PETER KNIGHT’S GIGSPANNER live at Forest Arts, New Milton

Peter Knight's Gigspanner
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

30th March 2017

During Vincent Salzfaas’ enforced absence from this tour, Peter Knight’s Gigspanner have replaced him with not one but two percussionists. On duty tonight was Gary Hammond of The Beautiful South and The Hut People – he’s got quite a track record – but the question remained: how would it sound? During the opening ‘She Moved Through The Fair’ the percussion was low and suitably sombre and it seemed that Gary isn’t as flamboyant as Vincent but during the course of the evening he proved that he has a huge arsenal of techniques and tricks to produce an extraordinary range of tones from a simple set-up.

Gary’s kit consists of two congas, a djembele and a cajon which concealed other items of interest including a modern version of a bullroarer which introduced the closing ‘Sharp Goes Walkabout’. Peter looks terribly fearsome these days – my first thought was “magisterial” superseded by “vengeful god” – and Roger Flack remains his imperturbable self and has now added a kick-drum and what seems to be a small synthesiser to his set up. And the music – the music rolls on evolving with every performance.

Second on the set-list was ‘Seagull’, now a far cry from the rather slight song that Steeleye Span recorded, followed by ‘Peggy And The Soldier’ and ‘The Blackbird’. While Peter went off to find a chair for the latter Roger and Gary indulged in a little settling into the groove. I probably haven’t said it often enough but I do enjoy Roger’s guitar playing and always look forward to his solos. ‘Too Late For Shadows’ opened with three solos; first Gary, then Peter and finally Roger with Peter joining in to bring the trio back together. The first set closed with the “bonny Biscay” version of ‘The Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies Oh’ which is where the kick-drum came in. It was almost folk-rock!

Part two began with ‘Hard Times Of Old England’, ‘Bows Of London’ and the erstwhile opener, ‘The Butterfly’, before ‘Bold Riley’, which we might presume is destined to appear on the band’s next album (due before the end of the year, in case you’re wondering). To highlight the evolution of Gigspanner’s music, take ‘Louisiana Flack’. Familiarity may be breeding contempt but Peter doesn’t look anywhere near as worried as he used too and has even taken to moving about to make Roger follow him. Roger seems to be ever more confident and, as far as I know, it never ends in tears.

The encore was ‘King Of The Fairies’ and everyone left feeling very happy. The final date of the tour is tonight in Alfriston with two percussionists. As Gary observed – “Drumspanner!”.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website:

‘Hard Times Of Old England’ – official video:

MADE IN THE GREAT WAR – Live at Forest Arts, New Milton

MADE IN THE GREAT WAR – Live at Forest Arts, New Milton
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

The show opened with Sam Sweeney stepping onto the stage and taking THE fiddle from its place in the spotlight. He played ‘The Girl I Left Behind Me’ and ‘Jean De Paris’ before introducing Rob Harbron who joined him for ‘The Battle Of Prague’ and ‘British Grenadiers’. As Sam pointed out these were four tunes that led a double life as both folk tunes and military marches – this was the beginning of an “overture” to the show itself.

The fiddle is one left unfinished by Richard Spencer Howard of Leeds when he went to war in 1916 and which, though a long series of events, was bought by Sam Sweeney who realised that there was a story behind the instrument.

Paul Sartin and Hugh Lupton completed the line-up on stage. Paul sang ‘The Scarlet And The Blue’, a song which has passed through countless regiments and, indeed, armies and Hugh recounted a story from his show, Barbed Wire For Kisses which immediately set me thinking of War Horse. It was the perfect link to ‘Home, Lad, Home’. The first set closed with ‘Rose Howard’, an extra track on the album which didn’t find space in the show.

Original tour programme
Original tour programme

On record, the focus of Made In The Great War is Hugh Lupton’s narration – the story is the most important element. On stage, other factors take over. The set poses, variously, as a music-hall, a trench and a battlefield. There are visual elements, film and slides as well as the set dressing and the performance is cleverly choreographed – there is barely time for a round of applause between the set pieces. Indeed, applause sometimes feels intrusive.

There was clowning during ‘The Palace Of Varieties’ and drama. ‘The Battle Of Messines’ was signalled by furious drumming by Sam, synched to film of explosions, which made the audience jump after the relative quiet of ‘June 17th 1917 – Zero Day’ and there were two more highlights. The first was Sam’s singing of ‘The Ballad Of Richard Howard’, alone in a spotlight, with so-subtle support from Rob and Paul. It is a powerful song owing something of its origins to ‘The Cruel Sister’. Finally he played ‘Epilogue’ alongside film of him playing the same tune standing by Richard Howard’s grave in Belgium. Initially, he watched the screen, carefully matching his playing with the film but later he looked down and let the music take over.

There can be no encore. You can’t follow that but the story continues. It transpires that a second Howard fiddle has come to light – Sam’s is No.6 and now No.2 is known to have survived – and Richard Howard’s grand-daughter, not knowing the full story, has contacted Sam. Made In The Great War has been toured twice and I hope that Sam and the company will tour again. It is a show that has to be seen by as many people as possible.

Dai Jeffries

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Sam Sweeney plays ‘The Last Post’ by Richard Howard’s grave: