Thursday, 22 March 2018
IT’S not every day you get one of the Wombles playing Nettlebed Village Club. Let alone recording a live album.
But that’s what’s happening on Monday evening when erstwhile Steeleye Span fiddle player Peter Knight brings his new band to the High Street venue.
Normally a trio, Gigspanner sees Knight joined by Roger Flack on guitar and percussionist Vincent Salzfaas on congas and djembe.
But for their live dates the line-up is augmented by Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin, who were named best duo at the 2014 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, with Henry contributing slide guitar, harmonica and vocals, and Martin fiddle, banjo and vocals.
Together they make up the Gigspanner Big Band, of which one music press reviewer wrote: “It takes a very special inner peace to have the confidence to do what these five do. No egos, no pretensions, no nonsense — it is music from the heart presented by five top class performers for the sheer pleasure of it.”
Following a 2013 collaboration with Steeleye Span, the late Discworld novelist Sir Terry Pratchett famously said of Knight that “[he] can spin the world on his bow”.
At that time, the fiddler had been a mainstay of the electric folk pioneers almost since their formation in 1969, having been a member from 1971 to 1977 before rejoining in 1980.
But in November 2013, having previously released a studio and a live album with Gigspanner, Knight announced that he would be leaving Steeleye Span at the end of the year. His long association with the folk-rockers had included a spell of
mid-Seventies moonlighting as a secret member of novelty pop group The Wombles — based on the children’s book and TV characters created by Elisabeth Beresford — who notched up a string of top 10 singles and albums.
This led to Knight appearing on Top of the Pops in the guise of Great Uncle Bulgaria alongside fellow Steeleye Span members Rick Kemp and Bob Johnson.
Light-hearted as it was, the collaboration with Wombles singer-songwriter Mike Batt later saw him recruited to produce what would become Steeleye Span’s most successful album, 1975’s All Around My Hat.
Never a full member of The Wombles, Knight was not part of the line-up when the band played the 2011 Glastonbury Festival — their last live performance to date.
Instead, he and his Gigspanner colleagues were in the process of building their formidable reputation as a live act — one that has seen them invited to play a number of leading festivals in recent years.
In August they are booked to play Fairport’s Cropredy Convention near Banbury. The festival, which is this year celebrating its 50th anniversary, runs from Thursday, August 10, to Saturday, August 12, with the Gigspanner Big Band set to appear on the Friday (August 11).
Nettlebed Folk Song Club’s spring season had not been due to start until Monday, January 23, when the Bully Wee Band are supported by Phil Beer.
Folk club organiser Mike Sanderson had been on his traditional Christmas and New Year break when he got the call from Peter Knight.
Happily, the gap in the club’s schedule meant he was able to find room for a special show to kick-start the season.
“Just when I thought I was going to get another week off before Nettlebed started, all this happened!” he laughs. “Basically, the band have been offered some festivals in the summer, including Cropredy, which is the big Fairport Convention festival, so they’ve decided they need a live album if they’re going to do it — and I got the call to say, ‘Can we record it at Nettlebed?’ ”
Given the scintillating quality of the Gigspanner Big Band’s previous performances at the venue, Mike said he had been only too happy to oblige.
“It’s something they do,” he says. “They’ve done a couple of these gigs for festivals and they’ve done the warm-up at Nettlebed before and it’s always gone down well.
“It’s an awesome band, it really is. It’s one of those ones where three plus two doesn’t equal five, it equals about 10.”
Urging music fans to come and be part of the live recording on Monday, Mike adds: “I’ve known Peter Knight for a good few years and he said, ‘Mate, if anyone can drum up an audience in a room with a good atmosphere, you can.’ ”
While the three-piece Gigspanner have three albums to their name, including one live album, the Nettlebed recording will be the first credited to the Gigspanner Big Band.
Peter Knight said: “The Gigspanner Big Band made its debut performance at Nettlebed Folk Club, so there is a certain resonance in returning there to record the band’s first album.
“The atmosphere on both occasions that the band has played there has been absolutely charged and we feel sure the exchange of emotion between the band and the audience gives us the best opportunity to come away with a great recording.”
Monday’s show starts at 8pm, when tickets will be £16 on the door. For full details of the folk club’s spring season, call 01628 636620 or visit www.nettlebedfolkclub.co.uk.
For more on this year’s Fairport Cropredy Convention, visit www.fairportconvention.com
12 January 2017
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