‘The sounds that hit you first are sounds that you are familiar with; they sound folky, but once you start listening to the music and how it’s composed you hear elements of systems music – people like Steve Reich, Philip Glass, dance music. All sorts of musical influences are woven into this very contemporary music. This is soulful music, passionate music and I love it.’ Peter Gabriel
Signed to Real World Records by Peter Gabriel after years in obscurity, Spiro redefine English folk music with their very special blend of Northumbrian traditional tunes and systems music. They have since performed at festivals in the UK, Europe, Canada, India and UAE, and have toured throughout the UK in support of two albums on Real World Records. They attract fanatical enthusiasm from their increasing audiences who to follow their performances with an almost religious awe. Their approach to their music is unique, breathtaking and seems impossible, even as you watch it.
‘We’re like a string quartet, but the most driving and exciting string quartet that you could imagine.’ Jane Harbour, the violinist of Spiro, is trying to put a neat handle on the essence of this instrumental four-piece. It’s not an easy task. Despite the group’s folk-friendly tools (violin, acoustic guitar, mandolin and accordion), they’re something of a slippery beast when it comes to being contained by mere words. Guitarist Jon Hunt has a go. ‘We’ve got more to do with minimalist classical and dance music than we have with folk. Even though we use folk tunes, they’re raw materials that the rest of the sound is built around. There’s no ornamentation to attract attention to one particular instrument. In fact, there’s that feeling that each member of the band isn’t just playing that instrument, they’re playing the whole thing.’
This is what Spiro refer to as “the mesh”, the locked-in ensemble sound that’s a relentless, wonderfully overpowering assault on the eardrums.
Their first album for Real World Records, ‘Lightbox’, received ecstatic reviews across the board, as journalists struggled to express their wonder:
‘This is one of the most human variants of minimalism I've encountered. As Mr Warhol put it: ‘Oh, this is fabulous.’ **** The Guardian
‘The hallucinatory effect of trance, albeit trance with incredible vitality. Not many English folk records find their way onto Peter Gabriel's Real World label, but then there are few English folk records of the sublime individuality of Lightbox’ ****Financial Times
‘Spiro are like Detroit techno played by a travelling band out of a Hardy novel – or Steve Reich playing the cider-scented backroom of a village pub. Intense and minimal, they roll out complex arrangements with such ease that you feel your heart lift a few inches above its normal resting place’ **** The Word
Kaleidophonica, was released 20th February 2012. The album title gives a clue to music within, a sonic kaleidoscope, in which the instruments mirror each other, and play out constantly changing patterns.
Kaleidophonica, like ‘Lightbox’, was recorded live in the studio with no overdubs. It is more densely composed than ‘Lightbox’ - the mesh and interplay between the instruments has been developed to create a halls of mirrors where the sound is made up of parts that are so enmeshed you can't hear who's playing what, creating a bigger, almost orchestral, sound. The music is composed using a combination of playing, imagination, and use of systems. The arrangements are constructed like an intricate piece of machinery, wound up and played out – with no ornamentation, no vibrato.
‘Cinematic, breath-taking and beautiful…traditionally English and yet wholly of the now. Folk has never seemed so relevant.’ *****Songlines
‘Spiro are that rarity: true English originals’ *****The Guardian
‘...the Reichian shimmering pulse is still at the heart of Spiro's finely machined modernist version of folk music: ...each separate line repetitive yet the whole constantly changing like the surface of an unpredictable sea.’ **** Financial Times
‘The music in cinematic…it’s English folk meets Philip Glass…The music is intricately worked out, without the improvisations or solos of a regular folk band, as if they are an inextricable machine…And then the music stops. It’s sudden and surprising but the response is a whoop of joy and cries for more.’ *****Evening Standard (live review)
Spiro successfully toured the UK in Spring 2012 to promote Kaleidophonica and took on a barnstorming circuit of British festivals in the summer including triumphant returns to WOMAD , Cambridge and Moseley Folk Festivals. In the autumn they were selected to showcase at the AFO conference and started work on a new track recorded by Adrian Utley of Portishead. They began 2013 taking part in the Spotlight England showcase at Glasgow’s Celtic Connections Festival, and in 2013 performed in Russia, India, Croatia and Dubai and were award touring by Arts Council England’s Routes South-West scheme. At the end of the year Real World released an EP of remixes of Spiro tracks by Adrian Utley.
In 2014 they will be working on a third album for Real World and will tour the UK in spring and late autumn with international dates in planning.
‘One of the most imaginative acoustic groups around….incredible’
Mark Radcliffe, The Folk Show, BBC Radio 2