Living the Si life


By David Hennessy

His father was a pioneer of the ska movement. Now, Si Cranstoun is making his own mark in the music business with an album due for release that has already earned the backing from BBC and Chris Evans in particular who was impressed with the singer-songwriter that he invited Si to perform live in studio.

Although he has been writing and performing since he was a teenager, 38-year-old Si who has family in Cork has been delighted to see success coming his way just last year when he landed a record deal with music giants Warner.

“I can’t actually (believe it),” the musician who busked on the streets of Croydon for years tells The Irish World. “It really is a dream come true and a dream come true very late on for me because I’ve been doing this for twenty odd years. I was banging on the doors pretty much consistently for the first ten years and then my knocks got slightly fainter, sort of got a bit: ‘Are they ever going to open?’”

Someone else may have got disheartened but not Si who carried on performing simply for his love of it: “I don’t really do it because I need people saying I’m good at it, I just do it because I really enjoy doing it. To be honest, I wasn’t that good at it to start with. I was pretty rubbish but I still could do it as a hobby. I think with anything you do in life, you don’t necessarily have to start out and be that good at it. You’ve always got that wonderful advantage of just having a natural draw to do it consistently and continually and that helps you to improve at it. It’s almost effortlessly really that it does when you’re enjoying what you do.

“Thank goodness that I did because I’m now in a situation I’ve been battling and hoping for and it’s wonderful and I do feel very lucky and privileged to be where I’m at.”

Growing up as the son of Bill Cranstoun was so prominent in the scene in bygone years, Si grew up in a very musical house. He would later play in bands and duos with his brother Tyber. Si remembers how he found his parents’ passion: “My dad was a pioneer promoter of ska, they call it Jamaican rock ‘n’ roll. He left a lot of his records around the house for me as a kid to be able to just discover and play. My parents were groovy, they weren’t like, ‘don’t touch that’, ‘leave that alone’. They would just leave their stuff lying around and they were pretty chilled out. I freely had these wonderful old songs to grow up listening to. I guess that was kind of the beginning of it for me and I guess that helped me to craft an identity as a singer in later years.”

Without knowing it at the time, Si was being exposed to all styles of music, some dating back to the forties or fifties, and educating himself: ““I didn’t know what I was listening to but I loved it. I guess as an artist, I’ve been influenced by it all, it all seems to come out when I’m writing stuff. I suppose it’s because as a kid I was a sponge soaking this all up.”

There is a great irony in such a retro and vintage style performer calling his debut album Modern Life: “We do live in these times but I guess we’re forever looking over our shoulders at the sounds of the past. Even now, that Blurred Lines record just sounds like Marvin Gaye’s Got To Give It Up. It’s just the same sound.”

Si’s grandfather came from Cork and Si recently got to play Ireland as support to The Overtones, performing at Cork Opera House, Dublin’s Olympia and Belfast’s Ulster Hall: “I would love to get back out there. I picked up a lot of fans supporting The Overtones, had a lot of people asking when I’m coming back.

“I’ve also been out fishing on the river Shannon. We went on a boating holiday when we were kids, my dad took us to Ireland and we all went on a fishing trip and caught loads of bream. My dad managed to actually get the boat stuck in the middle of the river Shannon and we had to be dragged off of it with ropes by some, I’m sure they were travellers, I seem to remember they were sort of interesting characters who were living on the riverbank and we managed to get them to pull out boat. Happy memories of Ireland, it was great to be back there this year.”

When Si’s mother recently looked into the family tree, Si found out he had a war hero for an ancestor. During the battle of Ypres, William Cranstoun helped save a wounded officer who had fallen from his horse. William even gave him medical attention while the German shells were falling around them both believing they were going to be hit at any second.

Gunner Cranstoun was awarded the Victory Medal for his efforts in what was dubbed one of the worst battles of the First World War, He also held the Mons Star and general service medal for bravery.

“It was amazing that we found this out only just recently. He actually won three different medals, he fought in the Boer War during the early 1900s and in 1914 and 1917 in France during World War One. He won medals for bravery, in 1914 he won the standard British War Medal, in 1919 he won the Victory Medal so he was a bit of hero, my great-grandad. I’m just gutted I didn’t get to meet him.”

Si Cranstoun’s album Modern Life is out on October 3.

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