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Art Of Cronshaw

Andrew Cronshaw making another album is cause for celebration. By his own admission, he doesn’t score highly when it comes to productivity. Ochre, his eighth album in 30 years and the follow-up to 2000’s On The Shoulders Of The Great Bear, is a-shimmer with ideas, ideas that vindicate his recent nominations for both Album Of The Year in the BBC Radio 3 Awards For World Music and Musician Of The Year in the Radio 2 Folk Awards, as well as the pace of delivery.

For me, Ochre (see fR257) feels very much like the thrill of rediscovering forgotten colours. The title swept me back because my father was a talking colour chart that would shame today’s paint manufacturers with their touchy-feely piffle. My father had real names for real colours. Yellows into reds were a veritable wallflower catalogue, bursting with brimstone, cerise, magenta, scarlet and vermillion. Browns were never ‘brown’. They were, for example, raw and burnt sienna, ochre and umber. Other colours came with lineage, with descriptors like Reckitt’s blue, GWR chocolate (after the Great Western Railway livery) and Tyrian purple. For Cronshaw, ochre summons, with a little intervention from Natacha Atlas, boyhood painting boxes where each colour was labelled to help the budding artist or artisan. Ochre, the colour, conjures bygone images, but Cronshaw’s palette is never sepia. In essence Ochre is a collection of English Recreation Myths. And don’t we know that making passionate love to history can lead to unexpected births?

Culled from five hours of recordings, most of Ochre’s seven tracks are retitled. Thus Our Captain Cried becomes No Trust In Man and The Royal Oak is transmogrified into The Shores Of Turkey. Cronshaw traces the inspirations of a coterie of named individuals: Cyril Tawney, Kate Jamieson (via Martin Carthy, Bert Lloyd and beyond), Moses Mansfield of Haslemere, Surrey (via Clive Carey), Mr and Mrs Verral of Horsham, Sussex (via Ralph Vaughan Williams), Shirley Collins (whose Richie Story provided one launch pad on his apprentice piece, A Is For Andrew, Z Is For Zither), Mrs Powell of Weobley, Herefordshire (via Ella M. Leather and, again, Vaughan Williams) and Joseph Taylor of Saxby-All-Saints, Lincolnshire (via Percy Grainger).

Ochre had a team of midwives on hand in Natacha Atlas (voice), Ian Blake (soprano sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, piano, prepared piano), Abdullah Chhadeh (qanun, oud), Bernhard O’Neill (basses), Llio Rhydderch (triple harp) and Matthaios Tsahourides (Pontic lyra). Cronshaw himself heaves his full organological weight into the project with enough instruments needing pen portraits to jeopardise any sane word count. What it boils down to is his trademark assortment of electrified chord zither and wind instruments such as fujara (the Slovak shepherd’s flute almost two metres in length) and ba-wu (a Chinese, brass-reeded instrument from Yunan). He clarifies his role, saying, “A lot of the time I wasn’t playing. Ultimately, I’m a producer. I know when something’s ready. And when to add just a little bit here and there. When it’s got enough in it, I know when to stop. If something’s got life in the first place, then you’ve already got that stream-of-consciousness shape to it and it’s just a matter of making it work.”

Cronshaw with Finland's Minna Raskinen at Sidmouth Festival 1997…
 
Athena Andreadis
Photo: Ron Hill

…and with Abdullah Chhadeh in 2004

 
Athena Andreadis


fRom fRoots 264, June 2005

 

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