Andy Cutting was not the first to bridge the channel between English melodeon and Musique du Centre-France, but his work in the 90s -- with Blowzabella and Chris Wood -- elevated the art form. His style is the envy of many (okay, me!) with its effortlessness, flow, and ... rhythmic feeling of levitation? His compositions are intricate and intriguing and they stick with you. A tune like "Spaghetti Panic" draws you in and sparks a compulsion to try and learn it.
During breaks in his touring, Andy agreed to an interview-via-email. Part one starts with early stories. Later installments will discuss equipment, repertoire, composition, and technique. The conversation is ongoing, though, so if you've got a question for Andy, I'll be happy to pass it on!
You appeared on the scene in the mid-80s. Could you give me some background: where you grew up? Why folk music? Why the accordéon?
I was born in Harrow, North West London. My parents were both enthusiastic morris dancers and as such, from the age of about four, me and my older brother were taken with them on various morris tours and to folk festivals on most weekends of the year. My parents were also keen members of the local folk club. My brother studied the violin and I found myself learning to play the drums. Just before my sixteenth birthday a friend lent me an old beat up melodeon to repair. I fixed various problems with it and a couple of weeks later I gave it back to him. He asked how I'd got on? I explained all the repairs I had made and he said, "No. How did you get in trying to play it?" I played him two or three tunes and he exclaimed, "That's not fair! It took me about three months before I could play a tune!" I thought maybe I was onto something. He then tracked down an old Hohner Pokerwork and my parents bought it for my 16th birthday. It was only years later that I had realized that growing up around folk music the tunes must have gone into my mind subconsciously so when I first tried the melodeon I was just having to learn the mechanics of it.
When did you realize that you and the accordéon made an extraordinary team? What do you love about the accordéon?
My initial aim was just to be better than the box players I knew. (I was an arrogant 16 year old!) By that I mean, most of the players I knew or saw play would knock out a few tunes in pubs after the morris had danced. Thinking about the classical world there were beginners, amateurs who played in orchestras, people who would rise up the ranks to lead orchestras, professional players and international soloists. It seemed like an unbroken arc. But with the box playing world, that I knew at the time, there were the people who knocked out a few tunes then a massive gap with John Kirkpatrick right at the top with a handful of good players somewhere in between . I just wanted to be able to do more than get through a few tunes. So I set about practicing. A lot. About eight hours a day for nine months or so. I love the limitations of the diatonic button accordion. It makes you think and be creative about the way you achieve the effect your looking for.
Could you describe those early days? What was the scene like where you were? Who were your heroes? What repertoire?
When I started playing I was very much taken under the wing of a great player (Ian Dedic) who used to take me to sessions. He was also not happy just top churn out the same old tunes every week. He was very innovative in his playing and my challenge to myself was to try and emulate what he was doing and maybe even push him a bit? The main session that I started playing at was set up to play anything but Irish music. It wasn't an exclusive thing. It was just that within a ten mile radius you could go to at least two Irish sessions on every night of the week and some people just wanted the chance to play music from other traditions (mainly English). I was lucky to start playing at that time and to have such a good session reasonably close to home. I rapidly got to hear about other box players. Especially ones from Europe. Most notably for me: John Kirkpatrick. Tony Hall, Martin Ellison, Dave Roberts, Roger Watson, Marc Perrone, Riccardo Tesi, Christian Desnos, Michelle Pichon, Serge Desunay and Philippe Bruneau. I started off playing English tunes then learnt nearly all of John Kirkpatrick's record Three in a Row, The English Melodeon. After that I started learning tunes from Mark Perrone, Riccardo Tesi and then most of Blowzabella's repertoire.
Part Two is HERE! Here's a video of Andy with Chris Wood to keep you warm (thanks Clive Williams). Go to 6:45 if you were wondering what I meant by "levitation" above.