Gigspanner is not Steeleye Span. In spite of the slight similarity in name and in spite of the presence of long-standing ex-Steeleye fiddle supremo, Peter Knight, Gigspanner are a different proposition from the folk-rock legends entirely. And utterly wonderful for it, they are too.
Those attending a Gigspanner concert can expect a slew of varied musical influences: English folk-song, Irish traditional, French waltzes, Cajun playing, African sounds, and many more, all form part of the repertoire. The result is far from a random around-the-world mish-mash, however. Knight’s virtuoso fiddle combines with Vincent Salzfass’s conga drums and Roger Flack’s distinctive semi-acoustic electric guitar-playing to create something truly unique. Together, and it’s clear from seeing the three of them on stage how much they feed off working with one another, the trio create a sound that’s both coherent and instantly identifiable, producing a recognisable Gigspanner feel across whatever they do. The way Salfaaz builds up a rhythm on his congas is a delight to hear and utterly captivating to witness. Royal Academy-trained Knight provides everything you would expect from one of the UK’s foremost folk fiddle-players, playing magnificently on tunes like The Butterfly, a traditional tune the band have turned into an absolute musical masterpiece. But you get much more out of Knight’s fiddle besides. Finger plucking his instrument for some of the numbers (like Dave Roberts’ French Waltz and Bonny Birdy) he draws some truly amazing sounds out of it. They even do a fast and furious Cajun fiddle number where Knight plays the instrument with his bow while Flack joins him pounding the very same strings with elongated drum sticks, or fiddle sticks as the famous expression has it
I have seen Gigspanner on numerous occasions but tonight’s performance being in Hastings, where the trio formed and continue to play regularly, gives it added poignancy. A number of the songs and tunes tonight have a direct Hastings connection, including Seagull, a song recalling Knight’s days spent playing shove ha’penny in one of the local pubs, and Rolling Down the Bourne, a tune named after the main thoroughfare (and underground stream) which runs through Hastings Old Town where the Stables Theatre is based.
A talented, imaginative and hugely creative trio, Gigspanner live is something well worth witnessing. Just don’t go expecting All Around My Hat…
Previous review: Gigspanner at Whitstable