Pill PilotsPill Pilots was released at the end of February. “This is good”, I was told. Kit Hawes and Aaron Catlow are new to me (I’m slightly ashamed to say this given their obvious talent and the range of people they’ve worked with), but the thing I would reiterate to anyone reading this review is that introductory comment, “This is good”.

Pill Pilots is the follow up to a 2016 debut, The Fox. Their music is UK-traditional and Mark Radcliffe has described them as reminiscent of Carthy and Swarbrick. That should give you a feel for their genre: fiddle, guitar and vocal.

Better still, listen to the video below. ‘I Know My Love’ has its roots in Ireland and this version has been inspired by time the duo spent playing with Appalachian musicians while on tour. If you wanted to introduce a passing Martian to UK guitar and fiddle music, you could do far worse than show them this – and the guitar workshop you can see in the background only adds to the ambience.

The album continues with ‘The Yellow Handkerchief’ (you might know it as ‘Flash Company’). The treatment is slow and designed to sound like back room of a pub. It’s rather nice. Similarly, ‘Hard Times of Old England’ teases the violin and the guitar picking together in this 18th or 19th century tale of economic hardship, the song having been chosen for its contemporary relevance. ‘The Sheepfold’, like ‘Yellow Handkerchief’, owes its steady tempo to singers across the tradition, but both have particular links to the singing of Phoebe Smith and the Gypsy heritage.

‘Pill Pilots’, the title track, was written by Aaron Catlow and takes its name from highly skilled mariners (initially from the village of Pill, I gather) who have guided ships through the Bristol Channel and the river Avon for hundreds of years. If, like me, you don’t really know the west of the country, then my reading tells me it’s a calling akin to the Humber pilots on the east (and no doubt others on other dangerous estuaries around the UK). The song chronicles a battle between the Pilots and the crew of a newly arrived steam tug. Musically, as well as thematically, this modern song fits well with the traditional music around it.

Likewise, ‘Kellaways’ and ‘The Warreners’ are tunes written and arranged by the duo which align well to the traditional ‘Hacky Honey/Lads of Alnwick’ which close the album.

So…. when we are allowed out to go to concerts again, if you want to introduce your passing Martians to the way in which modern music builds on the music of older times, or to the hear skilled interplay between guitar and fiddle, you might have been thinking about taking them to see, say, Hayes & Cahill or Dobres & Schryer. Add Kit Hawes and Aaron Catlow to the list.

In the meantime, until we can go to gigs again, Pill Pilots is well worth a listen or few.

Mike Wistow

Artist’s website:

‘I Know My Love’ – live: