“It’s like magic isn’t it – trying to work out how they manage to get all of those sounds from those instruments.”
Neither my words, nor the words from some cheesy promotional blurb but an off-the-cuff remark from a fellow audience member at Gigspanner’s performance in Whitstable. Fronted by Peter Knight, until recently the longstanding virtuoso fiddle player with folk rock legends, Steeleye Span, Peter is joined by Roger Flack on guitar and Vincent Salzfaas on conga drums. The three produce some truly amazing sounds together and, while there are undoubtedly strong English folk influences, their music embraces a whole range of influences, including French, Cajun and African sounds.
While I was very familiar with Peter’s work in Steeleye Span, until I saw them for the first time two years ago I was only vaguely aware of his side-project, Gigspanner . And it’s a long time since a single act has had as much of an impact on me in such a short space of time, as Gigspanner has. Tonight is the sixth time I’ve caught up with them in two years and each time I’ve found their performance even more spellbinding than the last. At times Roger Flack’s beautiful melodic guitar reminds me of an early Peter Green, particularly on opening instrumental, The Butterfly. Combined with Knight’s haunting fiddle and Salzfaas’s beautifully subtle but infectiously rhythmic pounding of the congas brings a mesmerising start to the set. Dave Roberts French Waltz, another favourite of mine in the Gigspanner set, is an old French waltz that they learnt from the late Mr Roberts, Knight explains. They’ve never been able to find the original title so the title, Dave Roberts French Waltz, has stuck.
There are songs, too. Those familiar with Steeleye Span’s large back catalogue will know that as well as Maddy Prior’s unmistakable vocals, there is often the odd contrasting but beautifully sung song from Peter Knight. Some of these, like Bonny Birdy and Seagull (Knight’s paean to the pub game shove ha’penny) are performed tonight, but given the unmistakable Gigspanner treatment. New additions to the set include a lovely version of folk standard, She Moves through the Fair, and a slowed down take on the old Steeleye favourite, Hard Times of Old England.
Although audiences at the Horsebridge, a beautifully constructed contemporary arts centre close to the seafront, generally tend to be on the restrained side they certainly showed their appreciation tonight and the standing ovation, whopping and cheering at the end of the set was thoroughly deserved.
Gigspanner have now been performing several years and their first album came out in 2009. However, it was only at the end of last year that Knight finally said farewell to Steeleye Span. I’m a huge fan of both bands but when I read the announcement I felt a sense of relief that at least Knight was leaving Steeleye Span to concentrate on Gigspanner, rather than the other way round. Although a hard act to follow, Steeleye will, I’m sure, find an able replacement for Knight. What would be a real tragedy, as tonight’s performance demonstrated, would be if the world were to be denied more live performances of the wonderful and totally unique music of Gigspanner.