It’s actually Peter Knight’s Gigspanner Big Band but with SEO and Google searches to consider…. Nonetheless, the important thing is that Natural Invention is a sensational take on traditional folk music.
Release Date: 10th April 2020
Formats: CD / DL
Natural Invention is a debut album that’s been well worth the wait. As the Gigspanner trio expanded by three, back in 2016 – an impressive three at that – the first Big Band album, Live, was quite a revelation, but the tip of the iceberg. Fledgling moments that are now bearing fruit.
The addition of John Spiers, Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin was akin to bringing Messi, Ronaldo and Suarez off the bench. Dream teams and all that; this is more like picking your Fantasy Folk band. With Peter Knight as captain and midfield string-puller.
Their calling card comes from working with the melting pot of traditional folk songs and tunes mixed in with a blend of classical, jazz and bluegrass embellishments. It must be a delight to have so many creative partners buzzing with ideas as they take a spark and work their magic.
I have to confess to flicking the CD scanner straight to Earl Brand. A particular personal favourite ever since I heard Jim Moray’s variant, the wonderful Lord Douglas. A much more sedate and stately paced piece, Hannah Martin delivers with a fair grace.
Curiosity satisfied, it was back to the start and Awake Awake that provides the template of the trad song with a coda that sees the band taking off on a tune. A template that’s used so effectively through the album. Here, Ellen Smith, a banjo/fiddle piece gets the benefit of some pattering percussion on a lively album intro.
However, if you want something totally topical, Betsy Bell And Mary Grey is the tale of two girls who built a remote bower to isolate themselves from the Plague. However, they’re thwarted by the arrival of a lover who would have benefitted from some social distancing intelligence. Be warned! And then enjoy its dark bluesy intro that leads into a measured piece before the sombre count picks up again courtesy of a Phil Henry signature.
He goes on to take a lead on the pant-swinging, knee-tapping Daddy Fox where the tone takes a turn for the lighter and John Spiers steps up with a morris tune that’s not too far from a coconut dance they used to do in Rochdale.
Spiers himself takes centre stage on a shanty. Haul On The Bowline is perfect for his lusty but sprightly delivery. It’s another of those that see the vocal delivered before the band veer off to create an instrumental diversion. On this occasion, it’s a Breton tune that fits the seafaring theme and sees the fiddle leading the flow.
Inspired by the Nic Jones version, Courting Is A Pleasure is taken to a new level as the sextet embark on a voyage of discovery and create a real groove with the percussion providing the base for each to weave their melodies. It sets the tone for a flourish of a finale on a couple of tunes that see all six pumping gas on a tremendous Irish-French-Canadian mash-up.
Cecil Sharp may have considered the tune and words for Searching For Lambs a most perfect example of a folk song. Gigspanner Big Band might fit his vision of a perfect folk band. Simply a fantastic record that strides confidently from one highlight to another.
Listen to the Gigspanner Big Band doing Awake Awake:
Gigspanner big band