A Night Of Extreme Violins
Yes, I know it’s not in Devizes, but it’s pretty darned close. And it was definitely worth the trip out on a grim Tuesday night when nothing else was happening. Folk or football? Well, as Bill Shankly never actually said, this gig was far more important than mere life-or-death on a soccer field.
Gigspanner, if you don’t know, is now the full-time musical project of ex-Steeleye Span’s violin genius, Peter Knight. Having gradually become slightly exasperated with the repetitive nature of Steeleye’s musical repertoire, despite the occasional new album, Peter left in order to pursue his own musical interests. And boy has he done that in spades over the past ten years or so. His trio, including guitar and technical wizard Roger Flack, and percussionist Sacha Trochet, has become legendary in folk (and other) circles for their ground-breaking exploration of musical forms, pushing the basics of folk way, way beyond previous known limits.
The Pound Arts Centre was absolutely packed last night, with every ticket having sold some time ago. They’d managed to squeeze in two extra rows of seats at the front, and so it was that 120 of us welcomed these wonderful musicians to the stage. Given the depth of applause, I’d guess that most of them were already big fans of the band and knew what was coming up. And what came up was absolutely superb. Building on the basic building blocks of a few “traditional” folk songs and tunes (She Moved Through The Fair, The Constant Lovers, The Bows of London and The Hard Times of Old England), the band built these foundations into something quite spectacular. They moved these pieces far beyond the normal, extemporising and exploring as they went, and produced some spell-binding passages of music. It was fascinating, it was beautiful, and it was utterly captivating. Using violin, guitars, pedals, effects, and a range of percussion, the three of them wove some amazing musical patterns. It’s absolutely unlike stuff you’ll hear anywhere else, and played live on stage right in front of you, it’s completely gob-smackingly good. But there was even more. Not content with re-defining what constitutes live “folk” music, there were some new musical journeys based on Peter’s own contemporary song/ tune-writing skills such as Seagull, Butterfly and (a collaboration with the late Terry Pratchett) I Will Wear Midnight.
And, as ever, there was laconic commentary and dry humour from Peter as he introduced each piece, followed by one of my favourite pieces of live musical “theatre” in a piece they’ve been playing from the earliest days called Louisiana Flack. In this party piece, and without the aid of a safety net, Peter plays a very fast fiddle piece, whilst Roger takes up a pair of drumsticks and simultaneously taps out a complementary beat/ tune across the neck and fingerboard, hopefully avoiding Peter’s fingers. Just watching these two consummate musicians pull this trick off is one of those breath-holding moments where you’re not quite sure what you’re seeing. And it came off superbly, demonstrating the complete level of trust that these two musicians have for each other. Truly amazing.
Altogether we got two good hour-long sets, which seemed to pass in but a few moments, and an outstanding ten-minute long encore of The Faerie King. With only occasional lyrics (Peter’s singing voice isn’t why you go to see him), it was one very, very large helping of superbly played and presented music. It might have been based on “folk”, but what we heard would actually defy genre or mere pigeon-holing. What you need to know is that it was very, very, very good.
Last night was, as it happened, the last night of the trio’s current UK tour, but it’s not all over. The never-resting Peter Knight is starting a two-week tour on Saturday with John Spiers, then next year it’ll be back to all the other projects in his life – The Gigspanner Big Band (with Philip Henry and Hannah Martin aka Edgelarks), collaborations with other musicians, Feast of Fiddles, as well as his teaching master-classes, composing and recording. The man never stops. No wonder he continues to draw plaudits from the musical press and to win so many music awards. This man is definitely not, as he self-deprecatingly describes himself, “a fool with a fiddle”.
Chatting with a clearly delighted band after the gig, they told me how much they loved playing The Pound. CDs were selling like hot cakes, the audience had been great, and it’s such a lovely, friendly venue. They always get treated like royalty (not you Andrew!), so I’m pretty sure they’ll be pencilling in another date sometime next year. And if they do, then you owe it to yourself to get a ticket and go – I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Their future gigs are listed on www.gigspanner.com/ which includes dates in Swindon and Bristol next February. And there’s lots of info on their other projects, such as Saltlines, too.
And, finally, just a word about The Pound Arts Centre. It’s a cracking little venue, now back in full action, with a complete programme of events across drama, film, music, comedy, children’s activities, art exhibitions, workshops, and classes. It also has an excellent café & bar just off the foyer. You’ll have to look on their website for future music artists and online ticket information at www.poundarts.org.uk but (for example), they’ve got Jonny Coppin’s Christmas Show, Bowjangles, Sandi Thom, and John Kirkpatrick, all of them before Christmas. They show modern films and often carry live telecasts of live performances from London venues. If you’ve not been over there, it’s definitely worth checking out.
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