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root salad f14

Griselda Sanderson Scotland, Scandinavia and Africa all melt in her

hands. Steve Hunt meets the nyckelharpist.

through observation, really. From then on we competed like mad ’til he got a scholar- ship to Chetham’s music school in Manch- ester and left me behind in Scotland. He later started a ceilidh band in Edinburgh called the Wild Cigarillos and eventually we both ended up down here and started working together in Waulk Elektrik.”

That band released two albums and toured extensively through the 1990s, their blend of Scottish jigs & reels with dance beats going down a storm at Cropredy, Tow- ersey and WOMAD. While there’s still a strong Celtic element to her music, her cur- rent repertoire draws plaudits for her mas- tery of Scandinavian and North and West African styles.


walk up Totnes high street pass- es the Devon Harp Centre, the Totnes School of Guitar Making, a bookshop that seems to be constantly spinning Nic Jones vinyl and the Drift Record Shop with its enticing array of Dust To Digital and Tompkins Square goodies. Shop windows display banjos, zhongruans and resonator guitars, and the newsagent stocks fRoots. It may be “twinned with Narnia”, but It’s our kind of town.

The place pulsates to local buskers, one of whom channels musical traditions from all over the world through a Swedish nyckel - harpa. Her cottage in a nearby village hous- es a one-woman world music industry. She is Griselda Sanderson, one of six musical sib- lings from a remarkable family.

“You see that photo above the piano, of the woman playing the viola?” she asks, in the aforementioned cottage. “That’s my great aunt, Eileen Grainger – the first woman to join the London Symphony Orchestra. She played with a quartet at the Queen’s coronation and recorded at Abbey Road Studios in 1955 on an album called Songs Of Spain by Victoria De Los Angeles.

My mum’s side of the family were all fantas- tic classical musicians. One of my aunties played the organ in all the major London churches, and my granny was a fantastic pianist, as was my mum.”

“My dad’s side were all traditional Scot- tish folk musicians. When I was a youngster we lived in Glasgow as he was in the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, but he didn’t really like orchestral playing very much – he found it restrictive. He started doing violin repairs and got into making violins, left the orchestra and we moved to Alva in Clack- mannanshire. Because my dad’s workshop was in the town, we’d get all the local tradi- tional fiddlers visiting, and some from quite a long way away – Aonghas Grant used to come down from Fort William to get his bow re-haired. Alasdair Fraser lived nearby and we were both in the county youth orchestra. When I was about thirteen, Yehu- di Menuhin came to the workshop and he let me play his Stradivarius.”

“I started playing the fiddle at eight years of age. I’d already been playing the piano but didn’t really take to it. I’d watched my dad teaching my brother Larry the fiddle, so I’d already learned a lot just

music record in Glasgow when I was about fourteen, an album` called Ritual And Witchcraft Music Of Tanzania And Kenya. I listened to that record every day! It was so strange and fascinating, I had to under- stand what it was all about. After I made my first solo album in 2009 I formed Jula- ba Kunda with Juldeh Camara, who’s now playing in Robert Plant’s Sensational Space Shifters. Through Juldeh I met Amadou Diagne and worked with him on his Yakar album. I bumped into Simo Lagnawi at Larmer Tree Festival in 2012. We hit it off straight away and his Gnawa London album was released on my Waulk Records label in 2013.”


“What I got from Juldeh was a differ- ent way of being a musician – a musician is what you are, it’s not just something that you do. With Simo as well, and the Moroc- can community that I’ve met in London, music is just such a big part of their lives. They all play and dance whenever they get together. Somebody will start singing, then everyone joins in, and the men aren’t embarrassed to jump up and start dancing. I can really relate to that collective approach to music.”

“I don’t think the UK’s very musician-

friendly, sadly. When you’re a child, if you’re good, you’re constantly being told that you’re so lucky to be gifted and talented, then when you grow up, you can’t get insur- ance for your car, you can’t get an accoun- tant and you’re constantly being asked to work for free! What I really want is to have my own band, go over to Europe to tour and play all the UK folk festivals, too.”

Radial is out now, on Waulk Records.


first met African and Swedish musicians as a teenager, in the National Youth String Orches- tra. I bought my first African

Photo: Louis Bingham

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