiddler Nikki and the other four are Polish or Hungarian tunes. So although this is a recording of ‘border’ and small pipes, it is an inclusive collection.
Paul has come through the Highland pipe band journey (since age 12) to discover bellows pipes more recently and his playing shows the disciplined embellishment you might expect, sparsely used and to great effect, though in one or two places it’s a little hurried for my ear. His playing is most to my liking when he's accompanied by drum and tambourine as he is particularly in the ‘non-border’ tunes including two from Poland, one a majestic 14th century processional hymn, the other written by Paul in Poland (a highlight of the CD for me, this last tune). It would have been interesting to hear how the orthodox ‘border’ repertoire would have sounded if given a similar treatment; only on one brief tune (Neil Gow’s Wife’) does this happen; I would have enjoyed a lot more of this. That said, his playing of ’Holy Halfpenny’, the Northumbrian masterpiece (‘just like shelling peas'), on Scottish smallpipes in D, and of ‘More for Beauty than Gear’ from Joseph Barns’ Cumbrian manuscript, is exemplary.  
Closer inspection of the sleeve notes reveals that it is Paul multi-tracked playing percussion, trump and whistles on several of these multi-instrumental tracks (“I play and enjoy many styles of music … I can't resist picking up various instruments and trying to play them” he says on his my-space page).  He is joined, however, in various combinations, by Cas Martin on melodeon, Nikki Williamson on fiddle (her tune, ‘The Nutroast’, is another of my highlights), Simon Keegan-Phips on accordion and Dave Wisdom on Bouzouki, as well as Loughlin Martin on vocals.
It would have been good to have had a little more about the pipes; the notes say that Ian Corrigan at Deerness Pipes made them, and a process of testing helped me identify the keys, but it took an enquiry to Paul to learn that the Scottish Smallpipe chanter is keyed (c sharp, e, and f sharp), “but what you're hearing is probably the extra thumb hole round back of the chanter to give an f natural”.
There is a lot of great music here and the CD is well worth a good listen, not least by any lowland piper looking for   ways of using ornamentation in the border repertoire. Though the playing is accomplished, it’s all done with a lightness of touch; I left the CD playing in the drive while I began to think about this review, and was delighted to find that, long after his bedtime, Loughlin made another impromptu contribution, a nice moment to round of a thoroughly enjoyable recording.
Pete Stewart