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:

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: http://www.gigspanner.com/index.html

‘Hard Times Of Old England’ – official video:

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. 

 

PETER KNIGHT’S GIGSPANNER – Doors At Eight (Own Label GSCD002)

I must admit that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this gem of a recording from Steeleye Span’s virtuosic violin player Peter Knight and his henchmen Roger Flack (guitar) and Vincent Salzfas (percussion). Now, and without the merest hint of partiality…I used to play with Roger in The Tabs…I can let you know that this is one of those albums that once you put it on, you can’t stop playing. Considering he hardly reads a note of music Flack’s dextrous and decorative chord work within the band adds so much colour that you’d think he’d been sponsored by Dulux whilst Knight and Salzfas feel-good factor with their perfectly balanced sound means you’d be forgiven for thinking that the audience appreciation at the end of each track was possibly an overdub. The answer to that one is a resounding “No”.

With the addition of Joe Cauldwell’s didgeridoo on “Sharpe Goes Walkabout” or Hugh Crabtree’s Gauloises saturated melodeon on “Dave Robert’s French Waltz” complete with “La Vie En Rose” as a cheeky appendage this album pleases not only their spectators but also the listener with the merest hint of unabashed cliché. Finally, did you know that “The Water Is Wide” is one of the most covered songs in the traditional canon? I’ve personally got 35 versions…and still counting but to carry the tune off as a purely 7:05 minute instrumental shows you the quality of musicianship on display here and we in the ‘folk’ world should be justifiably proud to count this artful cartel as one of our own.

PETE FYFE

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist Web link: www.gigspanner.com

PETER KNIGHT’S GIGSPANNER – The Electric Theatre, Guildford – 15 September 2011

Gigspanner are a band for whom improvisation is as important as composition. In theory, no two performances will be the same even with the same set list. I’d love to hear them on two successive nights in different venues but I’ve had to content myself with hearing them twice this year. It’s fascinating to hear how the music has evolved over a few months – or is it just that this is how it was on this night in this theatre with this audience?

There are certainly more backing vocals from Roger Flack and Vincent Salzfaas which boost the refrains and the ending of ‘Mrs McGrath’ has been reworked to take that into account but the rest is mere conjecture. ‘Picnic’ seemed tighter and ‘Bonny Birdie’ more aggressive but Peter had just spoken movingly about Ray Fisher with whom he first played the song and perhaps it was that emotion coming out. Roger extended his solo on ‘Sitting On Top Of The World’ and Vincent got three turns in the spotlight which was different and Peter probably played more pizzicato than bowing, creating some very non-violin sounds on ‘Too Late For Shadows’ for example, but that is pretty much standard.

The time sped past too quickly as it often does when the music is so engrossing. The band has had a couple of months off after a long tour and the chaps seem to have come back from their summer re-energised. You could never accuse them of head-banging but there was some serious leaning forward and nodding at times. 

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist Web Link: http://www.peterknight.net/