A Night of Traditional French Music and Dance will be held on Saturday, April 6, at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Augusta, Maine. Two bands will play. Nouveau Chapeau — featuring me on accordéon, Steve Gruverman on clarinet, and Barbara Truex on dulcimer and percussion — plays music from central France and Brittany. Roy, West, and Friends play New England contra music with a heavy Franco-Canadian influence. The fabulous Marie Wendt will teach and lead dances.
The evening is a benefit for World Teach volunteer, Brigid Chapin (my daughter), who is going to Costa Rica in May to teach English to kids there.
This is the fifth piece in a series about Andy Cutting. Click through for parts one, two, and three … and also some pictures of his boxes. The duets of Andy Cutting and Chris Wood are among the high points of English and European folk music. That’s not hyperbole. Cutting’s solo playing is a thing of beauty. The work with Blowzabella is a spectacle to be adored. The Cutting and Wood duets are something else.
Andy had this to say about the duet:
Chris and I first met at a late night session at Sidmouth Folk Festival the same year as the Riccardo Tesi workshop. At the end of the session Chris asked if I fancied meeting up the next day to play some more? We had a lovely few tunes on the beach the next day then he had to leave for a gig. A couple of months later he phoned me up to ask if I would play on his solo record. I of course said, “Yes.” He had recently returned from a trip to Canada where he had been taken around various house sessions by Lisa Ornstein. He was very interested in how English traditional music had traveled to Quebec and been changed by the different musical flavors there.
The night before the recording session he came to my house and we played the tunes he wanted to record with me. We played for about ten minutes and knew it would be good so we went to the pub. On the way to the studio the next day Chris said he was doing a couple of songs with Martin Carthy and would it be good if Martin played on our track as well? So, not a bad first recording experience!
From the first time we played together it just worked. It was like we had the same goal and because of this we didn’t have to discuss anything. We just played. That has never really changed. After the recording he suggested that we should play some more together as he had quite a few Quebecois tunes we could look at. So the Wood & Cutting duo was born. After a while we started looking at some of the French repertoire that I was playing. A couple of years later we played at a castle on a very cold and wet Sunday to virtually no one, so decided just to play English tunes. We played for four hours. It was so easy and felt so natural to play our own music after spending years trying to play other peoples music. So we had finally reached our goal.
In the middle of our conversation in December, Andy Cutting went on a wander, performing here, teaching workshops there. I had asked him some questions about the partnerships of his career — especially Blowzabella and Chris Wood. At the end of February, the answers arrived. Could you talk about Blowzabella? How did you encounter them, and then join?
Andy Cutting with Blowzabella
I knew of Blowzabella for several years before I really met them. Through seeing them at various English folk festivals. In fact before I played the box! When I started to play, I went to a box workshop run by Riccardo Tesi at Sidmouth folk festival. Paul James, [Blowzabella’s piper and sax guy], was helping Riccardo and they asked me to play a bit. I discovered some years later that on hearing me pay Riccardo turned to Paul and said “you need to get him in Blowzabella.” Dave Roberts, box player, had recently left and Dave Shepherd (the violin player) was leaving, so that meant they wanted someone to fill their shoes. Fortunately for me I was in the right place at the right time. They asked me to a few of their gigs and then I received a letter saying I was now in the band.
This wasn’t your first time playing French and European music, was it?
As far as the European repertoire goes. I hadn’t really heard any until I was given a Castagnari catalogue which had photos of their range of instruments surrounded by LP’s made by people playing their instruments. I used these pictures to track down some of the records. Most notably Riccardo Tesi, Marc Perrone, and La Ciapa Rusa. It was just the catalyst I needed.
The Vanilla recording really made quite the impact, what elements do you think came together to make that such a vibrant piece of work?
When we recorded Vanilla the band had spent a year with the new line up, and we had played a lot of concerts so we were a really cohesive unit. Both socially and musically. Once in the studio we just got on and did the best we could. Recording the hurdy-gurdy (Nigel Eaton), bass/cittern (Ian Luff) and box live, then building the track up from that. It was a residential studio so we were all together with no real distractions. A very enjoyable time for me.
Could you talk about the vision of the group? The focused/multi-cultural, complex/simple, thoughtful/intuitive blend?
As a band. Blowzabella doesn’t really fit into any of the folk genres. We have always just ploughed our own furrow. The band started off playing bagpipe and hurdy-gurdy music from wherever they could find it. Since then we have written more and more of our own music so now it is almost entirely self composed English dance music. Well. Our hurdy-gurdy player (Gregory Jolivet) is French so he is having an influence on our repertoire now. Which is great. I like things to evolve.
With the recent work (Octomento), and work I’ve seen from you and Gregory Jolivet, it feels as if a kind of renaissance is happening for Blowzabella. Is that accurate? Or just wishful thinking on my part?
With Greg and Barnaby Stradling (bass) they have bought a new energy to us all. We are starting to play a bit more and are working on a new record. It is also our 35th anniversary this year. I suppose with all that there is more media interest and so people are being reminded that the band is still a going concern. If that’s a renaissance, then, yes I suppose that it whats happening.
Diatonic News reports the release of a new monograph by Gorka Hermosa, The Accordion in the 19th Century. Hermosa, from Urretxu, Basque Country, is a classically trained player of the chromatic button accordion, who performs everything from folk music to Bach to avant garde. This book, his fourth, is even more expansive than his repertoire. Focusing on accordion music of the 19th century — almost all of it for diatonic instruments — Hermosa casts his scholarly net far enough so that, by the end of the 93 pages, the reader has a remarkable understanding of all metal free reed instruments of the day. The book culminates in its discussion of diatonic accordion, concertina, and harmonium after giving a thorough review of predecessors to these free reed instruments, and discussing their organology. On top of its thoroughness, though, the book is a fun, brisk read, at least for those of us fascinated by such things. This is extraordinary writing, and scholarship.