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Art Of Cronshaw

Over the course of this magazine’s life, our readers have had reasonable opportunity to get the biographical low-down on Cronshaw. The story began unfolding back in October 1982 in this magazine’s forerunner, Southern Rag. Colin Irwin interviewed him for the March 1988 issue, as did I for March 1995. Opportunities to gain insights into Cronshaw’s creative process and musical development have been fewer. This is the story of his “several ‘slow Damascus moments’” and the milestones that led to the quietly wonderful, lapidary Ochre. With minimal biography.

Andrew Cronshaw was born in April 1949 in Lytham St Annes. Now, not far up the coast from quiet suburban St Annes, squats Blackpool, Lancashire’s notorious brash-trash seaside resort. How the teenager distinguished between the flash of a Damascene moment and the Blackpool Illuminations in a town that out-neons neon is hard to tell. (It may have been out of season.) But his first revelation happened in Blackpool. There in a tavern in the town was a folk club. Cronshaw had a colourful teacher called Mr Manger. “He was a very impressive character. Most of the other teachers were a bit suspicious of him. He played drums and the story was – he said and I had no reason to doubt him – that he’d played drums with the High Numbers, which was The Who. He told me there was a folk club in Blackpool and that a group called The Watersons were on. They didn’t show up because Lal [Waterson] was sick, but I was there and that was my first encounter with the idea of singing unaccompanied. That was a ‘moment’, going to Blackpool Folk Club and seeing people getting up and making music.” He pauses, then adds a coda, “And also discovering the immense attractiveness of people who did that.”

The next milestone came after arriving in Edinburgh – “very formative” – to study medicine, though he subsequently switched to psychology. It was 1967. “You go to university and you are an innocent abroad. In Edinburgh there were actually some people who had a link with the real thing, with the continuous tradition, with tinker music or whatever it happened to be. They were part of something and it was a living thing. I felt very callow and English. The whole folk club concept didn’t exist in Scotland. It was an English concept. But then Scotland had its own things to throw into the scene. It had Hamish Henderson who seized the opportunity and dropped people like Jeannie Robertson into it. You had touchstones. It wasn’t like a lovingly preserved thing. It was more natural. I saw what was happening in Scotland and looked back to England. I realised that it wasn’t the same.”

Cronshaw acquired a laúd, a Spanish lute. “It was more interesting than a guitar. It made me slightly less callow.” This period around 1967 and 1968 sparked the beginnings of his abiding interest in Galician culture, reinforced by purchasing an EP by a group called Coral “de ruada” de Orense whilst on holiday there. Laúd was a musical cul-de-sac. Nevertheless it was a step towards individuality. By the time he arrived in Edinburgh, people such as Bert Jansch and Robin Williamson had gone. What they left behind was a legacy of benchmarks of excellence and imagination. Their proxy next of kin were people like Dick Gaughan and Rab Noakes. Plus they laid down the gauntlet, challenging the new crew to take the scene to new heights. “There were very, very good players,” he continues. “Some became known. Some didn’t. They weren’t widdly guitar players. They were very strong. I hadn’t encountered guitar playing like that in Blackpool. People like Rab Noakes and Dick Gaughan were magnetic performers, very much in another league, not that they had recorded. Gaughan didn’t make an album until the Dransfields [Robin and Barry Dransfield] found him in Edinburgh and he made a record for Bill Leader. But that was a year or two later. It must’ve taken me a year to figure out what the hell was going on.”

fRom fRoots 264, June 2005


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