First brought together for a one-off performance at the FolkEast festival back in 2016, the pairing of Peter Knight and John Spiers proved to be an inspired match. An album and a tour followed and Spiers’ famed melodeon even made its way into the expanded version of Knight’s acclaimed Gigspanner project. The pair are now back with a second duo album, however.
Both In A Tune, taken from a line in Shakespeare’s As You Like It (“I’ faith, i’ faith; and both in a tune, like two gypsies on a horse”) is the follow-up album to 2018’s Well Met.
While no-one would have expected these two to have played it safe, the inventiveness of this latest album is simply stunning. Even though the album starts off with something as widely known as that old favourite in the repertoire of every pub folkie ever since the revival, namely ‘Scarborough Fair’, within a few bars they’ve taken us to places we’ve barely even contemplated.
Peter Knight: “Since recording our first album, John and I have far more experience of playing together. With Both In A Tune I felt it was important to push the boundaries further, without forsaking the integrity of the tune itself. Combining my interest in folk music and free improvisation is not always easy, but I feel the endeavor is absolutely necessary for the world of music. It’s probably more risky but I believe it’s a risk well worth taking.”
The risk-taking has certainly paid off. Like the previous album it’s an entirely instrumental affair, containing a mix of the duo’s interpretations of traditional tunes and their own compositions. But whereas the previous album provided a platform for the pair to let rip on a number of jaunty Morris-inspired tunes, this one is an altogether darker, broodier and more experimental affair. It’s all rather magnificent and acts as an exhilarating showcase for the breath-taking interaction between the world-class fiddle-player and the world-class melodeon player. Wonderful stuff.
This review was also published by the Hastings Online Times here
Given both guitarist, Roger Flack, and percussionist Sacha Trochet are both Hastings residents and fiddle-player Peter Knight has a longstanding association with the town going right back to his Steeleye Span days, the Gigspanner concert at the Stables Theatre in Hastings old town was something of a post-lockdown homecoming gig. There was certainly a packed auditorium to welcome back the trio.
Peter Knight’s Gigspanner has now being going for well over a decade, with their first album released back in 2009. Initially starting out as a side project from his main work as part of Steeleye Span, Knight eventually left the folk rock icons in order to make Gigspanner his main priority. Now he’s back to juggling two different bands again with an expanded Gigspanner Big Band – which incorporates multi-instrumentalist dup Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin as well as Bellowhead icon John Spiers joining the core trio. The expanded set-up are in East Sussex next month, performing at Hailsham Pavilion on 4th December. Tonight, however, it’s the regular-size trio version of Gigspanner taking the stage.
With a set that included many Gigspanner live favourites like ‘Seagull’, ‘Butterfly’, ‘Bows of London’ and ‘Sharp Goes Walkabout’ each one is greeted like an old friend. There’s no letting up in the flair, inventiveness and spirit of improvisation to the performance, however, as they distil that trademark blend of English and Irish folk and a vast array of world music influences to deliver something that continues to be spell-binding and utterly mesmerising.
The newest member of the trio, Sacha Trochet, who took over from original percussionist Vincent Salzfaas, has help propel the already excellent Gigspanner to a whole new level, bringing in a much more experimental bent to the percussion and a broader texture of sounds.
It is always an absolute delight seeing Gigspanner and after a big Covid-shaped hole in my gig diary these past eighteen months it’s lovely to have them back.
The hashtag #FolkForChristmas was dreamt up as a means of supporting artists whose income has been devastated by the impact of coronavirus and lockdown this year. People are encouraged to support independent artists and their wonderful music and shop with them this Christmas rather than heading off to Amazon. In putting this list of recommendations together I’ve used nothing more than the totally scientific method of ranking them in order according to the number of hits each of these reviews received on my website.
No. 1: The Longest Johns – Cures What Ails Ya
If no-one has done more than Port Isaac’s Fisherman’s Friends to repopularise sea shanties in recent years, then surely no-one has done more than Bristol’s Longest Johns to give them an alt-folk makeover, pull them into the twenty-first century and make them cool. Cures What Ails Ya is the Longest Johns’ third album. A brilliant album from the men who made shanties sexy – buy it!
No. 2: Peter Knight’s Gigspanner Big Band – Natural Invention
Forming first as a violin-guitar-percussion trio creating a wonderful fusion of traditional English folk and a beguiling blend of international influences, the duo of Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin subsequently joined for occasional tours and a live album under the delightful Gigspanner Big Band moniker. Now, the big band has got even bigger – with former Bellowhead legend John Spiers joining. A stunningly good album, even if you’re stingy enough to only buy one folk album this year make sure it’s this one.
Inspired by Nan Shepherd’s memoir, once described by the Guardian as “the finest book ever written on nature and landscape in Britain,” Sturgeon’s album of the same name celebrates Shepherd’s nature writing and the Cairngorms mountain range in the eastern Highlands. Each of the twelve songs on the album take their titles from the chapter headings in Shepherd’s celebrated volume. Beautifully sung and exquisitely played The Living Mountain is a captivating celebration of the natural world and timeless and inspirational nature writing.
Send My Soul is the fifth studio album from singer song-writer Lorraine Jordan. Memorably described as ‘Celtic soul’ her music builds on her family’s Irish roots while also embracing more contemporary influences. It’s a combination that works fantastically well and from the moment you put it on the album oozes soulful sophistication and captivating musicality. Indeed, such is the powerfully understated beauty of the title track that I had to double-check that this was a brand new song and not a modern interpretation of a long lost gospel soul classic.
An Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter whose writing cuts across a number of styles, encompassing Americana, folk, country and blues – Tom Fairnie and has built up a considerable reputation on the Scottish folk circuit. Over in Austin, Texas, Grammy-nominated producer, Merel Bregante, came across Fairnie’s music, was inspired by his songs and invited him over to Austin to record. Friends, family and fans rallied round to make that happen, courtesy of a crowdfunding campaign and a series of benefit gigs and Fairnie pitched up in Texas. An absolute gem of an album.
With a name like that, songs that tell tales of heartbreak, cheap whiskey and Jesus, not to mention some deliciously effortless musicianship that just seems to ooze Nashville, I was somewhat surprised to learn that Mr Steinberg hails not from Nashville but from Norfolk (at least these days – although he’s from Yorkshire originally). What surprised me even more, however, was learning that Shadowland is, in fact, Steinberg’s debut album. Outstanding songs, exquisitely well-played and beautifully sung this album radiates such class that I’m still getting my head around the fact it’s a debut album.
All Is Not Forgotten is the fourth solo album from Scottish folk singer Siobhan Miller, three times winner of MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards and a 2018 BBC Folk Awards recipient. A beautifully pure voice that is just made for Scottish folk along with some exquisitely lovely musical arrangements and some instantly appealing songwriting ‘All Is Not Forgotten’ commends itself to you as a stand-out album as soon as you put it on.
Virginia Kettle’s vocals have been a key element of of Merry Hell’s sound since the band’s inception a decade ago. Before joining her husband John, brothers-in-law Bob and Andrew, and sundry others in the eight-piece folk-rock outfit, however, she’d established herself as a singer-songwriter in her own right. A mellower and more personal offering than a Merry Hell release No Place Like Tomorrow is a charming album that showcases Virginia Kettle’s obvious talents as a singer-songwriter.
Edge of the Wild is a collection of original songs from Hebridean-based author and artist Judy Fairbairns. Drawing inspiration from several decades spent living on the Isle of Mull and celebrating the wild beauty of its dramatic Atlantic shoreline, Edge of the Wild can be seen as something of a companion piece to Fairbairns’ acclaimed 2013 memoir ‘Island Wife’. An immensely satisfying listen and a fine musical debut.
Both Amos and Rocks are each accomplished song-writers and their reflective, thoughtful but easy-on-the-ear lyrics align nicely with some gentle, catchy melodies. The Americana as well as the Celtic influences shine through and it makes for a very pleasing mix. An engaging and likeable album from this duo let’s hope there’s a good few more gigs and a few more albums in them yet.
Initially starting out as a side project from his work with Steeleye Span, Peter Knight’s Gigspanner rapidly began establishing itself as the folk rock fiddle maestro’s main creative outlet. Steeleye Span were consequently left to find a new fiddle player and Gigspanner’s reputation grew with a string of albums and an almost permanent touring presence around the country’s arts centres, village halls, churches, pubs and theatres. It’s not only reputations that have grown, however, but the size of the band, too. Forming first as a violin-guitar-percussion trio creating a wonderful fusion of traditional English folk and a beguiling blend of international influences, the duo of Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin subsequently joined for occasional tours and a live album under the delightful Gigspanner Big Band moniker. Now, the big band has got even bigger – with former Bellowhead legend John Spiers joining.
Natural Invention is the first studio album of this six-piece collaboration. Of course you’re going to have exquisitely good musicianship with such a line-up. One niggling question for fans who have grown to love the vastly varied yet utterly unique sounds of the trio format, with its perfect interaction between violin, percussion and guitar, is whether having six musicians in the studio starts to over-complicate the unmistakable Gigspanner formula. It absolutely 100% doesn’t. This new album is pure Gigspanner through and through. Spiers’ melodeon, Henry’s slide guitars and Martin banjo and vocals all sound like they were forever destined to be part of the Gigspanner sound. Moreover, with beautifully creative arrangements of ten traditional songs (from the Child ballad ‘Betsy Bell and Mary Grey through to ‘Daddy Fox’ whose origins go back as far as the fifteenth century) the six have produced something absolutely magical.
Obviously, during the unfolding crisis of the pandemic musicians have been finding every gig and every forthcoming tour cancelled and their income rapidly disappearing. Bands will be reliant on album sales now more than ever before and, obviously, if you’re stuck in the house for weeks on end you’ll maybe want some new stuff to listen to. So buy buy buy buy. But don’t just buy to be charitable Natural Invention is a stunningly good album. Even if you’re stingy enough to only buy one folk album this year make sure it’s this one.
Although born and brought up in the US Julie Felix made the UK at home and established herself as a folk singer of repute in the mid 1960s, embracing the hippy scene and being a regular fixture on TV screens. Now aged 80, Felix is still singing and recording.
A personal message in the album’s sleeve-notes is all star signs, goddesses and mother earth, accompanied by a picture, of course, of a serene-looking Felix in the lotus position. You suspect her spiritual home, in time and in place, will forever be located somewhere equidistant between Woodstock and Greenham Common. No-one but no-one, however, should doubt the sincerity of Felix’s message nor the importance of the themes she tackles. Songs about ecological destruction, war, peace, power and love loom large, the anger and the hope embodied in the lyrics more relevant and certainly more urgent than ever before.
Woman, with its heartfelt message of female empowerment, is Felix’s perspective on the rise #MeToo movement. Tiger Eyes, meanwhile, takes on modern consumer culture and includes some amazing guitar soloing from guest guitarist, Doug Nofsinger. Amongst the other guests, Peter Knight (Steeleye Span, Gigspanner) provides some beautiful violin on three tracks, including a cover of Knight’s own Lullaby Kiss.
The protest singer personified, today’s world has not left Julie Felix any shortage of issues to protest about. Rock Me Goddess sees her in fine voice continuing to speak (or at least sing) truth to power.
This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rockhere
Folk rock icon, fiddle supremo and former Steeleye Span-er, Peter Knight, along with the rest of his trio Gigspanner have been busy lately. This is their second new album of the year. First, in the summer came a live album from the expanded line-up of the band (known as the Gigspanner Big Band) and now this autumn the trio release ‘The Wife Of Urban Law’.
For those unfamiliar with Knight’s current outfit (Gigspanner actually began as a side project to Steeleye Span but is now his main focus after leaving his former band four years ago), they veer more towards the folk end rather than the folk-rock end of the spectrum. However, to merely describe them as folk ignores the huge range of musical influences that are at play on a Gigspanner album; from English folk to eastern European, French, Cajun, African and even aboriginal influences.
This latest album continues in that vein and is as expansive and inventive as ever. Knight’s virtuoso fiddle is, of course, an intrinsic part of the overall Gigspanner sound but so, too, is the suitably atmospheric acoustic-electric guitar of Roger Flack and the absolutely spellbinding percussion of new boy, Sacha Trochet, who took over from original conga player, Vincent Salzfaas, recently.
Material-wise, imaginative interpretations of traditional folk songs like ‘Green Gravel’ and ‘Bold Riley’ sit alongside self-penned numbers like the lively ‘Urban’s Reel’ which opens the album and ‘Lament for the Wife of Urban Law’ based on an inscription on a 19th century Oxfordshire gravestone which gives the album its title.
Hypnotic, infectious, inventive and utterly, utterly unique, Peter Knight’s Gigspanner continue to shine and this is yet another superb album from the trio.
This review was also published by Get Ready To Rock here
Fairport Convention’s festival at Cropredy has been an annual fixture for almost four decades now but the big celebration this year was marking the fiftieth anniversary of the band’s formation. In the eight years since I have been going it has always been quite an eclectic bill, straddling folk, rock and retro pop. This year it leaned more towards the folk-rock end than normal because, it being the fiftieth anniversary, a number of sets from ex-Fairport members and close associates were on the bill. This meant there were lots of acts that I was really looking forward to, this time, even if there was perhaps a little less variety in the festival line-up than normal.
Before we got to the three-hour set from Fairport Convention on the Saturday night, therefore, there were plenty of highlights over the three days: including the ever-impressive Show of Hands; last year’s festival darlings, The Pierce Brothers, who returned for a repeat performance; and the Gigspanner Big Band (where Peter Knight’s trio join forces with folk duo Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin). Of the Fairport friends and family spin-offs we had Ashley Hutchings’ recreation of Morris On, a stunning solo set from Richard Thompson and original Fairport vocalists, Judy Dyble with her Band of Perfect Strangers and Iain Matthews with Plainsong. Lots of highlights there.
And niggles? With a three day festival and three days of camping and drinking and music we normally choose an act we’re not too bothered about for a bit of early evening down time back at the camp-site. On the Friday, the Trevor Horn Band drew the short straw for us this time. I’ve never been too bothered about either ’80s Yes or Buggles I figured. But sadly it meant missing a surprise guest appearance from Russ Ballard. ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ (Ballard’s hit for Rainbow) and ‘God Gave Rock n Roll To You’ (the Argent classic). Both sounded great from the comfort of our gazebo anyway…
Marillion sounded good but they did a dedicated fans’ set rather than a festival set. I’ve got my one greatest hits album and was really hoping to hear a few more songs I was familiar with that I could sing along to. To me, Marillion not doing ‘Kayleigh’ at a festival is as daft as Petula Clark not doing ‘Downtown’. Happily the latter obliged. Would I pay to go and see a Petula Clark gig? Probably not. But was singing along to ‘Downtown’ in a field with several thousand others one of those not-to-be-missed life-affirming moments? Absolutely!
While it might not have been my favourite Cropredy line-up ever, it was definitely, without a doubt my favourite Fairport performance of all time. Fairport Convention are a band that never knowingly pass over the chance to celebrate an anniversary and they certainly pulled out all the stops for this one.
Things began with a couple of songs from the modern-day Fairport and then suddenly, magically we were transported back to 1967 with all of the surviving members from the first album reconvening on stage for a stunning recreation of the first track on the first album ‘Time Will Show The Wiser’, followed by ‘I Don’t Know Where I Stand’ and ‘Reno, Nevada’. It completely captured the magic of that first album and was really special seeing Ashley Hutchings, Simon Nicol, Richard Thompson, Judy Dyble and Iain Matthews sharing a stage together. When early Fairport reconvene like this I am always reminded of when groups of old school friends get together they often seem to slot back into the roles and pecking orders of decades ago. Even though he has not been a member of the band for 48 years, Ashley Hutchings effortlessly slots back into the role of band leader, doing all the talking and introducing the songs.
Tragically, it is now increasingly challenging to reconvene some of the later later line-ups of the band and more and more stand-ins are required. Nevertheless, Chris While does a superb job filling in for Sandy Denny and likewise Chris Leslie for Dave Swarbrick’s fiddle parts, in renditions from the iconic Liege & Lief album. Songs from other classic albums Full House, Nine and Rising From The Moon (with Sally Barker on vocals) also get a good airing.
The set-list is heavily weighted towards the band’s first eight years or so, with only a smattering of songs from later eras but considering Fairport’s outstanding legacy of truly groundbreaking from this period that seems entirely appropriate.
Having seen Fairport Convention on stage some twenty-five times now and never once failing to enjoy them, for me this has easily been the best. A stunning way to celebrate fifty years.
Fairport Convention set-list:
Bottom of the Punchbowl / East Neuke of Fife / Ye Mariners All
Summer By The Cherwell
Time Will Show the Wiser
I Don’t Know Where I Stand
Crazy Man Michael
Come All Ye
The Lark in the Morning Medley
Poor Will and the Jolly Hangman
Now Be Thankful
Sir Patrick Spens
The Ballad of Ned Kelly
Talk About Money
Rising for the Moon
A Surfeit of Lampreys
The Hiring Fair
The Hexhamshire Lass
Jewel in the Crown
Who Knows Where the Time Goes?
Our Bus Rolls On
Meet on the Ledge
My was review was originally published by the Hastings Online Timeshere
Peter Knight will be known to many as fiddle supremo for folk rockers, Steeleye Span, over four decades. The Gigspanner trio initially began as a side project of Knight’s but he left Steeleye Span for good in 2013 to concentrate fully on Gigspanner. While there are numerous cases of artists carrying on doing exactly the same old thing as they’ve always done in a brand new band with a similar sounding name, this is far from the case with Gigspanner. Of course, Knight’s virtuoso fiddle playing is still at the heart of Gigspanner’s sound; but rather than the typical ingredients of the classic folk-rock band, Gigspanner is a complete melting pot of musical influences: English folk meets Cajun hoe-down meets French waltzes meets Latin-American drumming and much more besides. All of it producing a magically diverse texture of sounds that is awe-inspiring and utterly enthralling.
The band has performed at the old town’s Stables Theatre on a number of occasions now and seasoned Gigspanner followers will have immediately noticed a change as soon as they walked into the auditorium and seen a different percussion set-up as they glanced towards the stage. Indeed, conga drummer Vincent Salzfaas who had been with the band since its formation recently departed due to changes in his personal circumstances and he’s been replaced by Sasha Trochet. Salzfaas’s congas were such an integral part of the unique Gigspanner sound I was wondering what impact the new arrangements would have. Fans of the trio have nothing to fear. While Trochet introduces a much more varied selection of percussion instruments the essential ingredients of the Gigspanner sound are still there and are added to, rather than diluted.
The band have strong Hastings connections, of course. Knight was resident here for many years and a familiar figure in music pubs around the town. Guitarist, Roger Flack, is Hastings-based and also plays with local band The Tabs, as well as being a regular participant in folk sessions in the Dolphin. A Hastings gig, therefore, always has something of a home-coming feel for the trio, particularly as a number of the band’s songs are directly inspired by the town. ‘Seagull’, for example, one of the songs written by Knight that is performed tonight, was inspired by regular sessions of shove ha’penny in the Lord Nelson. It’s also noteworthy for being one of the songs that Knight plays the fiddle, not with a bow, but by plucking. Just as the fiddle supremo produces a whole range of beautiful sounds using his bow, there’s a whole set of other sonic delights that come from his fingers, too. Other songs include traditional folk staples like ‘She Moves Through The Fair’ and ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’ reworked to give them that unique signature Gigspanner feel.
As the evening draws to a close, once again the Stables audience respond with rapturous applause and once again, Hastings can be immensely proud of a music scene that has played a part in gifting the world a band of this calibre.
I’ve seen the mesmerising Gigspanner live on quite a few occasions now (nine times in the past four years) and described their utterly unique performances here and here and here!
Gigspanner are ex-Steeleye Span fiddle player, Peter Knight, guitarist, Roger Flack, and percussionist, Vincent Salzfaas. What is different about tonight though is that they are joined by folk duo Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin – for what’s been dubbed the Gigspanner Big Band. I was always hoping this would be something special. But at the same time I didn’t want to see Gigspanner lose the essence of what makes the band so utterly unique into some generic worldy, folky sort of jam session. I needn’t have worried. Henry & Martin do bring something extra to the stage in terms the former’s awe-inspiring slide guitar and the latter’s additional fiddle and beautiful vocals. Yet at the same time they absolutely work with the grain of what makes Gigspanner the act that it is and adding to that rather than simply muddying it up.
It was nice to some well-established Gigspanner favourites in the setlist tonight: Butterfly, Death and The Lady, Hard Times of Old England and King of the Fairies as well as a beautiful Banks of the Nile (which many will know from Sandy Denny’s back catalogue) sung by Martin.
Gigspanner has always been a complete melting pot of musical influences: English folk meets Cajun jigs meets French waltzes meets African drumming and much more besides. And the guest duo certainly bring in a bit more of the English folk influence – but also, with the slide guitar, they bring an American country blues feel and, at times, traditional Indian influences, too, (Philips studied Indian classical guitar in Calcutta) which all add to the already rich texture of Gigspanner sounds and influences.
It’s perhaps no surprise therefore that one of the biggest cheers of the evening comes when Peter Knight lets slip that the five of them are going to be making an album together.
The venue itself also played a part in making this a special evening. Built into the cliff face in the 19th century as a church, it fell into disuse and disrepair in the mid twentieth century but was saved, given an extensive refurbishment and re-opened as a quite magical arts venue in the late 90s. A magical trio meets up with a magical duo in a magical venue. What more could we have asked for.
Layers of Ages, Gigspanner’s long-awaited third album received numerous plaudits from folk reviewers when it was released last year. Deservedly so. Fiddle-player, Peter Knight, guitarist, Roger Flack, and percussionist extraordinaire, Vincent Salzfaas, have returned with another absolute gem.
Bows Of London opens the album, a song exploring those age-old themes sibling rivalry, murder and haunted musical instruments made out of human bones (well of course…) What really adds to the macabre nature of the subject matter though is the beautifully calm, understated way in which Knight delivers the lyrics. Death And The Lady is another highlight. Coming in at over nine minutes long, dark, brooding electric violin blends with pounding conga drums and Spanish-flavoured guitar to create a wonderfully atmospheric soundscape. However, for those yet to experience Gigspanner it’s difficult to emphasise the breadth of musical influences that this band explore. There’s lots of well known traditional material on the album, of course. But folk doesn’t even begin to describe the vast range of sounds you get to hear coming out of the speakers when Gigspanner are playing. King Of The Fairies, for example, has a Latin American feel while Louisina Flack immediately puts you in mind of a furiously energetic Cajun hoedown.
Not only have Gigspanner brought a fresh perspective on some really well-known traditional songs, the album revisits a couple of songs closely associated with Knight’s former band, Steeleye Span. There is a great version of Mad Tom of Bedlam which is given that unique Gigspanner treatment, as well as a new version of Hard Times Of Old England. The latter was recorded by Steeleye Span at the height of their rocked-up, mid-70s commercial peak. But it gets a thorough reworking here as a gentle, mournful ballad, providing a lovely finish to the album.
Having played Gigspanner’s previous two albums to death over recent years, it’s been wonderful to finally have a new one to play over these past few weeks. And what a masterpiece it is, wholly deserving of all the praise it’s received thus far.