Zithers… no, not The Third Man.
British multi-instrumentalist Andrew Cronshaw has been playing zither and making albums since the early 1970s. He’s never been exactly part of the mainstream, but his work, strongly based on traditional musics, has gained universally excellent reviews, award nominations and what might be called a niche following. This is his twelfth album – there have been nine solo albums before it, and two with his band SANS whose 2018 album Kulku reached the numbers one and two positions in the two world-music charts, and was awarded an Emma (Finnish Grammy) – but this is the first he’s ever done entirely solo, and it features just two instruments.
“The word ‘zither’ to some people means what Anton Karas played for the film The Third Man. That was a so-called ‘concert zither’, a fretted zither relative of Hungarian citera, Norwegian langeleik, Appalachian dulcimer et al. But actually there are a huge number of instruments in the zither family, some fretted but most not. Broadly speaking, a zither can be taken to be an instrument with one or more plucked, struck or bowed strings stretched across a sound board or other resonator, but without a neck.
On this album I’d envisaged probably playing various string and wind instruments, but as it turns out it’s all on just two, both of them unfretted forms of zither.
Ten of the tracks are on a 74-string fretless zither, named “The Piano-Chord”, made in Germany, probably in about the 1930s, that I bought in Edinburgh in the late 1960s, and electrified with a pickup made for it by Phil Taylor.
The other three tracks are on a more recent creation, the marovantele, which has 11 pairs of strings on each side and was made for me by Finnish luthier Kimmo Sarja from a sketched idea I had, inspired by the Madagascan double-sided marovany box zither, for a double-sided development of the Finnish kantele (yet another of the zither family). (I’ve been involved in various ways with Finnish music since 1990, and I toured worldwide in the 1990s as sound engineer with Madagascan band Tarika, who used the range of Malagasy instruments including marovany).”
So those are the tools, but it’s the music that’s the thing. These are melodies that have history, reflect people’s lives; they have stories, and Andrew writes about them in the liner notes which are an essential part of the album. Produced by Jim Sutherland, it was recorded in Scotland, Andrew’s first chosen home, and the material for seven of the thirteen tracks comes from Scottish and Scots Gaelic traditions. His life and music have also been strongly influenced by Finno-Ugrian, Iberian and English traditions, among others, and they’re reflected too. As he says “Nowadays in the course of our lives we’re affected by a wide range of music, so each of us carries a sort of personal tradition”.
Contact: Cloud Valley Music www.cloudvalley.com facebook.com/AndrewCronshawMusic
More info at www.andrewcronshaw.com