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Andrew Cronshaw

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With either zither, English concertina or tin whistle in hand, the talented new-age-meets-folk musician ANDREW CRONSHAW is a slice of eccentricity one can easily afford. Never quite a prolific artist, although the early 70s brought forth his most profound works, AC has come a long, long way since his days at Edinburgh University reading psychology. Born 18 April 1949, Lytham St. Annes, Lancashire, he resigned his vox in favour of the unique dulcimer-like instrument, the electric zither.
Released on the ever-progressive folk imprint, Transatlantic Records offshoot Xtra, A IS FOR ANDREW, Z IS FOR ZITHER (1974) {*8}, was as unique as it was original, carving up ye olde traditional tunes and jigs (example `The Cuckoo – The Blacksmith’ and `Lovely Joan – The Nightingale’) on zither or (`Roxburgh Castle – The First Of May’ and `John’s Jig – Ampleforth Swords’) on English concertina; the tin whistle came into effect on `Coquetdale Hornpipe – Haste To The Wedding – Queen Hornpipe’. Once the acquisition of a young SHIRLEY COLLINS, CRONSHAW’s zither interpretation of `Richie Story’ worked well here, while vocals were channelled through guest Liz Dyer on tracks `Fanny Blair’ and the lengthy 19th-century ballad `Childe Maurice’. The Captain Pugwash sad-core of `Wheelwright Robinson…’ was undoubtedly the extrovert highlight here, while a classical piece from the pen of Schein, `Inconsistent Billy’, moved easily from 2/4 to 6/8 rhythm. For avant-garde/JOHN CAGE fans only, try the spaced-out zither cue `Peristalsis’.
Crediting MARTIN SIMPSON, HOLLY TANNEN and RICK KEMP (at least on the cover) on guitar/Dobro, Appalachian dulcimer and bass respectively, the Celtic-folk was even more apparent on CRONSHAW’s sophomore set, EARTHED IN CLOUD VALLEY (1977) {*7}. A mixture of MIKE OLDFIELD-styled dirges – think `In Dulce Jubilo’ or `The Sailor’s Hornpipe’ – fused with Scottish traditional playfulness, the tunes came thick and fast, the best examples being `Fanny Power – A Stor A Stor A Ghra’, the uptempo jig `Elsie Marley’, ALY BAIN’s `Christmas Day In The Morning’, `Glen Cottage’ and `The Dhu Hill’. Taking inspiration from north-west Spain and the singers of Galicia, `Pandeirada de Entrimo’ has that world-music feel, while the beautiful arrived by way of RAB NOAKES’ `Somewhere To Stay’.
Sticking with the same backing musicians (and adding RIC SANDERS on electric violin and Jon Gillaspie on polyphonic synth, piano and bassoon), CRONSHAW ventured further afield than Caledonia courtesy of third set WADE IN THE FLOOD (1978) {*6} – the tracks in question being `The Eastern Townships’ Waltz’ (from French-Canadians Fortunat Vachon and Henri Landry), `La Valse Du Grand Bois’ (from the BALFA BROTHERS of Louisiana) and Jay Feldman’s `Table Mountain Road’. CRONSHAW’s love of the Highlands was clear to see, with former pipe and march tunes “plugged-in” to zither (and concertina) via `Malcolm McPherson’s Lullaby’, `The Marquis Of Huntly’s Strathspey’, `Bell Isle’, `Leaving Rhu Vaternish’ and `The Lament For Rory Mor MacLeod’.
However, it would be 4 years until AC’s next effort, THE GREAT DARK WATERS (1982) {*6}. SANDERS, KEMP and SIMPSON were still on board (alongside Dave Bristow and others), the inspiration and sources this time stemming from books such as `The Language, Poetry and Music Of The Highland Clans’ by Donald Campbell (for opener `The Voice Of Silence’) and `The Merry Muses of Caledonia’ (for `Andro And His Cutty Gun’). CRONSHAW’s instrumental repertoire saw the inclusion of electric flute on numbers `The Blacksmith’ and `Fingal’s Cave’, while he let loose his two fretless bassists, Kemp and Fred Thelonious Baker, on `A Yowe Came To Our Door’. There was also a guest spot for JUNE TABOR on `The Ship In Distress’, but most of Andrew’s creative ye olde renditions were no more than traditional soundtrack-like noodling.
TABOR was to also feature on his comeback set TILL THE BEASTS’ RETURNING (1988) {*7} for the reading of `Our Captain Cried’ (CRONSHAW returned the favour by producing her second SILLY SISTERS effort, `No More To The Dance’). His first release on the iconic Topic Records (relocating from Waterfront via Trailer Records), his old retainers such as KEMP, SANDERS and SIMPSON were still plying their wares, while newbies included pedal steel guitarist B.J. Cole, Australian-born/English-resident Ian Blake, Mark Emerson and harmonica player Rory McLeod. But still, 90% of the set was down to ancestral Scotland. Like a folklorist/pioneer on a mission to re-introduce music of the clans on some sort of imaginary film score, CRONSHAW was uncompromising and unpredictable on tracks like `The Saratoga Hornpipe’ (on which he plays steelpans), `The Dark-Haired Youth’ (zither & Chinese flute here!) and `Wasps In The Woodpile’ (the whistle). Note that the following year, the majority of the tracks plus all of his “Great Dark Waters” were projected on to one album, THE ANDREW CRONSHAW CD (1989) {*7}.
With Andrew taking time on other projects such as production work for Suzie Adams, BILL CADDICK (on his `The Wild West Show’) and ZUMZEAUX (`Wolf At Your Door’), solo albums were put on the back-burner for a time, while the zither man also found time to scribe for Folk Roots (fRoots), among a plethora of session work for SCOTT WALKER, SUEDE, RALPH McTELL, ASHLEY HUTCHINGS, PAUL METSERS and good buddy RIC SANDERS.
Although maintaining that distinctive bagpipe-like flute/zither sound, THE LANGUAGE OF SNAKES (1993) {*6} was another record to find CRONSHAW in fine fettle. Along with usual suspects SANDERS, Blake, Cole and others such as Brendan Power (harmonica), Irishman Bernard O’Neill (double bass and cello), plus Chris Haigh and Neti Vaandrager (fiddles), cosmopolitan source tracks like `Baile De Procesion’ (from Spain), `MacDonnell’s March – Kilcoy’s March’ and `Ailean Duinn’ (Scottish, but very GRYPHON-like) and `Through Moorfields’ and `The Waterford Waltz’ (from England and Ireland respectively) came up trumps.
From 1991, Andrew had been inspired by the resurgence of Finnish folk music (he’d applied `Tapakkarulla’ and `Tuuti Hussaa Ja Lullaa’ to his last set), the results showing up on the production of Salamakannel and songwriter Nikolai Blad’s period records. It was inevitable then, that he would record his solo follow-up set with Finnish musicians Heikki Laitinen, Hannu Saha, Minna Raskinen, Kimmo Sarja, alongside O’Neill and Blake.
Album number seven, ON THE SHOULDERS OF THE GREAT BEAR (2000) {*7}, was arguably CRONSHAW’s most adventurous, the majority of the cues recorded and originating from Finland (two tracks, the short `The Vale Of Keppoch Is Desolate’ and `Chall O Ro Hi – There Are Deer On The Slope Of The Rolling Mist’ maintained his Caledonian connections). The beautifully twisted `Hullu Sakari’ and the upbeat `Halullinen Sielu – Kain Mina Kaunista’ had a surprisingly Scots feel; maybe AC’s newfound love of instruments such as marovantale and marovany and shawn were responsible. The aforementioned Laitinen (think Adi Newton of CLOCKDVA!) was the shining light on the avant-anti-folk of the lengthy `From The Shoulder Of The Great Bear’ – CRONSHAW’s best effort so far. Subdued by comparison, `Kiittakaat Herraa’ saw AC on the ba-wu, while chanter Jenny Wilhelms goes Gaelic for `Many Are The Cries And Shrieks Of Woe’. One can visualise the bleak but dramatic landscapes of Finland in one fell swoop of an album, while the climactic `Song Of The Beavers’ ventures further east to the Urals of Siberia. To the delight of many loyal CRONSHAW fans, he finally premiered a large-scale show in Britain in March 2002, commissioned by the Arts Council.
Retaining Blake and O’Neill (once again), CRONSHAW’s team of worldly ambient/Celtic-folk musos, including Syrian qanun/oud master Abdullah Chhadeh, Welsh triple-harpist Llio Rhydderch and London/Arabic diva NATACHA ATLAS, set about recording the electric zither man’s 8th set, OCHRE (2004) {*7}. A little less industrial (and indeed disturbing) than his previous attempt, and recorded deep in south-west Wales, the album’s tracks evoke images of deserted eastern-European landscapes while masking/fusing their real English heritage; incest ballad `Lucy Wan’, for example, has its roots firmly grounded with folklorist A.L. LLOYD. The aforementioned Rhydderch was afforded a solo spot via `Y Garreg Las – The Blue Rock’, while nearly half of the cues (`The Colour Of The Rose’, `No Trust In A Man’ and `Sofia, The Saracen’s Daughter’, the latter featuring Matthaois Tsahourides), each last over 10 minutes. The whole set was around an hour and won BBC Radio 3’s Album Of The Year 2005. If spiritual cousin DAVID SYLVIAN or an ambient BILL NELSON were still at their creative best, they’d be ANDREW CRONSHAW.
Another round of “zexy” zither was up for grabs on the man’s snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug set, THE UNBROKEN SURFACE OF SNOW (2011) {*7}. Cinematic in its glacial soundscapes – think the BBC’s Frozen Planet series – an avalanche of highlights are produced within the 34-minute title track and other stunningly emotive pieces (bookended by epics `Kaarme’ and `Im Hogutz’). As much a band as AC’s periodical accompaniment, Armenian duduk maestro Tigran Aleksanyan, reeds exponent Ian Blake and Hedningarna singer Sanna Kurki-Suonio provide the subtle touches for a haunting set one could file under dramatic world music. The same line-up would perform and record as SANS: LIVE (2014) {*6}.
© MC Strong 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Apr2015

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