PETER KNIGHT’S GIGSPANNER – Live at Farnham Maltings

Gigspanner
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

I’ve heard Peter Knight’s Gigspanner three times this year and it never gets old. Admittedly the first occasion was with Gary Hammond on percussion and the second was the Big Band but this was the turbo-charged F1 trio and they flew.

They began, as Peter explained: “Roger and I will play a few notes and then we’ll go into the first piece of music”. Those few notes eventually turned in ‘She Moved Through The Fair’ which, in turn, moved away into something else before returning to the main theme. It set the bar pretty high for the rest of the evening.

GigspannerFor a band supposedly launching their new album, The Wife Of Urban Law, they were remarkably reticent about mentioning it although with such a dedicated audience as this the hard sell wasn’t really needed. Peter mentioned the title once while explaining ‘Urban’s Reel’ and can I just say how lovely Roger Flack’s guitar intro is? The second song was ‘Seagull’, on the new record as ‘Penny The Hero’ for reasons unknown, and they have been playing it for while now anyway. That was followed by ‘Penny And The Soldier’ and the flow of new material was interrupted only by ‘The Bows Of London’. The first half closed with ‘The Blackbird’ which Peter learned sitting down so that’s how he plays it.

Part two began with ‘Hard Times Of Old England’ which is typical of a Gigspanner number. It began almost diffidently with Peter voicing wordlessly off-mic and then built up gradually before taking off into the blue only to return to the gentle mood for the final verse. More favourites then: ‘Spencer The Rover’, ‘The Butterfly’, with Peter and Roger circling each other waiting for the tune to emerge and dry its wings, and ‘Bonnie Birdie’ before one more new track ‘Bold Riley’.

At the Big Band show I was disappointed that Sacha Trochet didn’t get to do an awful lot but he’s made up for it since. With a synth kick-drum his percussion is big in the bass and the shallow tom-tom to his left didn’t get that much use. He has a hi-hat which sometimes carries other bits of hand percussion but less is more as far as that goes. ‘Bold Riley’ is a fine example of what else is different – he maintained a steady beat, both hands together, solid throughout, that both held the song together and drove it on. I fancy they have speeded it up a bit but still you probably couldn’t work halyards to it, although I suspect that the song was an invention of Bert Lloyd so that wouldn’t matter.

I still don’t tire of ‘Louisiana Flack’ – the pleasure coming from watching Peter’s eyes rather than his fingers – and the trio closed with ‘Sharp Goes Walkabout’ with Sacha given free reign to create a percussive soundscape introducing the tune. They didn’t really leave the stage before being called back to encore with ‘The King Of The Fairies’ – there was no point in false modesty.

The wonderful thing about Gigspanner is that it’s never the same twice and that, as Roger said, “is why I like it”. I’ve heard every title in the set previously but they played some music that I hadn’t heard before and probably won’t be able to hear again but that doesn’t matter for there will be new delights next time. I’m prepared to say that this was the best gig I’ve ever heard them play but I’m supposed to be a critic so here’s the criticism. My dear lady wife would like to hear a little more of Roger. Thank you.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.gigspanner.com

OK. We know it’s an old film and not the current line-up but if you haven’t seen ‘Louisiana Flack’ live just enjoy this:

Gigspanner – new album and tour dates

Gigspanner unpeel multi-layered second studio album

Gigspanner3

The long awaited second studio album from Peter’s Knight’s gifted, boundary-blurring Gigspanner will be released on May 11, ahead of a June UK tour.

Few fiddlers can hold a candle to the legendary Peter Knight whose presence has enriched the British music scene for more than four decades.

Since his departure from folk-rock’s iconic Steeleye Span at the end of 2013, Knight has turned his full attentions to the Gigspanner trio where he is joined by brilliant guitarist Roger Flack and inventive percussionist Vincent Salzfaas on congas and djembe, conjuring up a completely distinctive sound.

Sussex-based Flack is a founding member of Celtic rock band The Tabs while Salzfaas, who studied his craft in Senegal and Cuba, brings a multi-cultural dimension to the sound.

Following on from their acclaimed debut album Lipreading the Poet (2009) and the live CD Doors at Eight (2010) this third offering is an illuminating voyage of discovery. From a wellspring of British traditional folk songs and tunes the trio meld startling, eclectic and often hypnotic arrangements that sometimes flirt with jazz and classical cousins.

London-born Knight, who lives in south-west France, is a consummate musician whose career started at an early age when he won a place at the Royal Academy of Music and was immersed in classical music. Migrating from there through the vibrant Irish music scene of Sixties London he was later invited by Ashley Hutchings to join Steeleye Span, securing his place within the annals of British folk music.

Introduced to the art of free improvisation through an encounter with world renowned jazz saxophonist Trevor Watts, on-the-spot invention runs through the Gigspanner sound as they transport audiences on a whistle-stop world tour of melting pot dalliances with Eastern European, French, Cajun, African and even Aboriginal influences.

These diverse influences permeate and peel away genre boundaries as they wend their way through the 9-track Layers Of Ages, produced by Gigspanner and Edward Blakeley, who also contributes bass and banjo on one track.

Knight’s fiddle totally “talks” as it dances, dips and dives through a rich aural tapestry sensitively aided and abetted by Flack and Salzfaas with the master craftsman also featuring on lead vocal and mandolin.

The album starts with the spirited, attention-grabbing song of sororicide ‘Bows Of London’ – a chilling Child ballad with exemplary fiddle playing by Knight before sliding into Gigspanner’s haunting eight minute exploration of the beautiful Irish tune ‘She Moves Through The Fair’ which cascades through tempos and moods.

‘Death And The Lady’ is another singular take on a Broadside ballad focusing on the conversation between a young maiden and the Grim Reaper. Knight’s deep growling bowing sets the scene for this percussively menacing, theatrical rendition with the drumbeats of Salzfaas and the spectacular guitar playing of Flack building to a curling crescendo of sound.

‘Mad Tom of Bedlam’ (set to music by Nic Jones and Dave Moran) is an alarming song about tourist visits to gawp at the inmates of Bethlehem Hospital for the Insane with great vocal harmonies and the disturbing wail of Flack’s guitar.

The mood changes completely to the gyrating Latin dance rhythm introduction of the trad hornpipe ‘King of the Fairies’– a unique take with Knight’s soaring fiddle and top work from Salzfaas as the tempo builds.

Knight’s own composition ‘Louisiana Flack’ brings Cajun influences to the arena with Flack playing “fiddlesticks” on Knight’s violin in a fast and fun romp – always a highlight of their live set.

‘Louisiana Flack’:

The pace steadies for the sad and tender traditional song ‘A Week Before Easter’ (also known as ‘The False Bride’) before another gentle Irish song ‘Down By The Salley Gardens’, based on the Yeats poem, with the subtlest of nuances from Knight’s fiddle.

The album, with its knife sharp sound, concludes with a pizzicato opening for the stand-out finale ‘Hard Times of Old England’ – with its perpetually resonating disillusioned lyrics. This final track seems to showcase all facets of this virtuosic trio through myriad styles and textures, from shimmering vibrato to delicate guitar chords, eventually reaching its optimistic conclusion.

Artists’ website: http://www.gigspanner.com/

Layers of Ages is an album that leaves you in no doubt that Gigspanner’s increasingly impressive sound is like no other.