Twelve years ago Peter Knight’s Gigspanner introduced themselves to the world with Lipreading The Poet. Its launch was relatively low key but just look how they have grown. There are four albums as a trio with Sacha Trochet replacing Vincent Salzfaas after the third. Two very fine percussionists with very different styles – I think that Sacha is the only man I’ve seen play a bull-roarer on stage. Then there is the Big Band, now a six-piece, but From Poets To Wives concentrates on the work of the trio: tight, intense, sometimes ethereal, sometimes almost threatening.
The album, curated by Peter, opens with their instrumental version of ‘She Moved Through The Fair’ from Layers Of Ages. The tune is traditional and the source of the words are the subject of some debate so the band concentrates on Peter’s improvisation on the melody spread over eight minutes. It really is exquisite. The second track is quite a contrast. The old shanty, ‘Bold Riley’, rides on the solid foundation of Sacha’s percussion while there is an unexpected tenderness in Peter’s delivery. Listening again, it became a real ear-worm.
Next is ‘The Blackbird’, also taken from The Wife Of Urban Law, displays Peter’s jazz inclinations followed by the live version of ‘The Butterfly’ from Doors At Eight. This used to open the Gigspanner set as they “played the room”, seeking out its nuances before allowing the tune to break out from their explorations. ‘Bows Of London’ is a fine version of the two sisters story and with tragedy still in the air they follow it with their long exploration of ‘Death And The Lady’, both tracks coming from Layers Of Ages.
‘Urban’s Reel’ comes from their most recent album but they return to their first for the delicate ‘Sí Beg Sí Mhór’. Hearing these two tracks side by side emphasises the difference in recording technology across the decade from the lightness of the first to the depth of the latter. Bob Copper reputedly hated Steeleye Span’s version of ‘Hard Times Of Old England’ and Gigspanner go nowhere near it, replacing the folk-rock bounce with an appropriate world-weariness.
From Poets To Wives is a serious, almost sombre, compilation and you might think that a ‘Louisiana Flack’ or a ‘Sitting On Top Of The World’ with Roger’s rolling African tinged guitar might not go amiss and I might agree with you, but those tunes are out there. Tell you what – why not curate your own playlist?
Artists’ website: https://www.gigspanner.com/
‘Hard Times Of Old England’ – official video: