PETER KNIGHT’S GIGSPANNER: Rumney Folk Club, March 17, 2017
Peter Knight is an absolutely phenomenal player on the violin. For all these years, Peter and the successful, storming Steeleye Span were inseparably linked; but since he left Steeleye six years ago, Peter has dreamed of leading a compact trio which could explore and experiment with traditional music in an utterly multi-textured style. Welcome, Gigspanner…
Gigspanner have played an incredible five times for Rumney Folk Club, and they love performing at St Augustine’s Church Hall, on the corner of Church Road and Whitehall Parade in the eastern Cardiff suburb of Rumney. As Peter said, they are treated like Royalty, have a fabulous home-cooked meal and get to sample some wonderful local ales – adding as an afterthought: “I think we’ll get the taxi back to the hotel tonight.” And the folk club audience just lap up Gigspanner’s hypnotic, spellbinding style; guitarist Roger Flack coaxes sheer magic and some mind-bending notes out of his instrument, and new member and hand-drum/percussion player Sacha Trochet – brought in when Vincent Salzfass had to pull out for family reasons – weaves fascinating and amazing sound-patterns, reminiscent of heady, intoxicating free-form classical jazz; but all three musicians place this lovely, mysterious tradition from these islands on a very high pedestal and mould it into pure gold.
The late Sir Terry Pratchett once said: “Peter Knight can spin the world on his bow.” However, Peter – and advancing years – has taken very great trouble to shake off the glittery image of the pop-star fiddler. He joked: “You know – sex, drugs… and a little lie-down.” Now he, Roger and Sacha have put themselves in the commanding position where they are able to paint a wonderful sound-picture, just by observing and expertly tinkering with the bare bones of a single song or tune, which can last for eight or nine minutes. They started off the set by taking the time to tune their instruments, which imperceptibly segued into ‘She Moved Through The Fair’, a nearly nine-minute fantasia with delicious hints of Irish reels and grand airs. ‘Seagull’, his composition, set the tone of the evening with soaring harmonies and plucked violin, and there was more of this stark and beautiful plucking in the delicate but darkly sombre ‘Peggy And The Soldier’. However, in fabulous contrast, Sacha played a furious percussion and Roger was outstanding when he stick-drummed Peter’s violin in the re-named ‘Isadora’s Reel’, which was titled ‘Louisiana Flack’ on the latest Gigspanner album, Layers Of Ages. In fact, they performed five tracks from this very impressive CD – and the great news is that they have recorded another brand-new one, which will be released in the future.
In the interval, the audience were treated to the brilliant fiddler and Rumney Folk Club regular Xenia Porteous warming up with Peter on some spectacular classical fragments – then Gigspanner took the stage and launched into ‘The Blackbird’, a flitting, flying tune which Peter had learned from the famous London Irish sessions (he sat on Sacha’s cajon, with the comment: “I only learned this sitting down.”) Xenia came up from the floor to join Peter, the dual violins weaving together and playing the magnificent ballad collected from the traditional Norfolk singer Walter Pardon, ‘The Raggle-Taggle Gypsies’; however, she had to leave the folk club to attend to child matters, and the trio carried on and interpreted the slip-jig ‘The Butterfly’ with artful alacrity and invention.
Plucked violin heralded the start of ‘The Hard Times Of Old England’, and the audience was transfixed by the tale of the macabre sister-murder ballad ‘The Bows Of London’; they joined in the anthemic chorus of ‘Bold Riley’, one from the Bert Lloyd collection of ‘genuine’ sea shanties, and Peter, Roger and Sacha played a plethora of scorching runs in the final piece, ‘Sharp Goes Walkabout’. The delighted crowd cheered and roared for more, and Gigspanner obliged with the Irish reel ‘The King Of The Fairies’.
It was a unique and stupendous night, and anyone who trudged through the horrendous weather will vouch that it was well worth it. One fact is abundantly obvious: The trio have pencilled out their own intelligent and distinctive terroritory, which is both rooted in ancient tradition yet is flinging the doors of imagination wide open. Gigspanner’s music defies and defeats all who mistakenly think that folk can be pigeon-holed that easily. It’s frustratingly elusive and it’s slippery as a box of eels – and it’s roaring like a rampant lion.