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Si Cranstoun

It’s probably not surprising that Si Cranstoun grew up to become a musician steeped in the history and practise of swing, doo-wop and soul. In the ‘60s, Cranstoun’s father was a promoter in London, and Cranstoun was born into a family with a definite enthusiasm for music.

“My father has Lulu open up one of his clubs, and you had people like Rod Stewart’s manager coming down to check things out,” Cranstoun recalls. “His enthusiasm for the music back in the ‘60s, especially for music that wasn’t that popular, because my father was a promoter of Jamaican ska, which was very much an underground, alternative music for the time. But his passion was definitely passed on to me, and he left a lot of music out for me to discover – people like Jackie Wilson, Little Richard.”

 

Cranstoun describes his parents’ musical collection as “like an inheritance” from which his own musical education rapidly benefited. It was, however, some years after listening to that music that Cranstoun graduated to playing himself. “After a lot of listening to A-sides and B-sides, albums you hadn’t heard before, and reading about these great singers, I found myself just singing along to a lot of the stuff,” Cranstoun says. One day at school Cranstoun’s casual singing landed him a spot singing with a school band.

 

“I just happened to know all the songs they were singing – they were blues songs that I knew,” he recalls. “I remember saying that I couldn’t sing, but they couldn’t find anyone else, so I auditioned. I sang a couple of songs – really badly, actually – but they were happy to have someone standing there with the mic, and I was dumb enough to be that guy,” Cranstoun laughs. “And then I just kept on doing it.”

 

Eventually Cranstoun graduated from covering other peoples’ songs to writing songs himself. “I bought myself a four-track, and was lucky enough to be living next to Graham Lyle at the time. I gave him some of my songs, and he was really blown away by them,” Cranstoun says. “At the time I didn’t really know what I was going to do, but with this guy in front of me, I knew that was my calling. From then on, every penny I earned was about music – I learned how to play guitar, keyboard, bass and started writing more songs. So you just keep going, and that really brings me to where I am now,” he says.

 

As his musical education and experience has evolved, Cranstoun has retained his strong interest in the swing sounds of the ‘60s, with his vocal delivery compared favourably to the late Jackie Wilson. Cranstoun regularly sells out shows in England, and has become a major player on the vintage and rockabilly scenes.

 

“For me, in my heart, they had it right back in the ‘50s and ‘60s,” Cranstoun says. “The popular music in the ‘50s was almost perfect, it was like a monument, and in my world it will never be eclipsed by the years and decades that followed, including with the might of so-called hi-fidelity sound in the ‘70s. And I love it that there were all these singers trying to create the biggest, catchiest tune they could – the end result being that for 20 years you got the best, most blissful tunes. And the great thing is, there’s always more to discover.”

 

Cranstoun had been playing for some years with his brother in a ska band with my brother by the name of The Dualers; a chance meeting with a double-bass player provided the catalyst for a change in musical focus toward the vintage sounds of the ‘50s and ‘60s. “I was playing one night, and a guy came up to me and said he loved my sound, and offered to play double bass with me. About a year later I gave him a call.”

 

With their passion for, and intense interest in the entire ‘50s and ‘60s aesthetic, vintage fans can be notoriously difficult to please – the slightest lack of empathy for the style and tone of the era can spell the end of any performer.  It was a challenge Cranstoun relished. “I realised this was the real deal, and I wanted to get a really authentic sound, and I didn’t want to come across as a copycat artist,” Cranstoun says. “And because I’d been writing my own songs, I thought this was my chance to show that I really understood that vintage sound, and that I could write a song that could have stood up in that era.”

 

To meet that challenge, Cranstoun wrote Dynamo, a song that immediately generated popular acclaim, and continues to be the climax of Cranstoun’s live show. “It’s like a Reet Petite style, jiver, gospel, rhythm and blues track that had what I felt Reet Petite had, but was its own sound,” Cranstoun says. “I played it my double bass player, and he phoned me up straight away, and told me I’d written something really special.” It was to be the breakthrough moment Cranstoun needed, sparking interest in vintage circles. “I got an offer to play at Rhythm Riot, which is the biggest of the vintage festivals, which was amazing,” Cranstoun says.

 

Having played alongside Little Richard in Las Vegas last year, this week Cranstoun returns to Australia for the second year in a row, playing the revitalised Kingston City Hall in Moorabbin (which, as the Moorabbin Town Hall in the ‘70s, hosted bands such as INXS and AC/DC). “I’m really looking forward to coming out to Australia again – when I was there last I met some wonderful people, and I had an amazing time,” Cranstoun says.

 

It’s probably not surprising that Si Cranstoun grew up to become a musician steeped in the history and practise of swing, doo-wop and soul. In the ‘60s, Cranstoun’s father was a promoter in London, and Cranstoun was born into a family with a definite enthusiasm for music.

 

BY PATRICK EMERY

SI CRANSTOUN plays Kingston City Hall on Sunday June 16.