Rychard Carrington reports on Spiro and Cliff Stapleton - The Junction, Cambridge, 19 March 2012

Junction 2, The


Cliff Stapleton, once of the excellent Blowzabella, plays an electric hurdy-gurdy, adapted to include special effects. He treated us to a long number which he desrcribed as being like a narrative, a compositional base from which he improvises extensively. Indeed his music weaved a spell, like an Arabian Nights story, entrancing and enchanting, and ending with some Hendrix-style dramatic aggression. A gentler, shorter but equally delightful second number finished his set. This was compelling music, a thrill to have witnessed. Certainly it is deserving of a much larger audience.  


Spiro are Jane Harbour (violin), Jason Sparkes (piano accordion), Alex Vann (mandolin) and Jon Hunt (acoustic guitar and, on one number, cello). What they do, in essence, is to develop traditional tunes (British, many from Lancashire or Cheshire, though the band is based in Bristol) ) by giving them a Glass/Reich minimalist treatment. The end product is closer to Michael Nyman and Penguin Cafe Orchestra than to a typical trad folk band, yet the richness of traditional melodies is retained at the heart of their sound.

Their presentation would fit better in a modern classical auditorium than in a folk club. Numbers are introduced in a straightforward, though pleasant, manner, with little banter. There are no gimmicks and no deviations from the basic style. They all dress in black, except for Jane Harbour, who covers her other black clothes with a glittering cloak. This, I think, contributed considerably, as did Jane's relatively expressive onstage movements, visualy presenting the strident energy that inhabits their music, underneath the concentrated calm of the exterior.

The result was mesmerising, gently stirring, subtle, beautiful music, of controlled power and stimulating intricacy. It's music one deeply believes, and wants to support loudly. Such music is a tribute to music itself, and to the dedication of committed musicians. Hats off to Spiro. 


Spiro's website


Writer: Rychard Carrington