It would be impossible to confuse the sound of this trio with anyone else. With Peter Knight’s distinctive fiddle tone at the core of the sound and his vocal leading the majority of the songs, you really are in for a very special and unique experience. The fiddle proved to be incredible diverse in Knight’s hands. It sang breathily in places and rendered warm chords in others, whilst at times it shrieked and whistled with haunting effect in the historic theatre.The songs meandered, and often sprinted, through a diverse musical landscape. Along the journey we enjoyed a distinctly Irish flavour, courtesy of Knight’s early musical background, and we sampled strains of prog rock as the guitar lead some scene setting instrumentals that gave way to massive six part textures.
A quick tuning check at the start began to grow like a glowing ember from within the fiddle, developing gently as short motifs floated over rhythmic guitar accompaniment. The structure of the piece gradually solidified and fragments of the familiar tune ‘She Moved Through the Fair’ drew themselves together with some exotic accents in the melody. In Lady Shelley’s old theatre it had the effect of a grand overture.
It’s hard to write about a stand out song when each tune had the audience listening with such intensity, but one of the many highlights of the first set had to be the ‘Bows of London’. The song tells the familiar story of the cruel sister who drowns her sibling. Later her recovered body is crafted into a fiddle that sings of the woman’s fate at the hands of her sister. Similarly ‘Peggy and the Soldier’ stood out as this was the first time that the trio broke into three part harmony over the already rich texture of fiddle,percussion and guitar. The harmonies were executed immaculately and added to atmosphere of the piece, highlighting some beautifully chosen cadences.
Certain numbers shine for the amazing show of dexterity and instrumental ability. ‘The Butterfly’ is a great example, and the tune opened with a guitar solo that gentle built towards the familiar tune as a climax. The ‘King of the Fairies’ had a similar treatment, but the urgent quality of this tune gave it a much different flavour. Taking that instrumental virtuosity to a more experimental place, they even incorporated percussion on the fiddle, with Knight playing a tune set whilst Flack hammered the strings over the fingerboard like a dulcimer. Visually interesting and also musically satisfying.
Between moments of instrumental virtuosity there were more stories and narratives from the core of the folk tradition. ‘Bonnie Bird’ was one such example, and Knight revealed the meaning of the dialect piece before charging into the song. The instrumentation and vocal delivery perfectly framed the lyrical content with just the right amount of text painting.
Throughout the show the musicians were relaxed and open, with Knight comfortably talking to the audience and revealing snippets of the stories behind the songs. The lightheartedness was absolutely disarming and the warm demeanour of the trio carried through to signing merchandise at the bar in the interval. Amongst darker songs this lighter quality broke through in tunes like ‘Sharp Goes Walkabout’. Knight told the audience that he imagined collector Cecil Sharp wandering in the outback, his Englishness not quite intact, and the collection of tunes certainly supported the image.
The live show offers so much from lively tune sets to dark folk tales. Seeing this trio in action is a demonstration of the perfect crossover between instrumental virtuosity and musicality. The flourishes and technical feats all serve a purpose in context and the three performers weave together something that feels bigger than the sum of the individual parts.
Words: Lee Cuff
Photos: Jo Elkington
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