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Peter Knight's Gigspanner
It was most encouraging to see a fully equipped stage tonight, a stage packed almost to capacity - with mostly percussion instruments it has to be said, but full nevertheless. As a clipboard circulated the concert room at the Ukrainian Centre in Doncaster, inviting folks to leave their details for future events, it was clear from the start that something very special was about to happen.
It's been a while since a Steeleye Span veteran has visited this town and word had obviously got around. It's actually not so surprising these days to see a well attended gig at the Roots Music Club as the calibre of acts has improved so much. Not only does the club welcome established crowd-pullers and familiar names we've known for several decades, but also little-known artists that the club feels the town needs to see and hear; up and coming talent making their initial mark on the music scene.
Although tonight's band falls into the former category, certainly a familiar face with a major pedigree, Peter Knight’s Gigspanner could also fall into the newcomer category, it being the trio's first visit to the town. The trio looked slightly different than usual tonight, with percussionist Vincent Salzfaas having to pull out of the tour at the last minute to tend to a domestic crisis, being replaced at short notice by Gary Hammond, formerly of The Beautiful South and currently enjoying success with Sam Pirt in The Hut People. This wasn't announced until the end of the band's first set, so many in the audience were probably unaware that Gary wasn't the trio's regular percussionist, save for the odd tell-tale prompting from guitarist Roger Flack, eager for the new boy to do well on Congas and Djembi.
With no support, the trio opened their first set with an improvisational workout based around the traditional She Moved Through the Fair, which was greeted with an extraordinary response from the audience, the applause lasting a fair while longer than expected. The first set consisted of just five pieces, each one almost a magnum opus in its own right and each showcasing the musical brilliance of each of the three musicians, from the African rhythms of Seagull, the animated Scottish ballad The Bonny Birdy, the sublime instrumental Dave Roberts' French Waltz, incorporating a short nod towards La Vie En Rose, and concluding the set with the highly complex Too Late for Shadows.
The second set continued much in the same manner, great arrangements of great songs and tunes from two well-rehearsed musicians, complemented by one who was afforded, quite unbelievably, just the one rehearsal the day before. A remarkable feat in itself. Peter Knight's reading of both Hard Times in Old England and The Bows of London, were highlights of the second set, both in musical dexterity, mature arrangement and in the quality of the compelling story telling. Towards the end of the set, Peter and Roger engaged in the ancient musical rite of 'fiddlesticks', a duet played on the fiddle with both bow and drumsticks, which is always a visual treat.
Throughout the two sets, which clocked up almost two hours of highly accomplished music, the three musicians made it look surprisingly easy, with their relaxed parlour room approach. No fuss, no sweat, no stage histrionics, just pure music played at its best by three highly empathetic musicians. A class performance by a class act.