Peter Knight’s Gigspanner – From Poets To Wives: Album Review

Peter Knight has waved his wand (cunningly disguised as a bow) and magically transformed traditional into new mesmerising tunes on the new Gigspanner release From  Poets To Wives.

Release Date: April 16th 2021

Label: Talking Elephant

Format: CD

Put on this album, close your eyes, an imaginary pint of what you like the most in your hand. Wiggle around in your canvas chair, smell the grass and imagine you are at your favourite folky festival be it Cambridge (sadly cancelled) or Cropredy and Shrewsbury (fingers crossed for both).

It’s been just about a year since we enormously enjoyed the Gigspanner Big Band album, Natural Invention (our review). In fact, after a successful spot at Cropredy in 2017,  Gigspanner should be better appreciated but with Peter Knight (to be mentioned in dispatches on The Lost Trades album), Roger Flack and Sacha Trochet they hope to increase their profile with this delightful collection of gig favourites.

Peter Knight’s sometimes flowing, sometimes softly jig-like inventive arrangement of  She Moves Through The Fair,  is a splendid opener and would  (and will soon hopefully) have any festival audience entranced. The hand played percussion  raises the tempo to a lively dance before the sombre ending puts you back in your seat (presumably and considerately so you can finish your pint!!) Bold Riley allows for some audience participation with the catchy refrain “Goodbye my sweetheart, goodbye my hero……….” but on this upbeat track, with its stomping rhythm, you can see why it was a live favourite. 

The light joyful touches in Blackbird will have you out of your canvas seat and dancing around the garden, but be careful you don’t spill a drop of your favourite nectar as you’ll need it when you relax to the dreamy acoustic guitar and mournful rising, falling and fluttering, Gaelic flavoured violin in Butterfly as you close those eyes and picture one twirling around you.

After that call to nature (hope you didn’t need a real one!) from the countryside, we visit the city and the Bows Of London. This traditional devilish, ghostly song bears all the fascinating elements of English folklore and our quartet expertly performs it with due deference and respect.

Deeply resonating strings and acoustic guitar solo continue the sombre English folk story theme on Death And The Lady. You can almost feel the chilly, misty swirls of death surrounding you during this 9-minute vocal and instrumental saga. Perhaps not conducive to your warm sunny afternoon but nonetheless entertaining. After all, if we folky types can enjoy Matty  Groves’ story of infidelity and murder why not Death And The Lady? An atmospheric acoustic solo develops into a lively jig to bring us back into the warmth after our ghostly chill for the wild Urban’s Reel, sweeter string tones and Latin percussive beats do the trick admirably.

Without a Celtic feel this marvellous, enchanting album would have been incomplete and it is wondrously served up in the silky and sweet-tempered strings of Si Bheag, Si Mhor. To complete the album a  re-defined version with pizzicato and shimmering strings, harmonic vocals, stomping percussion and social comment all blend together to give a new vision to Hard Times of Old England. The accompanying video clearly highlights the strength of the folk genre in that this traditional song still resonates with issues not too long in the past.

In the sleeve notes Simon Jones tells us the songs were chosen “to show diversity, development and daring”. The creative, inventive arrangements to spooky, nature-centered, danceable, narrative songs accomplish this with brave aplomb and hopefully set Gigspanner on course for a much deserved higher profile. A pity they are not at Cropredy again this year!!  

Folk music with modern interpretations is now miles away from having a finger in the ear as the old traditionalists might still have us doing. The pioneers of the early ’70s (FC  and SS)  laid the foundation for the plethora of amazing contemporary diverse folk we hear today and some of them, like Peter Knight with Gigspanner, are still thankfully experimenting and conjuring up new sounds within the folk genre.

Here’s Hard Times Of Old England:

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