Peter Knight and John Spiers join forces once more. Casting off any shackles, they roam freely and with abandon in the folk music field.
Release Date: 11th February 2022
Formats: CD / digital
Honesty is the best policy. Today’s review will start before even listening to a note of the music.
A bit like the old days of the weekly music press when the hacks would polish off an album review without even listening, going off the band or artist’s reputation and trying to earn a name for themselves by being particularly scathing and destructive. No mention of the musical content but more a soapbox rant on something duly topical. Then they’d go to a gig and review it from the bar – all on expenses of course. Those were the days (apparently). When the music journalists were as notorious, sometimes even more so than the rock and rollers themselves. Knock out the copy as quickly as possible to make the most of the opening hours. Allegedly.
Times have changed and some of us now actually listen to music, several times even (shock, horror), before trying to create some informed judgement and express an opinion that hopefully serves the music and shares our enthusiasm. No wages or expense accounts either. The point is that even before Both In A Tune goes into the CD player; before the shiny disc even gets its first finger marks, I know (roughly) what I’m going to write. The reputations of these two musicians speak for themselves. As odds on certainty as anything can be – Both In A Tune is going to be a luxurious experience in which to wallow, yet now which offers its own challenge.
Peter Knight of folk music legends Steeleye Span and his own Gigspanner projects); John Spiers of Spiers & Boden and Bellowhead. The coming together from the fantasy duo minds of the people at Folk East in 2016, Spiers and Knight have since recorded their first album and intertwined ever more so through the Gigspanner big band. Some may have spent a moment thinking that John had found his new niche, his new sparring partner after the lines (albeit temporarily – how good is hindsight) were drawn under Spiers & Boden and Bellowhead. Hindsight and experience are wonderful things and the way the duo have coaxed each other and themselves into new areas has pushed them into exciting new areas. The Knight philosophy around free improvisation has woven its way into the Spiers MO in the way he’s questioned the nature of ‘the tune’. Exploring ‘tunes’ and digging deeper into their soul – “distilled what it meant to us to be playing them at that particular moment,” says Spiers, is the essence of the partnership. It’s been said that their arrangements flirt through the genres with no fixed destination.
And on that note, before we dissolve into some research hypothesis to be explored in a PhD thesis, best that we now talk about the actual music. Music which starts with a familiar title – Scarborough Fair – yet which takes on a totally new lease of life. Yes, there are moments when the familiar melody ghost into view that induces a brief hint of recognition, but this is a Scarborough Fair not like any Scarborough Fair before. It’s positioning as the opening piece, is almost a deliberate trap. Setting out the stall so that expecting the unexpected becomes a pre-requisite for what’s to follow.
Other traditional numbers are given similar treatment. Short shrift is given to any sort of expectancy. We’re travelling a course in uncharted waters, filling in the map as best we can as we go along. Not quite the fear of a white knuckle ride, but definitely edge of the seat stuff where you are constantly anticipating where the journey is going to lead. The music is allowed to breathe, the notes hang around. Perhaps the duo have been on a Pink Floyd binge.
Dance tunes – the Abbot’s Bromley Horn Dance and Bouree De Concours – get a look in and offer lighter moments with more stock in trade yet elegant and meticulously played swaying arrangements. The latter segues neatly into Le Berger De Laleuf/Signposts before two original duo-penned pieces Drone In D and Improv 3, both offer opportunities to spot the joins. Both titles hint at what lies within. Progressive and experimental Folk ventures that see the duo on the edges, perimeter walking, accompanying each other on a bold flight of unknown destinations.
Both also bring a solo composition to the table. Knight’s La Dance De Madame Meymerie adds another merry to the dance tunes jaunt and Spiers’ aptly titled Union adds a more melancholic air, gliding gracefully while Knight contributes a variety of sounds plucked and bowed from his strings.
The Observer might have christened John Spiers & Jon Boden as ‘the dons’, but Knight & Spiers may be the true pioneers. Their work may not earn them untold riches or draw vast crowds in arenas around the world but they are outstanding in their field. Safety first might not be in the Knight & Spiers lexicon. The notions of living beyond the comfort zone, pushing the boundaries, going where no folk musician has been, challenging the expectations, stepping into the unknown, adopting the philosophy of ‘what if?’ and so on, certainly are for these Folk music thrill-seekers.
Watch a clip of the duo at 2021’s Costa Del Folk: