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John Spiers and Peter Knight standing against a white wall that is covered in green vine. Photo credit, Elly Lucas.
Photo credit: Elly Lucas.

Knight & Spiers, Both in a Tune – a review

Both in a Tune, by Peter Knight & John Spiers, explores traditional folk and original songs in a brave, experimental way. A must-listen.

The album cover for Both in a Tune by Peter Knight & John Spiers
Release Date
11 February 2022
Both in a Tune, Peter Knight & John Spiers
An extraordinary collaboration between two musicians at the absolute top of their game. Don't expect pure tradfolk. This is an adventure that takes in musical detours you'd be mad to ignore.

Well, this is a delight, isn’t it? Peter Knight & John Spiers were thrown together at the behest of the Folkeast festival organisers, and whoever came up with that idea must be some kind of visionary. Two musicians, seemingly made for each other, together at last. It all makes so much sense.

If 2018’s Well Met found the pair sizing one another up, this year’s Both in a Tune finds them really putting each other through one another’s paces. Not with any kind of one-upmanship, you understand, but by stretching any boundaries that their reputation as purveyors of traditional folk music might have placed upon them.

For, while traditional folk music is often the springboard for the Both in a Tune collaborations, it’s often not the pool we end up in. Much has already been made of the one-take performance of ‘Scarborough Fair’, the track that opens the album, and rightly so. Not only does it set out their stall for this collection perfectly, taking the famous motif as a starting point and then exploring it inside and out, there in the moment, but it’s also a virtuoso performance. Peter Knight’s unique tone and finesse is his calling card – you know it’s him from the first few, exquisitely played notes, naturally infusing his love of traditional folk fiddling with his classical upbringing, and giving it further flight through a passion for free improv. His fiddle soars and dives while John Spiers watches from below, edging the display here and there like a careful kite flier feeling out the thermals. It’s a high-wire performance, truly thrilling to hear. One can only imagine where it might go in front of a live audience.

Both in a Tune is full of such moments. Whether the duo is exploring the melancholy tune of ‘Yellow-Haired Laddie’, the pump and drive of ‘Bourée de Concours’, or the solemn thump of ‘Abbot’s Bromley Horn Dance’, there will occasions when the pulse subsides or the players find themselves in a rapidly ascending reverie and an extra spoonful of magic finds its way in. It really is a joy to witness.

Once or twice, the duo takes the experimentation even further. ‘Drone in D’ starts jarringly, plays around with a floral, bucolic tune, before descending into unabashed improv, sometimes returning, but staying out in the darker undergrowth for the most part. Meanwhile, ‘Improv 3’ starts in the darker undergrowth and happily forages, with Knight’s fiddle jabbing, probing, racing, furrowing, while Spiers marks out a rough pathway. As with the rest of the album, it’s nothing short of exhilarating – something of a privilege to lend your ears to these two stellar musicians as they tease the best from each other, right there in a tune.

Both in a Tune is out now, and can be bought from the Peter Knight online shop, or the John Spiers online shop.