PETER KNIGHT’S GIGSPANNER – Live at Farnham Maltings

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

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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:

KEITH JAMES – The Songs Of Leonard Cohen – live at Farnham Maltings

The Songs Of Leonard Cohen

No-one can accuse Keith James of opportunism. He has been touring The Songs Of Leonard Cohen for six years now. The set has changed sometimes and one iteration even included a documentary film but this was the show’s 305th performance. In the immediate aftermath of Cohen’s death one quote emerged above all others: “There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in” from ‘Anthem’.

Keith opened his set with ‘Anthem’ and followed it with one of Cohen’s most cynical songs, ‘Everybody Knows’, one of many masterpieces from I’m A Man. The first set was particularly sombre, inevitably I suppose given that Cohen’s death is still an open wound for some. ‘If It Be Your Will’, ‘A Thousand Kisses Deep’ and ‘It Seemed A Better Way’ from the final album set the tone. Keith skilfully segued into a piece from Cohen’s greatest inspiration, Federico Garcia Lorca, which also gave him the opportunity to stretch out on the guitar. Hearing it in this context you can believe that Cohen could have written ‘The Mask’ and Keith repeated the trick in the second set by following ‘Take This Waltz’ with ‘Going To Santiago’.

While not sounding like Cohen vocally and doing more on the guitar than Cohen did what is most interesting is Keith’s reading of Cohen’s middle period middle when he was using big backings. The early songs such as ‘Suzanne’, ‘Bird On A Wire’ and ‘Sisters Of Mercy’ are too well-known and “simple” to lend themselves to over-interpretation and fans need something to sing along with as Keith proved by asking us to join in raucously with the chorus of ‘So Long, Marianne’: an experience to be cherished. Keith brings a song from that middle period like ‘First We Take Manhattan’, a song of political angst, back to basics.

Having closed with ‘Chelsea Hotel #2’ – I was surprised to find that I remembered nearly all the words – Keith encored with ‘Hallelujah’. It always amuses me that Cohen’s original studio recording of the song was actually rather flat and dull and it has been cover versions over the years that have made it what it is.

This was the first date of this leg of Keith’s ongoing Songs Of Leonard Cohen tour and there are many more opportunities to enjoy the show. I left with the feeling that I really ought to get back to the original albums particularly I’m Your Man, Various Positions and The Future. Sometimes you need, not only new ears, but also a different voice to bring a song back.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: