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Art Of Cronshaw

Cronshaw and Ian Blake
Cronshaw and Ian Blake
One of the things that is striking about Cronshaw’s musical activities is the network of musicians that have joined him live and on disc over the years. Not for nothing did he call his occasional band from the 1980s, the Andy Cronshaw And… Among the people who occupy circles on the Venn diagram of Cronshaw’s musical life are Natacha Atlas, Ian Blake (“Someone you know you can talk to for hours on end, someone you know you don’t need to impress…”), Laurie Harper, Arto Järvelä, Bernhard O’Neill, Pyewackett, Hannu Saha, Ric Sanders (“In gigs with Ric Sanders I didn’t have to play the whole time: I liked that”), June Tabor and Neti Vaandrager. It continues to expand, confirmed by the musicianly company on On The Shoulders Of The Great Bear (see fR201) and Ochre, and his upcoming trio project in Montreal with the Chinese pi’pa player Liu Fang and Vietnamese dan bau player Pham Duc Thanh in October 2005.

“You play with your friends and you find out what happens,” he explains. “You know some good musicians and you play with them. They make noises that you want to have on your record. It’s as simple as that. The albums are made with a bunch of people rather than hired hands. It’s the people and the personalities that make the records… That’s why everyone gets their share of the credits because they wrote it.”

Asked how all this has coloured his approach to arranging and composition, he is candid: “The quick answer is that I don’t arrange: I pick up the phone and arrange people to come and play. I don’t actually do arrangements. When I’m playing on my own, yes then I do, but I pull that all apart when other people are playing in it to see what happens.” He took a variant approach to the making of Ochre in which the music had to survive a selection process on the merits of the tunes through a sort of blindfold test approach. “I gave people a folder with 70 or 80 tunes that I’d already selected. They were just melodies, photocopied from various sources with all the identifying features taken out. I removed the titles and the lyrics and any reference to what they were. I didn’t want them to be associated with words. I wanted to see what they were like as melodies. Sometimes a set of words is twee or you’ve just heard them too many times. I left them for people to separate out. Some did. Some didn’t.”

He gives a specific example, “Llio, for example, picked an alternate line for Salisbury Plain – it didn’t look like an alternate line because I’d removed all the cues. She made a whole piece out of it. Her Y Garreg Las [The Blue Rock] was made out of four bars of an alternate line to Salisbury Plain. Ian Blake was the only one familiar with any of the material. He knew what the songs were. On the album and when we play live, he’s the one with me that tries to return it sometimes to a theme, because he knows there’s a shape to it. The others will just improvise. He knows there’s a tune in there. Llio’s very quick so she picks up on ones that she’s never come across: she’ll keep the tune in mind. Abdullah’s structure is very different in terms of tunes. He doesn’t recognise the tune that way; he takes a theme and improvises on it. Sometimes he doesn’t recognise what I am doing is the tune. He thinks it is more textural or improvisation. That’s fine. That’s the whole point. Everybody comes up with their own point of view. The weird thing about the album was that there were sometimes four, sometimes five people improvising all at the same time. You set things up until they’re ready to go. The song with Natacha – Sofia, The Saracen’s Daughter – was done absolutely live. I put in a couple of touches later, but basically nobody got in the way. That’s very hard when you’ve got that many people doing something they don’t really know, just listening and doing it in a take.”

fRom fRoots 264, June 2005


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