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Art Of Cronshaw

Andrew Cronshaw
Photo: Alexander Brattell
Down the line, things occurred to him as have probably occurred to many fRoots readers. “In our approach to folk music in a post-traditional society,” he says, “we choose our traditions and cultures in European cultures as a whole. We choose to place traditional-type music there or choose not to. If you’re brought up in Senegal, for example, there’s a tremendous pressure from the music around you. Of course, there’s Michael Jackson and stuff, but there’s a lot of music that’s highly Africanised or traditional. For us, it isn’t like that. You don’t turn the radio on and hear anything that’s identifiably tradition-rooted. Generally speaking, until recently. That’s partly because we’ve closed our eyes to the real singers in our culture who are storytellers and bards – people like Jarvis Cocker, Ray Davies or the Beatles who are absolutely at the heart of our culture.”

Re-reading some of his post-A Is For Andrew, Z Is For Zither press, reveals a stultifying paucity of imagination and a mind-bending reliance on repetition. Much like Richard Thompson’s ‘doom and gloom’ millstone, Cronshaw had his personal set of clichés in which combinations like ‘mad professor’ and ‘bizarre talents’ loomed large. My memory of A Is For Andrew, Z Is For Zither is vague now; in my mind’s ear it sounds tentative, but by the beginning of the 1980s Cronshaw’s music was deeply melodic. There was a true elegance to the plot twists and turns and a logicality to his musical resolutions. It made both emotional and intellectual sense.

Another Damascene moment occurred when he went to Finland and spent time seeing what the Finns were doing: “…which was studying [traditional music] and filling themselves with it. Again it wasn’t everywhere but there were places of intense tradition. People went to the Sibelius Academy and they sank themselves in it, with the idea of by deep study of the tradition, making the music of the future. Once they’ve done that for like a nominal six or eight years everything they make is conditioned by that immersion. They can’t help that. Their musical perception has been changed. They can go off and do avant-garde music, pop music or whatever. That’s what the Academy wants them to do, that’s precisely what they should do, because that work will be imbued by the past and it will be part of a tradition. It’s conditioning young enthusiastic people and giving them the confidence and time to live in the tradition. Until recently we didn’t have that in Britain.”

In 1905, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote in Das Stunden Buch (The Book Of Hours), “I live my life in growing rings that move out over the things around me”. It was a simple, poetic image reworked and updated in my main essay for June Tabor’s Always where I wrote, “Working with Andrew Cronshaw brought her into an expanding yet interconnected circle of musicians, actually more like some complex Venn diagram of overlapping circles.” In 1967 that bunch of four Canadians and one token American, whose work Dickson, Noakes and Fisher had tackled, put together their debut album, Music From Big Pink. The Band’s music also had an aura of community and family cohesion to it (carefully propagated by their press people). The Band participated in some fascinating side-projects with the Bauls Of Bengal and, of course, Dylan – though fortunately there is no Last Waltz-like, wheel-on-another-guest episode in the Cronshaw narrative.

fRom fRoots 264, June 2005


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