Some time ago, when asked by one of the music weeklies what he’d prefer to do once Steeleye Span’s career came to an end, Peter Knight replied he’d be quite happy playing in a band doing the London Irish circuit.

If you take the fact that his early influences included the legendary Michael Coleman and that for a while he’d trawled the capital’s folk clubs with Bob Johnson on guitar, then such an answer seems quite natural, however today it seems somewhat incredulous.  Maybe it was genuine at the time, a few months later Peter and Bob did indeed depart from Steeleye and nearly joined the Strawbs, but that’s another story, however the point I’m trying to make is that Peter Knight isn’t the sort to be still, to do what’s expected, in truth exactly the opposite. He’s a musician – please don’t refer to him as a fiddler, that’s lazy terminology – for whom the word versatile is a perfect fit.  

You want me to prove the point? Okay here’s a brief resume of his exploits…

As a pupil at The Royal Academy of Music he began a fascination with classical and baroque sources which, if you listen underpins his playing, a point emphasised by his absorbing rendition of Canon By Telemann in which he forms his own string section through use of playbacks, sequencers and loops.

Jazz and improvisation came into his orbit through a chance meeting with saxophonist Trevor Watts, who just happened to lead free music ensemble Moiré Music and later The Drum Orchestra. Plunging in with both feet first Peter not only undertook regular performances with Watts but also increasingly used improvising to access new avenues for his own compositions and interpretations of traditional themes.  This led directly to his first run of solo releases of which I’d signal An Ancient Cause as key, including the brilliant and spine tingling creation Eb English, beginning from a repeated pulse to rise with elegance and poise to an improvised midsection which then falls feather light to a summery conclusion, buoyed on the precise bass and dreamy keyboard washes of compatriot Tim Harries.

Further adventures in this sphere came when Peter was paired with legendary bass player Danny Thompson for an album bearing both their names. Two lengthy tracks of tumbling and winding free music, joyously delivered, gave everyone the chance to hear the heights well matched talents could scale.  

Since leaving Steeleye in late December 2013, Gigspanner has rightly been his focus, the band has developed in ways unpredictable though inspiring, ultimately securing a roots/fusion of wider scope and a unique identity. What began as a simple side line became something other and continues to morph in chameleon like fashion into different form when occasion demands. Stressing democracy amongst the members each has as much input as the others and so far that’s meant flexibility, adaptability, accommodation and compromise in all areas. Across a handful of albums they’ve conjured an absorbing set by turn dark and light, supple yet strong, ancient whilst modern, familiar though innovative.  And they remain compliant enough to allow others to add to their polyglot, Folk Award winners Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin being occasional recruits who bring eastern and Americana stimuli to the table.  Future games are awaited with anticipation.

Nor is that the only example of Peter Knight’s influence on the next generation of folk musicians as his concerts with Bellowhead founder and squeezebox maestro Jon Spiers prove. Headlining Folk East in 2016 with minimal rehearsal time the duo produced a set described by one rain sodden punter as ‘ethereal and beautiful.’ That joie de vivre is captured in videos on line. 

Participation in the annual jaunt that is Feast of Fiddles by contrast is a chance to soak in the traditional tunes which initially caught his enthusiasm, whilst referencing in playful and enjoyable fashion, the high days of electric folk. Never let it be forgotten that Peter Knight arranged and retooled a hefty proportion of those melodies in contemporary guise, The Mooncoin Jig, Robbery With Violins, Sligo Maid being classics of the genre. The chance to crack out the old tunes and swap craic with his peers is welcome and entertaining for all who are fortunate to catch a show; handily most of the ambience is captured on their albums.

William Shakespeare came calling – well, not literally - when in 2013 Peter was commissioned by The  Shakespeare Birth Place Trust who wanted some music to soundtrack a walk in the grounds and woodland surrounding Anne Hathaway’s cottage. Immediate connections with his own studio setting in France spurred the natural and peaceful feel of the music which was eventually issued as Cobweb, Moth & Mustard Seed. “In Shakespeare, the faraway wood is a place where people go to be refreshed and restored. The musical walk in the woods devised by Peter Knight is to be savoured for similar reasons,” Peter Merchant Principal Lecturer in English language Studies, Canterbury, Christchurch University.  

I know that’d be enough for most musicians, but then Peter Knight as you’re no doubt beginning to be aware isn’t in the least like most musicians. Besides all his up front musical activities, he quietly likes to open the door to potential in others.  His annual Cotswold Masterclasses are taken by musicians of all levels of ability as they benefit from his coaxing and cajoling ultimately to find their own expression and values. “By risking nothing, we risk everything,” says the teacher, that’s why the courses sell out well in advance and their popularity shows no sign of waning. In fact his appeal broadens constantly and is reflected in the award of not one but two Musician Of the Year awards from and Fatea magazine in 2016. No lesser personage than the late Sir Terry Pratchett held Peter in high regard, he imparted “Peter Knight can spin the world on his bow.”

All this is a long way from the London Irish circuit, though I have no doubt if he chose to Peter Knight would take it by storm. When I recently spoke to him about motivation and continuation, he looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face, “I want to do things that make me happy, that are positive and bring fulfilment,” he replied. He’s been doing that quite successfully for a long time now and spreading a reputation for quality, excellence, imagination and innovation.

As I type these words he’s in the midst of a touring frenzy but finds time to be recording two new albums as well. Truly he never stands still and I hope he never does.

Simon Jones (fRoots.) 

Loading... Updating page...