Paul Johnson and Darren Beech caught up with Peter Knight after Gigspanner Big Band closed the Friday night of New Forest Folk Festival 2019.
We talk to Peter about the early days of Gigspanner, how the idea came about, Peter’s ethos for music, what he looks for in his musical relationships and how he approaches his new projects since Steeleye Span.
There is a very funny interlude, when the one and only Hugh Crabtree makes an appearance with a bottle of wine. We also talk to Peter’s about John Spiers, how the partnership came together, Peter’s workshops and the Gigspanner Big Band.
The interview should start playing automatically, if not click on the play button below to listen.
Feast Of Fiddles was formed in 1994 as a one-off concert ensemble as Hugh Crabtree thought it would be a good idea and Mike Sanderson of Nettlebed Folk Club thought so too!
Their first live recording Live 01 was released in 2002 – quite a long wait for the increasing number of fans of the band. However it was only another two years before the next CD appeared – Nicely Wrong. Three more years before yet another live recording Still Live and then after another three years the first studio album Walk Before You Fly. You guessed it, another three years for the second studio album Rise Above It and with a slight break with tradition it’s taken four years to get to studio album number three. Fast forward and in 2017 their sixth album entitled Sleight Of Elbow will be released.
Feast Of Fiddles embarks on its 24th annual spring tour in 2017 to coincide with the release of their new album. The band that has been variously likened to a “group of geography teachers” or “Bellowhead with bus passes!” doesn’t seem to be slowing down any. A band of musical friends that puts on a show of huge dynamic range performed with passion, joy and a liberal dose of fun. It all started at a folk club but has become a folk-rock institution with seven CDs to their name, several festival appearances and sell out shows up and down the UK. Typically, fiddlers Peter Knight (Steeleye Span), Chris Leslie (Fairport Convention), Phil Beer (Show of Hands), Brian McNeill (Battlefield Band), Ian Cutler (Bully Wee), Tom Leary (Lindisfarne) and Garry Blakeley (Band of Two) add their extensive range of fiddle playing styles to the rock back-line of guitars, keyboards, sax and accordion – all held together by legendary drummer Dave Mattacks. A live music entertainment like no other which is guaranteed to be enjoyed by even the most doubting of friends dragged along!
Feast Of Fiddles at the New Forest Folk Festival:
The new album Sleight Of Elbow is something of a departure for the band as it features a lot of original compositions from within the band and only a single traditional tune. One well established feature of the band is well exposed however and that is Feast Of Fiddles arrangements of tunes from other genres, film or TV.
The title track is one of two pieces by guitarist Martin Vincent which was first aired during the 2016 spring tour – the tour that Martin missed because he was in hospital getting a new valve for his heart. ‘McBrides’ is a tune from the band Moving Hearts and a real test piece for a big band. The Scottish band The McCalmans provide the first of only three songs on this recording – ‘Smugglers Song’, this rousing tale of smugglers going about their business complete with engaging chorus. The band’s arrangement of ‘String Of Pearls’ (best known through the Glen Miller Band) demonstrates perfectly the versatility of Feast Of Fiddles. Used as tour opener in 2016 it instigated immediate spontaneous applause at more than one venue. This is followed by the second song – a beautiful original from Alan Whetton who joined the band on sax and keyboards in 2012. ‘Butterfly’s Wing’ picks up the concept of chaos theory which suggests the brief flapping of a butterfly’s wing in England might result in a tornado in the mid-west of America. Another piece from Martin Vincent – ‘Paper Chase’ is probably the nearest the band has got to jazz. Written for a huge school band when Martin was teaching music the title reflects the frustration of most teachers these days dealing with increasing burden of paperwork. The next track, ‘Siamese Kashmir’, is a classic example of what Feast Of Fiddles is all about. A famous film tune segueing into classic rock. ‘The March Of The Siamese Princes And Princesses’ from the film The King And I somehow seemed to naturally lead to Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’…or so thought bass player Dave Harding a frequent provider of left field material choices to open the show. A great band tune from Alan Whetton – ‘Three Legged Race’ comes next. Then a past top of show track which starts with the theme music of TV series Mission Impossible and joins with another tune from the pen of Alan Whetton ‘Mission Statement’, together almost inevitably entitled ‘Mission Improbable’. The final track on the album is the only traditional tune and one that has been a feature of the band’s repertoire ever since the very beginning. Frequently introduced as a French dance tune that morphs into a drum solo it is ‘Branle Des Chevaux’ or ‘Horses’ Brawl’ as it is better known in the UK.
LIVE SHOW DELIGHTS ON ONE WET AND WINDY NIGHT IN RYE IN SUSSEX!
If Garry Blakeley ever had to bullet point and compile a CV it would probably read something like this:
Garry Blakeley – Amazingly brilliant fiddle player, Marketing Director, PR Manager, Record Producer, Recording Studio Manager, Singer song writer, Tour Manager, Web Site Designer, long standing associate member of ‘Feast of Fiddles’, and Band of Two.
This is because Gary Blakeley and his close friends and family are masters of their ever growing and highly successful ‘Cottage Industry’!! not to mention a great family man with his son Ed firmly rooted in this successful set up as the hugely talented bass and key board player, who Garry affectionately calls the musical director. Then of course there is the brilliant Rose Blakeley writing excellent well crafted and clever lyrics and a book!! This really is a recipe for success as the recent tour of Garry’s latest album ‘The Wheel Of The Year’ has proved with ticket sales rocketing and venues selling out!
I was however, lucky enough to get hold of a ticket for the last gig in a current run of Garry Bakeley and his brilliant bands ‘Wheel Of the Year’ show. (More shows are planned for next year)
On a wild wet windy night in Rye I ventured to The Rye Community Centre to be given a warm welcome by Garry and Rose Blakeley, where before they took to the stage I managed to talk to him and Jane Downes who narrates poems and archived news items spanning years both on the stage and on the album which adds a dramatic and intriguing twist, both the live show and the album drawing you in to a fascinating living tradition folk tales and hearsays interspersed with modern snippets of information – clever – really clever – and most enjoyable! The show was excellent musically uplifting and powerful laced with humour a brilliantly tight band to boot!
It’s amazing what you can achieve at home these days and also where it literally becomes a ‘cottage’ industry. This couldn’t be more true than in the case of fiddler, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Garry Blakeley who has managed to keep it in the ‘family’ by collaborating with his wife Rose’s lyrics and son Edd (production, mixing and engineering) along with contributions from Dave Mattacks, Hugh Crabtree and Steve Hampton. The Wheel Of The Year features a song cycle using festivals, ceremonies and customs as the main thrust for linking the component parts of the project on an album that really focuses on the nostalgia of the ‘folk-rock’ genre and the ‘glory days’ of Fairport and Steeleye in the early 70’s. Call me ageist if you like but certainly this was the best era for this kind of music and personally speaking is as relevant today as it was then. Britain’s heritage proudly nails its colours to the mast including a very General Taylor-ish “Nelson’s Victory” complete with rally inspired acapella singing accompanied only by stirring drum recruiting rhythms and followed by some nicely placed fiddle and electric guitar power chords on the instrumental ending. On the track “The Last Post” with its condemnation of the futility of war followed by the towering “Battle Of The Somme” shows Garry’s loyalty to his country without the use of overt jingoism. Wisely opting to put the prodigious lyrics of the songs on the project’s website where you can also find plenty of background information this is a CD well worth adding to your collection!